Raleigh is at a price disadvantage compared to many of the brands that sell cheaper road bikes because it sells into normal shops rather than its own high street or online outlets. The unavoidable extra margin has been offset in the best way it can though, by concentrating on providing the best frame possible, rather than going toe to toe on kit cost.
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The good news starts up front, with the larger bottom bearings of the tapered head tube and fork adding steering and tracking stiffness. The cola bottle-shaped head tube is broadest at the top just where it meets the diamond-shaped top tube, continuing that steering stiffness into the mainframe. The triangular to diamond cross section down tube is stout and the base of the seat tube is oversized for pedalling stiffness.
Internal cable routing uses big external entry bulges and exits just ahead of the cranks. The chainstays are relatively slim to start with and taper down to the dropouts, while the seatstays use a dead straight A-frame design joining the seat tube just below the top tube junction.
There are mudguard mounts front and rear but no rack fixtures. The welds are semi-smoothed but still look rough with small cosmetic pin holes in places. The seat collar is neat and the Criterium uses a small diameter seatpost to add a bit of flex and compliance under the basic but comfortable saddle. The bar also gets plump and comfortable tape.
The rest of the spec is okay but not outstanding for the money, with FSA Tempo crank arms in frame size-matched lengths on a square taper cartridge axle and bearings driving old-style Shimano Claris gears, which provide a smoother function than the tucked-in cable design of the latest Claris shifters.
Raleigh also fits an 11-32 rear cog cassette for a more forgiving bottom gear for the steepest climbs or longest days. The Tektro brakes get metal cartridge pads, which give more confident and controlled braking back down the hills. Raleigh own brand wheels have an ‘aero’ style rim and are ballpark on weight, but the 26mm Kenda tyres are only 24mm wide in reality.
It’s a real credit to the ride quality of the Criterium that skinny tyres that aren’t renowned for their smoothness at the best of times don’t stop the Raleigh being a joy to ride.
The bike has a sense of surge when I pushed hard on the pedals and initial enthusiasm is maintained in a muscularly sprung character up through the gears or when digging deep to hold speed over rises on rolling terrain.
The bike is happy attacking on climbs or doing anything else aggressive, and is a ‘racier’ option compared to some other bikes found in the under £500 price bracket.
The tapered carbon fork, fat bar tape, skinny stays and seatpost help to dilute disturbance from rougher surfaces without losing enthusiasm. Handling is keen for a lively feeling bike, although both traction and smoothness would be improved even further with a tyre swap to something less plasticky and larger in volume.
Otherwise, the ride quality was good enough to shade any slight shortcomings in spec.