Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Reader Considers Joining The Raleigh Club(man)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to get the following reader feedback from a nice fella named Tim -- mostly because I'm surprised to learn I have readers. Anyway, Tim (quoted with permission) writes...

"I’ve been ogling a Clubman leftover at a shop near me for probably 2 years. If they still have it (and I think they do) I want to go get it. Do you have any additional comments on the bike now, 2 years later? I do most of my riding via an 18-mile (one way) commute over relatively flat terrain. I do it on either a singlespeed (80s Shogun), fixed gear (80s Lotus), or a Kona Smoke (26” wheels, maybe 10 years old?). The Smoke has 1.75 tires – I’ve ridden that thing all over the universe and love it but really want something that is a little more traditional. I’ve been a forever-fan of steel – lugged or otherwise."

If you aren't an obsessive follower of the blog (and who is?), I should explain that "2 years later" refers to the fact that I haven't really blathered at length about my Clubman since checking in with both a 519-mile review and a 992-mile review in ought-twelve... which means it's probably time for a longer-term check-in. The bike's been through a couple cyclometers since then, so I don't have a mileage tag. Let's just say "lots."

What I told Tim off-blog is that the Clubman is about as close to perfect as I think I'll get for my admittedly quirky tastes without going to a full custom. Stock, it was maybe 85% of the way there, but the bump-up to true 32mm tires (which, admittedly, required some brake and fender changes detailed in the 992-mile review) took it to 95%. The last 5%? Getting rid of the slight toe/fender overlap, and having just a tiny bit more tire clearance for giggles, both of which would require frame modifications that are too much hassle just to satisfy my perfectionism. That's not bad for an off-the-shelf bike.

The most noticeable feature of the Clubman has been the ride. I don't subscribe to the "steel is automatically magical and plush" trap, but this particular steel frame? A winner. I've struggled with how to describe it for the 3+ years I've owned it, and the best I can come up with is that the feel is analog rather than digital. Whereas some bikes (regardless of frame material) have a distinctly on/off, one/zero feel over bumps, the Clubman follows the shape of the road with more nuance. Think of a sine wave versus a sawtooth wave -- curves versus edges. Admittedly, a lot of that comes from the tires (the too-cheap-to-be-so-good Panaracer Paselas), but this characteristic was also there on the undersized Continentals they replaced, and could even be sensed through the noise of the absolutely awful stock Vittorias.

Further proof, however, that I am utterly out of touch with the bike industry today -- the Clubman is notably absent from the 2014 lineup on the Raleigh site. I can't say that I'm too surprised, as it is kind of a weird, quirky bike, even in stock form before my enhanced quirkification. So if Tim (or anyone else) wants a Clubman, the only hope is for one of those dusty dealer closeouts (for extra quirk, you could try to find the 2013 mixte version), or for prying mine from my cold, dead hands.