The brand new £750 Raleigh Criterium Sport is proof that you don’t need to spend a huge amount of money on a road bike. It offers a well designed aluminium frame, a carbon fibre fork and a full Shimano Tiagra groupset, which all comes together to provide a brilliant ride. This is a cracking bike for the money, and one that isn’t easily embarrassed by more expensive rivals.
How does it ride?
The first thing that strikes you is how smooth the ride is. There’s an old adage about aluminium bikes being harsh and rattly, which has stuck as a label for aluminium bikes over the years.
That’s not the case at all with the Raleigh. It’s very compliant over any sort of road surface, and doesn’t deteriorate into harshness on really gravelly roads. In fact, it has a more composed ride over my local roads than many more expensive carbon fibre bikes I’ve tested over the years. I had to double check the frame was metal on a couple of occasions with a flick of the top tube. Nope, it’s definitely aluminium.
The Raleigh isn’t the dynamic masterclass you’d expect if it were a UCI weight limit challenging bike, but it’s still a very involving and exciting ride. The weight is noticeable at lower speeds and stunts acceleration a little, but get it up to speed and it sails through country lanes or congested city streets with plenty of pace.
It’s a much more involving ride than many at this price. The geometry is well judged and the carbon fork and aluminium frame come together to give a good level of agility; it’ll suit wannabe racers as much as sportive challengers. If you like to really throw your bike around the road, powering out of the saddle to sprint over rises and belting through corners as fast as you dare, the Criterium Sport indulges.
The new Shimano Tiagra groupset is a delight to use, mimicking the ergonomics and functionality of Shimano’s more expensive groupsets. It’s great that Raleigh has used the full groupset ” no shortcuts here. If I’m being picky, the gear shifters feel heavier and the brakes not as powerful as those on 105 and above, but as the miles pass by these tiny niggles fade away and you’re left with the overwhelming impression that Shimano has nailed it. Again.
And though aesthetics are a subjective matter, the new groupset, particularly the chainset, is a real looker. In fact the whole bike has a really slick appearance, that lifts it against similar priced rivals. From far enough away that you can’t see the Tiagra stickers, it looks like a much more expensive bike.
Best of all, the ride is as classy as its appearance, there’s substance to back up the style. And when you’ve tired of chasing segment times or your mates, the Raleigh provides enough refinement over long distance rides.
If you’re buying your first road bike, or upgrading, the Raleigh Criterium Sport will definitely ensure you fall in love with the cycling.
Frame and components
The Criterium range comprises two aluminium-framed and two carbon models. The £750 Criterium Sport is the more expensive of the two aluminium models. The range starts at £475 with the Criterium which uses the same frame, which is a really nice bit of kit. It boasts profiled and shaped tubes adorned with smart graphics, and full internal cable routing and a tapered head tube. The fork is carbon fibre, albeit with an aluminium steerer tube.
This model gets the latest Shimano Tiagra 4700 groupset. It’s a big upgrade over the previous generation Tiagra, with an appearance and technical developments borrowed from the more expensive 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace groupsets. Unlike 105, the new Tiagra is 10-speed, and this Raleigh was fitted with a compact 50/34t chainset and 11-32t cassette, the sort of gearing that will look after you on the climbs, with enough clout to feature in the sprints.
The other big visual, and ergonomic, change, is the new shifters. The cables are now hidden, routed underneath the tape. The shape of the hoods and levers very closely resembles 105 and Dura-Ace, and in the hands they feel pretty much identical.
Raleigh has opted for a conventional external threaded bottom bracket which will please home mechanics.
The rest of the bike is finished with Raleigh’s own RSP kit. The handlebars have a compact bend and are comfortable to use, as is the bar tape. The stem was too short for me ” that’s easily solved ” and there’s a good stack of spacers so you can get the handlebar height just right. The saddle, a flat and wide shape, was surprisingly comfortable, and it’s held in place by a 27.2mm aluminium seatpost.
The RSP label extends to the wheels, AC2.0 aluminium clincher rims fitted with 25mm Schwalbe Lugano tyres with a K-Guard puncture belt. The tyres do feel a little leaden and a tyre upgrade would lift the ride quality even higher, and provide better rolling resistance and feel in a wider range of conditions; the stock tyres didn’t impress greatly in the wet. The wheels have remained true but they do lack stiffness when you really push them hard. They’re fine if you’re a lighter rider but heavier or more powerful types might find them slightly lacking. I’m being super critical here though.
It’s clear Raleigh has worked hard on the frame and getting the bike to a competitive place in the market, and the result is that it stacks up well against the competition. Canyon’s Endurace AL 5.0, the German company’s cheapest road bike(link is external), costs £699 and offers an aluminium frame with the same new Shimano Tiagra groupset. And, if its claims are to be believed, the Canyon is 1.25kg lighter, but claimed weights can and often do differ from actual weights.
Perhaps the best equipped bike for £750 that we could find is the B’Twin Alur 700, which combines an aluminium frame, carbon fork and most of a Shimano 105 groupset(link is external), but cuts a few corners with the non-Shimano chainset.
Should I buy it?
If your budget won’t stretch to the magical £1,000, don’t fret, the Raleigh Criterium Sport is a cracking bike at £750, and certainly isn’t embarrassed by more expensive rivals.
The Raleigh Criterium Sport provides a refined ride with very involving and dynamic handling that will suit anyone buying their first bike or upgrading. The frame and fork even has mudguard mounts. For a sporty bike it’s very accomplished, and has the comfort to be a relaxing bike on longer rides.
Cracking bike for the money, and one that isn’t easily embarrassed by more expensive rivals