The Bike that Got Away

Anthony Catalano's Raleigh Chopper circa 1974Oh, the rides that get away. Most every longtime cyclist has a tale or two about the one that disappeared from school or was snatched during a few moments of inattention. In time that sting tends to taper off as we quickly move on to the next ride. But then there are the lost rides that never seem to let go of our imagination.

Anthony Catalano’s superlative Raleigh Chopper, stolen in 1974 in Brooklyn, just two years after he pressed it into wheelie service, was for him the one for that got away.

If you were so fortunate as to sport a Raleigh Chopper in certain NYC precincts back then, you were the shit indeed. That trapezoid frame, the boxy seat and the (sprung!) sissy bar – Que es mas macho? They were offset by a graceful, almost feminine bend in the bars. Choppers weren’t just hot; they were meant for business. Light in the front end, this sturdy British export was perfect for popping a wheelie. Especially with a rear derailleur & low gearing – talk about snap! Girls needed not apply. This was a guy’s bike.

So just imagine it goes missing. That’s a crushing blow. And for Anthony, the sting has not abated. As you can feel from his post to Flickr:

My very rare, esp in USA 10spd [not a 3 or a 5] chopper. Sorry, no wheeley bar. My $110+tx 1972 bday present. I plotted for a year. Can you say yardwork? Stolen from my yard in ’78 Now gg of $900 to $1300 on Ebay: weep for me. Scanned from a Polaroid square developed rapidly in my armpit. Color held up nicely. Yes, it was THAT orange. After riding a full-sized 10spd, the Chopper felt too small and I left it “hidden” or so I thought… in my yard. My first and fondest memory of it: My pal Chris gave me a ride 20 blocks that Saturday afternoon under the B train’s El to the bike store ridding “ramrod” on his bananna seat. [ok that sounds gay] But my fond memory is riding my brand new chopper all the way home. I was so proud of it. Nothing else looked like it or was as stylish. Nothing. I think my friend was jealous a bit. The bike was so balanced that I could ride for over a block doing a wheelie and decide to touch-down. One time, I think it must have been around 1974, I rode home 30 blocks “No-Hands” while eating an entire McDonalds Burger, fries and a coke. I did not touch the handlebars once until I got home on 57th street coming from 86th street and 8 avenues up. No other bike had a squared-off banana seat. I do not think this model was made in a girl’s version. Tuff luck, this is a guy’s bike and it’s not sorry. Scanned from a Polaroid. Choice ruffians would often alight me with, “Nice bike, can I have a ride?” I’d respond with, “later man” and pedal hard as they’d laugh. – Whiskeygonebad

Ouch. I feel your pain, Anthony! But with all due deference to this fine ride, the single-speed Raleigh Chopper was the one for me. My friend’s coaster-brake Chopper made for hellacious skids! We put that wide rear slick to the test many times, wearing the square-profile tire’s tread down to its mesh. Until one too many skids lifted my friend’s arse airborn with a POP! and it was game over.

Here’s to Anthony’s lost Raleigh Chopper and the Chopper mystique that lives on in the imagination of many a New York punk of a certain era.