We always advise bike buyers to make sure they get the best frame possible for their money and worry about upgrading components later. That’s definitely the approach Raleigh’s taken with its Criterium Elite – but sadly the complete bike suffers noticeably as a result.
Starting on a positive note, a sculpted carbon fork leads into a similarly artful head tube, which includes internal gear cable insertion points on the front face to avoid paint damage. The gradually expanding down tube constantly changes cross section on its way down to the traditional threaded bottom bracket.
The large diameter seat tube pushes through the top tube, which curves down into the seemingly obligatory skinny seatstays for damping rear wheel shock. The saddle proved popular with testers, too, who found the shape comfortable for long miles without any grief even on rough backroads.
The chassis – with its widening down tube – is the highlight of the setup
The rubberised bar tape is grippy enough in wet weather and if you get along with the feel of the more needy/twitchy shorter stem, the cockpit is both well shaped and balanced in terms of shock absorbtion without obvious flex.
Deep chainstays promise solid power transfer to the rear wheel, and when we swapped in lighter wheels to explore the full potential of the Crit Elite frame it lit up well when we pressed the pedals. Unfortunately the supplied RSP wheels aren’t very responsive even once the initial spoke-pinging and settling-in phase has passed.
While they roll fast and will last for ages the Lugano tyres – part of Schwalbe’s entry-level ‘Active Line’ range – feel really wooden and dead, even in a 25mm width. The lack of feel and hard compound also undermine the handling package of the otherwise genuinely criterium race-style steep seat angle, short wheelbase and stem.
Having switched wheels we can confirm that it’ll dive into corners with real immediacy and commitment with the right rubber, so it’s definitely worth upgrading tyres and saving the Luganos for commuting or roller use. Even with more forgiving rubber underfoot the handling creates an attention-seeking rather than relaxed ride and the ride quality is similarly firm and eager rather than smooth and easy.
Once we swapped out the leaden rolling stock fitted as standard, the Criterium came alive
But the tyres aren’t the only thing getting in the way of the Criterium fulfilling the promise of its feisty frame and fork. The Sora shifters’ side-sprouting cables are an aesthetic distraction but the actual shift feel is muffled and imprecise compared with Tiagra. The slightly bigger jumps between gears weren’t obvious when switching between nine-speed Sora and 10-speed Tiagra bikes – but they’re very clear when we switched between the Raleigh and 11-speed 105 rides.
The same muffled, dull feel compared with new Shimano or decent TRP brakes is obvious in the RSP units. Their co-moulded – rather than cartridge-style – brake pads flex as they contact the rims, and together with the similarly flexy calipers leave the overall anchoring experience below average in confidence and control terms.
The fact the Raleigh is so strangled by its spec is a shame, as the endurance blend carbon frame and fork could create a characterful combative ride worthy of the Criterium name.