More than any other bicycle in the world, aside from the one I currently own, I have the biggest crush on the trusty vintage Raleigh DL-1. For years, I looked high, I looked low and I waited and waited for the perfect one to show up on eBay. But, alas, no dice. The frame would either be too large or too small, or there would be some other deal-breaking bummer in the bike’s overall condition, like too much rust. I eventually ran out of patience in the Summer of 2015 and treated myself to a beautiful custom Chief from Heritage Bicycle in Chicago. (It’s gorgeous and I love it.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.