Nottingham-based Raleigh have made some very good bikes in the past couple of years, and for 2011 they've produced one of their strongest offerings to date. As the name suggests, the SP is aimed at the racing cyclist, or at least those who like to ride fast.
It comes with Shimano Ultegra rather than 105, making it a very competitively priced package, and the predominantly white machine with its clean, unfussy lines looks much more stylish than its Avanti-badged predecessors.
But it’s out on the road where the SP Race comes into its own, demanding to be ridden fast and fearlessly. There’s a solid and predictable front end, a de rigueur tapered head tube, and forget about a compact chainset, this comes with 39/53T rings and an oversize BB30 bottom bracket for excellent power transfer.
There’s no bailout low gear for when the going gets tough, so you’re just going to have to grin and bear it. That said, the Raleigh climbs as well as any bike at this price, bounding up hills and egging you on, rewarding your gut-busting out-of-the-saddle efforts to the full. Cornering and descending could similarly be tackled with total confidence, changes of direction being possible at near supersonic speeds (okay, we’re exaggerating, but you get the drift).
While the Race doesn’t offer you a super-cosseted ride, the 12K carbon frame still does a reasonable job of smoothing out road buzz, even through the quite firm San Marco SKN saddle. ITM’s Wing bar is well shaped and its flattened profile was both comfortable and popular with a lot of our testers.
Our various testers described the SP Race as a supercharged rocketship and a real powerhouse, offering a very firm but involving ride. Shimano’s RS20s are decent, if not stunning, wheels, Schwalbe’s Duranos might not quite match their Ultremos but are still excellent tyres, and the whole setup is well thought out.
It doesn’t get top marks for comfort, but for speed, handling, performance and value this is up with the best in our Bike Of The Year test. Last year we suggested that perhaps Raleigh should consider marketing their high-end bikes under a different brand name – think Toyota and Lexus – but forget that. If this is the kind of cracking bike they're going to build from here on in, then buyers simply won’t be able to ignore it in favour of more modern interlopers.