Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Raleigh Clubman Initial Review:

I picked up my '09 Raleigh Clubman last week, and have been rolling out the miles on it since.

The Clubman, new for '09, is the Swiss Army knife of road bikes -- it's got a tool for everything, even if you have to kind of fight with the screwdriver to get some things done.

Some entry-level bicycles use steel frames just for price, but there's a big difference between basic "Hi-ten" steel and nice 4130 Chromo tubing. Of course, the Clubman will never be an ultralight bike, but its 25-pound-ish weight disappears beneath the quality of the ride. Steel also means braze-ons not seen as frequently on modern road bikes: it's got a pump peg, chain holder, and rear rack mount. There's also fender mounts, two pairs of bottle cage bosses and a drilled chainstay bridge.

Picking up where the One-Way left off and growing into a multispeed bicycle, the steel frame and lugged steel fork appear traditional. Classic, understated styling is a nice contrast to the over-stickered, shout-it-from-the-rooftops branding so common on today’s bikes. The slightly sloping top tube gives the modernity of the Clubman away, and will of course be a controversial styling element.

Timeless leather Brooks Swift saddle is a hit with everyone who looks at it, and contrasts again with the modern, compact Shimano Tiagra drivetrain and black Avenir 200-series cockpit. I’m of mixed opinion about about the brown bar tape over wing-topped bars.

There's enough clearance for 700 x 27c tires with full fenders, a big contrast to the tight spaces in race-style modern road bikes, or 700 x 32c's without fenders. Long-reach brake calipers can handle these combinations, too, and if you feel like going single or fixed, it’s a can-do with the horizontal, forward-facing dropouts.

There’s also a traditional, pressed in headset on a slightly extended headtube, so you can drop that King in and ride your bars and saddle level without a riser stem. A few retro-grouches have complained that it’s still got a threadless headset, but, with all due respect – it’s time to move on. If you feel like backing down the technology, though, feel free to replace your STI’s with downtube shifters – bosses are included.

With skinny tires, the Clubman is a fast bike, accelerating nicely over small rises and rolling hills. It keeps up just fine on the single, ahem, club ride I’ve taken it on. On 32’s, it’s nearly a cyclocross bike, though the lack of clearance between caliper and tire means I wouldn’t use it for CX racing. Bring on the fire roads! 73 degree head and seat angles along with slightly elongated chainstays create predictable, neutral handling, though I haven’t pushed it to its limits in the twisties.

I barely notice I’m riding the Clubman. It feels complimentary and springy when I accelerate, smooth and relaxed when I cruise, and the nastiest parts of the horrid Tacoma pavement are ironed over, even if it cannot be run like a tank through all obstacles like the Sojourn could.

Modern categories would struggle to define the Clubman – far more affordable than a custom, bespoke steel bike but heavier than a pure race bike of similar price, the Clubman is the bike you’ll WISH you had bought. It’s not a ‘cross bike, not a touring bike, not a commuter bike, not a race bike; instead, the Clubman is just a bike.

Now go ride one.

Notes: Yes, careful observer, I did swap the bars out on my bike. I know some riders who are entirely tied to wing-style handlebars, and others who utterly refuse them. I don't find they fit my hand style, but it's a personal preference. Likewise, I think that a classic, round-bend bar would really set off this bike, but I've been using this style of Ritchey drop for a few years, and for some reason it just works for me.

Likewise, fenders. This IS Seattle.

Also, the Clubman does include a Lezyne pump, just like the Sojourn does. Thirty bucks at retail, and they work quite well, even if that means you won't need to use that pump peg -- See my review here.


  • At 7:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Alright just how many bikes do you have now? Careful, you'll be catching up with TooMany.

    Nice ride. Good write-up too.

  • At 7:15 PM , Blogger Brooke Hoyer said...

    You going to spec me one of those for a non-biased review? Enjoyed the ride on Saturday. Hope to ride with you again when I'm a little more fit. I keep on thinking about that nice climb up the closed road. Nice.

  • At 11:09 AM , Blogger toomanybikes said...

    Have no fear, you will, in fact, soon be past me as I am selling bikes!!

    But to the write -up, technology , maybe. Probably not. Easier for producers, yes. The dreaded threadless fork. I have grudgingly accepted them - but even you must admit - they are UGLY!

    Hopelessly ugly.

    Nice bike, nice indeed. The Brooks is a great touch. I think I need to look for one of those funny little pumps though.

  • At 8:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I have been searching for more information on this bike forever. I myself took one out for a test ride after lusting after it all year. I agree point for point on everything but the handle bars, they really fit my hands. I completely understand the preference and your choice doesn't take anything away from the look of the bike. Thanks for being so specific. This is my first new road bike and it makes me feel much better in my choice. See you out there!


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