The Criterium is the cheapest model in a 10-bike range that stretches all the way up to £1,300. There are some obvious compromises enforced by the low price, but it’s the basics of this bike that make it well worth a look. Some of the initially curious features could turn out to be a bonus.
Ride & handling: Let the mainframe cruise and it’s fine for multi-hour missions
We don’t want to sound like snobs, but from past experience we weren’t expecting great things from a £330 bike. However we’re delighted to say that the Criterium soon charmed its way past our cynicism.
Having suffered on previous Claud Butlers we were dreading hitting the first rough section on the thick-legged high-tensile steel forks, but they’re smoother than we expected. They’ll still crack your wrists if you hit a big hole at speed, and they buckaroo on braking bumps into corners, but if you can avoid the worst bits they’re fine for long rides.
The same is true of the frame, too. It starts to get harsh and hurt over rough sections if you’re pushing the pace, but let it cruise and keep your arms relaxed and it’s perfectly bearable for multi-hour missions. The slim brake levers and Claud Butler saddle are comfortable too, while decent bar tape disguises the skinny bars.
The Criterium hides its limited gearing, heavy wheels and overall weight pretty well. It doesn’t leap upwards like a salmon, but it doesn’t squander your valuable effort on climbs either. We spent enough time in the big ring on flat and rolling terrain to boost our ego.
The basic Kenda tyres roll and bank through corners okay, only sliding out on the rear if you really push them. The brakes feel sharp enough at slower speeds to give traffic confidence, but they need a serious pull to stop their mushiness making descents scary.
Relaxed frame angles mean a reassuringly confident and stable feel overall, though. You’ll have no worries riding no-handed while you grab an energy bar from your back pocket.
Chassis: It's no lightweight, but it’s good-looking and competently equipped
At a whisker under 4.5lbs, the Criterium frame certainly isn’t light, and neither is the steel fork. It’s a good-looking and competently equipped bike though.
There are gear cable adjusters on the triangular section down tube, while the similarly shaped, sloped top tube gives plenty of standover clearance and a contemporary look.
You get a spare gear hanger included with the bike in case you bend the original, and there are rubber paint protectors on the cables. Room for mudguards will get you through winter – or to work – without getting a wet arse.
Equipment: 'Butterfly’ shifters were knocked by our knees and brakes need a serious pull
The most obvious sign of restricted budget is that you’ve only got 12 gears to click between instead of up to 27 on some £500 options. The ‘standard’ chainset also means bigger, more strenuous gears than a ‘compact’ chainset. We rarely ran out of gears or fell between the gaps on rolling roads though, so it’ll only be a real problem if you live somewhere properly hilly.
Claud Butler are aware that the ‘butterfly’ shifters mounted on the bars alongside the stem won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Accidentally knocking them with our knees was an issue when climbing out of the saddle and they sit right where you’d fit clip-on tri bars.
The actual shifting action is positive and reliable though, and they’re lighter than combined brake and gear STI units. You do have to pre-select gears more accurately before corners and climbs though.
The relatively deep aero section shining rims aren’t too murderous on climbs and the machined sidewalls mean smooth braking. The long-reach dual-pivot brakes are mudguard-compatible to match the frame.
The bar and stem are sized to match the handling, although broad-shouldered riders may find the cockpit is cramped in terms of width.