The Raleigh Clubman evokes long winter rides, 100-plus-mile reliability trials and the days when one quality bicycle could cater for all of your transport and sporting needs.
In many respects, the Clubman has changed very little since its original incarnation at the hands of one of this country’s most recognisable bicycle brands. In a contemporary context, its more sedate characteristics have steered it towards short, quick touring.
It doesn’t quite have the bombproof qualities for a trans-global expedition but it’s long and comfortable, quite strong, with good tyre clearance, full mudguards and mounts for racks. It’s not the lightest bike you’ll find but, built from Reynolds 520 chromoly, it’s certainly no heavyweight.
You would have to ride a long way before you found anyone who wasn’t beguiled by its simple, classic good looks. Coated in metallic dark blue with traditional Raleigh graphics plus matching steel mudguards and silver finishing kit, the Clubman is topped off with a tan Brooks Swift leather saddle and colour-matched 3D bar tape.
There is certainly enough here to please the retro crowd, but the Clubman is not a pastiche; it represents the continuity of an established lineage.
There is plenty of modern kit to complement the traditional frame and classic contact points. The Clubman’s 10-speed set-up uses Shimano Tiagra shifters, chainset and front and rear derailleurs. The wheels comprise Weinmann TR18 rims on Tiagra hubs. Raleigh has stopped short of the full Tiagra groupset, fitting the Clubman with Tektro dual-pivot brakes.
The skinny steel tubing and relatively long wheelbase, derived from generous rear stays and a fairly dramatic rake on the fork, mean the Clubman offers a serene, silky smooth ride. It glides untroubled across the rougher sections of road. The only notable road noise comes from the mudguards, which, while easy to set up, have a tendency to rattle and buzz.
Although not the fastest out of the blocks, once up to speed the Clubman rolls along effortlessly. While the steel frame provides plenty of comfort, it is not unduly springy. The contemporary external bottom bracket pays dividends, giving plenty of rigidity.
So it’s perfect for touring but, while it may be a bit laid-back for a super-quick club run, it has plenty to offer the enthusiast. It has the qualities required for those long winter miles and would make a great social rider. A patient, albeit undynamic climber, the Clubman is a nice cruiser and will eat up the miles. The geometry doesn’t lend itself to sharp changes of direction but it is well balanced and swoops regally round bends.
The only real weak point in the Clubman’s performance was the brakes, which were alarmingly weak. This is not the first time I’ve experienced this problem with Tektro calipers. They appear to be mechanically sound and rigid, so it may simply be a case of fitting better quality blocks.
Raleigh has successfully ridden a fine line between tradition and modernity with the Clubman. Its old-school qualities are not forced or contrived. It's a traditional steel frame, in the construction of which Raleigh has more form than most. The Tiagra components offer modern efficiency, while their blue/silver finish and nice contours complement the classic frame. It's open to debate how and where old and new are best mixed. For instance, I would prefer a shallow drop bar for this kind of bike, but looks-wise the Clubman's traditional deep bars are spot-on. Plenty of people are after decent steel frames, likewise Brooks saddles. With the Clubman, you get both and change from a grand. The price point makes it a viable second bike, though it's too beautiful to be called a winter hack. The bottom line is that this is a bike that ticks a lot of riding boxes: tourer, winter rider, and with its mudguards and rack mounts, a good all-week commuter. The only problem is you'll want to clean it every night.