Ragley's Cragg Vale was born in the year of the Metal Tiger, (so it says on the frame decal) but our particular test bike ended the year of the tiger racking up some big miles without ever getting out of its box shuttling back and forth between our old office and the Parcelforce depot in Bristol for nigh on six weeks.
Well, it was designed for big mile munching over wintry British roads so it was only doing what came naturally and it certainly shrugged off the worst that winter can do… from its box inside the Parcelforce van, admittedly, but you can't keep a good bike down.
Well, when we say bike, we mean frameset. For the moment, at least, the Ragley Cragg Vale Winter Frame is not available as a complete bike – shame because fully built up it looks a very capable machine that we reckon would give some of the complete bike competition in its class some, well, competition.
Born in the year of the metal tiger and in Taiwan it may well have been, but this is a frameset conceived in a Yorskhire shed for getting out there and putting the miles in on days that are as miserable as sin… yes, you can fit mudguards, no they don't come as standard.
The thing about bikes for getting you out when it's grim is that they have to offer you something to get you out there: a guarantee of reliability, for sure, but also something in the way of rider engagement or personality to lure you out the door in the first place. My Cotic Roadrat does that, it's not particularly light, and while it's not ugly its no looker either, but it is a well thought out piece of kit and it's always an enjoyable bike to ride. It's got personality.
So far all I've done to the Cragg Vale is throw a leg over it in the office, but it's giving me a good vibe – it's got personality. Of course whether it's a nice one we'll have to find out. What we can say though is that the man responsible for it – Ragley designer Brant Richards – may be a mountain biker to the core, but has already had a hand in two "British" road bikes with a fair shout to being regarded as modern classics. It was he that named the Planet X Kaffenback and perhaps more pertinently he designed the, giggle when you say it, On One Il Pompino.
Whether the time spent in his shed on the Cragg Vale has been well spent only a few hundred miles in the saddle will tell, but even without doing that it's apparent some thought has gone in to where and when this bike will be ridden – all bikes that are going to be out on bad roads in gloomy or failing light should come with reflective decals like the Cragg Vale's. Ah yes, the name and those intriguing numbers on the top tube? Cragg Vale is England's longest continuous gradient rising 968 feet over 5 1/2 miles. Personality. That blue is nice too.
And great though they are the thinking seems to have carried on beyond the stickers. The claimed average frame weight is a respectable 1.6Kg so it should be properly versatile rather than it simply being a heavy frame with a load of braze-ons – ours with some medium shiny level kit on it weighs 9.29Kg (20.4lb). You've got the option to build Cragg Vale up in to a decent audax bike, or fast commuter/tourer. Rack mounting points increase your options on that score, as do eyelets on the fork and rear dropout; only one at each although the rear looks well capable of taking a rack and a guard. Our test bike avoids the issue by coming fitted with a set of clip on Crud Raceguards. There's enough frame clearance to fit up to a 28c tyre without guards or a 23c with. Brakes aren't deep drop, the test bike is running Shimano 105 callipers with the blocks running on the bottom of the adjusters – which again gives versatility, and a wider selection of brakes to choose from when you're building it up.
If you want to go the winter hack route stick on a set of full length guards and you're good to go. The Cragg Vale looks like it will be well capable of taking whatever the British weather and British roads can throw at it. The headtube junction is not messing about: the businesslike welding between the deep section down tube and what I'm calling a teardrop section top tube and the fairly short 110mm head tube almost adding up to a gusset - there's gonna be no breaking that or any flexiness either - so it should track well over crappy roads while the carbon Ragley fork handles the road buzz.
You might think that the bottom bracket would be a beefy affair too, but no this all that bit much more classic looking - of course that downtube is going to act as a pretty powerful brace and those straight chainstays should transmit pedalling power to the back wheel without too much delay. Neither the chain or seastays bother with any unnecessary curvy business, and the idea of the Cragg Vale is to give a springy, zippy ride.
Our test bike is built up with a full Shimano 105 drivetrain and brakeset with Pro Lite Como wheels and Pro Lite San Vito carbon seat post with a very snazzy gold coloured seat clamp for a touch of flash, that you'd think might be considered a bit 'fancy Dan' up in Yorkshire, but I'm not from up there so I wouldn't know – looks good though. Pro Lite also supply the bars and stem – the former has an ergo bend and a fairly compact, but not shallow, drop. At the moment a Cragg Vale frameset, that's frame, carbon fork with alloy steerer, integrated headset, top cap and 3M Scotchlite reflective sticker set will cost you £329.99, pricing it up as we've got it I reckon you could get the lot and have change out of a grand.
My name's not down to test the Cragg Vale but I am going to take it out for a ride cos I really want to know how comfortable it will be for a southern softie like me or whether you've got to be a no compromise hard as nails, with an arse to match roadie, to enoy and get the best out of it. We'll let you know.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.