The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Bonded By Bikes …

While it may not mean much to you other than being an old photo of a street, it’s the sign that says ‘Raleigh’ that means so much to me.

You see when you’re a kid, you look for a sign that where you’re from has value. Something that lets you feel like you’re in a special place. That you have a shot at something, even if it’s by osmosis of geography.

For me, there were 2 things.

Nottingham Forest and Raleigh Bikes.

In the case of Forest, it was the beginning of Brian Clough’s era at the City Ground … where he took a provincial team to the heights of Europe. Not once, but twice.

For a young kid, just getting into football … that was the best feeling in the World.

To know you were from the same place that had the King’s of Europe made you feel on top of the World.

But those days were just unfolding, which is why there was another sign that I was born in a special place.

Raleigh Bicycles.

While the actual business was a bit of a nightmare – always flying close to the wind – no one really knew that because the company was World famous for 2 bikes.

The Chopper and the Grifter.

While they made many bikes … and there were many different bike manufacturers all over the world … those 2 of all the bikes they made and were available, were icons.

Even later, when they helped popularise the BMX with their Tuff Burner range, nothing came close to the impact, social kudos and design distinctiveness of those two.

The Chopper – specifically the Mark 1 and 2 – were the creme de la creme.

Despite being notoriously dangerous – both for its bad weight balance [especially when giving someone a croggy] and the location of it notorious groin busting gear lever – it became an instant classic.

It looked like the motorbike in the movie Easy Rider … which for a kid felt like the ultimate in cool rebellion.

And then there was the hefty Grifter that came after it.

Like a Grand Tourer Harley, it was heavy as hell with massive, chunky tyres… but it also was more sturdy and solid than its Chopper cousin. And while it didn’t possess the same danger to your future parent potential, it still had this massive metal bar running along the top of the bike that had the ability to hurt you if you stopped too soon.

I didn’t have a Chopper, but I had a Grifter and even though I sold it when I turned 15 – so 37 years ago – it still has an indelible mark on me.

Which is why Raleigh’s demise still hurts.

Because back then, it was more than just the demise of a brand that I had put so much of my identity in … it was a sign that great can fail.

In many ways, it was the first experience I had of collapse.

I appreciate that sounds ridiculous – and privileged – but it’s true.

It was a sign that whatever your best intentions, success was not assured.

Worse, even if you do achieve it, you may not keep it.

It was a life lesson that really hit me hard … made more challenging by me finding school hard.

Especially exams.

Of course, now I am older I also appreciate that hardship can sometimes become good … if you work hard and have a bunch of luck. But I wish I had worked that out earlier, rather than placing so much importance on things that had nothing to do with me other than being from the same geographical location.

But I still feel loss about Raleigh.

Nottingham is a great city, but it’s icons keep dying.

From the lace markets to the coal mines to the factories that churned out everything from cigarettes to technology equipment to even the ownership of Boots The Chemist.

Maybe that’s why Forest are so important to me.

That even though they faced 23 years in the wilderness, they are still alive.

Better yet, they managed to defeat the odds and stay in the Premiership.

A sign that the place I was raised, still is worth something to the people who live there.

I hope so.

Because Nottingham offers so much more than simply being the place where the iconic Raleigh Chopper and Grifters were born.

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