The creator of Chopper, a mythical bicycle, has died at the age of 96. Still remember pedaling this true classic?
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There are a series of objects that return us to a certain temporal space. The Rubik’s Cube, the Lemon Fizz, the Walkman or the pads on clothes are some of them. The Chopper bike is also on this list, being most certainly the first cycle for many people.
Its bold design, the shift lever installed on the frame and, of course, the large rear wheel (as opposed to the smaller front wheel) made the Chopper a bestseller since its creation, in the 1960s, with a long reign, until be dethroned by BMX and, later, by elaborate models in carbon fiber, titanium, etc.
But why does this famous bicycle, whose official name was Raleigh Chopper, now appear here? Its creator, Tom Karen, died recently, aged 96, leaving a vast legacy in the area of design.
Chopper: icon that lasted for decades
This bike was the lifeline for Raleigh. The colossal sales of the Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 models (produced between 1967 and 2005) took the company out of the red, making Chopper a true pop culture icon.
It was everywhere and quickly made its way to the big screen, appearing in movies like The Goonies or Back to the Future. Even the then American President Ronald Reagan had a Chopper, sold at auction in 2014 for a staggering $35,000.
The first model, the Mk1, arrived on the North American market in mid-1969, and could be purchased with three or five speeds. The long seat, the tall and slender steering wheel and the wheels of different sizes were, from the outset, the recipe for success with the younger public. In the same year, Chopper arrived in Europe.
This was followed by the Mk2, which stopped being produced in 1985, when it couldn’t stand up to the madness of the BMX. The Mk3 was the last major upgrade of this historic bike, which ended up yielding to the advancement of times and new trends, and materials, to leave the market.
It is now a vintage object, for collectors, and some models reach unusual values.
Tom Karen, the genius designer
Tom Karen, who died on the last day of the year 2022, was the man behind the creation of Raleigh Chopper. This British man distinguished himself as an industrial designer, lending his genius to creations such as various radios or the famous Marbel Run game.
However, Karen goes down in history, mainly with the Chopper project, although the authorship of the design was, for many years, a reason for heated debate.
Alan Oakley, Raleigh’s director of design at the time, also claimed paternity for the project. Even today there are some disagreements, but Tom Karen is accepted by most as the mind behind the revolutionary bicycle.
The design was inspired by dragsters (light vehicles with very powerful engines), beach buggies and, of course, the “chopped” motorcycles used by North American bikers.
It has become a classic, a piece of design recognized around the world and even takes place in museums of the specialty. Not bad for a simple bike.