Those Were the Days
I once owned a Raleigh Professional and a Schwinn Paramount at the same time. Yes, I was living the American dream, of having two of the most prestigious vintage bikes that were sold in America in my garage. Not a British garage, mind, which are normally so cramped that you have a problem getting out a Ford Fiesta without the door smacking against the side. No, I mean a proper American garage, sized to easily handle a Dodge Ram or a 1970’s Cadillac, a space where you could actually work on your car. So there I was, with a choice of these two bikes to ride every day, until I was forced to sell them, of course.
Finding the Bikes
These two special models are not that rare, even though they were the showpiece bikes of Raleigh and Schwinn in the 1970’s. I was living in Seattle being nostalgic as an Englishman abroad, was always looking for out for the best Raleigh bikes of the era. A Professional would pop up on Craigslist a few times a year, but not necessarily in Seattle itself; it was necessary to check as far afield as Bellingham to the north, Portland to the south and as far as Yakima to the east. In the summer of 2012, I found this Raleigh Professional in Vancouver, Washington, and it was well worth the three hour drive. A few months later I bought the Paramount, the seller being based in Kennewick near the Oregon border. Bloody miles away!
I paid $650 for the Schwinn, and $525 for the Raleigh Professional. I think both were in excellent condition and had no serious issues to repair, though both bikes needed a thorough clean and tuning up. At the time, I was aware that these two bikes could sell for over $1000, so I was quite pleased with my two purchases. Are they worth more now, seven years later? I’m not sure they are, and would imagine that $1000 could buy you one of these bikes in this condition. In this case, I ended up selling the Raleigh for $950, and the Schwinn sold for $1250 on Ebay.
What’s More Collectable?
I remember seeing an early 1970’s Raleigh Professional owned by Howard Hughes’ lawyer on Ebay back in 2011. He had never ridden it and so the bike was in mint condition, with not a scratch on it. What a waste! Anyway, they started listing the Raleigh for around $2000, but no one put a bid in and the bike went unsold. The second time it was listed in an auction, they lowered the start price to somewhere around $1200 ( I can’t remember exactly ), and in the end the bike sold for around $1800. Not exactly an astronomical price for a basically brand new Raleigh Professional. It’s reasonable to say that the Schwinn has more value in the American market, and I’ve got the feeling that if that bike of Howard Hughes’ lawyer had been a Paramount, it would have sold for a higher price.
I only have 4 pictures of the Paramount, but many more detailed photos of the Professional, like the one above. The Professional was built in 1974, and was mostly original. I do really like the sloped chromed fork crown of the, beautiful blue paintwork and gold with white decals. The lugs aren’t particularly ornate but a long and elegant; the fastback seatlug is a famous detail of this model, and you’d expect nothing more than the half chromed forks and stays.
The Mark IV
This Professional also had better components than the Schwinn. It was dressed in full Campagnolo Nuovo Record livery, and topped off with a Brooks Professional saddle. This is really what the Professional was all about, quality from top to toe, without the compromises that big brands like Raleigh and Peugeot made later in the decade. The beautiful high flange Campagnolo hubs enhance beauty of the whole build, and they were laced to Ava tubular rims with Clement silk tyres.
There seemed little debate back in the 1970’s that Campagnolo components were the benchmark of a high quality racing bike. Obviously in France things would have been different, as they had their own well established and fiercely competitive brands to rival the Italian giant. Having said that, the Motobecane Team Champion was dressed to the hilt in Campagnolo in this decade, as was the Frejus Professional. However, you can’t argue with the fact that most professional riders at the time were using Campagnolo Nouvo Record parts, but even so, I’ve never been a big fan of their functionality. They were, on the other hand, beautifully made, and once you have a few parts on your bike, you feel you need the complete set.
This particular Schwinn, by contrast, wasn’t the ultimate build. Whereas the Raleigh had a Brooks Professional saddle, the Paramount had a Cinelli Unicanitor, which was a great choice. Yet, what about the brakes? There’s no question in my mind that the Paramount should have featured Campagnolo Record calipers and levers, to match the quality of its gear shifters, crankset, hubs and derailleurs. It’s surprising to see them there, and they look a bit out of place. I’ve got nothing against Weinmann, in fact, I think they may have had better stopping power than their illustrious rival’s, but as far as prestige, it wasn’t the right choice.
The strange and disappointing aspect of the Paramount was the fact that or some reason, the frame was missing its decals. I don’t think this was a common problem with this model, but here it detracted somewhat from the lovely condition of the frame. The Professional, on the other hand, was in superb shape all round. It sparked in any light, and for me, took the title as the more beautiful bike.
The Best Ride
Simply put, I preferred the Raleigh to the Schwinn. I’m not saying the the Raleigh Professional was a better bike than its American rival, but in this case, the former provided a smoother performance, a quieter and more accurate transmission, and just felt more agile and responsive. I think the Schwinn had more wear on its freewheel and chainrings, and hadn’t been cared for as well as the British bike. Neither of them rode as well as my Peugeot PSV built 5 years later. Both, however, were mechanical works of art.