The Raleigh RRA was the mass produced lightweight to have in the 1930s. Announced in 1933, it was Raleigh's flagship machine for over 20 years until being retired in the late 1950s. The RRA name has of course become synonyms with the later half of Tommy Godwin's record breaking 75065 mile, year long feat of 1939, but it was also the steed of many famous British riders in the 1930s.
This one dates from 1936 and is a fine example in sound original condition. Looking at the lines of the frame, the choice components and the overall finish it isn't hard to see why it was the choice machine of the period. For this year the High Manganese 22G Molybdenum tubes where set at 71º parallel and this change marked a shift in bicycle frame design towards more agile and responsive ride characteristics. Other makers soon followed suit, to the point at which, if you place this next to a post war lightweight they are in no way poles apart. The finish on the frame was top quality with a lovely deep black lustre and the chrome covering all components was of typical 1930s quality. Each parts has aged gracefully in itself, taken as a package, its quite a bicycle. This particular example was fitted with the base catalogue spec, omitting the Sturmey Archer AW 3 Speed for a 40h Fixed/Free 16/18t rear hub laced to Dunlop Endrick 26 x 1 1/4 Rims in black enamel. Both front and rear wheels are also bolted to the dropouts and fork ends with beautiful Raleigh Industries wing nuts. The cranks are RRA specific in 165mm fluted lengths with that signature 'Heron' 46t chainring. The chrome stem and 'Bailey' bend handlebars were specific to the Model 45 offering plenty of possible hand positions and loads of room to get into an aggressive position on the Constrictor 'Shockstop' grips in order to maximise output.
Once in the saddle the ride quality is really quite remarkable. It gets up to speed very quickly and you hear a lovely faint whistle from the radially laced front wheel once there. It is really very stable at speed and changes in the road surface are ironed out nicely proving the frame is well suited to a long days riding where comfort and compliance are a must. Changes of direction are handled with ease and the little wire tabs keep the braking sharp and progressive when you need to come to a stop. What is most remarkable when riding this machine is the moment you stop mid pedal stroke and are ushered forward as if the lactate in your legs is transferred into the drivetrain!
Finishing kit on this machine is comprised of a slightly later 1940s Brooks B17 - which is as comfortable as ever - an original leather tool pouch and original Bluemels ‘Noweight’ Mudguards with that lovely spearpoint front extension. A nice black Bluemels 'Featherweight' pump is also included, as per the original specification. As with all Bluemels' branding, its interesting and amusing to note the sheer number of words the marketing team came up with the announce the fact that their products didn't weigh a lot! In fact, I'm sure we've had some Bluemels 'Doesweighalot's (TM) on a previous machine.
This particular example retains its original transfers and head badge and as with the rest of the finish they have stood the test of time. The original lacquered fabric outer brake cables also remain and a loving owner has previously filled the flutes of the crank arms with a nice layer of red enamel. In a decade where the upper echelons of society are remembered as being dominated across the West by art deco designs, Scandinavian furniture and modernist architecture it is important to remember the most ubiquitous car on British roads was still the humble Austin Seven and thus, here the only ode to anything fancy is that little bright strip of paint! Given the parallels political and cultural commentators have sometimes drawn between that decade and the present one, it would be nice if Raleigh could honour their part of the bargain go back to making machines like this! Machines with a clear purpose, that have been designed to last. Machines that can be fettled, tweaked and adjusted with apparent ease. Machines that have the provision for 30 years of future development built in and as a consequence can be updated if necessary, without the need for an entirely new bicycle.
The motif Raleigh ran through the 1936 catalogue was to have an illustration on each page of a scene including named piece of British architecture and the location from which it was observed or imagined. The image used on the page outlining the credentials of the RRA is a 'Surrey Farmhouse'. Remembering the 1930s from the perspective of most of working class British folk, and looking through this catalogue you can see the bicycle as a central cog of British society. This may have been Raleigh's top model, but that does not mean they were going to draw an image of Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral or even Battersea Power Station. No, a farmhouse will do, all be it a "Surrey' Farmhouse, and as I have no doubt Sir Stanley Mathews did not live near by, I think its a nice touch. Even the top model RRA is an achievable purchase for you, the common clubman, plying his trade in the week by riding to work, and getting out in the country at the weekend. Cycling in recent decades has sometimes been viewed as a rather parochial affair. But even with its apparent popularity, this very bicycle serves to remind us of a time when riding your bike was once imperatively parochial, on a day to day basis, as your primary mode of transport. Here, on the best of the best there was no fancy paintwork, little trick componentry, few unnecessary touches or flourishes. It is just the best machine we can make and the best machine you can buy! Its like a track bike for the road - nothing added, nothing lost - and it was the first thoroughly modern lightweight machine.