Jeremy Corbyn has some lofty ambitions indeed, and who would have known. No Pinarello Dogma or custom Titanium for him. Nope, the Labour leader dreams of something far more in keeping with his sensibilities - a £475 Raleigh Criterium. In red.
You couldn’t make up a more fitting ride. A bike that looks and sounds far more serious than it actually is, in a nasty, unimaginative colour which will fall out of favour in a few months and have to be replaced.
I guess here I have to make apologies for all those who ride red Raleigh Criteriums, of which there must be at least three of you. Just out of interest, how are they to ride? At least they’re a British manufacturer, right? Very on-point with the Labour leader’s championing of the British workforce. Power to the people. Very socialist.
Corbyn probably thought he was on safe ground picking the beloved British brand Raleigh. Except they’re not very British any more. Dutch now - ever since 2012 when Raleigh UK, Canada and USA were bought by the Accell group for $100 million.
Rather than Nottingham, the bikes are now made in “Vietnam and other centres of ‘low-cost, high-quality’ production.”
Maybe that’s why it’s a dream bike, I mean it can’t be the cost of it, surely. Some people spend more on a pair of handlebars. No it has to be the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect, almost like contraband to the Labour leader, so right and yet so wrong.
Why doesn’t he just go with the political flow and get a Brompton? Good old Made in England heritage that … hang on. OK, made in England they are, but in Kensington? What is this spiffery? The very home of capitalism, nothing but bankers and hedge fund managers around there, and sheikhs! I can just see Jeremy going to pick his bike up now, shuffling along beside the Bentleys and Range Rover Sports, head down, like one of those crackheads who always seem to have somewhere to go in a hurry. Off to score a Brompton. Red again, presumably.
It would all be so much easier if they were made in Walsall, or even North Yorkshire. Actually there is a bike builder in North Yorkshire. Ricky Feather is his name, makes some stunning machines, won a string of awards. Probably as many as Jeremy Corbyn has had hot dinners. That would be more like it. Ricky is the very model of UK manufacturing success. People order his frames from all over the world, wait years for him to weld those tubes together in his inimitable way, craftsmanship so precise that his frames look as if they came out of a mould.
If Corbyn had bothered to investigate a bit further he would have discovered an entire industry of bespoke framebuilders stretching from coast to coast, north to south, a sub-economy of one-man bands creating extraordinary works of art often from shacks in their back gardens that you are as likely to drool over as ride. Donhou, Saffron, Nerve, Bob Jackson, Mercian, Rourke, there’s loads of them.
Is this dream bike of Corbyn’s really his own invention? It seems to have spin written all over it. You can just see his team sitting there, thinking up some incredibly on-point bicycle reference, “mustn’t be too expensive, can’t have him being seen to want to spend money, and it absolutely has to be British. Yah. UK. What’s a UK cycle brand. Anyone? Anyone?” At this point someone probably mentioned their Chopper.
Raleigh really was once a British brand to be reckoned with. Every kid I knew at school in the eighties rode either a Chopper, Commando, Grifter or Burner. Some of the posher kids even had that version of the Grifter with the talking command console. How we lusted after that.
These days Raleigh is in need of some serious rebranding. You can’t blame Corbyn or his spinners for picking one but it does kind of illustrate a fundamental ignorance. Worse still is the fact that this model can be kitted out to be a lot more expensive. Choose a different groupset (gears, brakes, etc) and you’re looking at a £1,300 bike. And it will still be made in Vietnam.
Far better to go the full hog and save up for some true British manufacturing excellence. A Feather or a Nerve or a Mercian might set you back a few grand but there is no doubt you will treasure that bike for the rest of your cycling life. Work that out in price per ride.
It doesn’t necessarily equate that all expensive bikes are decent, but you will need to fork out for an expensive bike. A lot of the time, making do with something you regard as “perfectly acceptable for the job” will turn out to be a false economy, even if you can keep up with Sir Chris Hoy on a brief spin.
That aside, wouldn’t it be nice to actually contribute to one of the few successful British industries, Mr Corbyn?
Who knows, a nice bike might even put a smile on your face. Now wouldn’t that be a thing?
This column first appeared on www.thetimes.co.uk/onyourbike on January 25 2016