Tester: Eric McKeegan
Country of Origin: Taiwan
Sizes Available: 50, 53, 55, 57(tested), 59, 62cm
What makes a bike practical? There are plenty of ways to debate the definition of practical when it comes to bikes, but my criteria are the ability to handle tires over 25mm wide, full fender clearance, and the ability to carry stuff, usually on a rack. The Clubman passes all three tests. The brakes have room for at least 32mm tires, 28mm with fenders, and the frame has mounts for fenders and a rack. Seems simple, but the list of drop bar-equipped road bikes that have these three features is tiny compared to the overall racing-influenced road market.
The frame gets a butted Reynolds 520 tube set, a wise choice for comfort. Might want to squirt some rust preventative in those ferrous tubes—I have some surface rust forming around the vent holes after riding the bike through late winter and into spring on wet and salty roads. The frame is nicely outfitted with rack and fender mounts, a pump peg, downtube shifter bosses and some of the longest semi-horizontal dropouts I’ve ever seen, handy for fixed/singlespeed conversion should the need or want arise. The fork is a box crown affair, also in steel.
Compared to Raleigh’s more race-focused bikes, the Clubman has 17mm longer chainstays (425mm), one degree slacker head tube (72.5°), 7mm more bottom bracket drop (75mm, or about 261mm BB height depending on tires), and 5mm more fork offset, all adding up to a 28mm longer wheelbase. Longer and lower leads to stability and surefootedness.
Over the course of the test I did a good bit of commuting and some longer rides at a brisk pace. The springtime road conditions were rough with plenty of cracks and potholes. The ride was never jarring, and the stable handling and more upright position relative to a more racy bike gave me plenty of confidence to keep my speed up on rough descents. I enjoyed high-speed turns on this bike; it was very stable and held a line, even over broken pavement, probably somewhat attributable to the lowish bottom bracket and longish chainstays.
Working together, the frame and fork create a pleasantly comfortable ride without some of the whippy-ness I’ve had with other less robust steel frames. At first I attributed this to the stock 25mm Vitorra Zaffiro tires, but the ride remained compliant after I installed some 23mm treads. Loaded with a day’s commuting needs (laptop, clothing, and tools) in panniers, the Clubman was steady and calm with little sign of flex, a good indicator that some light touring would be a pleasant experience.
Shimano Tiagra makes up the bulk of the drivetrain, with a compact crank in 50-34t being a particular standout for me. The shifters have inconspicuous shift indicators, something I expected to dislike or ignore, but after years of riding bar end shifters, which provide some visual indication of gear selection, I found myself glad to have them. The hoods are large, but not bulky feeling, and combined with the Avenier flat top ergo drops, make for a comfortable cockpit. The Brooks Swift saddle was a surprising addition at this price point, and may make for a great choice for many riders, but my rear end never warmed up to it. Yes, I used Proofhide, and, yes, I gave it over 300 miles worth of chances to break in. Just not my slab of animal hide.
The wheels are 28-hole Freedom RLX 1.9 rims laced to Joytech sealed bearing hubs. The rear wheel needed another round of tensioning to stay true, but after some work with the tensiometer it hasn’t needed any more. These wheels may not be robust enough for heavier riders or touring loads, particularly the rear one. Not a knock on the rims—they are well-suited to unloaded use on the road, just something to think about for those wanting to carry some extra stuff. The rear hub developed a growl-y noise when coasting; a quick inspection traced the source to the cassette body. I dripped some lube past the seals and it quieted down, but it is something I would keep an eye on, although there has been no noticeable slipping of the drivetrain. One last little annoyance: the rear wheel slipped in the dropouts until I replaced the rear external-cam skewer with a Shimano internal-cam type. The next round of Clubmans will have hubs with more aggressive knurling on the ends, which should help keep the wheel in place.
The Tektro long reach brakes did a fine job controlling speed in a predicable manner, even when wet. I needed to dig out shards of rim material from the brake pads a few times, not sure if this was the fault of the pads, rim or both. After some initial trouble with the rear shifting, which I traced to the wheel being all the way back in the dropouts, the shifting was low-effort and accurate once I seated the wheel more forward.
Climbing was not unpleasant, perhaps handled in a businesslike manner is the best way to describe it. While not being super-light or super-stiff, the Clubman was certainly not slowing me down climbing and I was surprised to find it weighs 24.5lbs.—it rides much lighter. I liked the compact crank and the smaller ratios it provides. It allowed me to stay in the big ring longer, and got me lower gears without a wide ratio cassette. I’ve come to appreciate closely spaced road cassettes, as having the just right gear for battling headwinds or long straights is a lot better that bouncing around between a gear just a little too high and next one a little too low.
The grey paint with silver lettering is nothing short of classy, and looks good with riding duds or street clothes, something rare in this era of race-replica graphic treatments on most road bikes. The ergo-bend bars look a little out of place, as I think a traditional-bend bar would be more in line with the look and feel of this bike, but I won’t protest too much; these ergo bars, unlike most, worked fine for me.
There really aren’t that many bikes on the market like the Clubman. It’s a shame really. I think more recreational riders could benefit from road bikes that are outfitted for more than just a spin down the road in good weather or perhaps a citizens’ race or two. The Clubman departs from the go-fast focus with some well thought out details intended for users with practical leanings. It takes a page from ‘70s and early ‘80s road bikes, and updates the idea with modern frame geometry and components, without losing the practicality that has kept many of those bikes on the road today. Equally at home on a sporty ride or a foul weather commute, the Clubman strikes me as a fine gentleman’s, or, ahem, gentleperson’s road bike.