Though it wasn’t the first bike I was given, the first I really loved was a blue Raleigh Burner BMX, with yellow mag wheels and matching pad set.
Coming of bicycling age in the midst of BMX’s original heyday, most of my friends also had one.
Those whose parents couldn’t stretch to a revered Diamond Back or Mongoose or Skyway (which in my village was everyone!), mostly had a Burner.
Mine was a step up from the standard red model with spoked wheels, but not one of the higher end models like the black and gold Ultra Burner or its photographically negative sibling, the gold and black Super Tuff Burner.
Nevertheless I was very happy with my Burner, and lived on it after school and at weekends for years.
So naturally, Raleigh, and their famous red heron head badge, holds fond memories for me.
After becoming more curious about bikes again a few months back, I’ve started looking beyond the bikes I know about from experience – which were essentially 80s BMXs and 90s mountain bikes.
Because I soon realised, the feelings I seek from the cycling experience have evolved.
I’m intrigued about bikes that are more about getting around more gently, more gracefully, and more enjoyably than the flat out hammering that BMXs and MTBs tend to encourage, if not outright demand.
Which led me to the genre of mixte bicycles.
The main feature of the mixte (pronounced MIX-tee in English) is a double top tube that extends all the way down to the rear wheel, bisected by the seat tube, rather than the traditional horizontal top tube in a diamond frame.
This design is said to offer the strength of a diamond frame, with the convenience of a lower step over height and less weight overall.
The genre has given rise to some very elegant and handsome bicycles.
Before you ask, though in some cultures the mixte is seen as more as a ladies bike, its origins in France in the early 20th century – and its name – came from the desire for a mixed gender bicycle, equally appealing and comfortable to men and women.
So no, I’m not looking at girls’ bikes.
A little further research and some eBay browsing later, I found a Raleigh mixte bike from the mid 80s on sale locally, and went to see it.
The owner wasn’t interested in a cash offer, and seemed to think there would be a bidding frenzy. “I’m not sure what it’s worth, but they go for hundreds in London you know,” he told me.
So I bided my time, watched the auction, put in a bid at the opening price of £29.95 and five seconds later with no sign of that avalanche of interest the seller anticipated, the Raleigh was mine. For less than I was ready to offer him a week previously. And you know I love a bargain!
So I picked it up, and based on my previous viewing, expected it to not be rideable, needing two tyres, new cables, perhaps a new saddle and some serious derailleur adjustment.
But when I got it home and tried putting some air in the quite probably original and rather cracked Raleigh Supalites, they pumped up fine and appeared to hold. The saddle needs it cover securing but after a quick tighten is perfectly functional.
And the gears and brakes, with a few repeated and careful actuations, seemed fine too.
So I took it for a gentle spin up the road, and then, confidence growing as steadily as the grin on my face, went the length of a local lane I frequently use to blow away the cobwebs on a bike.
The Raleigh not only survived the journey without mechanical incident, it was almost shockingly breezy to ride.
I’ve never had a mixte bike, nor one with drop handlebars, and both were a revelation.
The frame feels robust but light, and whilst I wasn’t hopping on and off it along the way, the low step over height inspires a more safe feeling, and makes the bike feel smaller and more manoeuvrable.
With the drop bars I started out in my default hand position from using flat bars. But already, the far narrower width felt more comfortable and again made the bike feel more compact and nimble.
Along the way I experimented with different hand positions, and enjoyed the freedom and variety this gave me. With straight bars there’s really only position you can have your hands in.
A third novelty to me was the gear shifters on the stem (thankfully not on the down tube, which looks scary to me!). I’ve only ever used thumb or rapid fire shifters.
The extra space this gave my hands to roam on the bars was very welcome. It also meant I was shifting far less often than when the lever is right there at the tip of my thumb, ever tempting, as with my other bikes.
The Raleigh is only a ten speed anyway, two cogs up front (I left it on the smallest the whole time) and five at the rear, so essentially I’m using it as a five speed.
The brakes are pretty standard Weinmann calipers, not amazing, but better than I expected.
Again this is not a high speed racing or downhill mountain bike, so the stopping power is adequate. New cables and adjustment will probably help, and maybe some pads with a more effective modern compound – this summary was based on heading straight out with what look like the original Raleigh brake blocks on a bike that doesn’t look like it’s been touched in 20 years.
Another pleasing outcome was despite the wet roads and misty drizzle, I remained entirely unsplashed by the tyres, the original close fitting and fairly long mudguards doing their job admirably.
After getting home I broke out the T-Cut and gave the frame a quick once over, and aside from a few scratches and hints of rust, the lovely pale metallic blue paintwork has come up surprisingly well.
A further first for me is a lugged frame. Even though I know this wasn’t a high end bike in its day, it nods towards past tradition and besides just looks very stylish, in my eyes.
Talking of its age, the serial number is clearly visible and after a little Googling seems to suggest the frame was made in the original Raleigh Nottingham factory, in February 1985.
Which makes it a still willing 33 year old, the oldest bike I’ve owned by far.
Finally of course the fabled heron head badge, the same as on my Burner from the same era, which somehow neatly completes a cycling circle for me, like returning to a first love in some ways.
So where does this endearing Raleigh mixte fit in my collection (or “stable” as bike collector types seem to call it)?
It’s too early to say, but I know I don’t want four bikes. My wife would heartily concur.
The ebike will stay, and likely my Crossroads, with the old Rockhopper currently the least used and appealing.
(Update – I donated the Rockhopper to a local charity – Cyclists Fighting Cancer)
But based on my first ride, this Raleigh could become my only journey bike, with my ebike as a destination bike, and no need for anything else.
I don’t want to spend anything on the mixte, aside from new tubes and tyres. I like the idea of keeping it original and just using it as was intended, without any frankenbike mods.
Although I have to say restorations like Ana’s do look quite beautiful.
Have you returned to a first love in cycling or photography, and how did it work out? What did it give you that a modern equivalent hasn’t?
Please tell us all about it in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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