Ah, the Grifter - that classic mix of BMX
. I must have been about ten years old when my dad bought mine, all battered and rusting, then he stripped it down and rebuilt it all shiny and new. I was so happy! My first "real" bike
. That would have been approximately 1990, but little did I suspect how long the Grifter had been around...
(Wobbling screen and weird harp sound)
UK bicycle company Raleigh had been making a name for itself for some time, but without a doubt its most popular contribution to the world was the Chopper, launched in 1970 and considered the coolest bike ever during that decade. However, as the eighties rolled on, the BMX came onto the scene, becoming poular first in the US then also here in Britain. Raleigh hoped that BMX would be just a passing fad and didn't immediately cash in on the craze. They did, however, launch a new bike to compete with BMX - the fabled Grifter. From a distance, it looked very much like the average BMX, but with a few important differences.
Firstly, the factory's road-bike oriented technology limited them somewhat, with the unfortunate result that every joint of the Grifter frame had to be brazed rather than welded like their BMX counterparts. More obvious, though, were the Grifter's Sturmey Archer three-speed hub gears (by now almost a trademark of Raleigh), the front and rear mudguards and the bike stand (which handily doubled as an imaginary exhaust pipe when up). Although not built up to BMX quality, the Grifter sold well and became the Chopper's unofficial successor.
So there we have the history, but what about the bike? Well I remember my friends looking admiringly at my Grifter, seeing it as a BMX but with gears, and therefore cooler. The sheer weight of the bike was a mixed blessing however; while it felt good to be in control of something so solid, it didn't really perform too well when taken down the BMX track. Every jolt and jar resounded through the bike, giving me the impression the whole thing was about to shake itself to pieces. It lasted admirably as it turned out, right up until I sold it to some poor sucker, but the lightness and agility of a real BMX was sadly lacking. It was more than solid enough to take the poundings I put it through, but its stiffness often led me to believe otherwise.
In retrospect, my Grifter served me well. Like a lovable clumsy giant, I can forgive all the pain its heftiness caused over the years, all the far-too-long stopping distances, all the crashes into walls as a result of those things - the good times it gave me were more than worth it.