It’s come that time for me in Brighton when the charm of whizzing around town on my bike is overshadowed by feelings of dread at the though of the uphill cycle home. Naturally, out of sheer envy, my attention regularly turns to all those people zipping about effortlessly on their mopeds and electric bikes, hair and clothes flowing in the wind, not stuck to their sweat-drenched bodies and foreheads.
During a recent search for electric bikes and nostalgic old mopeds, up popped those famous pictures of swinging 60s supermodel, Twiggy, riding care – and sweat – free around London’s leafy Battersea Park on a cool-looking moped. But why was she riding it? And what bike is it? Obvious questions you’d think, right? Funnily enough not ones I’ve considered until now. Seeing as I just emerged from a successful rabbit hole of research, I wanted to share my discoveries.
Introducing the Raleigh Wisp, an eccentric, groundbreaking, yet little-known, star of the Swinging 60s – there’s no mention of it on Raleigh’s website or its WikiPedia page – which occupies an important spot in moped history.
This hybrid bike incorporating the small wheels and frame of Raleigh’s iconic RSW 16 bike and a 49cc Motobecane engine took four years to develop. It came in either Fiesta Blue or Spanish Gold and cost 57 guineas (around £59) and could travel at 25mph and “up the steepest of hills”.
Its release in spring 1967 was timed perfectly as demand for Raleigh bikes was skyrocketing, the factory swamped with orders. It became an overnight success and, as with most sexist advertising of the time, it was aimed at men using technical information, and at female riders using the ‘fun’ aspect.
Technicalities bore me. Talk to me of fun and sun, of diamonds and furs, of going places with ease. ‘Girl-Talk’ me about Wisp.
The promotional shots of Twiggy whizzing around on the Raleigh Wisp were used in a six-page fashion feature for Vogue magazine, which also featured other 60s icons Francoise Hardy, Julie Christie, Bridget Bardot and Jean Shrimpton.
Other promotional material includes a 16-page colour sales brochure now considered highly collectable, and various newspaper, magazine, and motor cycling press adverts.
A rhinestone studded Wisp was decorated to tour the circuit of promotional events, and Pathé Newsreel filmed two lady models riding Wisps at Kenley RAF Station, Surrey which I unearthed.
Raleigh stopped making the Wisp in 1969 after just 2.5 years but I had a look and you still find the odd one for sale. Tempting, especially as they’re a fraction of the price of a new electric bike and if it meant I could zip up and down hills without a care in the world aka Twiggy in 1967, knowing I didn’t have to perform like Victoria Pendleton going home.