Road CC give the Criterium Sport 4.5/5

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.

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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.

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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.

Rivals

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.

Verdict

Cracking bike for the money, and one that isn’t easily embarrassed by more expensive rivals

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Raleigh Mustang Elite gets 4/5 from Road CC

The Mustang Elite is one of the more affordable bikes in Raleigh’s new gravel bike range. For £1,000 you get an aluminium frame, and it’s a smart looking thing with a swoopy top tube and big tyre clearance, fitted with TRP hydraulic disc brakes and SRAM’s Rival 1 drivetrain.

It’s really a very good bike this – and don’t let the whole gravel thing put you off, this is simply a good road bike for steady rides and commuting.

If you’re put off the idea of a road bike with skinny tyres (and they can be a bit intimidating to newer cyclists) and want a bit of added comfort and security on the UK’s crumbling road network, the Mustang Elite might be a good choice for you.

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The gravel bike category has emerged from the US with plenty of hype, it’s fair to say, but it has resulted in a new breed of road bikes that are well suited to cyclists who value comfort and assured handling over the outright speed and whippy handling of a conventional race bike.

What’s it for?

The Mustang Elite does everything a regular road bike does, but it does it with the added comfort of the big tyres. The tyres, provided you run them at a suitably low pressure (I recommend about 65psi), give the Mustang Elite a very stable ride character. It isn’t easily knocked off line and it doesn’t jiggle you about on a rough road surface.

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If you’re not concerned with top speeds and chasing segments on Strava, preferring to spend most of your time at a comfortable cruising speed, the Mustang Elite doesn’t feel laborious. It may not have the outright acceleration of a lighter race bike, and its weight does stunt initial movement at lower speed, but here’s the thing: it’s not a bike designed for sprinting and riding everywhere as fast as you possibly can. It’s intended for allowing you to enjoy cycling as a form of escape and adventure, for taking in the sights and enjoying the freedom and simplicity of getting around with just a jam sandwich powering the engine, rather than glory through suffering and all that nonsense.

For many cyclists, it’s all you really need. It’s right at home on the commute, with the frame accepting mudguards and a rear rack if you need or want them. It’s fine on the weekend club ride and for sneaking in a couple of steady hours on a Sunday morning before lunch. Unless you really need the low weight and speed of a conventional race-inspired road bike, the Raleigh Mustang might actually be a more suitable choice.

But will it go off-road?

Why yes, it will. It won’t rival a cyclo-cross or mountain bike on really tricky and muddy terrain, but for adding a gravelled track such as a canal towpath, a byway or countryside bridleway into your route, the Mustang Elite copes just fine.

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There are surprisingly good levels of traction to be gained from the dimpled tread pattern of these new Schwalbe G-One tyres. Just enough grip to stop the wheels slithering about uncontrollably when it gets a bit slick underneath the tyre. Run them at lower pressures and they allow you to explore the sort of countryside terrain that would rapidly intimidate a road bike with skinny tyres.

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Best of all, this grip off-road doesn’t come at the expense of performance and speed on the hard stuff. They whizz along just fine. And they really do whizz – they make an unmistakable sound at higher speeds that’ll have you looking over your shoulder until you get used to it. They’re a robust tyre as well, and they’re tubeless-ready if you ever want to ditch the inner tubes at a future date. It’s a smart tyre choice by Raleigh.

Even if you never plan to go near any off-road trails, the Mustang Elite is just fine as a 100 per cent road bike. Many of the roads where I live are rapidly regressing to the Roman roads they once were. Dodging potholes, piles of rocks and loose stones can be a tedious experience on a narrow-tyre race bike. But with the Mustang Elite, you don’t have to be so precious and delicate about line choice.

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How does it handle?

The Mustang Elite shares its geometry (the angles and lengths of the various tubes that make up the frameset) with the more expensive carbon fibre Roker. The slack head angle, low bottom bracket and long wheelbase provide the Mustang with fantastic handling; it’s a breeze to ride, anyone will jump aboard and instantly feel at home with the handling.

The 71-degree head angle is slacker than a conventional road bike, and the bottom bracket drop is 75mm, which compares to 69-70mm on a road bike. Those numbers instil the Mustang Elite with the sort of stable and easy handling that is lacking in many road bikes.

Raleigh Mustang Elite - frame detail.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, I love tearing around on a fancy race bike, but the Mustang won me over every time I rode it. It does nothing untoward or erratic, no matter how hard you push it. It’s just an easy and comfortable bike to ride.

Steering response is good, with a tolerable level of feedback from the carbon fibre fork with its tapered head tube. There are oversize thru-axles at both wheels which help to resist flex through the frame and fork. You can detect this most noticeably on out of the saddle climbs: there’s no brake rub at all. The thru-axles also make it easier to align the disc rotors when fitting the wheels – handy for travelling.

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I detected more road feedback through the aluminium frame compared with the carbon frame of the Roker. Basically, these two models have identical equipment and geometry, it’s just the frame material that is different. The carbon Roker does provide a measurably smoother ride. Perhaps not enough to warrant the extra £1,000 if you’re on a tight budget, though. and the Mustang is certainly not uncomfortable.

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Where they do measurably differ is on the scales. The Mustang Elite is 1.5kg heavier than its more expensive sibling, and you do notice this on the climbs. But really, you’ll only notice this if you ride the Roker Pro and then jump immediately onto the Mustang Elite and ride up a 20% climb. And you’re highly unlikely to be doing that. Most of the time the weight isn’t a factor, and the wide-range SRAM gearing ensures you’ve got enough gears to winch up any climb.

Does the SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain work?

Yes, very well. SRAM’s single-ring drivetrain was born in the mountain bike world and it’s made a smooth transition onto gravel and cyclo-cross bikes, where the slightly reduced gearing is less of a bother than it is on top-flight race bikes. Some of the jumps on the huge 10-42t cassette can be a bit troublesome, but most of the time you find a suitable gear, and sit and spin away. The majority of the time I found I was in the right gear, so SRAM has clearly thought carefully about what ratios to offer.

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The 44t chainring sounds small compared with a 53t chainring, but with the 10-tooth sprocket there’s more than enough top-end speed for most. Basically, you have to be going like the clappers to really run out of gears, and if you’re doing that on a regular basis, then you can easily swap the chainring for a bigger one. Or find some hills.

How well does it stop?

It stops very well, thanks to the TRP Hy/Rd hydraulic brakes. They’re a fully self-contained design, so they’re compatible with regular cable-pull brake levers. The power and feel is not quite as good as a proper hydraulic setup like you get with Shimano or SRAM’s hydro disc groupsets, but it’s a step above other mechanical disc brakes.

Raleigh Mustang Elite - rear disc detail.jpg

Disc brakes have found a natural home on bikes like this, because of the control of the extra braking performance, and also because they allow the frame and fork to accommodate wider tyres. There’s also plenty of clearance between the frame and tyres for mudguards or mud.

I like tubeless. Can I convert the wheels?

Raleigh has fitted the bike with its own-brand RSP AD3.0 wheels which feature an aluminium rim that is tubeless-ready. Also tubeless-ready are the Schwalbe tyres, so to convert to tubeless it’s just a matter of removing the inner tubes, fitting the supplied tubeless valve, adding some sealant, and tubeless you go.

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Anything else?

The Raleigh RSP branded aluminium handlebar, stem and seatpost aren’t anything fancy but they do the job just fine. The handlebar has a nice shape with a compact drop which makes it usable when riding off-road when you need a bit more control. More of a flared drop would increase off-road control even more.

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The bike has all the necessary eyelets to accommodate mudguards and it’ll take a rear rack, plus there are two sets of bottle cage mounts.

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What of its rivals?

This is a competitive price point and the gravel bike category is getting more popular all the time. The Mustang Elite has to fend off competition from the excellent GT Grade Alloy 105(link is external), which costs the same and also features an aluminium frame and wide tyres, and even the same TRP hydraulic disc brakes. Both offer a very similar riding experience and both provide mudguard and rack fittings if those are important to you. For me, the Mustang Elite pips the GT Grade because of the tubeless-ready wheels and tyres, and the simpler SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain.

The Mustang, with the same frame, is also available at £650 with a Shimano Claris groupset, and the Mustang Sport, at £800, has Shimano Sora parts. Those two models feature regular double chainsets and mechanical disc brakes. The Mustang range tops out with the £1,500 Comp, which upgrades to a SRAM Rival 1 hydraulic groupset and American Classic wheels.

Verdict

The Mustang Elite is affordable, adaptable and accessible – a good buy for the money