Review: Raleigh RX Elite cross bike
22 October 2014
“Youth riders buying their first proper cyclocross bike wouldn’t be disappointed with the RX Elite. It can be used straight out of the box for racing, and a wheel upgrade would keep it competitive in National Trophy races too.”
Raleigh RX Elite cyclocross bike
10.4 kg / 22.9 lbs (without pedals)
Raleigh – www.raleigh.co.uk
1. About the Bike
You’re a 14-year-old who has been racing cyclocross for a couple of years and you’ve become pretty competitive. You’ve outgrown your previous bike and you’ve been saving hard. At £800 (before any discounts that you might find) the Raleigh RX Elite is the kind of cyclocross bike that you might buy.
It’s the entry-level model in Raleigh’s 2015 range of cyclocross bikes which goes right up to the £3,500 RX Team ridden by Raleigh’s own professional riders.
There’s a real buzz about Raleigh’s racing bikes these days after a few years of drifting. Once again the brand can be considered as a serious racing choice, just like the glory days of its pro road racing teams of the 1970s and 1980s.
The RX Elite certainly looks terrific – its styling is bang-up-to-date, and it has clearly been designed by someone who understands the requirements of cyclocross racing.
In the last couple of years cyclocross bikes have found new markets for commuting, touring and winter training. Because many cyclocross bikes will actually never be used for racing, a whole new breed of “cyclocross style” bikes has evolved, and they often aren’t ideal for cyclocross racing! Don’t confuse the RX Elite with those pseudo cross bikes though – it’s perfectly capable of wearing mudguards and a rack (as we’ll see below) but it’s a proper racing-focused bike.
2. About our Test
Most of our test riding was carried out by Gareth, an experienced fourteen-year-old cross rider in the Under 16 (Youth A) age category. To help you judge the bike from our photos and the video, you should know that our test bike was a size 52 and our 50kg tester is 172cm tall.
The strange weather at the beginning of October gave us a chance to test the RX Elite in dry, hard-packed conditions as well as more traditional cyclocross mud & wet grass.
A youth rider might have saved hard to buy a bike like this, and they might not have the luxury of owning a separate road bike too. With a set of road tyres fitted the RX Elite might well be used for circuit racing in Spring & Summer as well as for cyclocross in Autumn & Winter. So we’re looking at how versatile the bike is for road racing too.
3. Geometry and Bike Fit
As with many modern designs with their sloping & curved main tubes, it can be tricky to work out the right-sized frame to fit you – especially when the manufacturer’s own naming convention seems designed to confuse! For example, the frame size that Raleigh calls “52” (also called “Size 3”) actually does have a seat tube measuring 52cm from centre of bottom-bracket to its top. But the size called “50” actually measures 47.5 cm, and the size called “48” actually measures 45cm!
So be careful with sizing and use effective top tube length (that is, the length of the top tube if it was horizontal not sloped) as the primary method of sizing the bike. Our size “52” test bike has an effective top tube length of 52.5 cm. You can see the detailed geometry and dimensions of all Raleigh’s cyclocross bikes at their website (geometry/size guide tab).
The geometry of the RX Elite’s frame is shared with the higher-spec RX Pro, Comp and Team models too, and we think it works well. It allows a good riding position for most people without needing a particularly short or long handlebar stem. It’s not blighted by a tall head tube like many “cyclocross style” bikes so the bars can be positioned as low as you might want.
There’s plenty of frame clearance around the tyres so mud isn’t likely to clog easily. And the frame’s angles are relaxed enough for stable, relatively comfortable off-road riding. The geometry is still racing-oriented though so the bike’s handling is quick and responsive.
We weighed the size 52 bike at 10.4 kg (22.9 lbs) excluding pedals. To give a comparison, Boardman’s £900 CX Team weighs about the same (but has disc brakes and carbon-bladed forks), and a £1000 Planet-X SLX (all carbon) weighs about 1kg less. As usual with cycling, more money generally buys less weight.
The Raleigh is by no means a heavyweight but a light youth rider might look for upgrades to reduce their fatigue during races and give them a performance boost.
5. Frame and Forks
The frame and forks are both aluminium. You’d need to step up to the £1000 RX Comp to get the benefit of carbon forks.
The tubes and junctions of the frame are all individually shaped and the areas that are heavily stressed (like the bottom bracket and the junctions of the head tube) are very chunky and stiff. The gently curved top tube reminds us of Specialized’s higher-end road and cyclocross frames.
While the design of a road bike’s frame can be very compact for stiffness with a steeply sloping top tube, that’s no good for cyclocross where a nice big main triangle is needed for a rider to carry the bike on his/her shoulder. Raleigh recognises this and even our reasonably small size “52” has enough space for its rider to shoulder the bike easily.
The broad-bladed, straight forks integrate cleanly with the head tube using a FSA Orbit oversize “hidden” headset.
The paint has quite an unusual matte-finish – there’s no gloss at all, and if you run your finger along the paint you can feel the friction. We thought that mud might stick to it more than to a traditional polished finish, but to our surprise it actually repelled mud well. The matte paint looks attractive too.
The frame and forks have braze-on fittings for mudguards and a rear rack if you do want to use the bike for winter road training or commuting. Some cyclocross bikes claim to be mudguard-compatible just because they have mudguard eyes but, frustratingly, they might lack a chainstay bridge or a brake bridge to actually attach the rear mudguard to. Raleigh has done it properly though – there’s a drilled rear brake bridge and a bolt on the rear of the seat tube that you could use to attach the mudguard.
Cable routing is important for cyclocross bikes. When a youth rider reaches the Under 14/16 age groups they can expect to have to carry the bike and shoulder it during their races, so the cables have to be kept well out of the way of the rider’s body and hands. The RX Elite has classic cyclocross cable routing – the rear brake cable and the rear derailleur cable are both routed along the top side of the top tube.
The front derailleur cable has road-style routing along the underside of the down tube and then underneath the bottom bracket. That’s no problem as far as lifting or carrying the bike is concerned, but it does leave the cable exposed to mud and water being thrown off the front tyre – top tube routing would keep it out of the way and in better condition.
Although you won’t want them for cyclocross, there are two sets of bottle cage mounts provided for when you use the bike for other purposes.
We were impressed to see that a spare rear gear hanger was supplied with the bike. Cyclocross takes a heavy toll on gear hangers, and it’s only a matter of time before they become casualties of battle. So to have a spare gear hanger in the toolbox means a youth rider can be back in action soon. Well done Raleigh.
6. Wheels and Tyres
At this price point you’re not likely to get very lightweight wheels. But we still expect well-built, strong wheels that will stand up to hard off-road riding. The Raleigh’s own-brand wheels are just that – not particularly light, but they ran true when supplied and are still true after all our testing.
Youth riders aren’t likely to be as heavy as adults so they don’t need lots of spokes in their cyclocross wheels. Besides, modern rims are strong enough not to need many spokes. We liked the fact that Raleigh has specified just 24 spokes for the front wheel and 28 for the rear.
The rims have a slightly deep cross-section which should help a little when riding through sand or deeper mud. The hubs have the smooth bearings that you would expect on a £800 bike.
Raleigh has fitted 700×35 Schwalbe Rapid Rob cyclocross tyres. Cyclocross riders are notorious for their strong opinions on tyre choice, but these are good all-rounders. They have wire beads (not folding) and at 480g each they’re a little heavy.
Like most off-the-peg cyclocross bikes in this price range, the most effective upgrade possible is to fit a pair of lighter wheels and tyres for racing. A kilogramme could easily be saved and, especially if using tubular tyres instead of clinchers, the performance benefit would be significant. So having saved up to buy their RX Elite we’d suggest an ambitious youth rider continues to save their pennies towards a pair of racing wheels, keeping the original wheels for training and as spares in the pits.
An indicator of a proper cyclocross bike is the gearing specified for its chainrings. The RX Elite has 46/36 tooth rings, and this combination is far more usable than the 50/34 road compact chainrings often specified on cyclocross-style all-rounders.
The cranks are Raleigh’s own-brand “RSP” and for our relatively small size 52 test bike they are a reasonable 170mm long. They’re installed via a SRAM PF30 pressfit bottom bracket.
Most of the rest of the drivetrain is Shimano Sora – the gear shifters, front mech and rear mech. Sora is a solid spec standard for bikes at this price. Its shift reliability and quality are perfectly adequate. Using 9-speed leaves Sora rather isolated in Shimano’s range now, with the groupsets above it using 10 or 11-speed and those below it using 8-speed. None of that matters though, and plenty of mechanics feel that 9-speed components (especially chains) are more sturdy than 10 or 11-speed anyway.
The cassette is a SRAM 950 with 11-28 teeth. That gives a spread of gears from 36×28 to 46×11 which is ideal for many riders on most courses. Less powerful youth riders might like to change to a 11-32 cassette though which is still within the capacity of the Sora rear derailleur.
If you’re a youth rider who wants to use the Raleigh for circuit racing as well as cyclocross, you’ll need to restrict its gears to a maximum roll-out of 6.45m for Under 14 (Youth B) and 6.93m for Under 16 (Youth A). Using the standard 46 tooth chainring with a 15 tooth sprocket will give almost exactly the maximum Youth B gear when used with most 23mm tyres – but the SRAM 11-28 cassette jumps from 14t to 16t, and there’s no 15t sprocket. So to achieve 46×15 for Youth B you’ll need to use a different cassette such as a 11-26t SRAM 950 which does have a 15t sprocket.
It’s a bit trickier to achieve Youth A gearing though. 46×14 will take you well over the maximum roll-out, but 46×15 will leave you under-geared and uncompetitive. Changing to a 45t outer chainring would give 45×14 which is an ideal Youth A gear, but make sure you buy a 9-speed compatible ring with the correct BCD (Bolt Circle Diameter, the diameter of the circle formed by the chainring bolts): TA or Stronglight are likely to be your best options.
The Shimano Sora brake levers are unremarkable but are shaped well. The bike came with a set of shims that can be used to reduce the levers’ reach for smaller hands – again, well done Raleigh for including them when some other manufacturers forget.
Raleigh has also fitted a pair of top-mount additional brake levers. We’re not fans of these for cyclocross, especially for youth riders. To use them, the hands need to be so close together that bike control is reduced, and the gear controls are no longer accessible. Much better for youth riders to learn to handle the bike while holding the brake lever hoods or the drops of the bars. A couple of hundred grammes can be saved by doing away with the levers – that’s nearly half a pound.
The cantilever brakes are Tektro’s CR710 model. Tektro dominates the market for low/mid range cantilevers and with good reason – they are effective and inexpensive.
The rear brake cabling routing is unusual – the outer cable terminates on a special clip mounted on the seatpost collar’s bolt. The inner cable passes through the clip’s barrel adjuster and then connects with the brake’s straddle cable in the usual way. The clip keeps everything high up so that the brake has plenty of adjustment potential.
Braking performance is perfectly good. More expensive models in Raleigh’s RX range use cable-actuated disc brakes instead of cantilevers, and you’ll find basic discs on some other £800 bikes. We’re pleased that the RX Elite has cantilever brakes though – cheaper cable-actuated disc brakes tend to be hard to set up and maintain but, more importantly, disc brakes are not permitted in youth road racing, and that would restrict the bike’s versatility.
All of the other components are Raleigh’s RSP brand. The aluminium seatpost and 90mm handlebar stem are neat and functional, and the 40cm-wide shallow-drop handlebars are well-shaped for cyclocross.
We liked the saddle with its “Raleigh” name proudly embossed along the top surface. It has a good shape for cyclocross and the rider can easily slide onto it when doing a flying mount. There was a little more padding than some other saddles have, and this was appreciated during testing over hard, bumpy terrain.
Our test rider’s own bike is a Cannondale CAADX with an almost identical spec to the similarly priced RX Elite, so he was in an ideal position to judge the Raleigh’s performance. However, the CAADX is a little lighter because it has carbon forks, and he noticed that weight difference when repeatedly accelerating the bike out of slow corners and when lifting the bike over hurdles.
In all other respects the two bikes performed very similarly. The RX Elite’s frame and wheels felt stiff so it accelerated efficiently when attacking out of the saddle. Steering, gear changing and braking were all reliable and predictable.
There was no noticeable toe-overlap with the front wheel so our tester was happy continuing to pedal through tight corners.
The frame’s large main triangle allowed the tester to easily shoulder the bike. He found it comfortable to run while shouldering the bike because the top tube is well-shaped to sit on the rider’s shoulder.
The generous tyre clearance meant the bike didn’t suffer from clogging with mud. A keen youth rider will probably change their tyres according to race conditions, but the Schwalbe Rapid Robs did a good all-round job. They are quite wide (35mm) so it’s possible for a light youth rider to run them at a low pressure in slippery conditions without risking impact punctures.
11. Service and Support
Raleigh bikes are distributed through a very large network of dealers – both online and bricks-and-mortar shops. If you do buy online the bike will be supplied almost fully assembled in a huge box, and our example’s gears & brakes were already correctly adjusted. So Raleigh’s assembly and quality control look promising.
Since you’d be buying from a retailer not direct from Raleigh, service and warranty issues would be dealt with by the shop.
12. Value for Money and Resale
The 2015 RX Elite is still a very new model, so you’re unlikely to find significant discounts. If the bike follows the pattern of the 2014 model, we’d expect it to be available with a £100 discount towards the middle of 2015.
At £800 we think the bike is priced fairly. There’s a wide variety of competition but do compare specifications carefully, as many of those bikes are cyclocross-style all-rounders, rather than actual cyclocross bikes. Those bikes might have road compact chainsets instead of cyclocross chainsets and their frame geometry might not be ideal.
Cyclocross bikes do take a hammering. Not only do they have occasional minor crashes, but the repeated cycle of grinding dirt into the bearings, cables & moving parts then washing it out afterwards takes a real toll on components. To preserve the bike’s future resale value (and to keep it running sweetly) you should expect to re-grease it and replace cables quite frequently.
Youth riders buying their first proper cyclocross bike won’t be disappointed with a Raleigh RX Elite. Its designers clearly understand cyclocross, and plenty of thought has clearly gone into its design and specification.
It performs well and looks great (which is important to youth riders). It’s fair value too.
It can be used straight out of the box for racing anyway, but when funds are available a wheel upgrade would keep it competitive in National Trophy races too.
And if you do want to use it for youth circuit racing or for winter road training, it will do those jobs well too.
+ A proper focused cyclocross bike (not just a “cyclocross style” bike)
+ Design and specification
– A little heavier than we’d like
Thanks to Maglia Rosso in Suffolk for the use of their cyclocross training venue (and for the excellent coffee).