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.
With all motor vehicles called into service after August 1914, bicycles became the primary form of transportation at home. An estimated 300,000 bicycles were used during the war, both military and civilian models, with or without military fittings. This Raleigh is typical of a soldier’s own bicycle, which he may have taken into service when he enlisted.
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.
1918 Raleigh with WW1 Military Fittings
Frame No 619530
Pictured above is a 1918 Raleigh ‘Model Superbe’ All-Steel Roadster, fitted with a post-WW1 Sturmey-Archer three speed gear and handlebar-mounted barrel gear trigger. It’s unrestored, retaining its original paintwork, as well as the original transfer (decal) on the steering head and rear mudguard.
It has been ‘called up’ for service with the addition of rifle clips, rear carrier and frame-mounted tool pouch. The only difference between this and the ‘Raleigh Military Model’ (below) is the front rack and three speed gear – Raleigh supplied them direct to the War Office as single speed machines. Regiments around the country also bought bicycles direct from the cycle trade, often with money donated by local businesses. Military fittings varied on these; some had none. And chaps who enlisted often brought their own cycles with them.
Due to the absence of motor cars and motorcycles (all sent to France), every available bicycle was called into service between 1914 and 1918. Most bicycles built at that time saw some sort of service for the war effort, either in France or at home for coast patrols or general runarounds.
This WW1 era machine is ready to ride and display. And should you get the call to enlist, it will serve you well whether on coast patrol in Britain, or delivering messages from the trenches in France to advance units, passing stealthily in the night and ready to jump off and pull the bike into the bushes should you see an enemy patrol ahead.
WORLD WAR 1 MILITARY RALEIGH BICYCLE IMAGES
1916 RALEIGH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
BAD TEETH NO BAR: HISTORY OF MILITARY BICYCLES IN THE GREAT WAR