Admitting fault is not always easy to do, but the folks at Raleigh readily concede that their 2013 cyclocross bike line-up had some issues both in frame design and component spec.
Its alloy frames lacked contemporary features such as tapered headtubes and ovalized downtubes, and all the 2013 bikes had tall'ish bottom bracket heights that were more in line with European standards, rather than the lower BBs that dominate the U.S. 'cross market, and typically result in better handling in corners.
Last year's component spec included single-bolt seatposts that were easier to displace if you happened to blow a remount. Some forks were carbon but with heavier alloy steerer tubes. And all the wheels had excessively narrow 12.4mm internal widths, which meant decreased traction and increased puncture risk because you had to run higher tire pressures.
Raleigh listened to critics and upgraded its spec with wider wheels.
"Looking back, we understand that the wheels were too skinny," said Raleigh marketing man Brian Fornes, who was on-hand at the recently completed Sea Otter Classic providing the full download on the company's new 'cross steeds. "We had a good relationship [with a wheel supplier] that we wanted to honor. But this year we knew we needed to make a change."
Changes, plural, is more like it. The five-bike 2014 Raleigh cyclocross line-up, which will be available starting in late June or early July, is loaded with revisions both in spec and design. Gone are the aforementioned skinny wheels, replaced with wider profile hoops that will allow for a wider tread contact patch, which equals lower tire pressures, less chance of pinch flats, and better handling, especially when racing.
Raleigh's two top line carbon fiber frame offerings, the RXC Pro Disc (MSRP $5000) and RXC Disc (MSRP $2700) are equipped with alloy American Classic wheelsets. The three alloy framed models, the RX 2.0 (MSRP $1750), the RX 1.0 (MSRP $1550) and the women's specific RX 1.0 (MSRP $1550) get house brand alloy Weinmann 23mm wide XP Elite rims with a claimed inside width of 18mm.
"All of the new bikes connect and hook up so much better," said Fornes, himself a passionate 'cross racer. "We also dropped weights across the line."
This claimed weight loss comes in part from an improved fork spec on all the bikes save the RXC Pro Disc, which maintains its ENVE Composites fork along with a Shimano Ultegra Di2 drivetrain and Shimano CX75 mechanical disc brakes. Claimed weight for this top-end model is 18.9 pounds for a 55cm frame, which also comes in 50, 53, 57, and 59cm models.
The RXC Disc gets upgraded with a Raleigh house-branded carbon monoque fork with 1.125" to 1.5" taper and post mount tabs. Drivetrain is Shimano 105 and Hayes CX 5 mechanical disc provide braking. Claimed weight is 19.5 pounds for a 55cm, and it has the same sizing choices as the RXC Pro Disc.
Fornes admits he would have loved to spec at least one of Raleigh's top-end CX race bikes with a hydraulic disc brake set-up. But the need to get the bikes to market trumped adding new technology from the likes of SRAM, who unveiled its hydraulic rim and disc brakes in the days leading up to Sea Otter.
"Our main goal was to make sure we had our bikes ready for the upcoming cyclocross season," he said. "That meant getting all the bikes in stock by the end of June or early July. SRAM couldn't promise the delivery time table we needed in order to make sure that these bikes would be available for our dealers on time. But next year, I can almost guarantee you'll see hydraulic brake set-ups on our bikes, whether that's from SRAM, TRP, or if Shimano comes out with something, which is obviously not going to surprise anyone if that happens."
And of course there is nothing stopping someone from pulling the trigger on a Raleigh bike and installing a hydraulic system on their own.
As for Raleigh's three new alloy models, the improvements start with the use of hydroformed 6061 double-butted alloy frames. Gone are the straight 1 1/8-inch head tubes, replaced with a 1 1/8-to-1 1/2-inch taper. And downtubes now have a pronounced oval shape,
"By using the different form of tubing and the ovalized downtube we found that we got a better contact patch at the headtube and bottom bracket area, which means a stiffer and stronger weld," explained Fornes. "We also stiffened up the BB with the square taper that we added. Honestly, they are now almost as stiff as the carbon fiber bikes."
This women's specific model has narrower bars and smaller size frames.
To compensate for the increased rigidity, comfort is enhanced via flatter chain stays and seat stays. And all the bikes are being spec'd with softer riding and more secure 27.2 alloy dual-bolt seat posts with 20mm of offset.
"There are also full carbon forks versus ones with alloy steer tubes from last year," said Fornes. "We also dropped the bottom bracket heights in all the bikes, which will improve handling, and is just more in line with what amateur racers in the U.S. are looking for."
Stay tuned to RoadBikeReview for a test of at least one of the new Raleigh cyclocross bikes.