Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Raleigh Twenty

I present you with a small collection of photos of a fairly well-known (in the UK at least) commuter bicycle from the 1960's-1980's, the Raleigh Twenty, both modified and un-modified.  It has a dedicated following/fanbase who have taken the basic principle and frame of the bike and built upon it, modifying it to suit their own diverse needs.

Why the ubiqiuitous mountain bike (the run-of-the-mill 26 inch wheel one) has become so common over the smaller bike is a puzzle to me.  The 20" bike obviously has many advantages over the 26" mountain bike, below are some advantages that immediately spring to mind:
  • Lighter (because there is less tubular steel).
  • The folding bikes are smaller thus easier to store (which is a boon if you're living in a small house, flat, or bed-sit where space is a premium).
  • The hub-gears are encased rather than exposed to the elements (rain, water, mud, dirt, dust) thus are less likely to malfunction, and rarely need cleaning.
  • It can be used by people of all heights and ages: the short and tall, the young and old.
  • The bike is shorter which means a more upright and ergo comfortable seating position (which is a bonus to those who suffer from back problems but still want to be able to ride a bike).
  • It can be very easily dis-assembled and transported.  (THIS photo shows a folding-Twenty that has been packed into a suitcase so it can be taken over-seas.)
  • Smaller tyres are cheaper to produce and are less wasteful when the worn-out tyres are thrown away.

Some Un-Modified Raleigh Twenty's:
For those unfamiliar with the Raleigh Twenty, here are a few photos of the bikes in their original condition, with a variety of different components on them (rack, basket, lights etc).

A purple Twenty with mudguards/fenders only.  (Mud-guards and chain-guards were standard fittings on the Twenty).

A red Twenty with a rear rack.

A green Twenty with a rear-rack and a dynamo lighting system.

A Twenty with a front-basket, and rear-rack.

One with a front rack and basket, rear rack and bag, and a dynamo lighting system.

A price list of six commuter bicycles fom 1970.

£30 might not sound like much in 2014, but back in 1970 it was a fair amount of money.  The average salary was £2,000 per annum, or £38 per week.  So a top-of-the-range commuter bicycle was roughly one weeks wages.  If we compare this to figures from 2014 when the average salary is £27,000 per annum, or £519 per week, then we can see that many commuter bicycles are roughly the same cost in 2014 as they were in 1970.

(As an aside, HERE is a link to an inflation calculator that shows what money from 1970 is worth in 2014, or any other year that you decide to choose.)

Some Modified Raleigh Twenty's:
Handlebars, mudguards, chainsets, saddles, paint-jobs, and tyres are just some of the aspects of the Twenty that have been modified in these examples.

A stripped down version with drop-down handlebars, and front-derailleur and rear-derailleurs.

Another stripped down version with (what could be) it's original bicycle pump behind the stem.

Very distinctive wheels.

Amongst many modifications this particular Twenty has new front-forks for a more comfortable riding experience.

Another Twenty with front-suspension.  This one has also been converted to a fixed gear.  The Fixed Gear Gallery website that hosts is has lots of other DIY bicycle projects that you might find interesting.  (Or just copy and paste '' into a search engine and click 'images' to see the photos without having to trudge through umpteen links, like this.)

This Twenty had a new coat of paint, marine paint to be precise, which improved the lifespan of the steel frame as it travelled along salted Winter roads.

A photo of a Twenty with all the mods very helpfully identified.

A heavy-duty cargo conversion.

A long-distance touring bike kitted out with camping gear and high-visibility pannier bags.  There is a rear-rack somewhere under all of that gear!

Another Twenty laden with camping equipment.

A third Twenty kitted out for touring.

One with an electric motor in the front hub.

Raleigh Twenty's Being Ridden:
A few photos of Twenty's being ridden, for when photos of stationary bikes just don't hit the spot.

Call the Cops!  She may look stylish, but she should have both hands on the handlebars.  Hands-free sets are availabe from all good retail outlets.

A happy chappy on a modified Twenty.

# The roads are alive to the sound of music. #

There are numerous websites dedicated to the Twenty all over the internet, below are a few of them:

Closing Thoughts - A New Everyday Bike:
It seems odd that someone hasn't gotten around to converting (large sized) BMX bikes into an adult everyday bike.  It would be based on the Four E's principle:
  • Easy to build, easy to maintain, easy to repair, easy to upgrade.
An everyday bike that everyday people would use, rather one that's designed for bicycle fanatics (who are obsessed with weight, and the latest technology) by bicycle manufacturers (who want money, and use non-standard component sizes, e.g. there are 9 tyre sizes which are identify themselves as 20" but in fact range from 400mm to 451mm.  See HERE for more tyre madness).

A large BMX has roughly the same frame size as a Raleigh Twenty (20" top tube) and would be ideal for all people of different heights.  It also has a commonly available wheel size (406mm, which are used on BMXs, children bikes, and some bicyles trailers) which means that spare wheels parts and tyres are easily available.

The Everyday Bike would include some or more of the following components:
  • A longer seat post for a comfortable riding position.
  • A longer stem for the handlebars.
  • A 3-speed, 5-speed, or more, Hub gearing system, to make travelling long distances and undulating terrain easier.
  • Lights.  Perhaps dynamo lights, or a dyno-hub, or friction-free dynamo lights.  Most modern dynamo lights have capacitors which basically function as batteries, which would store a charge and keep the lights going while the bike is static (e.g. at traffic lights).
  • Front and/or a rear rack and/or basket, for shoppers to put shopping in, and for commuters to put pannier backpacks on.  The basket and pannier bags could be of a standardised size to accomodate the average shopping bag full of goods (milk, bread, jam etc).  The pannier bags would be made of different material (e.g. nylon, wicker, steel etc), and look different (colours & patterns) but would conform to the same size.
  • Mudguards/fenders to keep the rain at bay, and keep your clothes relatively mud-free.  Either steel, aluminium or plastic.
  • Chain-guard, to stop the riders trouser leg getting caught in the chain and torn to shreds.
  • Slick or semi-slick tyres for use on paved road surfaces.  Most of us use bikes to commute from A to B, which usually involves riding along tarmac or concrete roads, not mud or loose gravel.  The knobbly tyres which are standard-fitting on many mountain bikes are un-necessary for paved roads.  The only reason that they are so common is because of marketing and the 'cool' factor.
  • The paint job would be a 2-tier affair: 1) The toughest most robust paint known to man, regardless of asthetics would be used to cover the bike frame; 2) vinyl-wrap would be used on-top of this.  The vinyl-wrap would use whatever pattern the owner wants to use, which would therefore allow for greater level of customisation/individuality.  It would also mean that children could/would keep their bike and simply replace the vinyl-wrap as they get older (e.g. replace 'Thomas the Tank Engine' kids vinyl-wrap with 'Urban-Camoflage' teenagers vinyl-wrap, and then with 'British Racing Green' adults vinyl-wrap).  This would obviously save a lot of money for the parents/children, as they would keep the same bike from a young age until the bike wears out; only changing superficial aspects over the years like vinyl-wrap and other accessories.
  • All components would be of a standardised size to make it easier for manufacturers, and for cyclists (for repairs and upgrades).  This would include nuts and bolts, wheel components, spokes, and all clips that are used to attach components to the bike (for light, speedometers, PDAs etc).  This standardisation would make it easier for both manufacturers and cyclists.
It would be easy enough to manufacture this Everyday Bike as there are plenty of BMX bikes and components floating around, and would provide a low-cost alternative to the run-of-the-mill 26" moutain bike that anyone of any height or age could ride.  And most importantly it would be a bike that would useful for everyday cyclists who need a bike to meet their needs rather than the needs of bicycle fanatics (who are interested in the latest uber-expensive light-weight high-tech carbon-fibre goodies) or bicycle manufacturers (who are interested in selling bikes).  Bikes are bikes, not temples to technology or revenue generators.  Let's remember that, and get back on track.



  1. I've been using a BMX as a commuter.
    I've also got a 20!

  2. Hey that's the kind of BMX modification I've been looking for (or a photo of one atleast)! Thanks for posting it.

    Yeah the old Twenty's a good bike. Except for the braking of course. Chromed steel rims don't provide much in the way of stopping power, and even less when it's wet! There's a good book on bikes called 'Bicycling Science' by David Gordon Wilson which says that braking distances on steel rims are quadrupled on in wet weather. I guess that's why hub brakes were so popular before the arrival of alloy rims.

    Here's a link to the book on google if you're interested:

  3. There are 3 problems with folding bikes in general vs. mountain bikes insofar as their suitability for a commuter is concerned:
    1) The hinge/frame is not solid on most folders. This is where the Raleigh Twenty excels. The hinge is very stable on the Raleigh Folder.
    2) Small wheels. I've gone over the handlebars and had the bike land on me with the Raleigh when I hit bumps from tree roots. This has never happened with my GT.
    3) Non-standard parts. The Raleigh Twenty has a non-standard headset, headtube, handlebars, front axle and bottom bracket - both width and TPI. In addition, the US versions have 406 wheels on a frame designed for 451 wheels. The SWIFT folder claims to use standard parts but the headset in particular is likely to be non-standard on all folders to get the handlebars in a neat package.

    I have both a Raleigh Twenty Folder (currently fixed gear) and a GT Tequesta (single speed).

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Small wheels. I've gone over the handlebars and had the bike land on me with the Raleigh when I hit bumps from tree roots

      Ouch. That's definitely a reason to give small wheels a miss when off-roading. I've only ridden the Twenty on tarmac roads and (narrow but level) dirt tracks, and haven't had any problems (touch wood). Mind you, due to the steel wheels & poor braking I've always maintained a relatievly slow speed, and avoided pot holes at any opportunity.

      You're 110% right about the non-standard parts. It's a shame that bike manufacturers don't use standardised sizes like the ISO tyre sizing for the rest of the components on their bikes. It would make life easier for the owners, and possibly for manufacturers as well.