If you were a young teenager in the 1970s, you will probably recall the attraction of the Raleigh Chopper – a bike that thought it was a Harley-Davidson and turned the playground into a set from Easy Rider. Well, now you can make money collecting chopper bikes, they are a real collector’s item and fetch up to £750 in top condition. So if you want to recapture your youth AND make a pretty profit then read on for our full guide…
Choppers were quite different to the average bike. They had a gear shift on the horizontal bar, long seats with a back rest and distinctive ‘sit up and beg’ handlebars. In short, they were every young boy’s (and many a young girl’s) dream. For many, though, owning a Chopper remained just that because they weren’t cheap.
The mass-produced MK II version, available between 1972 and 1980, most famously in yellow, red or purple, cost around £35 – a lot of money for parents in those days. Thousands of youngsters did not get the bike they longed for, but now those disappointed 12-year-olds have jobs and children of their own, and suddenly they can buy their own Chopper – and more.
One such unhappy youngster was Gary Hughes, now 39, who has gone on to own 10 of the bikes and run the Raleigh Chopper Owners Club.
“It must have been about 1976,” he recalls. “I remember going into a bicycle shop with my dad as an 11-year-old. I saw a yellow Chopper and thought, ‘that’s the one I want’. But it was too big for me, and too expensive. I had to have a Chipper, which was a kind of junior version. It was good but it didn’t have the gear shift, and I always really wanted a Chopper.”
Mr Hughes is far from alone in his fascination. One of his friends, who had kept his black and chrome Chopper in mint condition – storing it in his bedroom under a blanket for over two decades – recently sold it on eBay for £1,900 plus a delivery charge. The purchaser was a company director who had wanted one as a child but couldn’t afford one.
The renaissance of the Chopper is partly due to a nostalgia for all things ’70s, but Mr Hughes has been amazed at the huge surge in interest in the bikes over the past few years.
“In the mid-Nineties, a friend of mine used to recondition Choppers,” he says. “And when he had finished one, he would come up to London and ride it down North End Road market in Fulham on a Saturday. Every time, before he’d got to the end of the road, someone would have come up to him, asked to buy it and he would have sold it to them for £400. He didn’t even have to advertise.”
Mr Hughes, and many of his friends in the club (there are members all round the world), ride their bikes for pleasure and regularly meet up for shows, rallies and events. Now, though, more people are getting into the scene for financial reasons. “We could be in a Chopper bubble already,” he says. “Everyone’s going mad for them now.”
Mr Hughes adds that when he restored his first bike, a basic set of handlebar grips cost around £12. Now, original sets change hands for £88. “I think the prices have shot up because people have been hoarding these bikes for years. But now that they’re cool again, so they’re offloading them on to the market. Some people will buy a bike and just strip it and sell the bits on eBay. You can make another £200 on the price of a bike that way.”
Raleigh rode the new wave of interest by reissuing the bike as a MK3 limited edition in 2004, along with a new range of accessories and special branded clothing. These Choppers now cost anything between £50 and £500.
And the future for Chopper collecting? Even Mr Hughes is not sure. “The current bicycle scene as a whole has taken a dive because kids are sitting on their bums playing computer games, rather than going out for a ride,” he says ruefully. “My three are out every weekend with me, but lots of parents don’t take their kids out now.”
So although Chopper prices are likely to hold, and even rise, over the next couple of decades while the teenagers of the 1970s are still energetic enough to ride them, their enthusiasm may not be shared by their grandchildren. On the other hand, they could be the penny-farthings of the future.
An average MK II bike in reasonable condition costs £50–150, and parts start at £10. A respray costs £80 and rechroming £175 upwards.
Restored bikes in great condition can go for as much as £750, so this could be a fun hobby and a nice little earner too.