Raleigh brought a new bike to show us this week. Although it's in their brief 'Touring Series' for 2012 the new model with a sub-40" wheelbase, double chainset and side-pull brakes is more of a fast day-rider which is surely why they're giving it a venerable name from the Raleigh back catalogue; Clubman.
Our recent invitation to the Hillingdon racing circuit to see the Raleigh 2012 carbon road bikes bought to light that they were planning to offer in the UK a selection from the very interesting steel-based niche machines developed for the US market. One in particular, the Clubman which our Dave only saw as images and a spec list really caught his eye inclined as he is to bashing off the odd hilly Century on finely-wrought steel. This week Raleigh came good on their promise to show us the first one that arrived.
Some deft touches on the 2012 Clubman but it's all about the functional, mostly.
It seems odd that the company celebrating next year their foundation in Nottingham in 1887 should be focusing attention on America but that's been the apparent priority these last few years as they've clawed back a place for themselves in the world's largest bike market and upon which the strength of the brand is necessarily based.
The fact that Raleigh's heritage is partly based on what the Americans used to call "English Racers" isn't doing them any harm at all now that road bikes, 'Gran Fondo' rides and commuting to work are back on the Stateside agenda.
In what might be called 'carbon racing' they're as up against it as any company in that scary field where balancing the tightrope of low weight, competitive price, sufficient strength and the dreaded lateral stiffness/vertical compliance is the stuff of a bike company product manager's nightmares.
In the area where customers are looking for something else - certain undefinable aspects filed under 'character' - as well as extremely measurable features like price, longer-term performance and the ability to be repaired by a blacksmith up a track in the Gironde, the Raleigh folks can call on in-house memory; they haven't had to reinvent the wheel, as it where.
Nicely lugged cro-mo fork and just about room for 28mm tyres and mudguards.
The 2012 Clubman which we'll be seeing in Raleigh dealerships in the Spring is that most classic of all road bikes; the all-rounder, winter hack, Audax, randonneur, fast tourer. Whatever you want to call it, it has a 39½"/1,000-and-odd millimetres wheelbase, 72° head angle allied to an almost 2"/50mm fork rake, clearance for 28mm tyres and mudguards but with calliper brakes and all the eyelets you could wish for to attach the mudguards and a rear rack for lightish loads.
Despite the tradional-handling geometry, the modish sloping top tube will please bike shops used to sizing customers on mountain bikes and help riders with a comfortable, slightly raised front end. In short, Clubman looks like it should be great for everything except actual racing, heavy touring or traversing muddy fields. If you're the sort that plans on riding 5,000 - 10,000 road miles next year, mostly commuting with longer weekend rides, you'd likely have a very satisfactory year on a Clubman and just need to change the chain, cassette, tyres and brake blocks ready for another year.
In 2012 it will be 125 years since successful Nottingham lawyer Frank Bowden bought into the new-fangled bicycle technology. Interestingly, he'd been advised by his doctor to try cycling for the sake of his health. His name lives on in the steel 'Bowden cable' that still controls our brakes and gears.
OK, the Reynolds 520 cro-mo tubing isn't the lightest but neither are the fitted Vittoria 25mm tyres and Brooks Swift saddle; this is about going faster for longer and in comfort. The important thing is that the whole package comes in under the grand at £950 and we guarantee that if you bought this as a first proper road bike and later graduated to some flighty seducer for big rides, you could still be happily doing most of your daily mileage on this Clubman years later.
Up-to-date components like Shimano's latest 2x10-speed Tiagra transmission with a 50/34 crankset and 12-30 cassette will surely be appreciated for their deft shiftability, spares availability and interchangeability in the long run; that's a lot of abilities. Older touches to complement that saddle are traditional metal mudguards and looped stainless 'guard stays although we're less certain about how practical those painted 'guards are but, hey, they're going to look good in the showroom to match that neatly-finished frame.
Coming: Raleigh Sojourn, full-on £1,100 tourer with Reynolds 631 frame, disc brakes.
Mind you, that's not all Raleigh are doing in their touring range for the forthcoming Spring bike-buying season. There's a fun-looking £600 tandem called Adventurer, a rather more earnest black £500 upright tourer complete with a rear rack and elastic luggage straps that can only mean one thing: commuting. And the bike that we really wish they'd also bought with them this week if only Raleigh had one in the country; the Sojourn, a proper expedition tourer for £1,100.
Compared to the Clubman, this all-new model has a longer wheelbase, lighter Reynolds 631 steel tubing, wider 35mm tyres, a triple chainset, 'bar-end shifters and the Shimano disc brakes that Dawes might by now be thinking they're going to have to fit to their benchmark Galaxy tourer next year. Raleigh Sojourn at £1,100 v Dawes Galaxy at £1,150. Now that's a road test that's going to need writing.
Raleigh Royal: and old model name on a £500 UK-specific model that looks really useful.