Raleigh has been making a determined effort to take on the big names in race-worthy bikes, and they have succeeded with the Airlite Carbon Race. If you can get beyond the name there's an awful lot here to enjoy.
Ride and handling: great race potential
The Airlite Carbon Race gave us a big grin and we were happy to see that the Raleigh is capable of holding its own against the competition.
Off the starting blocks, Raleigh’s Airlite Carbon Race did what was printed on the top-tube. It says ‘Race’ in big letters, and it rides like a true race bike. Frame angles are properly steep and the handling is quick and poised for action, but with sufficient central stability.
It really spits forward under acceleration, a credit in equal measure to the frame and Shimanowheels, which both exhibit that great feeling of a tightly drawn drum skin over a thin walled metallic cylinder, producing a nice hollow humming tone at speed.
Lateral rigidity is great and useful when cornering, but you sacrifice a bit on comfort. Given the brief of the bike and its price, this is acceptable.
The approximate 8kg/18lb weight makes it feel solid and strong, but this has no effect on speed: it goes fast, and would definitely make a great bike to race over several seasons.
Frame: building a reputation
Rather unfairly, the Raleigh Airlite Carbon Race is likely to have a harder job than most to convince potential buyers of its status. Raleigh is still trying to shed a dour image from the past and it still suffers from an association with cheaper bikes. But things are looking up for the company and it’s starting to rebuild a reputation. We really liked the Team Pro frame and fork previously tested, the same bike ridden to such great success by Nicole Cooke in 2007.
So will the all-carbon Airlite Race follow suit? Raleigh has a wealth of experience when it comes to designing bikes and on paper the Airlite Carbon Race certainly looks like an interesting choice.
Equipment: top of the class
The Raleigh Airlite Carbon Race scores highly in the component stakes, coming with a full Ultegra group. Smoother and faster than a 105 drivetrain, the difference made by the Ultegra is instantly noticeable. It feels more precise than 105, with a performance closer to that of Dura-Ace, and we would happily race on it.
Other components like the FSA 115A bars, stem and Continental Ultra Race tyres are all small differences that add to the rather seductive big picture.
The Shimano’s RS20 wheelset on the Raleigh deserves a special mention. We tested these fast wheels previously and were really impressed; they’re laterally stiff, matching the taut feel of the frame.
The only minor criticism of the Airlite Race, and one that would only affect the faster riders, is with the gearing. The aim of the Raleigh is to be a race bike but the 34/50 crankset with a long cage rear mech strikes us as a bit of a cop-out. A 39/52 with a 26T or even a 27T cassette at the back on a short cage (it works) would keep the sportive riders happy.
Summary: great spec, great fun
There is a lot of fun to be had with the Raleigh. Fast race handling isn't for everyone, but it can give a great adrenaline rush. The Airlite Race responds well to rider input and if you're up for it, the bike will reward you with an involving ride.