With its quirky tube profiles and distinguishing paint job the Claud Butler Alto CX9 is as fun as it looks. Whether you're after an entry level cyclo-cross bike or a do it all commuter you're getting a decent package here for your £699. Bring on the mud!
Fun, fun, fun
The biggest surprise for me was how useable the Alto is, on or off road, straight out of the box, semi knobbly tyres and all.
As a commuter I've got plenty of options, A roads, country lanes or canal paths and having the Alto in on test really made think about searching for more as it didn't matter what the surface or terrain was you could take it on without compromising elsewhere.
On road the compact frame is nippy to ride and handles just like a road bike: sharp enough to keep you entertained without being overly twitchy. Even at speeds of over 40mph the handling was very rewarding and never once felt out of control cutting through the corners. This is still with those Kenda Kwick 30mm tyres on too.
Swapping over to a set of 28mm slicks made the Alto ride even better with acceleration and speed that belies its 24lb weight. The gearing offered by the eight speed Claris groupset might only be low at 46/34t (front) and 11/28t (rear) but it's well spaced giving you a decent setup for both climbing and head down efforts on the flat.
Take to the trails and the Alto flatters here too. I'm not an off road novice but to be honest I don't spend much time away from the tarmac. Even in the deepest mud and slippery, tree-rooted bridleways I found I had no trouble keeping the CX9 moving with a bit of bodyweight shifting and power to the pedals. Admittedly the direction was mostly sideways as the tread of the Kendas did become a little overwhelmed when things got too muddy.
It was massively grin inspiring though, and highlighted the Claud Butler as a very useable bike for complete novices who fancy a go on the cyclo-cross scene.
Sensible and robust build kit
The compact frameset is made from 6061 alloy and is easily stiff enough for the job; even on 25% climbs it didn't show any flex around the bottom bracket area. Up front you get a carbon fibre fork which again performs well under steering load and heavy braking efforts from the BB5 mechanical discs.
Apart from the mounts for the discs you also get positions for a rack and full mudguards which all adds to its versatility as a light tourer or all weather commuter.
The welds aren't the smoothest but neither would I expect them to be on a bike of this price or of this ilk. A little bit of agricultural engineering never looks out of place on a machine of this style.
While it's capable as an all rounder you can see the main design intention is for it to be a 'cross machine thanks to its cable routing and top tube profile. You tend to carry your bike a bit in a cyclo-cross race to get over obstacles and the CX9 uses a triangular top tube with a flattened bottom for comfort on your shoulder. The rear mech cable is moved to the top of the tube to stop it digging in too and to keep it out of the mud.
The rear brake and front mech cables run under the down tube with both being fully enclosed to make sure they run smoothly for the duration of a race or on those winter commutes when the roads are strewn in salt and grit.
You get a full Shimano Claris groupset and it's a great bit of kit for the money too offering decent shifting even when it's covered in mud and water. The shifters themselves feel just the same as Sora or even the latest ten speed Tiagra version.
The chainset on a separate bottom bracket with the Octalink spline that was a feature of Shimano's top-end groupsets not very long ago. It's a tight fit and offered plenty of stiffness here.
The rear mech takes on the look of Shimano's more expensive components too. It's easy to set up and stays there too. It'll handle up to a 32-tooth sprocket so you can lower the gearing even further on the Alto if necessary.
The Avid BB5 brakes are a bit on or off for my liking. By that I mean there wasn't much in the way of feel to them, you didn't get much power or feedback from them unless you were hauling on them hard. I missed being able to feather the brakes in traffic like you can with the likes of TRP's Spyre or Hy-Rd setups.
Claud Butler have specced 160mm rotors front and rear so there is certainly plenty of stopping power there should you need it.
You do get additional brake levers on the bars with the Alto to allow stopping and control from any position and they worked well. The power and feeling was the same as it was through the Claris levers so everything felt consistent.
The Exile finishing kit is basic alloy stuff but perfectly capable of everything you ask of it. The bars have a shallow drop and the upright position of the frame allows you to use them even when off road without affecting the handling.
Sturdy wheels and tyres
The wheels are also Exile branded and use 32-hole, disc-specific hubs with sealed bearings. We had a lot of rain over the test period and the hubs were still running smooth and quiet when the bike was finished with so they should stand up to plenty of winter abuse.
The rims are double walled aluminium for strength and considering the abuse they took on and off road they stood up really well indeed. Smashing through potholes with the tyres pumped up hard did little to knock them out of true.
The Kenda tyres are, as I mentioned above decent performers both on and off road though you do have to compromise on pressure to get the best of both worlds. They ran sweetly at 60psi on the road only really giving away 1 mph average to some lighter slicks though on the rougher tracks this would give your wrists a bit of a hammering.
The Alto CX9 is one of those bikes that is just a great laugh to ride whether you use it for CX, some light off road, commuting or just getting out with the family. I personally was always looking for different places to ride just to see if I could find any real weaknesses but there aren't really any. Okay so it's heavy and a dedicated road bike or CX bike in their intended terrain will have the edge but in terms of bang for your buck the Alto is laughing.
It has a very sensible level of kit on offer being well specced for its price point. The Claris groupset is very good indeed and looks good too. The spread of gears don't hamper the bike on the road and the low 34/28 bottom gear makes everything rideable off road.
The geometry of the frame is suited to both terrains and makes for an engaging ride whether tapping along on the flat or taking in the climbs and descents of more hillier regions.
As a one bike does all the Alto is a great buy and coming in £300 below the bike to work scheme it leaves you plenty of spare cash to get some road tyres and even a spare set of wheels.
Brilliant fun 'do-it-all' bike with a decent level of kit finish for the money
road.cc test report
Make and model: Claud Butler Alto CX9
Size tested: 54
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
*Frame: 6061 Aluminium Alloy frame
*Fork: Carbon with alloy steerer
*Shifters: Shimano Claris 8spd
*Front mech: Shimano Claris
*Rear mech: Shimano Claris
*Chainset: 46/34T Shimano Claris Octalink
*Brakes: Avid BB5 Mechanical Discs, 160mm Rotors
*Handlebars: Exile alloy
*Stem: Exile Alloy
*Seatpost: Exile Alloy
*Wheelset: Exile 32 spoke, double walled alloy rims
*Cassette: 8spd 11/28t
*Tyres: Kenda Kwick 30c
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Alto CX9 is an entry level cyclo cross bike with added versatility built in for mudguards and racks to make it an all rounder for the likes of commuting and light touring. It fills all of these roles well being as engaging to ride on road as it is off.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A real workhorse of a frame that's built to take a knock or two. An impressive hardwearing paintjob too.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame uses 6061 alloy tubing while the fork has carbon fibre legs with an alloy steerer tube.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Quite upright and short in the top tube which gives it controllable handling off road. There are only three sizes available and Claud Butler don't publish a geometry chart so best to try before you buy.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
A tall front end gives a more relaxed riding position and even though our test model had a 54cm top tube reach was quite short.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The frame is stiff but not overly harsh so comfort is pretty good. With tyres of this volume though their pressure is going to have the most bearing on overall ride quality.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Stiffness is pretty good and I certainly didn't feel it was found wanting in the conditions you are likely to ride it in.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The heavy wheels and overall weight of the Alto do slow it somewhat but power transfer is pretty good. More responsive off road than on though.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes and could be a bit of an issue off road.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Very neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's very easy to ride making it perfect for beginners off road or cutting through traffic on the commute.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres govern the comfort to be fair to a larger degree than on a true road bike so playing about with the pressures there keeps things comfort.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Claris chainset didn't feel as stiff as the newer thru axle versions but its very minimal.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The heavy wheels and tyres sap acceleration.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Claris is a very good groupset for the money with shifting that matches the quality of Tiagra. The ratios can be gappy though considering it's only eight-speed.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The Kenda Kwick tyres are great as they don't feel anywhere near as sluggish on the road as I was expecting. They deal with quite large amounts of mud too.
The wheels seemed pretty bulletproof.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The Exile components are basic alloy but are all up to the job. I liked the compact shape of the bars.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The Alto CX9's ride really impressed me considering the overall weight and spec list. It performs with more excitement off road than it does on but being a CX bike that's expected but it's no slouch on the tarmac either.
On the whole if you ride on varying terrains in all sorts of weathers the Alto is a fun all rounder.
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Kinesis T2 My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.