Back in 1984 at the Olympics in LA, American cyclist Nelson Vails won track racing silver in the sprint on a Raleigh. We caught up with Vails and a super limited edition replica of his winning bike back at NAHBS. Now thirty-three years later Raleigh Bicycles is commemorating his transition from a New York City bike messenger to a medal-winning elite track cyclist with a trio of affordable urban bikes. Starting with a couple of track-style frames, Raleigh worked with Vails and his longtime NY friend & graffiti artist Zephyr to design the three fixed/singlespeed bikes for another generation of riders to pound the city streets. There’s the top level aluminum pursuit Teaba, the steel flat bar Back Alley & drop bar steel Rush Hour to suit all tastes, each with a subtle dose of Zephyr’s style…
Nelson Vails – the Cheetah – made a bit of history, not only as a Harlem bike messenger heading to the Olympic Training Center, but then as the first African-American cyclist to win an Olympic medal. Now more than three decades later after slaloming yellow cabs before sprinting for the line in the Velodrome, Vails is again working with Raleigh. Of course his cycling roots are what drove the concept for the collaboration with Raleigh on the new bikes, and they tipped his friend and fellow New Yorker Zephyr to bring a bit of street style to the new bikes – the Teaba, Back Alley & Rush Hour.
Zephyr himself is a pretty serious bike racer, and worked with Vails to develop an iconography based on their time in NYC in the 70s. As Vails put it, “each of the symbols is a story from when we were kids in New York. This collaboration has been unbelievable, and the bikes are a special piece of history meshed with everyday functionality.”
Teaba was Vails’ first real nickname on the streets of New York and is a modern take on the bike he raced to many wins. At $1100 it is for sure the most high-end out of the trio, and pairs a lightweight shaped & butted aluminum frame with a carbon track fork. The bike gets a pretty solid build kit opting for durable alloy kit (with a bit of drillium), a flip/flop fixed/singlespeed rear wheel, and a set of bullhorn pursuit bars. As on all three, the Teaba comes with brakes that can always be removed if not needed.
The design of the Teaba combines the Zephyr illustrations on the seattube with a dual-themed race-winning & taxi checkerboard around the traditional downtube logo. The bike comes just in this yellow on black in four sizes from 50-60cm. Unlike the two steel bikes below which are available now, you’ll have to wait until the fall to get ahold of a Teaba.
The Back Alley is trying less to be a race bike and more the everyday beater that most cyclists wield as their urban weapon of choice. Its $400 pricetag is what you’d expect from a bike destined to be locked up to lampposts and liable to suffer the indignities of rough NYC winters. Its graphic design is mostly the same as the Teaba with Chuck Taylor, dime, subway token, TOGA bike shop & Cat’s Paw Hill icons on the seattube.
The Back Alley opts for the most basic of construction – hi-ten steel. That won’t make it light, but will survive the urban jungle. Component wise it still gets some decent workhorse alloy components, a flip/flop rear wheel, and a 620mm riser bar that will likely get cut down to ludicrously narrow widths to weave through traffic. It also gets removable cable guides for a clean fixie setup. Like the Teaba it comes in this one color combo and four sizes, this time from 51-60cm.
Lastly there is the Rush Hour that takes the same base hi-ten bike as the Back Alley but builds it into something more of a traditional track bike. Deep drop bars combine with the same fixed or free rear wheel setup, and Zephyr’s graphics. Simple, straightforward, and still $400, it gets the same 51-60cm size range.