At the moment we have a lovely example of a 1980s Raleigh Record Ace in the shop, a model that over fifty years has chalked up a pretty impressive series of achievements to its name.
Much of the rise of cycle racing in the late 19th century and early 20th was driven by bicycle manufacturers, who were desperate to associate their machines with famous race winners and record-breaking runs. In Europe this led to ever-longer races: routes like Bordeaux to Paris, or Paris-Brest-Paris became punishing marathons for the scores of cyclists who competed.
However, in Britain these kinds of road races involving mass starts were banned, so a different kind of racing became popular – individual time trials and record runs. Raleigh recognised the advertising value of sponsoring record-breaking riders early on. When Harry Green set the Land’s End to John O’Groats record in 1907 it was on a Raleigh, and when Jack Rossiter broke the record again in 1929 Raleigh were not shy about claiming the credit, and quickly released the ‘Raleigh Record’ model to cement their association with Rossiter and Green’s achievements.
And in 1933 came the first Raleigh Record Ace, the elite model of the Record series. “When your feet touch the pedals of the Raleigh Record Ace” purred the catalogue of that year, “you recognise, on the instant, a machine that gives you more speed, more pleasure and more riding ease." The bike soon lived up to its name.
In 1939 twenty-six year old Tommy Godwin set out to ride further in a year than anyone else ever had. For twelve months he remained firmly attached to his Raleigh Record Ace, which the company provided, clocking up 75,065 miles. He even kept going after the year had ended, eventually making it to over 100,000 miles until wartime rationing made it hard for him to keep up his enormous daily diet of bread, milk, eggs and cheese (he was a veggie, and had been ever since a traumatic stint working in a pie factory).
After the war Raleigh continued to sponsor record breaking rides, and so the Raleigh Record Ace kept justifying its name, notably by the excellently-named cycling legend Ray Booty who in the fifties twice set the 100 mile speed record on a Raleigh Record Ace, the first time on a v. trendy fixie Record Ace. His second 1958 time of 3hrs and 48 minutes, at the Commonwealth Games (this time on a geared bike), would stand for a further 34 years until it was broken by Ian Cammish. “If I still had my time over again I could beat some of today’s lads,” said a defiant Booty in an interview in 1988.
The Raleigh Record Ace continued to make British records well into the sixties. Check out this great front page of Cycling Magazine from 1965 of Cliff Smith brandishing his Raleigh Record Ace after breaking the London-Edinburgh record.
And the Raleigh Record Ace is still going as a brand: only this year Raleigh released a new model… but we think our eighties one is much nicer.
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