The Cycle Life
Looking for a new ride? Check out Gulley's most recent six-month tests on his favorite rides.
First let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Few roadies would put a Raleigh atop their list of dream bikes. Though the company is one of the oldest bike brands in the world, dating to 1887, and despite the fact that its bikes were raced extensively in the pro peloton in the 1980s, including to victory at the 1980 Tour de France, the brand has mostly been associated with cruiser bikes and low-end rides in recent years. However, the company has new owners and a fresh vision and is working hard to reshape perceptions of the brand.
We’ve been as guilty as anyone in past years with our stereotypes, always relegating Raleigh to the lower tiers by testing only their entry-level bicycles. So this year we opted to take the company’s top-end racer, the Militis 3, to see if the ride lives up to the company’s storied pedigree or whether their up-market move is just marketing hype. We’ve been riding the bike for nearly nine months now, and the fact that we keep hanging onto it, not wanting to return it any sooner than we have to, should say a lot about the Militis 3. To our surprise—and to Raleigh’s credit—this bike can hold its own with just about any high-end road racer on the market.
Many companies (Raleigh included) are able to offer inexpensive carbon bicycles by purchasing stock tubing or even complete frames and simply branding them with their names. For the Militis, however, Raleigh took the more expensive and slower route of developing their own molds and carbon layup processes, which means this frame design is unique to Raleigh and arguably more refined than off-the-shelf frames. Raleigh also chose to use size-specific tubing on each of the six different frame sizes, which further shows their commitment to making a high-quality bike given the added expense this entails versus simply using the same tubes across the range.
Raleigh and Diamond Back are owned by the same parent company, and though the two brands insist that all development is independent, it’s hard to not to notice a few similarities between the Militis and Diamond Back’s Podium line. The resemblance in the shape of the two bikes’ down and top tubes, the junctions between top tube, seat tube, and seat stays, the stick-thin seat stays—it would be an amazing coincidence if there wasn’t at least some collaboration between the brands. Given that the Diamond Back Podium 7 is such an excellent bike, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. And as importantly, it’s amazing how two similar looking bikes can ride very differently.
Though the frame may be unique to the company, it certainly isn’t blazing any new design territory. Like so many carbon frames on the market these days, the recipe for a good ride is fairly predictable: oversize down tube, massive bottom bracket, and chunky chain stays yield stiffness and effective power transfer, while willowy seat stays and shaped top tube add vertical compliance and comfort. It all adds up nicely in terms of features—including tapered head tube and press-fit 30 bottom bracket—but Raleigh claims the frame weight is just 880 grams, which isn’t the most feathery frame out there but is respectably lighter than many.
On the road, the Militis has the quick sensations of a race frame without the jangly hard edge. It floats the climbs and explodes forward in the sprints, and there was zero flex laterally no matter how hard we pushed. The geometry is long and low like a race bike should be, but the layup and frame design—especially those pencil-thin seat stays—add a whiff of comfort.
This is no fondo bike; it feels like a racer. And yet we could sit in the saddle for five hours at a time and feel fairly fresh and pain-free in our backs when we finished. The steering is very quick, and a few riders said it verged on nervous, especially when riding in a bunch, though most seemed to adjust and forgive this complaint after they’d spent some time on the Militis and grown accustomed to it.
This has all the fixings of top-shelf race bike, including a complete 11-speed Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group set. Though we have grown accustomed and partial to electronic shifters, every time we ride this groupo we’re won back over to mechanical. The shifting is martini smooth and held true and fast for the entire nine months we rode it without so much as a quarter turn of the barrel adjusters. We really like the easy action of the shifters, especially combined with the short throw to move the chain up or down. And the braking is as powerful and nuanced as any non-hydraulic rim brakes out there, even on these carbon rims. Simply put, Dura-Ace 9000 is the finest component group for the money—it might lack a bit compared to electronics, but it also costs around $1500 less.
One surprise of the test were the Cole Carbon C38 Lite wheels. These medium-profile carbon clinchers spun up quickly and felt sprightly on the steepest ramps of the Santa Fe ski hill, but they felt faster than their 38-millimeter-depth might suggest. Our only complaint: they were a bit noisy and tended to clang a little on rough roads. That’s a small price, however, for fast, light wheels.
Everything else is as good as you’d expect at this price, including the super sexy and oh-so-stiff Enve stem and seat post. Combined with the Avenir RMC saddle, complete with carbon rails, our size 55 checked in at a gossamer 15.2 pounds. That’s just a bolt or two over the UCI weight limit, which is clearly by design since this bike gets the UCI stamp of approval.
Though the Militis 3 keeps pace just fine with other top-shelf race bikes, at $7,000 complete it costs significantly less than the competition. A boutique bike with full Dura-Ace, carbon clinchers, and Enve components would run you at $1,500 more in most other brands and well beyond thatb in a few cases. It’s perhaps not quite as refined in terms of fit and finish as some top-level bikes, though anyone who is willing to give the Raleigh brand a chance probably won’t be too worried about that. In short, this is a pro-caliber race bike for those who don’t get caught up on brands.
The real value, however, lies in the lower specs. Unlike many brands, which use the same molds for their cheaper bikes but fill them with lower-quality carbon, Raleigh specs the exact same frame on the Militis 2 and Militis 1 as it does on the top-end bike. That means for $3,200 and $2,350 respectively, you get a well-engineered 880-gram carbon frame that rides like...well, a top-end racer.
In that sense, Raleigh hasn’t just built a good bike in the Militis; it has created a high-value, great-riding family of bikes that cater to several prices and needs. And it has taken a big step down the path toward adding back some prestige to its brand.