The Earliest Known Raleigh Safety Bicycle
1890 Woodhead, Angois & Ellis ‘Raleigh’ Road racer
Frame no 1972
The original company name was Woodhead, Angois & Ellis, changing to Raleigh Cycle Co around 1890. I’m not sure when Frank Bowden bought into the company. The Raleigh website says 1887, and the Cycle Encyclopaedia says 1891.
Richard Morriss Woodhead registered a British patent for a ‘Brake for Cycles’ on 3rd December 1890, and Frank Bowden is not recorded as a witness at the bottom of the patent. However, on Woodhead’s subsequent patent – ‘Mud guard for velocipedes’ – whose British patent is declared as 20th June 1891, you can see Frank Bowden recorded as a witness. This does not necessarily reflect the date he joined the company, but it does suggest that it is not 1887, and does illustrate his serious involvement by June 1891.
This Raleigh is in rideable condition, though I must be very careful with the 1890 saddle, which is also an extremely rare survivor.
The 1887 advert illustrates a Raleigh with the same chainwheel as this bicycle (the Raleigh No 1 RD), but none of the 1890 catalogue illustrations shows exactly the same model as this 1890 Road Racer. The difference is that the chainwheel on this Road racer is Raleigh’s pre-1890 pattern, while the 1890 models are fitted with Raleigh’s detachable chainwheel, introduced in that year. Nevertheless, Raleigh chainwheels are interchangeable, and the one fitted is lightweight as befits a Road Racer, whereas the standard 1890 pattern is a heavy duty chainwheel.
1887 & 1890 RALEIGH ADVERTS
(The above illustrations are from 1887; note that the second bicycle pictured, just below the write-up on the Raleigh Road Racer, is not a Raleigh but a Trigwell Regent).
1890 RALEIGH CATALOGUE
The complete 1890 catalogue is reproduced on the next page
OTHER 1890/1891 RALEIGHS
My ‘Raleigh story’ started with a visit to Brooklands Museum in 2011. Their display of the ‘Raleigh Collection’ (which was previously owned by the company) is superb, and I would recommend it to all Raleigh enthusiasts. After the visit, one of my friends asked me which bike I would most like to own, and I replied that it was the 1891 Model F – ‘the earliest known Raleigh bicycle’ according to the card attached to the bike.
I’d bought three bicycles from a chap in 2008, and I vaguely recollected him mentioning that he also owned what he believed to be the ‘oldest known Raleigh.’ I assiduously record all my transactions, but I had not noticed this one in my purchase books. Eventually, in June 2012, I decided to look through every single entry and, at last, I found it; I must have left the book open on the window sill for some time, because the writing had completely faded in the sun. It took an hour trying to work out the phone number from the parts I could read and dialling different permutations, but eventually I got through and we discussed the bike you see displayed on this page.
I viewed an email picture of it. He said that since our last conversation four years ago, the marque enthusiast had visited him and confirmed that it was indeed an 1890 example, and the earliest known Raleigh safety bike. It looked like a beautiful bicycle anyway, but being the oldest known example made it much more special. So, after a few weeks negotiating the price, we agreed on a figure and said we’d meet up at the Benson Run to exchange cash for bike. I sold some other treasures to fund the purchase.
It was hard to sleep the night before. This was to be the most I’d ever paid for a bicycle, and would be the centrepiece of my collection. I arrived at Benson early, made contact, did the deal, and walked back with the bike to my van a few yards away. I now owned an 1890 Raleigh which was the earliest known Raleigh safety bike!
As I was putting it into the van a few minutes later, my friend John walked past and commented: ‘That’s a nice Raleigh, Colin. It’s just like mine.’
My heart dropped. Were they that common?
John came over for a closer inspection. I showed him the photocopied brochure and he pointed to a picture and said ‘That’s my model. It’s 1889.’
It’s hard to know what passed through my mind in the following few seconds, but the irony of the situation is what struck me immediately, and a big smile was the only response I could manage. When I had first been offered this 1890 Raleigh, I did not know very much about vintage bicycles and it was way out of my price range. Since then I had spent every spare moment learning about vintage bicycles, established myself as a vintage bicycle dealer, and created the museum websites. This Raleigh represented something important to me. At last, I owned an important piece of history, the world’s earliest known Raleigh …but only for five minutes?
John brought his Raleigh down to Brighton the following weekend and we compared the two of them. It’s an interesting comparison, as his is similar to the 1891 model at Brooklands and mine has much narrower tubing, being a lightweight Road racer. His frame number can not be seen as the bike was very rusty before being painted. He only considered it to be 1889 because that’s what the seller had told him when he’d purchased it.
Looking at them side by side, it’s impossible to know for sure which is older, but we think my Road Racer is the older model.
The blatant differences between the two bicycles are that mine has a seat tube and racing handlebars, while John’s has an open frame and standard handlebars with a brake. John’s also has a detachable chainwheel. Below, a few photos of John’s open frame model…
DETACHABLE CHAINWHEEL (Below): The detachable chainwheel fitted to 1890 Raleighs seems to be the first instance of this innovation.
OPEN BOTTOM BRACKET (Below): The bottom bracket on John’s bike is more open than on mine.
Now, to compare the two…