It’s a well-known conundrum that whenever you publish anything claiming it’s ‘the oldest’, information is bound to come up disproving it. And so it was with one of my greatest vintage bicycle coups, the oldest surviving Raleigh safety bicycle.
I was offered it in 2009 when I could not afford it’s high price. I lost the seller’s contact details, but found them again in 2011 and arranged to meet the seller at Benson Veteran Cycle Run to conclude the purchase. I duly handed over the large wedge of cash and instantly became the owner of the oldest known Raleigh safety bicycle, with frame number 1972.
I walked it to my van nearby. As I was loading it, a friend walked past and asked me the age of the Raleigh. I told him that it was 1890. John’s reply floored me: “I have one from 1889”. I had owned the oldest surviving Raleigh safety bicycle for just three minutes!
As a postscript, he brought his Raleigh down to Brighton and we compared the two. His has an 1890s detachable chainwheel while my chainwheel is earlier. And, more important, his is rusty and has no discernable frame number. So while his may be a similar age, mine is still the earliest proven Raleigh.