Raleigh has a long and storied history as one of the oldest bicycle companies in the world. The company was founded in Nottingham, England, and originally built their place in the bicycle industry with three-speed bicycles. Despite the humble start, Raleigh would eventually be known for high-end race bikes.
Riders from the 1970s and 1980s will remember the powerful Ti-Raleigh team that dominated the races in Europe; the team reached its pinnacle in 1980 when team rider Joop Zoetemelk won his only Tour de France on a Raleigh. Raleigh’s race machines of today are crafted from carbon, yet the company has not forgotten its heritage that was forged in steel.
At the top of Raleigh’s line of steel bikes is the International. The frame is beautifully constructed from lugged Reynolds 853 tubing and gives the impression of an artfully restored machine. The Reynolds 853 tubing is air-hardened. Unlike conventional steel alloys, the tubing increases in strength as it cools in the air after welding. Reynolds 853 tubing is also heat-treated for increased strength. It is because of this increase in strength that thinner walls can be used, allowing Reynolds to create a tube set that is comparable in weight to aluminum or titanium.
Raleigh assembles the Reynolds 853 tubes into a frame that can be described as classic in every sense. The round tubes are joined by polished chrome lugs with chrome chain stays accenting the white paint scheme. Finish on the International is first rate, with classic details that include brazed water bottle mounts, seat stay chain pin and braze-on front derailleur. Up front the Raleigh forgoes a carbon fork in favor of a flat crown lugged 4130 chromoly fork. The only modern touches on the International are found in the 1.125 head tube and Breezer-style rear dropouts.
A Heart of Steel
On the road, the Raleigh’s European heritage immediately becomes apparent and it is not long before one becomes nostalgic for the days before carbon. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are greeted with lively acceleration, and although not as stiff as some carbon frames, the International powers straight and delivers energy efficiently to the tarmac. The International artfully blends a traditional steel frame with top-of-the-line components to produce a modern ride in a classic package. The frame is light and stiff, yet lively with enough vertical compliance to smooth out most road surfaces. Driving through corners, the International tracked well and offered no unwanted surprises. The bike provides the undeniable road feel of a steel frame and, despite the slight weight penalty, is a great climber. Long and steep climbs were best handled using a high cadence and a low gear. The steel frame absorbed road shock well and eliminated any fears of hitting rough pavement or sharp edges.
While the Raleigh International’s frame is strictly a retro affair, the components represent the latest the industry has to offer. Our tester came nicely equipped with a full Shimano Dura-Ace group that included their incredibly smooth riding C24 carbon/alloy rimmed tubeless wheels wrapped in Vittoria Rubino tires. The rider’s compartment continued the modern theme and utilized a FSA K-Force carbon handlebar, stem and seat post topped with a San Marco Regale saddle. Our 57-centimeter International had a 73.5-degree head and a 73-degree seat tube angle, connected by a 57-cm top tube. Chain stay length measured out at short 40.8 cm, with a race-ready wheelbase of 99.4 cm. The Raleigh International tipped the scales at a more than respectable 17.8-pounds without pedals.
When the road turns up, the Raleigh International reminds one how good a steel frame can be. The lively and spirited feel of the bottom bracket combined with just a bit of give in the front end produces a light and snappy feel when ascending. The bike climbs best out of the saddle, with the rider quickly turning over the pedals. Here the rider takes advantage of the lively feel and the sensation of being able to wind up the frame. While riding in the saddle, the frame continues to have a lively feel, with the steel fork giving constant feedback from the road—a sensation we had all but forgotten after a decade of carbon.
Taking the Raleigh International downhill is a joyful experience. The bike is a fast and stable descender. It likes open roads and long arching corners. It is predicable, with a balanced feel between the front and rear wheels. The frame, especially the front fork, provides good feedback from the tarmac. Where many machines leave the rider isolated, the International connects one to the road, giving the rider a clear sense of speed and road condition. While some machines that like open roads struggle when the corners get tight, the Raleigh could be pushed hard on steeper, tighter corners. The rider compartment is neutral, and when combined with a stiff and lively frame the International gives up little to carbon racers. A couple extra pounds also didn’t hurt the International when it came to adding a sense of stability.
Once the road levels out, the International settles into a lively cadence, wanting to go quick, but also happy to cruise at a more reasonable pace. It is as well suited to long, all-day excursions as it is pushing hard over rollers. The Raleigh International could be described as well mannered. This can be attributed to the steel frame, the Shimano C24 wheels and neutral frame geometry. Vertical compliance is not engineered into the frame like on carbon machines; instead the International uses the natural properties of the steel to provide a smooth and comfortable ride. Up front however, the steel fork doesn’t provide the silky smooth feeling of carbon, but is well matched to the rest of the frame and gives the Raleigh a balanced feel.
The Raleigh International is a classic steel machine with a touch of European flair. The International rider is not looking for a carbon racer or the latest trend. They want a machine that embraces steel and all its attributes, yet is unyielding with the best components. The International embodies the spirit of the classic, old-school European race machine and delivers the ride quality of steel combined with weight and performance levels that leaves little else to be desired.
Raleigh makes a wide range of steel bikes, with three machines making up the heart of the road bike line. Below the International is the Record Ace that features a lugged Reynolds 520 butted chromoly frame with a flat crown lugged 4130 chromoly fork. Raleigh equips the Record Ace with Shimano 105 and Ultegra components, an Avenir cockpit and Weinmann DP18 rimmed wheels. Below the Record Ace is the Grand Prix, which uses the same frame as the Record Ace, but is outfitted with Shimano Sora components along with an Avenir cockpit.
The Bottom Line
Size tested: 56 cm
Weight: 17.8 lbs
Details: Shimano Dura-Ace group; Shimano Dura-Ace C24; FSA K-Force handlebar, stem, and seat post; San Marco Regale
From issue 14. Buy it here.