Raleigh Roper Disc Brake Steel Cross Bike Review
Cyclocross bikes have long been the choice of urban cyclists looking for something beefier and more suitable to commuting than a road bike, but with most of the speed. Larger volume tires, fender clearance and lower gears as compared to a road bike are all things that make sense when your rides star and end in town. Not to mention if you’re a fan of the road less traveled—perhaps dirt roads, railroad beds, or full-on single track regularly feature on your mixed terrain ride. The Raleigh Roper is a $1500 disc brake equipped steel cyclocross bike meant for the serious commuter or abusive all-day rider that is more interested in the miles than the race weight.
The Roper is a bike that I’d expect to see form a much smaller operation than Raleigh, it is more similar to the bikes you see bike geeks build up for themselves from some obscure frame maker than that offered by a major manufacturer. The full 4130 chromoly frame features not only a low-riding disc brake mount for rack and fender clearance, but an integrated headtube and one of the latest oversize bottom bracket systems, BB30, which has really begun to filter down from the ultra high end in the past year or two. Beyond that, the bike has fender eyelets front and rear, rear rack mounts and some of the most overlooked braze-ons out there, a chain hanger and chainstay mounted spoke holder. The excellent 10-speed Shimano 105 group makes up the shifting bits, benefiting from years of higher end trickle down, with Shimano R505 cable actuated disc calipers doing the actual stopping. 50/34 FSA cranks paired with the 11-28 cassette give plenty of gear range, while Joytech/Weinmann deep section wheels and house-brand Avenir parts round out the rest of the build.
The bike shares the exact same geometry as Raleigh’s racier cyclocross offerings, making it a relatively aggressive, fast riding machine. Over a couple of months of riding hitting paved roads and railroad ballast, gravel paths and full-on singletrack, I fell in love with the handling. The bike just felt fast to me, more so than my much lighter road bike, encouraging me to ride longer and harder when I got outside of city limits. Dirt roads are some of my favorite to ride, and this bike truly excelled at tackling them.
What truly sets the bike apart are the disc brakes and BB30 on a full 4130 chromoly frameset. With recent rule changes from the sport’s governing body we’re going to see disc brakes on many race-level ‘cross bikes this coming season, and are bound to see drop bar hydraulic systems sooner than later. The Shimano R505 disc calipers on the Roper took a couple of rides to fully break in as expected, and have a more modulated and silent (especially in the mud) feel than the de riguer cantilever systems. While they are an upgrade from rim brakes in many respects, I did find them underpowered from the hoods which is admittedly the least powerful hand position in terms of braking power even if the one most of us use the majority of the time. When the going got wet or exceptionally muddy however, I never found myself wishing for rim brakes.
The very features that set the Roper apart also weigh it down—the complete bike is a portly 27.25 lbs. Given the price, overbuilt steel frame and fork, disc brakes and other accoutrements it’s not really a surprise when you think about it, but it’s certainly noticeable for people coming from lighter weight road and ‘cross bikes. Dropping weight is possible—those wheels would be the first to go—but losing significant pounds is going to take a lot of money. You are far better off accepting the Roper for what it is and using it for the all-weather, all-roads conditions it is meant for. If single speed is more your style, the exact same frame is available as the Furly, using a BB30 eccentric adapter and coming in at $830 retail with a one speed build.
*Final note: For what it is worth, after I was done with the review period on the Raleigh Roper I actually purchased its lighter weight cousin, the Raleigh RX. I already have an all-purpose steel cyclocross bike (or two) and I’ve been in the market for a light weight ‘cross bike to hang some of my road components from for a long time. The handling of the Roper was that good, and the RX is equally as awesome, if completely different given the aluminum frame and carbon fork.