Raleigh AIRLite 200 £600

Starter road ride

BikeRadar score 2/5

You used to own a Raleigh, right? We all did at some stage, and the Nottingham-based company still covers everything from kids’ bikes to £3000+ carbon race machines. The AIRLite 200 is the second-cheapest model on Raleigh’s road bike roster, featuring the same alloy frame as the entry-level 100 model (£499.99). It’s also available with a women’s-specific frame called the Aura.

Ride & handling: Increased weight means a lack of get-up-and-go

Although they bump up the weight, the AIRLite's 25mm-wide tyres have large air chambers that add extra cushioning to the ride. And Tektro’s dual pivot brake callipers have enough well-controlled power for you to attack the downhills fast without the fear of things getting ugly around the next corner.

The compact chainset combined with the 12-25 9-speed cassette gives you a spread of low gears that should keep you spinning up the steepest hills, but the hefty wheels definitely limit the AIRLite’s climbing ability.

There’s no notable flex in the frame or wheels when you get out of the saddle, but we found ourselves having to work that little bit harder to stay with mates when the terrain headed upwards. And dropping them with a crafty sprint was more of a challenge.

Overall, the Raleigh provides a sound enough ride, it’s just that it’s not as sporty as some others we've tested and has more of a recreational feel. Fair enough, it's relatively cheap, but we’d be inclined to dig a little deeper to get a higher level of performance.

The one fact you can’t get around when riding the Raleigh is that it weighs 22lbs. We know that size isn’t everything and, as a rule, don’t like to get too obsessed with it. Plus, what’s 3lbs when you consider the combined weight of both the bike and you? But the bike just doesn’t spring into life as readily as a lighter one would. When you call for an increase in pace, it’ll think about it for a second or two before joining in.

Don’t get us wrong – it will bowl along once you’re up to speed. The shape of the handlebar drops is superb, the generous amount of rearward extension meant we spent more time than normal in a low and efficient ride position, and fastening tri bars wasn’t a worry either.

Chassis: Downward-sloping tubes make for a low ride

The AirLite 200 features a 6061aluminium alloy frame that’s a workmanlike, if not spectacular, option. The down tube starts out as a deep teardrop up at the head tube junction before squashing down and broadening out to clamp across the bottom bracket shell.

Meanwhile, the top tube arcs and tapers along its length in a similar way to the Specialized’s. It slopes downwards towards the seat tube too, so you get a low-ish standover height that you might favour if you need to get your feet down in a hurry.

Equipment: Solid kit adds weight to the frame

Out at the back, the wiggly seatstays come with mounts for fitting a rack easily, while the chainstays kink inwards for good heel clearance. The front end is of medium height, so your ride position errs towards the more relaxed end of the spectrum, while 3cm of headset spacers allow you to fine-tune the fit.

You get mudguard mounts on the carbon-legged alloy steerer fork, though if you want to fit them you’ll need to swap the tyres; there’s not enough clearance with the 25c Michelins fitted.

The welds are neat enough and the finish is good, but the lack of butting means the Raleigh is a pretty heavy frameset.

The bike comes with a mainly Shimano Sora groupset, and FSA’s compact Vero chainset. It’s not the lightest kit money can buy but it all functions fine, the mechs obediently shifting with as much speed and accuracy as a top-level set-up.

The wheels – Rigida Nova rims laced to Formula hubs – are pretty heavy. With 25mm Michelin Dynamic tyres on board rather than the usual 23mm options, they’re noticeably less keen to pick up speed than the opposition's are.

The shape of the no-name handlebars is among the best of any bike we've tested lately, with the anatomic wiggle on the drops fitting comfortably in the palms. Opinion was divided on San Marco’s Ischia saddle, though. It’s either luxuriously cushioned or overly squidgy, depending on your taste.

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