Monday, August 6, 2012

Raleigh Clubman Long-Term Test: The 992-Mile Review

This was supposed to be a 1,000-mile review, but our Senior Graphic Designer here at The Cycle just about ripped my legs off tandeming yesterday, so I could barely limp the eight miles home tonight that got me to 992, much less add another eight. I'm sure I had some miles on the bike before I installed the computer, so you can call it 1,000 if it quiets your particular obsessive-compulsive demons. Me, I promised that this would be the year I stopped obsessing about mileage, so I'm trying to be good.

In the grand tradition of bike reviews, I'm going to say some nice things about the Clubman before I nit-pick. I am astounded at how well this bike fits me, how well-balanced I feel over it, and (as a result) how nicely it handles. Other than one stem swap (120mm to 100) and a change of cranks (175mm to 170, and I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't bent the 175s in a crash), it is a bone-stock 59cm. All my contact points are exactly where I want them, and my (sometimes substantial) weight seems perfectly positioned over the wheels. It also has perhaps the lowest bottom bracket (75mm of drop) of anything I've ridden. Can't tell if that impacts handling at all, but it does give a "planted" sensation of sitting down in the bike rather than perching on it. The result is bucketloads of confidence -- I know where I am on the bike and I know how it's going to respond, so I feel comfortable flinging it into situations where it might not otherwise belong.

Now, with that said, on to the nit-picks -- or, "how to make a good bike even better." Raleigh USA, are you listening? Because three quick, cheap, and easy changes would take this thing from a pretty conventional skinny-tired British "winter bike" (as seen in Cycling Plus... off-season race bikes that can just get fenders over 700x23s) to an absolute do-it-all wolf in British Racing Green clothing:
  • Step 1: Fatten up the fenders! Those stock painted-to-match steel fenders are absolutely gorgeous... but make them wider! I know you can get them -- after all, you make the Port Townsend with 700x35s and steel fenders.
  • Step 2: How 'bout bigger brakes too? Don't get me wrong... I'm impressed that you chose the mid-reach (47-57mm) Tektro calipers with the nicer quick-release that opens further to clear a wider tire. But if you're going with a wider fender, why not match it to Tektro's long-reach (55-73mm) R556 brake? If you want to get nuts, nudge the brake bridge up a little higher and use slightly longer fork blades to use even more of that big brake, too.
  • Step 3: Put some meat on those rims. This was the goal all along. You made some space in Steps 1-2, now fill it with a fatter tire. A true 32mm should fit, no problem.

Now in most cases, I'm just flapping my jaws out here in cyber-neverland without my money ever getting close to my mouth. This time, though, I have crafted a proof-of-concept for either your viewing pleasure or nausea. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the freak of nature:


That, dear reader, is the front end of my Clubman, modified as suggested above (save for the longer fork blades -- a framebuilder I am not). Tektro R556 brake over battered 45mm Planet Bike fenders (which are due for a Hail To The Cheap honor someday) over a gaping clearance over a 700x28 Continental tire (which is probably an undersized 28). The only downfall here is aesthetic... the brake is at its minimum reach, so the empty slots are hanging down like basset hound ears. 

Okay, so you can't see the gaping clearance or the 700x28 in the rear shot, but trust me, they're under there... and the clearance would be even more gaping if I hadn't used the thick plastic Planet Bike fender bracket under the brake.

So why take a perfectly good "slightly more versatile than a road bike" road bike and do this to it? First, because I'm not capable of leaving well enough alone. But more importantly, for my money, this bizarre creation is the perfect bike. Once I get some legit 32s on there, everything will have scaled up together... tire, fender, brake. It just looks normal, like any other road bike. Heck, the brake is even a dual-pivot sidepull like just about every other conventional road bike out there. Go to the club ride and nobody will think you brought a knife to the gunfight (and I can't say these mods have slowed me down at all, though that's like saying a glacier hasn't lost a step). But when the urge to turn off pavement strikes, you're ready. Chipseal? Who cares? Gravel? Pshaw. Cyclocross? Just add cowbell.

Not bad for "just a road bike," eh?


Roadscrape88 said...

Jason, nice to see the changes you've made to the Clubman.

At work (REI) there is a Clubman next to a Port Townsend on display. I love the ride of the Clubman, but I agree that versatility is lacking without wider tires/fenders. I like the Port Townsend, but it doesn't feel as lively as the Clubman. Like most things, you have to pick your compromise!
Bill in Roswell, GA

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Bill -- totally agree on the Port Townsend. The shop where I bought my Clubman sized me up using a PT since that's what they had in my size (the Clubbie was a special order). I thought it was quite nice during my extended test ride, but as you say, definitely more of a touring feel -- not that there's anything wrong with that. As you say, pick your compromise.

The only problem I can see with the modified Clubman is that it's gong to inspire me to do stupid things (singletrack, anyone?) that I'm guessing my wife would prefer I avoid. :-)

- Jason