This entry-level road racer will appeal to club riders and sportive mile-eaters. Its light parts pick and stylish frame mark it out.
This British institution has thankfully resisted the temptation to re-invent itself with a new name, but can this aluminium frame live up to the high reputation of Raleigh’s carbon bikes?
Ride & handling: racy performance & low weight
The Raleigh AirLite U6 Comp has a race-orientated riding position that will please seekers of speed. It’s directly comparable with an entry level full carbon bike in terms of performance and weight.
The comparatively short head-tube was a hit with two of the testers who are seasoned sportive riders .
The AirLite U6 Comp’s serious intentions are further reﬂected in the gear speciﬁcation that includes a compact chainset and a 12-25 cassette. This will suit riders who have their sights set on a continuous course of improvements in sportives and the odd road race.
Frame: light weight aluminium/carbon combo
The frame and fork is no lighter, stiffer or stronger than a top-quality full aluminium frame such as the Specialized Allez Sport’s but its full carbon back end will win plenty of admirers.
The AirLite U6 Comp has the same frame as the Shimano 105-equipped U6 Pro model and uses triple butted 6061 grade aluminium tubing.
The aluminium front triangle is formed to an attractive diamond shape and completed by a full carbon back end, rather than one with just carbon seatstays – rare at this price. One long ride is usually enough to dispel the myth that a full carbon back end necessarily brings a softer, more compliant ride than a full aluminium frame.
Unfortunately there are only three frame sizes available, based on compact frame geometry. While adjusting the seatpost to the appropriate height will suit a reasonable range of riders, those shorter than 5ft 5in and the very tallest riders will have problems. Our 56cm test version has a perfectly agreeable 55.5cm top-tube.
Equipment: light finishing kit with FSA goodies
The Airlite U6 Comp has a light gear and component ensemble – of comparable road bikes we’ve tested recently, only the Cube Peloton has a lighter selection.
The handlebars have a tight, anatomic bend that means there’s less of a difference between riding on the drops and the tops than a traditional dropped handlebar. The thick handlebar tape effectively kills road buzz but takes some getting used to.
The gear and ﬁnishing kit is based on the popular FSA (Full Speed Ahead) range. The FSA Omega oversized handlebars and matching OS 190 stem felt stiffer and more responsive than bars with a 26.0mm centre, but the sportive riders felt they were harder to live with on long rides.
The unbranded saddle looks disappointingly cheap. However, for riding hard all our testers thought that it provided better support than the wider and more padded saddles often specced at this price range. We would upgrade the seatpost, though, as it’s relatively heavy. The carbon post fitted to the Giant SCR1.5 is 80g lighter, but that bike is a hundred quid cheaper.
Wheels: good looking but heavy
The Element CXR330 wheels use spokes that are attractively grouped side by side in pairs. This provides exceptional resistance to sideways loads resulting in a very stiff and responsive ride when charging along on ﬂat roads. Their weight makes tackling steep and rolling uphill gradients more of a challenge than the lighter hoops ﬁtted to bike like the b’Twin Sport 4 and Merida Road 903-27.
This largely negates the advantages of having a light frame and components when the going gets hilly, though the folding Continental Ultra Sport tyres do something to redeem the situation by being clearly superior on wet surfaces.
Verdict: sportive choice but fancy extras disappoint
With its short head tube and consequently more classic ‘racy’ riding position, the AirLite U6 Comp could be described as a club racer’s sportive choice. However, it loses marks because neither the nice-looking wheels nor the fancy looking carbon backend deliver real performance gains.