The Raleigh Cycle Co take a foremost place, and their models for 1915 will, at least, show improvements in detail, if not in the broad lines of construction …A most interesting new model is a well-designed military bicycle enamelled all over in black or service colour. This machine is fitted with service gun clips, and with special carriers back and front which have been subjected to severe weight-carrying tests, each is capable of supporting an average man. It is a utility machine which seems assured of much favour during the next few years.
– Cycling Magazine, Page 448; 3rd December, 1914
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.*
Very few bicycles have proven provenance as a World War 1 military model, and even fewer can be shown to have definitely seen action during the war. The reason is that most ‘military’ bicycles were normal roadsters with military fittings added by the factory, by the corps, or by servicemen themselves. A serviceman often used his own machine. If such bicycles were returned to Britain after the war, or sold off in government auctions, the military fittings were removed.
Records exist to show the age of Raleigh bicycles, so it can be seen that this example was made in 1912. With all motor vehicles called into service after August 1914, bicycles became the primary form of transportation at home. So it’s likely that this bicycle was in use 1914-1918. An estimated 300,000 bicycles were used during the war, both military and civilian models, with or without military fittings. This 1915 Raleigh is typical of a soldier’s own bicycle, with military fittings, that he would have used for coast patrol.
Raleigh first illustrated a ‘military model’ in 1908. As you can see by comparing the illustrations above and below, Raleigh’s 1914 ‘Military Model’ would appear to be a Model No 28 with the addition of rifle clips and a carrier rack front and rear.
1915 Raleigh with WW1 Military Fittings
Frame No 543273
Brooks B90 Saddle
World War 1 Kit-bag
(Rifle for display only; not included in sale)
Pictured above left is a 1915 Raleigh All-Steel Roadster with chaincase, fitted with a 1932 dated Sturmey-Archer three speed gear and handlebar-mounted barrel gear trigger. It’s an older restoration, in good all-round riding condition. I added the appropriate fittings to turn it into the type of bicycle that was used by married men who enlisted after war broke out to serve at home, on coast patrol. (To turn it into a Raleigh Military Model, remove the chaincase and three-speed gear). It’s ready to ride and display – or ready to accompany you if you get the call to enlist…
WORLD WAR 1 MILITARY RALEIGH BICYCLE IMAGES
1916 RALEIGH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
ON COAST PATROL
BAD TEETH NO BAR: HISTORY OF MILITARY BICYCLES IN THE GREAT WAR