By Adam Newman
Hmm… I feel like I’ve seen this bike before. The color-matched fenders and stem… the included chrome front rack… the matching (faux) leather bar tape and saddle…
That’s it! I’ve seen it at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Well, one like it, anyway. This bike happens to say “Raleigh” on the side, and has one less zero on the end of the price tag. The big fish eats the little one, and it’s no surprise that the large bicycle manufacturers of the world have caught on to the collective gushing of bike nerds across the Internet as they pore over online galleries and message board threads overflowing with handmade bikes.
“There’s definitely an inspiration that comes from that,” said Raleigh’s Marketing Manager Brian Fornes. “It’s great to see that style and aesthetic coming back.” In fact, the style has spread across the whole of Raleigh’s steel road bike range. There is nothing revolutionary about the Port Townsend’s design or parts spec— but damn does it look good.
What’s old is new again
There are a few modern touches bolted onto the Reynolds 520 chromoly steel butted frame: a Shimano Sora 9-speed drivetrain with Shimano Dura-Ace bar-end shifters, a Sora crankset with 50/34-tooth compact chainrings, and an outboard bearing bottom bracket. Though I disdain bar-end shifters, I was pleased to see the frame included shifter bosses on the down tube —a rarity on modern frames. Why top-of-the-line Dura-Ace, you ask? Well, those are the only bar-end shifters Shimano makes.
Steel fenders earn bonus points for class, but it’s likely that they will dent or scratch with use. That’s the price you pay for authenticity, I guess. Plus they’re a little short, which means my feet got dirty, but the bike fit on my fork-mount roof rack.
Retro touches include the aforementioned bar tape and saddle, though both were eventually swapped out for my personal preferences. Also included are pedals with chrome toe clips and fauxleather straps. The threadless stem looks reat with its framematching finish, but if you want to adjust the angle you’ll have to replace it.
Just beyond the stem is the front rack, which is derivative of the classic French design that holds a randonneuring bag. When I strapped my Velo Orange bag to it, I couldn’t get it as secure as I could with the integrated-mount system I had been using, but the rack never rattled, came loose, or otherwise caused an issue. Start piling weight on the front end of any bicycle and it’s going to affect the handling, but the Port Townsend tracked straight and true with a fairly sizable load on the rack.
Oh, and about that price tag. The Port Townsend retails for just over $900. Compare that to a Surly Cross-Check or Trek 520 and you’ll have saved enough dough to tweak the parts exactly to your preference. More than just a pretty face
Raleigh seems to be positioning itself well for a new generation of customers looking for a stable platform to start logging big miles. I enjoyed the Port Townsend on rides short and long, both as my daily commuter and on 200-kilometer jaunts.
This is certainly no race bike, but at 28lbs. I never felt the weight was holding me back, and the medium-length 105.3cm wheelbase and large tires made for a stable and smooth ride, even on the crushed limestone of the Great Allegheny Passage trail. The common 73-degree seat angle and 72-degree head angle kept things straight and true. Compared to a full-size touring bike, the Port Townsend feels like a sports car, and it never felt like it was more bike than I needed. The 435mm chainstays are much shorter than on a touring bike, almost road-bike length, and kept me carving up the twisties with a smile. The longish head tube (170mm on my size large) put me in a comfortable, relaxed position without the need for a stack of spacers. My neck and arms felt great, even after a 12-hour ride—a long story, don’t ask.
I did make one significant change to the stock build. The grades of western and central Pennsylvania are notoriously steep, and the low gear provided by the 11-25-tooth cassette just wasn’t going to cut it. I installed a Shimano mountain bike rear derailleur and cassette, giving me an even lower gear range without sacrificing any top end or resorting to a triple crankset. This mod would be essential if you planned on putting the bike to use for light touring, and would make sense as a stock spec, since rival component maker SRAM offers a similar setup with its Apex and Rival components. However, Fornes convinced me that it’s impossible to build a bike that suits every possible terrain, and compromises had to be made.
One other minor gripe is the color. Raleigh has built a beautiful bike here, but the world does not need another black bike, especially when they went to the trouble of color-matching the stem and fenders. The rest of Raleigh’s steel bike range is bathed in a beautiful palette of earth tones, and I’m glad to hear the 2012 edition of the Port Townsend won’t be black. I ain’t no Johnny Cash.
Update: The 2012 Port Townsend is a lovely metallic root beer color with white and orange accents.
Looks good, feels good
Though the Raleigh Corporation of today has little in common with the factory that was building bikes in Nottingham, England a century ago, it’s certainly a name that feels right at home on the side of the Port Townsend. There are a lot of bikes on the market that offer similar features, but few offer this much style. With NAHBS influences being emulated by a major manufacturer, is this a case of the tail wagging the dog? Who cares. The Port Townsend is a beautiful and practical ride.
- Age: 30
- Height: 6’ 2”
- Weight: 175lbs.
- Inseam: 33”
- Country of Origin: China
- Price: $910
- Weight: 28lbs.
- Sizes available: 50cm (XS), 53cm (S), 55cm (S/M), 57cm (M/L), 59cm (L) (tested)
- Online: www.RaleighUSA.com