Raleigh is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
Few brands can command such goodwill from cyclists and the public at large. Most of us will have owned a Raleigh at some stage, and this correspondent was willing the Clubman that arrived for test in the RCUK office some weeks ago to be a winner.
The Clubman is perhaps best described as a light tourer. We had it penciled in as a winter trainer, but it would struggle to keep up on anything but the slowest training runs.
What the Clubman offers, however, is style, function, and comfort in spades.
An impressively comfortable Reynolds 520 frame, laden with features (rack mounts, bottle bosses on seat and down tubes, mudguard mounts, even a pump peg on the head tube), sits at the heart of the Clubman.
The top tube is comparatively long: 57cm on a test model whose seat tube reached its advertised 54cm only by measuring from the centre of the bottom bracket to its very top. A less generous measurement, from the centre of the bottom bracket to the junction with the top tube, placed the seat tube at 52cm. Cyclists who normally ride a 54cm might want to drop a size for the Clubman. Our 54cm test model provided a good fit for our 5’10” (178cm) test pilot, who usually rides a 56cm. The reach was further exaggerated by the handlebar, whose shape was a perfect match for the Clubman’s retro style, but which placed the levers further forward than most contemporary designs.
A chain stay measurement of 43.2cm gave a further clue to the Clubman’s identity as a machine intended for all day comfort. The rake of the sturdy, chromoly fork, which has an attractive, traditional crown, as well as rack and mudguard mounts, repeated the slow and steady mantra implied by the frame’s generous chain stays.
We were pleased to see almost a full Tiagra groupset (chainset, front and rear mechs, shifters, even hubs) but felt Raleigh had missed a trick by not going the extra mile and completing the groupset with Tiagra calipers. The supplied Tektro units were weak (this is not a lightweight machine, remember) and lacked modulation. The plastic cable release mechanism felt cheap and fiddly.
Credit is due to Raleigh for spec-ing a Brooks Swift saddle on a sub-£1,000 bike. The wheelset was another pleasant surprise at this price point: Weinmann TR18 polished alloy rims laced to the aforementioned Tiagra hubs, shod with 25c Vittoria Zaffiro tyres, the latter playing a key role in the Clubman’s luxurious comfort.
The handlebars rather let the side down. Made from spindly aluminium, with a dated and not desperately comfortable shape, they lacked feel and offered little feedback. This may have been exacerbated by the thin handlebar tape, whose paucity was most obvious when riding on the tops, the position in which the rider is likely to spend most of his time on a bike of this nature.
Full marks to Raleigh for the Clubman’s superb appearance. Finished in an elegant blue with white and silver detailing, and supplied with colour-coded mudguards secured by chrome stays, the Clubman’s appearance is a perfectly judged take on the bikes of the Nottingham firm’s golden era. If anyone has the right to make a retro bike, it’s Raleigh, and they’ve carried out the task beautifully.
We were seriously impressed by the Clubman’s ride quality. Our preconceptions of an inexpensive, but pretty machine were soon dispelled by the luxurious comfort and sure footed handling delivered by the super relaxed geometry and 25c tyres. The Clubman’s stately appearance is more than matched by its performance. This isn’t a machine that delivers speed, a discovery that came as little surprise. Few will purchase the Clubman for criterium use. It was unhurried on the flat and climbed at its own pace. Steering was unhurried and predictable.
If your riding plans for the year extend beyond club races and sportives to occasional touring, without the need to invest in the sort of machine equipped for a round the world record attempt, the Clubman might be for you. Relatively inexpensive, and cycle to work scheme friendly, it’s an elegant addition to any collection, the sort of machine you could enjoy finding a use for. Short touring breaks, or even extended weekends in the saddle, might suddenly from part of your riding itinerary.