Raleigh Chopper designer Alan Oakley dies from cancer
- 20 May 2012
- From the section Nottingham
The man who designed Raleigh's iconic Chopper bicycle has died after a battle with cancer.
Alan Oakley, 85 and from Nottingham, home of the bike manufacturer, died on Friday.
His wife Karen told the BBC she had managed his illness "right up until the last few weeks".
Mrs Oakley confirmed the now-legendary story that her husband drew the design for the Chopper on an envelope as he travelled home from the USA, in 1967.
Initially inspired to replicate the design of Peter Fonda's motorbike in the classic movie Easy Rider, Mr Oakley came up with his drawing as he flew home from the trip, set up for him to "get to grips" with youth culture.
Moving away from the traditional, diamond-shaped frame, Mr Oakley thought a bike with huge handle bars, a bulky, padded seat with a back rest and a car-like gear lever on the main frame, would exude the "cool" he was after.
"Alan had been over to America looking to pick up a design for a bike," said Mrs Oakley.
"While he was flying back, he had an airmail envelope and just drew this bike on the back of it and that was that, the creation of the Chopper."
Initial attempts to sell the Chopper in America were unsuccessful.
But sales took off in the early 1970s in the UK and according to Raleigh, "changed the way a generation of British kids rode".
"Raleigh wasn't moving with the times and Alan came up with this showstopping design," said Mrs Oakley.
The Chopper was so successful, Raleigh sold 1.5 million of them in the UK alone and the strange bike is credited with saving the company from bankruptcy.
In the 1980s, production of the Chopper ceased as BMX bikes became the fashionable choice.
But in 2004, due to popular demand, a limited edition Chopper, costing between £200 and £300 for a Mk3 model, was released.
Some changes were made to the Mk1 and Mk2's original design such as a new seat to discourage "backies", according to Mrs Oakley, and the gear lever was moved to a safer position on the handlebars.
"As a friend and former colleague of Alan's said, 'Raleigh was Alan and Alan was Raleigh', "said Mrs Oakley.
"He was there for 40 years and loved every minute of it. He made people very happy and I am very proud of him."