Europe exploded into war in August 1914 and the immediate effect of this was to give Raleigh sales a great boost. By September the government had ordered several thousand bicycles from Nottingham and a great many motorists had decided to return to the bicycle, the most economical means of transportation during the crisis. Inevitably the war brought some new problems, such as manpower. The Cycle Trader printed this report in October:
250 men from the Raleigh Cycle Works have either been called up or volunteered for active service, a result of which shows the patriotic spirit prevailing. The Messrs Bowden, the proprietors of the Raleigh Cycle Co, have always encouraged patriotism amongst their employees. The Company is making the same allowance as the War Office to all the dependents of all employees who have been called up.
But in spite of losing men, the company responded to the war situation by immediately bringing out some special new models. these included a constable’s bicycle which was fitted with specially strong tyres, was enamelled black all over and made rustproof and sold at £7 10/-. There were also the ‘Scout’ and ‘Military’ models priced at £8 10/- and £6 19/- 6d respectively, both finished in khaki enamel. All these were in great demand and their durability was greatly praised. A member of the 10th Royal Hussars wrote to the company soon after the outbreak of war saying: I am at the front and use a Raleigh every day for dispatch riding, sometimes over very long distances. The roads are very much cut up with heavy transport but the Raleigh ‘sticks it’ like a true Briton… I have been over the worst country out here, very often over fields, but my bicycle has never yet dodged its duty.
Inevitably, bicycle production had to be substantially reduced to cope with munitions work although the total number of employees by the end of 1915 had risen to over 2000. Most of the new workers were women, something of an innovation in the cycle industry. In order to make the bicycle side as efficient as possible it was decided to concentrate on the most popular models and drop the rest from the list.
The war produced scares and rumours of all sorts and one such rumour which was quite widespread in the winter of 1916 was that Raleighs might have to give up bicycle manufacture altogether in 1917. Harold Bowden lost no time in sending out a circular to all agents saying that unless something unforeseen and totally unexpected was to happen, deliveries for 1917 would be just as reliable as they had been in 1916. In fact the bicycle side never even came close to being shut down during the war and to make up for the absence of the annual Cycle Show, which inevitably had to be abandoned for the duration, Raleighs began to put on special displays at their London showrooms to serve the same purpose.*
1917 Raleigh All-Steel Superbe Model 20 Gents Cross-Frame
(Also described in Raleigh catalogues as ‘Superbe X Frame’)
Sturmey-Archer Model K Three-Speed
Frame No 572882
It’s interesting to read about Raleigh history during WW1. The Superbe Crossframe was Raleigh’s top model. Although Raleigh made a special Military model, which was supplied to the War Office, civilian models such as this were commonly used by officers, who either used their personal bicycles, or bought them on hire purchase schemes as a special concession on enlistment. A Raleigh Crossframe was one of the most popular bicycles of its era, and strong enough for the extra demands of war use.
This particular machine has seen regular use throughout its lifetime, and was recently repainted and serviced. The three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub has been upgraded to a Model K, which was in production between 1921 and 1938. Even top Raleigh models such as this Superbe X Frame were not always fitted with gears during WW1, as much of Raleigh’s equipment was turned over to war production. It’s likely that this Raleigh was purchased without gears and they were fitted after WW1. A chaincase was optional.
The bicycle is in excellent working order and rides very well.
The c1910 flat-decked tug pictured above was pulled from the bottom of Caldon Canal, Rugby. The Caldon was initially built, in 1779, as a branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal. The last commercial traffic on the canal was in 1952, after which it fell into disuse and boats were sunk in it; these became a useful source for enthusiasts who wished to restore them, as above. The Caldon was re-opened in 2003.
* Introductory text from – The Story of the Raleigh Cycle by Gregory Houston Bowden