Lifestyle

The Raleigh DL-1: My Dream Bike

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From 1940s through the 1970s, Raleigh made the DL-1 in three different versions: the Sports, the Superbe and the Tourist. With maybe some minor differences in the frame’s geometry, these classic bikes were basically the same, but with different packages built onto them, like a Sturmey-Archer Dynohub generator with a front and rear lighting set, a fork lock, rod brakes, an air pump, a full chain guard, a leather “touring bag” under the Brooks saddle… Things like that. They were mostly available in rich black, coffee or that gorgeous bronze green.

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On my unlucky search for a mint-condition DL-1 in my size on eBay, I learned that these bikes are real collectors’ items. Made with fully-lugged, sturdy steel frames (“The All-Steel Bicycle”), they were the ultimate utility bikes that were built to last with minimum care, which is why many of them are still around. Many of the DL-1s I saw on my search came from as far back as 1950. (I doubt today’s feather-light carbon fiber whispers will be around in 70 years.)

1950s Raleigh Sports
1950s Raleigh Sports

But cycling tastes and modes have changed. Today’s model of riding in the United States is all about ultra-light frames, sporty-sport racing, daredeviling and extremes like the fixed-gear (“fixie”) craze so popular with the hipster set. In terms of design, the modern trend is charmless to me, and often downright ugly. Even when manufacturers try to emulate the “classic” bike look, the end result is often a clunky bruiser and far from elegant.

The "Tourist De Luxe" from Raleigh in Denmark.
The “Tourist De Luxe” from Raleigh in Denmark.

I did learn some good news recently about the DL-1. In Denmark, where the bicycling culture is markedly different and more civilized than it is here, Raleigh still produces the DL-1 in its original glory, but with updated hubs, gears and brakes. It’s called the Tourist De Luxe and it’s glorious. I don’t know if they ship to America, but the price tag is 7.999,000 kroner (about $1200 U.S.). If anyone is looking for a newly-minted version of this head-turner with vintage craftsmanship, I’d look here: www.raleighbikes.dk

As a feat of engineering, the bicycle was perfected over a century ago. As far as I’m concerned, the apex of its elegance was achieved with Raleigh’s DL-1 and all its sub-iterations for nearly four decades, and now continued with the Tourist De Luxe in Denmark. I love my custom Chief from Heritage Bicycles, but like that man that got away, I’ll always carry a torch for the DL-1.

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13 Comments

  1. George, I realize you’re only human but your lust for a vintage bike surprises me and seems atypical of your pragmatic approach to life and “nice things.” Your Heritage Chief is a far better bicycle from frame to bearings than an old Raleigh, and an unsurpassed value, more so when one thinks about importing a fake nostalgia trip from Denmark. All the best.

  2. Niels Østergaard Jensen Reply

    As a reader from Denmark, I can translate for you the description of the bike on the linked home page:

    “Raleigh Tourist de Luxe is hand-build by HF Christiansen, Randers according to the original Raleigh drawings from 1921. The Tourist is of course upgraded over the years, so it contains a lot of aluminum parts, but the bike still has the characteristic hand painted lines on the wheel guard and the chainbox. The quality – underlined by the BROOKs item (handlebars, saddle, splash guard and bag), the driving position and respect towards the heritage makes the Tourist the flagship when it comes to classical bikes.”

    Sorry, if it made you crave the bike even more….

  3. I picked up a 1966 DL1 loop frame bike last summer. Also my dream bike, partly because it’s a loop frame “Especially Built for Tall People” as they touted in their adverts. It’s not in perfect shape but it’s cleaned up and I’m excited to ride it after i rebuild the hub and get the front wheel balanced. The paint, saddle, tires, and accessories can all be replaced or restored but you can’t get the same geometry with a new bike

  4. Hi George,

    I just found a DL-1 All Chrome in our garage in Germany. It’s now at a bike shop to get new brakes etc.

    it looks really beautiful (unfortunaltey I can’t upload pictures here.

    Thanks for your blog

    Dominik

  5. I want a vintage Raleigh bike too. Those kind of bikes are are to find in the US. Most of the easy accessible bikes are like you said sporty, loud and ugly. Right now I have the Linus mixte in sky blue. Linus makes very attractive vintage styled bike and easier to get than a class beautiful Raleigh. But I’m not giving up. I may own a Raleigh someday.

  6. Farouq Omaro Reply

    Hi, nice to know you. I am a sucker for roadster bicycles. I have 2 Raleigh DL-1 roadsters, one a 1951 model and the other from the mid-60s. Just to let you know, Raleigh India has started reproducing single speed Raleigh roadsters in 2012, but it seems the models are not exported. Just google “Suncross bicycles India”, you will find it. By the way I’m from Borneo, here in my hometown we have a classic bicycle club with members owning various brands of English roadsters.

  7. Most of the bikes in this post aren’t DL1’s. “DL1″ is the American marketing’s model number for a bike that still used the 1920s designed frame, which took 28″ wheels and had very slack geometry.

    Contrary to what you wrote, they weren’t fully brazed frames. The seatstays unbolt, as shown in the colour photograph you use. Your black and white catalog images are 26” wheel sports tourists, an unrelated model.

    After World War II, the only bikes still using this ancient “DL1” frame were the Popular, (an extremely barebones bike) Tourist (which added a chaincase and 3 speed hub), and “Superbe Tourist”, (which added a Mudflap, dynohub lighting, and an integrated fork lock.)

    All three of the postwar variants are now very rare in England. They didn’t sell well because they were obsolete in the face of the lighter, faster Sports and Dawn models, which also had their own Superbe trim variants. For the most part the 28″ wheel bikes were only kept around for the very small percent of customers who were too tall to fit on the newer models. For the most part, this meant the police. Or the Danish.

    It has to be emphasized that what’s popularly called a DL1 is very different to ride than a sports or a dawn. The latter handle and fit exactly as modern bikes, unless you’re short you find yourself leaned forward a little bit, and they sprint phenomenally well. Wheras a DL1 type bike feels more like a harley with ape hangars and completely rejects any hurrying up. One thing they have in common is that they both can’t climb hills.

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