Saturday, June 9, 2012

519 Miles On A Raleigh Clubman

I call it "Green Bike at Rest".

Before you get all impressed, recall the Steven Wright joke where he encounters someone locking up a store with an "Open 24 Hours" sign, asks, "I thought you were open 24 hours?" and is told, "Not in a row!"

With that said, the fact that my long-term review of the Clubman is happening at 519 miles instead of 500 is actually telling. See, I left this morning with 460 miles on the odometer and thought, "I'll just knock off a low-key 40 so I can do a nice, round 500-mile review." Next thing I know, I'm at 519 and still feeling good. Need I say more? I will anyway.

The bike as shown has remarkably few modifications from stock, considering my relentless need to futz/inability to leave well enough alone:
  • The stock wheels (Weinmann aero-ish rims on Tiagra hubs) were replaced with Mavic Open Sports on Tiagra hubs after the front was demolished in my unfortunate run-in with a bike ninja.
  • I had every intention of just riding the stock 175mm cranks, but since they were bent in said ninja run-in and everything else in the fleet is 170mm, I downsized.
  • The stock 120mm stem was a bit too long for my T-Rex arms, so I replaced it with a 100.
  • I could not warm up to the Brooks saddle, so it left in favor of my tried and true (and battle-scarred) Fizik. Similarly, the fake-leather bar tape was way too thin for my liking, so basic black cork took its place. And, rounding out the contact points, the paradoxically retro and trendy track pedals with clips and straps were cast asunder for clipless.
  • Normally, I say wear out the stock rubber before putting on new. The ride of the 700x25 Vittoria Zaffiros was so horrendous, however, that I broke my rule and made them trainer fodder, replaced by 700x28 Continental Super Sports. Same with the brake pads -- since Tektro's compound can be a rim-eater, I plugged in Kool Stop salmon instead.

The rest is just accessorizing: couple small Jandd bags, Planet Bike stainless cages, stainless bottles, Planet Bike lights, and a touch of bling with the headset-spacer-mount brass bell.

Getting past the parts-and-accessories fetish, how does it ride? Quite nicely, as my "40 mile ride accidentally turned into 60" would attest. I'm hesitant to ascribe much ride comfort to the steel frame (too many reviewers fall into the "steel equals magic carpet" trap), especially when the ride personality was so transformed by something as simple as swapping one brand of inexpensive tire for another. However, my position on the bike (after the minor stem swap) is precisely where I want to be -- upright enough to make my old-man back/neck happy, but still low enough to get frisky when the need for speed calls. It feels like my old touring bike while looking like a go-fast bike (albeit a go-fast bike for an aging dandy). It's no uber-light carbon race-day steed, but hey, I'm no uber-light racer (though I am carbon-based). Stil, it has plenty of snap for my laughable attempts at speed without giving away any versatility to get there.

All bike reviews have to have their quibbles, though, and mine can be summed up in the f-word: fenders. Don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE fan of fendering (because, after all, it's probably urine). And the stock fenders on the Clubman tick all the right boxes: all metal, constructeur-style wrapover stays, rolled edges, and even a paint job to match the frame. However, those winning features are let down by the flexible steel L-brackets that attach the fenders to the fork crown and rear brake bridge. Those weak points allow both fenders to rattle over rough surfaces (the front against the fork blades, the rear against the seat tube). I've temp-fixed this with a couple decidedly low-rent rubber shims crammed into the offending rattle-spaces, but c'mon guys... if you're going to spec a bike with fenders (and props for that!), give it proper threaded bosses under the brake bridge and fork crown (or at least a daruma on the front brake bolt) to mount said fenders securely.

The fenders also appear to be a limiting factor in the tire size the bike can take. My 700x28 Continentals (which don't measure a true 700x28) are very tight to the fender edges despite the fact that there's still plenty of air under the brake and between the stays/fork blades. A slightly wider fender with small cutouts at the brake calipers would probably clear a true 28, if not more. When I was getting bashed around by the (greatly disliked) stock Vittorias, this was a big deal, but now that I have a nice 28 on there, I can't say that I want for too much more tire girth. Still, it would be nice to have the option.

What you're hearing, though, is the desperate cry of a man trying to sound objective about a bike that has him almost entirely smitten. In my 519 miles with Clubbie, I've pretended to be a go-fast racer-dork, commuted in the rain, hunted (and been hunted by) bike ninjas on night rides, cyclocross-portaged over downed trees, taken shortcuts on dirt (and sometimes mud) paths I had no business on, and even made attempts at gravel (albeit ones that would make true gravel-grinders say, "aw, isn't that cute!") The bike quickly went from a babied "new toy" to a dirty, indispensable companion, replacing a bike that I thought couldn't be replaced. I'm looking forward to the next 519 miles, and the 519 after that, and the 519 after that...


Steve Fuller said...

Congrats on the long ride. I've had bikes that move as soon as you think about changing direction, and I've had others that are a little slower and steady handling. Where's the Clubman fit, more to the touring (slow) or more to the racer (fast) side?

Also, did it plane? :)

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Steve -- it's been a while since I was on a pure race bike, and that was a glued-carbon Specialized from the mid-90s. I'd say the Clubbie is more relaxed than that bike (which was a pretty twitchy, short-wheelbased crit monster) but definitely not slow to turn like a production touring bike (I say "production" because my Bruce Gordon tourer was much snappier to turn than a Cannondale T-series or Trek 520). Don't know that we really have twisty descents around here for good testing, though (I'm open to suggestion...)

One thing I forgot to mention is the low bottom bracket (the published spec is 75mm of drop). I can't say I feel this as a handling characteristic, but when I come to a stop, I can get a foot down without coming out of the saddle (not flat-footed, but confident). My folding bike is much higher, which is a real pain.

Oh, and does it plane? Uh, I have no idea. The frame is Reynolds 520, but oversized, and mystery wall thicknesses. The fact that I could change its personality so dramatically with just a tire swap makes me think that any resonance coming from the frame is probably so small as to be lost in the noise.

If I ever get around to trying one of your fatbikes, you can try the Clubman -- I'll go fat and you can go skinny. :-)

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that this new relationship is going well. Personally, I'm glad to hear that the Raleigh brand is producing a good bike, as I'm a huge fan of the Raleighs of the 70's.

Of course, as someone who has witnessed your past loves (two-wheeled only) come and go, I have to wonder if the Clubman is really the one, or just the one right now. Any thoughts??

Steve in Peoria

Rich said...

It sort of looks like the "old" Salsa Casserole? I just picked up one and am excited to try it out. Looking to do a 2 night quick- Iowa tour this month. I may head down by Huxley...
I do like the look of your new bike.

Scott Loveless said...

I've had the same fender problem with the Pacer - 25s fit, but 28 paselas were too tight for 37mm VO fenders. The skinny SKS fenders were the ticket.

Couple of questions. What size clubman, and how high is your saddle from the BB spindle?

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Peoria Steve -- I know my fickle habits as well as the next fella, so I won't say this is "the one." It's the one for a while, though. In my defense, I put in 10 years on "the last one." :-)

Rich -- Definitely a family resemblance with the old Casseroll. That bike would have been another on my short list, but I really wanted a non-cantilever bike and the new one has cantis.

And finally, Scott -- that's what Raleigh calls a 59cm. Rough BB to saddle measurement (since drive side was facing me in the workstand, and the "elephant proboscis" Shimano crankset doesn't really have a discernable center on that side) is somewhere around 33".

Anonymous said...

Hi mate, found this post when looking for parts for my bike

I'm UK based and have the same model Rayleigh clubman, mine is used mainly as a winter commuter , doing the same road route day in day out @ 20 miles a day 3-4 days a week.

Overall I love the bike, I got 25% off the list price and even at list it was well priced. The UK road bike scene is very "performance" orientated, everybody wants to look like they are riding the TourDeFrance, I like how the Raleigh sticks two fingers up at that!

Whilst it would suit light touring well, it can handle fast training rides too. It is a heavy(ish) bike, but you can get a good turn of speed on the flat. I find the extra weight very beneficial in the winter on slippery , windy and potholed roads, it feels very sure footed. I'm slower on the hills than my other Wilier road bike, but not by much, even though the Wilier has a 52/39 front ring combo.

The bikes do come up "Big" and looonnng for their size, I was advised to go a size under, so I went for a 52", but I kinda wish I went for a 50". I have just purchased a shorter stem as my reach is pretty much locked out on the standard 120mm one

Back on the good points, it has bags of character and it has lasted well through a very wet and muddy UK winter, I have had no mechanical issues and not even a puncture on the original tyres. The front mech rubs occasionally I can live with that.

One funny aspect of the bike is I have about 10 females come up to me when out , or at work (Office is a all women) and tell me what a nice bike it is, in 20 years of cycling I have never had ANY female attention until I got this bike!!

The Fenders (!to use a USA term) drove me nuts at first they rubbed and clanged from the word go. I got pissed off and bent the rails so they didn't rub. I got pissed off with myself, because I should have adjusted the fitting screws not bent them. BUT since bending the fittings they haven't rubbed or made any noise, even though I cycle down rough roads .

The bar tape is pretty poor, I can 't work out why they fitted a really nice and pricey brooks saddle then horrible thin bar tape. Having said that it has lasted well and I haven't changed it, so it cant be bad

I'm still unsure of the Brooks saddle a lot of people like OP swap them out. I want to love it , but I can't really get on with it. I think it "makes" the bike style wise , but I'm substance over style kinda guy so I will have to see .

The wheels have stayed fairly true, they feel cheap but sturdy and are perfectly fine for the price. I will upgrade next year I think.

They original tyres have done OK, Ive had no punctures at all , but I have upgraded to Conti 4seasons , which are yet to be fitted. If they transform the bike I might realise how poor the original ones.

The brakes callipers are lovely for the price of the bike, the original pads (like OP said) are like cockroaches and they refused to wear down, instead they started taking the rim down with them. I have swapped them out for some decent pads.

Anyway cheers for the blog :)

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Thanks to my anonymous Brit poster! Enjoyed your take on the Clubman very much.

The funny thing is, I've always thought of the Clubman as a very British bike, though I confess that my knowledge of actual British bikes comes from reading old copies of Cycling Plus that I get from frequent commenter and pal Steve from Peoria. Glad to hear an actual British person confirm my suspicions.

Sorry for the "fenders" -- as usual, two countries separated by a common language. I'll call them "mudguards" next time in your honor. :-)