Despite the company's ﬂuctuating fortunes in the past couple of decades, the Raleigh heron is still viewed fondly by many. Unfortunately, the Airlite 400 is a bit of a letdown after the SP Race was a serious contender in our Bike of the Year shootout. It's simply too heavy, too dead and too dull to be a serious contender at this price, despite its fairly decent specification.
- Frame: While unarguably stiff, the Airlite’s frame is also heavy and imparts a dead quality to the ride. Long rides just aren’t fun on a bike where the frame transmits this much buzz to the rider (5/10)
- Handling: The upright stance makes it nippy round town, but it’s strangely reluctant to change lines at speed, although its sheer rigidity is good for hammering away from the lights (5/10)
- Equipment: A curate’s egg of great transmission, set up really well, good ﬁnishing kit and indifferent brakes. Overall decent value but the brake pads need immediate upgrade (8/10)
- Wheels: Plenty tough but unnecessarily heavy and desperately in need of better tyres. Improving the wheels would help lift the whole bike (6/10)
The Raleigh’s on the back foot from the off because of its weight (9.71kg/21.4lb), but it’s possible for a bike to rise above that obstacle if everything else is in place. There’s clearance for 25mm tyres and mudguards, and the butted aluminium frame is generously equipped with twin eyelets on the dropouts and rack mounts on the stays.
Those features plus its relatively upright riding position make it worth considering as a commuter and sportive bike. Unfortunately, though, the Airlite 400’s ride simply isn’t very inspiring. The heft of its beefy aluminium frame makes it stiff and therefore quick away from the lights, but lugging its extra mass up hills soon gets tiresome. And that stiffness translates as thudding harshness over bumps and an overall dead feel to the ride.
The story isn’t much better downhill, where the Airlite 400’s handling gets distinctly odd above about 30mph. It’s reluctant to change line at high speed, making twisty downhills and obstacle-avoidance tricky. Throw in spongy, vague and underpowered Tektro brakes and downhill fun, well, isn’t much fun.
While it’s nice to see 25mm tyres with their extra cushion and – on paper – more forgiving ride, the tyres here are Michelin Oriums, which have a poor reputation for susceptibility to punctures and lack of grip in the wet. Sadly, they’re so thick and heavy that they don’t do the Airlite 400’s ride any favours either, adding instead to the bike’s generally dead feel.
It’s not all bad though. Raleigh have set up the Airlite 400’s Shimano 105 gears to perfection, providing a light and easy shifter feel that’s tricky to achieve with Shimano under-tape cabling. Those shifters operate a classic sorted transmission with an FSA Gossamer compact chainset pulling a proper Shimano chain and 12-25 sprocket cluster.
That gives a range of gears suitable for riding around town and moderate hills and you won’t have any trouble getting a swap to, say, 11-28 if you want an even wider range for hillier terrain. Most of the Airlite 400’s ﬁnishing kit consists of decent quality parts from Raleigh’s own RSP component line.
The aero shaped top section of the bar is comfortable for cruisy riding, and the RSP four-bolt stem provides a solid steering connection. Nice to see the bar width tailored to bike size too. Saddles are very much a matter of personal bum shape, but we liked the San Marco Ponza Power seat here. It’s mounted on an RSP single-bolt post which holds it ﬁrmly, but it doesn’t afford the ﬁne adjustment of pricier two-bolt designs.
The Raleigh’s looks divided opinion. Its white and lime colour scheme has a pleasing lightness, but its bent top tube results in a silly clothesline effect as it veers away from the brake cable. We’re mystiﬁed by the trend for upwardly curved top tubes and we wish manufacturers would stop it. Rant over.
Some of the Airlite 400’s deﬁciencies could be easily ﬁxed. The braking, in particular, could be improved with better pads in metal housings instead of the all-rubber pads ﬁtted. A change of tyres would also help considerably – Vittoria Rubinos or Schwalbe Luganos would both ride better without breaking the bank.
Chuck in a set of mudguards and this would all help make the Raleigh a perfectly good round-town ride, but it still falls short of its mission of being suitable for your ﬁrst sportive, unless that ride is relatively short and ﬂat. Raleigh need to set their designers the task of replicating the SP Race’s excellence in aluminium.