The £800 Raleigh Criterium Sport is proof that you don't need to spend a huge amount of money on a road bike. It offers a well designed aluminium frame, a carbon fibre fork and a full Shimano Tiagra groupset, which all comes together to provide a brilliant ride. This is a cracking bike for the money, and one that isn't easily embarrassed by more expensive rivals.
How does it ride?
The first thing that strikes you is how smooth the ride is. There's an old adage about aluminium bikes being harsh and rattly, which has stuck as a label for aluminium bikes over the years.
That's not the case at all with the Raleigh. It's very compliant over any sort of road surface, and doesn't deteriorate into harshness on really gravelly roads. In fact, it has a more composed ride over my local roads than many more expensive carbon fibre bikes I've tested over the years. I had to double check the frame was metal on a couple of occasions with a flick of the top tube. Nope, it's definitely aluminium.
The Raleigh isn't the dynamic masterclass you'd expect if it were a UCI-weight-limit-challenging bike, but it's still a very involving and exciting ride. The weight is noticeable at lower speeds and stunts acceleration a little, but get it up to speed and it sails through country lanes or congested city streets with plenty of pace.
It's a much more involving ride than many at this price. The geometry is well judged and the carbon fork and aluminium frame come together to give a good level of agility; it'll suit wannabe racers as much as sportive challengers. If you like to really throw your bike around the road, powering out of the saddle to sprint over rises and belting through corners as fast as you dare, the Criterium Sport indulges.
The Tiagra groupset is a delight to use, mimicking the ergonomics and functionality of Shimano's more expensive groupsets. It's great that Raleigh has used the full groupset – no shortcuts here. If I'm being picky, the gear shifters feel heavier and the brakes not as powerful as those on 105 and above, but as the miles pass by these tiny niggles fade away.
It's a good looking groupset, too, particularly the chainset. In fact the whole bike has a really slick appearance, which lifts it against similar priced rivals. From far enough away that you can't see the Tiagra stickers, it looks like a much more expensive bike.
Best of all, the ride is as classy as its appearance – there's substance to back up the style. And when you've tired of chasing segment times or your mates, the Raleigh provides enough refinement over long distance rides.
If you're buying your first road bike, or upgrading, the Raleigh Criterium Sport will definitely ensure you fall in love with the cycling.
Frame and components
The Criterium range comprises two aluminium-framed models, the £800 Criterium Sport and the £500 Criterium, which uses the same frame. It's a really nice design, with profiled and shaped tubes adorned with smart graphics, full internal cable routing and a tapered head tube. The fork is carbon fibre, albeit with an aluminium steerer tube.
Tiagra 4700 is a big improvement over the previous generation Tiagra, with an appearance and technical developments borrowed from the more expensive 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace groupsets. Unlike 105, Tiagra is 10-speed, and this Raleigh was fitted with a compact 50/34t chainset and 11-32t cassette, the sort of gearing that will look after you on the climbs, with enough clout to feature in the sprints.
The shape of the hoods and levers very closely resembles 105 and Dura-Ace, and in the hands they feel pretty much identical.
Raleigh has opted for a conventional external threaded bottom bracket which will please home mechanics.
The rest of the bike is finished with Raleigh's own RSP kit. The handlebar has a compact bend and is comfortable to use, as is the bar tape. The stem was too short for me – that's easily solved – and there's a good stack of spacers so you can get the handlebar height just right. The saddle, a flat and wide shape, was surprisingly comfortable, and it's held in place by a 27.2mm aluminium seatpost.
The RSP label extends to the wheels, AC2.0 aluminium clincher rims fitted with 25mm Schwalbe Lugano tyres with a K-Guard puncture belt. The tyres do feel a little leaden and a tyre upgrade would lift the ride quality even higher, and provide better rolling resistance and feel in a wider range of conditions; the stock tyres didn't impress greatly in the wet. The wheels have remained true but they do lack stiffness when you really push them hard. They're fine if you're a lighter rider but heavier or more powerful types might find them slightly lacking. I'm being super-critical here though.
It's clear Raleigh has worked hard on the frame and getting the bike to a competitive place in the market, and the result is that it stacks up well against the competition. Canyon's Endurace AL 5.0, the German company's cheapest road bike, costs £799 and offers an aluminium frame with the same new Shimano Tiagra groupset. And, if its claims are to be believed, the Canyon is 1.25kg lighter, but claimed weights can and often do differ from actual weights.
Perhaps the best equipped bike for £800 that we could find is the BTwin Ultra 900 AF, which combines an aluminium frame, carbon fork and a full Shimano 105 11-speed groupset.
Should I buy it?
If your budget won't stretch to the magical £1,000, don't fret, the Raleigh Criterium Sport is a cracking bike at £800, and certainly isn't embarrassed by more expensive rivals.
The Raleigh Criterium Sport provides a refined ride with very involving and dynamic handling that will suit anyone buying their first bike or upgrading. The frame and fork even have mudguard mounts. For a sporty bike it's very accomplished, and has the comfort to be a relaxing bike on longer rides.
Cracking bike for the money, and one that isn't easily embarrassed by more expensive rivals
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Raleigh Criterium Sport
Size tested: 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Wheel size: 700c
Frame: AL6061 double butted alloy, internal cabling, tapered headtube, Endurance Race geometry
Fork: Endurance blend carbon fork with tapered alloy steerer
Shift Levers: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Brake Levers: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Front Brake: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Rear Brake: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Crankset: Shimano Tiagra 4700 50/34. Crank Length 170mm 49-52cm, 172.5mm 54 - 56cm, 175mm 58 - 61cm
Bottom Bracket: Shimano Tiagra 4700
Freewheel/Cassette: SRAM PG 1030 11-32t Cassette
Chain: KMC X10
Pedals: Road Cage
Front Wheel: RSP AC2.0
Rear Wheel: RSP AC2.0
Front Tyre: Schwalbe Lugano with K-guard 700 x 25c
Rear Tyre: Kenda Kontender 700 x 26c
Inner Tubes: 700 x 26c presta valve
Stem: RSP alloy aheadset
Tape: Velo anti-slip, shock proof bar tape
Saddle: Raleigh R1
Seatpost: RSP alloy micro adjust
Seat Clamp: RSP alloy
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?
It's an entry-level race bike.
"Fast enough to race, comfortable enough to ride all day," says Raleigh.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
High quality frame with good details, impressive at this price.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
6061 aluminium with a fork constructed with carbon blades and an aluminium steerer tube, with a tapered head tube.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Raleigh describes it as "RE2P geometry pushes the rider's weight backwards - reducing fatigue on the arms while increasing comfort on long rides," which means in reality a comfortable reach that isn't too high at the front if you don't want an out-and-out race bike position.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
With a change of stem it was perfect for me.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Considering it's made from aluminium, the Raleigh provided immense comfort.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No lack of stiffness if you want to push it fast all the time, and no unwanted flex.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Aluminium usually makes for a stiff and efficient frame and that was the case with the Raleigh.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very composed at speed and agile if you want to throw it through the corners.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
A tyre upgrade would benefit the ride, but it's hard to find any major flaws.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels lack stiffness when getting really animated.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Shimano's latest Tiagra 4700 doesn't disappoint, it's a belter of a groupset.
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 wheels are reliable and generally very good, but do lack stiffness for bigger or more powerful cyclists. I'd change the tyres when the stock ones wear out, or save them for winter commuting.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Surprisingly comfortable saddle and no complaints with the shallow drop handlebar.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The Raleigh provides a refined ride with very involving and dynamic handling that will suit anyone buying their first bike or upgrading. For a sporty bike it's very accomplished, and has the comfort to be a relaxing bike on longer rides.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180cm Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.