The Team Professional model returns to the Raleigh range after almost 20 years way - Raleigh's other carbon road bike is the Shimano Tiagra-equipped Airlite model costing a quid shy of a grand.
It's 18 years since Laurent Fignon and his low profile Reynolds 753 time trial iron were caught in an epic battle with Z-Peugeot's Greg Lemond in the final stage of the 1989 Tour de France, where the Frenchman subsequently conceded defeat by a record breaking eight second margin. Fast-forward to 2007 and Raleigh are once more getting world-wide exposure in the shape of Nicole Cooke of the Raleigh Lifeforce Creation HB team, who is currently dominating women's professional cycle racing on their top carbon Team Professional bike.
The frame is made from unidirectional carbon that features tubing proportions that are similar to rival machines from Storck and Isaac and, like those frames, the top-tube pinches inwards at the ends. The Raleigh's decals are a tasteful blend of the old and new without appearing to be too overtly 'retro', and the coarse weave finish, combined with a pleasing shade of silver and red accents, makes it a distinctive looking bike.
As with the greater majority of carbon frames today, production is farmed out to Taiwan as they are probably the most experienced in large scale manufacture and quality control. This is an example of what is probably the neatest and best finished tube joints that we've ever seen in a carbon frame - at any price.
There are four sizes ranging from 54-60cm, based on the distance from the bottom bracket to the top of the seat-tube, though we hope that Raleigh will soon update their website to include a proper frame geometry table to make the decision process easier.
The seatpost diameter is the rarely used 31.6mm size, so the choice of seatpost was somewhat limited. We could have used a USE but opted instead for the British made X-Lite.
The Team Pro's frame is sensibly but not exceptionally lightweight at just 1,021g for the 55cm size tested, and the frameset package includes an Easton EC90 SL fork worth £299. As we were not supplied with a fork at the time of writing we fitted the next best thing - Easton's EC90 100 per cent carbon fork that is worth £249 and weighs 348g.
There are no plans to make the Team Pro available as a complete bike, but most local cycle retailers will gladly build it up to your chosen spec. We chose to deck the Raleigh out with the new SRAM Rival that, in the running order of groupsets, sits comfortably between the level of Shimano Dura-Ace and their lower-rung Ultegra equipment, but is rather expensive when bought as an individual groupset. Unlike Campagnolo and Shimano, which use two levers, SRAM Double-Tap gear levers perform up and down changes with just a single lever. A full inswing of the brake lever performs an upshift of up to three larger cogs, while just a nudge of the lever shifts the chain to a smaller cassette cog. The degree of delicacy with which the rider needs to operate these levers to avoid a missed-shift (when changing gear over poor road surfaces) highlights the need for practice.
We felt that, when broken in with some hard use prior to testing, the brakes' power exceeded that of Shimano Dura-Ace and the level of modulation of control available rivalled that of the Campagnolo Record callipers. After Raleigh had gone to the trouble of making their Team Pro so stiff, we followed the theme by fitting components with known stiffness and opted here for a 3TTT Less aluminium stem at £30 and aluminium BBB Fastbar at a bargain £20.
We selected Easton EA90 SLX wheels that retail at around £430. Curiously, the 24-spoke front rim is 21mm in depth, while the rear is 25mm, though we aren't complaining, as they cost less and are almost as light as the Mavic Ksyrium SL.
In an attempt to reduce the likelihood of flange breakage, which is common to very high mileage wheels that use straight pull spokes, Easton's 28 rear spokes are designed to move freely at a tangent to the original resting position in the hub, thus reducing stress on the hub. The hubs are Easton's own tried and trusted cartridge bearing units and adjustments to the bearings are possible. The hub shell is finished in a tough anodised surface treatment in a pewter colour and the skewers are convenient to use.
We started the test with 23mm Michelins and then tried the slightly wider 25mm CST Pro tyres in an attempt to quell the harsh ride. Their slightly-broader-than-average footprint on the road, and larger air-space, help to dissipate road surface high-frequency buzz but they are no panacea.
The Team Professional is far removed from the steel-tubed bikes that were lovingly handcrafted at the Raleigh Ilkeston works up until 10 years ago and, as good as those bikes were, the carbon frame is both far lighter and stiffer than its elderly predecessor and comparable to the very best carbon frames available.
Good though these properties are in the fast moving world of professional racing, there are going to be some riders (notably those of a smaller-than-average build) who will regard the new Raleigh's speed and, therefore, excitement factor, as being offset by a harsh ride. A couple of riders went as far as to say that shoes they previously thought of as comfortable on other bikes seem to ruthlessly transfer vibrations to the toes. Having said that, the Raleigh is no worse in this respect than the bikes we see as its main rivals the Isaac Sonic and the Storck CD10.
On smooth roads the harsh ride is largely negated and it is on these surfaces that the Raleigh's outstanding lateral stiffness keeps the wheels perfectly in-line and positively encourages those who are brave enough to explore the limit of their descending skills. This is aided by steering response that is about as good as it gets at any price and that directness helps the rider to stay on the brakes hard into the apex of bends so that speed can be carried through effectively.
In short, provided its capabilities are explored on smooth surfaces, this is one of the fastest bikes we've ridden - period.
The name Team Professional certainly reflects the intention that this is a serious tool for the experienced rider who wants to squeeze every last ounce of energy from their bike, but we are at a loss to understand why Raleigh list this in their 'sports' category and think they should consider producing a second more vertically compliant frame to satisfy the sportive rider.
We also wish they would include more technical details on their website for what is a superb piece of kit in terms of build quality and ride.
When compared to the aforementioned rivals it is a veritable bargain and, like the Storck and Isaac, the Team Professional is resolutely focused on the weekend warrior who regularly finishes in the top 20 of an E,1,2 category road race.