Raleigh has six gravel bikes in its 2016 range, which is topped by the Roker Pro and Roker Race models. As you’d hope from a bike this expensive, the Pro is instantly likeable. It’s not the lightest, and only gets SRAM’s Apex-level alloy crankset rather than Rival or Force, but it has an immediately fresh and clean feel.
Slack geometry but sharp reactions
The head angle is quite slack, which should slow the steering down. But the solidity of the 142x12mm front thru-axle helps to keep the handling sharp, and it still feels quick and responsive through the bar.
Its chunky chainstays and 142x12mm rear thru-axle transfer your power well, but the curved top-tube and flat wishbone seatstays mean that drive doesn’t mean discomfort, even over rough forest roads. It wasn’t knocked off its stride by rutted and rubble-‘repaired’ farm tracks, either.
The Raleigh’s bottom bracket shell is chunky and super-smooth
A lot of the credit for the Roker’s impressive ride quality has to go to the American Classic tubeless-ready wheelset and Schwalbe G-One tyres, which BikeRadar's Josh Evans singled out for praise when he took a Roker Race out on a 200km gravel race. The latter are listed as 35mm but thanks to the wider rim blow up to 39mm.
Simply adding valves would turn them tubeless, which would make them lighter, smoother and puncture-resistant in a single stroke. But even with inner tubes the fat, fast-rolling carcass feels great on the road when it comes to sustaining speed, and off road the stipple tread offers much better grip than you’d expect, even in the wet.
The Roker Pro comes with an RSP carbon seatpost
The FC350 crankset’s 44-tooth ring is a relative dinnerplate, but this is offset by a super-wide-range 10-42 cassette. The result is that you’ll hit 60kph before you spin out, but can still grunt up walking pace cyclocross climbs if you’re determined. The flipside is the bigger gaps between gears, which can irritate when you’re riding shallow slopes or rolling terrain on the road.
Simple one-by pleasures
All our testers appreciated the simplicity of purely sequential gearing offered by a single ring, so you never have to work out which ring and sprocket combination delivers the next ratio. It also results in a clean look – albeit one with uncommonly large sprockets for a drop-bar bike – and reduces the chance of grass or other off-road debris clogging the frame, while there’s no chance of anything getting caught in the front derailleur as there isn’t one.
The Roker has a racy position, quick steering, keen brakes and a wide range of gears
This is why single chainrings have become so popular in cyclocross races, and SRAM’s Rival hydraulic disc brakes also come into their own in filthy conditions. Their fine control and modulation is noticeably better than rim brakes in the dry – and in a totally different class if you’re dealing with wet, dirty rims.
There are a couple of potential Achilles heels on this otherwise weatherproof machine. For some reason there are no front mudguard mounts, which is especially odd as the rear is ready for ’guards and a rack. We also aren’t fans of the open cable entry holes in the frame and a large aperture for the internally routed front disc brake line, both of which could potentially let water in. You could seal them with something like Sugru mouldable glue, but we’d have liked a neater solution.
But those are minor negatives on a machine that offers a comfortable, lively ride, a racy riding position, quick steering, keen brakes and a wide range of gears. The result is a versatile ride if you don’t want to be restricted by a pure road bike.