Tom Karen dead at 96: The designer behind the Raleigh Chopper bike dies on New Year’s Eve
Tom Karen, the man behind some of Britain’s most iconic designs, has died aged 96.
Mr. Karen died peacefully on New Year’s Eve surrounded by his family.
From 1962 to 1999 he was Managing Director of Letchworth’s OGLE Design.
During his tenure he designed several famous British products – including the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, the three-wheel vehicle Bond Bug and the children’s game Marble Run.
A retrospective of Tom Karen’s career is currently taking place at One Garden City in Letchworth.
Tom Karen, the man behind some of Britain’s most iconic designs, has died aged 96. Mr. Karen died peacefully on New Year’s Eve surrounded by his family. Above: Mr. Karen on his famous chopper bike
Based on dragster cars and motorcycles of the 1960s, the chopper was a sign of kid cool in the 1970s. Above: A model demonstrates the chopper at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Kensington in 1971
City historian Josh Tidy, who curated the exhibit, said Mr Karen was “thrilled”. “Tom was a real big man,” he said.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting him several times over the last year or so to put together the exhibition which celebrates his life and work and runs until March 10th (we will have a condolence book on site which we will be passing on to his family ).
“Looking back, I am very pleased that we were able to hold the exhibition last year – on time, as it turned out, and as we had feared. I know Tom was excited about it, which makes me happy at this sad time.”
Speaking to the Guardian, his daughter Eugenie said it was a “privilege” to have been close to “such a creative person”.
Danish-born actress Yutte Stensgaard sits on the chopper on Westminster Bridge in 1970
Model Annie Walker is seen riding a Raleigh chopper in 1971 when the bike was being promoted
The first chopper went into production in 1969 and became a cultural icon of the 1970s. Above: A display for the chopper
A young man is seen on a chopper in 1977 with his dog sitting behind him
“He had such an extraordinary life and was so fortunate to spend his last few decades in Cambridge,” she added.
Mr Karen was born in Vienna in 1926 but settled in England in 1942 during the war.
In 2019 he was made an OBE in the New Year Honors.
Reflecting on Marble Run on his website, Mr Karen called it “my most inspired creation”.
He said he got the idea while watching his kids play with a simple wooden marble run.
“It occurred to me that if such a game could be made up of a number of components and assembled in alternative ways to form a run, it would provide an inviting test and end with a hugely satisfying reward,” he said.
He added, “I find it very rewarding to know that millions of children around the world have endless fun playing with my marble run.”
Raleigh produced the first Mark I chopper in 1969 after Mr. Karen drew initial sketches for the motorcycle.
In 2019 he was made an OBE in the New Year Honors. Reflecting on Marble Run on his website, Mr Karen called it “my most inspired creation”. He said he got the idea while watching his kids play with a simple wooden marble run
The bikes, which mimicked dragsters, soon became essential toys for children across Britain and more than 1.5 million were made before production ceased in 1979.
The first version of the bike featured a geared hub selected with a frame-mounted lever.
It had an unusually shaped frame, high rear seat and ape hanger handlebars, and different sized wheels, measuring 16 inches (41 cm) at the front and 20 inches (51 cm) at the rear. The design then cost £32 for the most basic version.
Produced from 1972 to the end of production, the Mk2 featured a seat that was moved forward to prevent the bike from tipping over, as well as other tweaks.
Around a million and a half bikes were sold before the BMX craze of the 1980s took hold.
And that despite the fact that the bike was unstable, slow, heavy and more difficult to ride than conventional bikes.
A lighter Mk3 chopper was launched in 2004 in aluminum with various safety features.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11596025/Tom-Karen-dead-96-Designer-Raleigh-Chopper-bicycle-passes-away-New-Years-Eve.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Tom Karen dead at 96: The designer behind the Raleigh Chopper bike dies on New Year’s Eve