The Claud Butler brand has been in existence for more than half a century. We have a copy of a 1948 Cycling Manual with one of Claud Butler's ads in that reads: 'Follow the lead of the lads who know'. The bikes looked a little different back then, but the Cape Wrath has been one of our favourite mid rangers for the past few years.
The 07 chassis and parts package still looks hard to beat in terms of value for money, but is it as good on the trail as it looks on paper? You can buy a D24 Cape Wrath (the number denotes the amount of gears) with a cheaper fork for £399, or the silver 27-speed V-brake-equipped XC for £449. But we suspect the D27 with hydraulic discs will be the one most riders aspire to.
Like so many frames on £500 bikes, the Cape Wrath uses 6061 aluminium with hydroformed top and down tubes. These tubes create aesthetically pleasing and strength-enhancing shapes and do away with gussets behind the head tube. The big bi-axially ovalised down tube gives away the frame's 'designed in the UK' origins with its Crud Catcher eyelets. The rear triangle tubes are almost box section in profile, with the seatstays curving in for heel clearance, and luggage rack bosses emphasise the bike's all-round personality. There's lots of mud clearance and the seat clamp faces forward. Cable routing is tidy and there are two sets of bottle bosses.
The geometry is spot on for a 100mm travel fork. A steepish seat angle encourages you to sit forward and really work the fork, and the SR Suntour XCR model is up to the job. You're never going to get a great fork on a bike at this price, but the XCR is plush, it has well controlled factory-set rebound damping plus it has a lever on top of the right-hand fork leg for lockout. There's a preload dial on the left-hand leg but it's less effective.
There are several component highlights on the Cape Wrath D27. First, it has an almost complete Shimano Deore 27-speed gearset, with the only downgrade being the Truvativ Five D steel-ringed, square taper-axled crankset. Second, and a real highlight at this price, it has Quad QHD-1 hydraulic disc brakes. We prefer these to any other brakes appearing on £500 bikes because lever feel and stopping power is superb, especially with the 180/160mm wavy rotors fitted here. These brakes wouldn't be out of place on a £1,000 plus bike.
As if that wasn't enough, Claud Butler have managed a great set of wheels too - Shimano hubs, Ritchey OCR offset-spoked rims and Tioga's Factory 1.95in front and rear-specific grippy tread combo. The decent four-bolt XR stem and oversized XC riser bar from Truvativ look and feel very much at home up front, the saddle is a soft Tioga model and a long seatpost allows riders up to about 6ft 1in to fit the 18in bike.
The Cape Wrath is a superbly well put-together bike. The ride posture is both casual and sporty. The fairly steep seat angle sits you far enough forward to get the best from a very reasonable fork over bumpy ground, although there are still times on really rough terrain when you feel that it's a little too undersprung. It's tricky for manufacturers to get it right at this price because the plusher budget forks come with a very basic compression damping setup. Still, the lockout is very welcome on climbs because it stops the fork from diving through its travel when you stand up and put the power down.
Elsewhere, and especially on the tight bumpy singletrack where the Cape Wrath is really at its best, the soft fork action is usually more than welcome. The 100mm of travel is obviously useful on the descents too.
The low slung top tube (combined with generous top tube reach) design of the Cape Wrath means that most riders will have lots of seatpost showing, so despite the frame's rigid rear triangle, comfort is reasonable, and ably assisted by the saddle. We don't usually go on about how good brakes are on £500 bikes, but the Quads on the Cape Wrath really do make the bike feel more controllable, especially on slippery wet terrain, contrasting with the unforgiving hydraulics that often feature on bikes at this price.