was a Raleigh RSW (or “Shopper” as we used to call them) a bit like this one (from Raleigh RSW on flickr). They are enjoying a bit of a resurgence at the moment as the fashion for small wheel bikes has grown.
It was actually my mother’s bike (although I can’t recall her actually riding it more than once). My first bike was getting a bit small and my younger brother had his eye on it, so I was made to move over to one of these.
Mine was blue with matching blue tartan box on the back and had black tyres, handle grips and seat. It had three hub gears (colour coded in red, yellow and blue and two brakes (a bit of a novelty after being used to only a front brake). There was only one problem - it was an adult’s bike and I was only 7 years old and tiny for my age. My parents were under the impression that as the bike had wheels which were barely bigger than my first training bike and the handle bars and seat could lower quite considerably (as it was a folding bike) that it would be fine. But of course it wasn’t that simple.
For a start, the seat even on its lowest setting was way too high for me to reach the ground. Secondly, it was a precarious stretch forward to reach the handle bars and thirdly, once sat on the seat, I couldn’t reach the pedals at the low point. Now, I’m sure other parents would have looked at this situation with a little more sympathy and found another bike (or at least let me keep my old one a while longer) but no, my brother had outgrown the tricycle and wanted a proper bike and if I wanted a bike I would have to make do with this one which was going spare. Just incase you were thinking I had a particularly deprived childhood, I think this might have had more to do with my father’s recent purchase - a £300 peugeot racing bike no less, which in the 1970’s was an awful lot of money, which I guess explains why they couldn’t afford to get me a bike.
So I had to learn to ride a bike all over again and master completely new techniques. First there was setting off. I had to wheel the bike along until I found a low wall, which would allow me to climb up and get on the pedals. Once I’d got going, I could tentatively get onto the seat. Then came the tricky bit, I had to push down on one pedal hard enough for it to spin all the way to the top to enable me to do the same on the opposite side. This whole palavor took a good few months to get the hang of and I was relegated to having my dad hold the seat again as I wobbled along again like I had done 3 years earlier. No longer able to whizz along with my friends, I felt like a baby again. I was not impressed. Still, I did master it eventually and rode around on that bike for a couple of years. Eventually I inherited my cousin’s bike that she’d outgrown - I finally, to my relief, had a normal child’s bike again!
I’m sure it’s all good character building stuff, but I can’t say I have fond memories of that bike. The Raleigh was relegated to the garage again for several years until my aunt decided she needed to get fit and took it off our hands. I suspect she didn’t ride it much either.
A little bit of history
The Raleigh RSW series was based on that British Design Classic the Moulton:
“Having seen the roaring success of the Moulton bicycle, other manufacturers were keen to grab a slice of the market with their own small wheeled cycles. Although many features of the Moulton bicycle were protected by patents, other cycle companies devised designs that, whilst having a similar appearance, were wholly inferior in performance and comfort. The most significant of these was the Raleigh RSW16 which, with its low-pressure balloon tyres, looked comfortable but was hard work to pedal. Even today, small-wheeled cycles are tarnished by the memory of the atrocious performance of the RSW16 and similar bicycles.”
and from Retro Raleigh:
“In the early 1960s, the revolutionary Moulton bicycles were very popular in Britain. Raleigh’s initial riposte was the RSW (Raleigh Small Wheel) series. Like the Moultons, the RSWs used 16 inch wheels, but unlike the Moultons, they lacked front and rear suspension. To make up for this lack, the RSW was supplied with very wide (2 inch!) tires designed to run at low pressures. The result was a much slower, harder-to-pedal bike compared with the Moulton.”
Well it wasn’t just me then! I think I’ll give this trend a miss…
Edit: I have just found this picture of a bike that is almost identical to the one I had. The same blue colour and graphics, the same funny boxy front light, the only thing missing is the blue tartan box off the back and this one doesn’t appear to fold. I’d forgotten about the red R on the front holding the brake cables in place.
photo by Mark Gell
see the rest of his photostream for more close ups