Road Test: Raleigh Alley Way

Introduction

The Alley Way is an exciting new commuter/city bike from Raleigh for 2010. The commuter segment of the market is really heating up this year and the Alley Way looks perfectly outfitted to do well among the fast growing and increasingly more sophisticated pool of transportation riders. Features include a butted Reynolds 520 chromoly compact frame; matching integrated bar/stem; matching alloy fenders and chainguard; Shimano Alfine/Gates Carbon Drive drivetrain; Shimano Alfine generator hub; Shimano mechanical disc brakes; Brooks B17 saddle; and Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires. All of that at a retail price of $1425.

Construction

The Alley Way’s frame is made from Reynolds 520 chromoly tubing. 520 is a mid-level steel tubing; good quality but with a lower strength-to-weight ratio than Reynold’s more expensive tubesets. As is true for nearly all bikes in this price range, the frame is manufactured in the far east. The TIG welds look sufficiently clean and the general workmanship is on par with competing models. The Bianchi-esque celeste green powder coat is particularly striking and elicits comments wherever the bike is ridden. The matching integrated bar/stem, fenders, and chain guard give the Alley Way an attractive, boutiquey look.

The most noticeable characteristic of the frame is the dramatically sloping top tube. Traditionalists may be put-off by such a steeply sloping top tube, but many people I talk with find the look very appealing. Practical advantages of sloping top tubes include weight savings (less frame material); added stiffness (smaller triangles); wider fit range (long seat tubes and lower standover height); and clearance at the top tube for wearing dresses/skirts (similar to step-throughs or mixtes).

The frame and fork are peppered with numerous braze-ons including rear rack mounts; a pair of water bottle mounts; front and rear fender eyelets; and mid-fork front rack mounts. Disc brake mounts are integrated into the frame and the right rear dropout breaks apart for installing the Carbon Drive belt. The bottom bracket shell is oversized for housing the eccentric bottom bracket, a necessary component for tensioning the drive belt. The matching fenders are attractive, though the front fender is too short to be fully effective without the addition of a mud flap. The one missing item is a kickstand plate, something I consider a must-have on any purpose-built commuter bike.

Components

The Alley Way features a nice group of predominately Shimano components with a few Tektro and generic parts mixed in. Most notable are the Alfine internal gear and dynamo hubs. These hubs are quickly becoming the de facto standard for mid-to-upper-level commuter bikes; both the Civia Hyland and Breezer Finesse we reviewed earlier this year were outfitted with these hubs. The Alfine IGH is smooth, quiet, and trouble-free. It is arguably the smoothest shifting IGH on the market and when combined with the Alfine Rapid-Fire shifter, it’s a joy to use. The Alfine dynamo is the best in its price category with Ultegra-level bearings and drag numbers approaching, but not quite matching, the more expensive SON hubs from Germany. The two together represent the best front/rear hub set designed specifically for commuters.

Some might question Raleigh’s choice to supply a dynamo hub on a bike with no lights, but I fully agree with the decision. Most headlights supplied on production bikes are woefully inadequate, and each rider’s lighting needs are unique based upon their local conditions. I’d rather the manufacturer supply the dynamo and let me choose my own headlight/tail light combination based upon my particular needs.

The internal gear and dynamo hubs do much to define the character of this bike, but the Gates Carbon Drive is the star of the show. When combined with the Alfine IGH, you have what may be the smoothest, quietest drivetrain on the market. It feels like an over-oiled fixed-gear drivetrain, but with 8 speeds and no grease stains; completely clean, smooth, crisp, and quiet. From all reports the bugs are pretty much worked out of this system and it’s ready for prime time. My experience during the test period bears this out. A few benefits of the Carbon Drive System include special sprockets that shed all types of debris including mud and snow; zero maintenance over the life of the belt; at least twice the life span of a traditional bike chain; and reduced weight when compared to a conventional chain/sprocket combination.

The Shimano mechanical disc brakes are reasonably functional if not that exciting. I’m accustomed to hydraulic discs and the Shimano mechanicals feel somewhat vague and underpowered when compared to their Alfine counterparts. They’re certainly safe and provide plenty of braking power, but they lack the sensitivity and snap I’ve come to expect from disc brakes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the Alfine hydraulics I’ve been using on other bikes this past year.

The rise, reach, and bend of the integrated bar/stem is right on the money, which is a good thing because if the bar position doesn’t suit you there is no way to make any adjustments. The key is to take a good, long test ride and be sure to purchase the frame size that places the bars in the proper relation to the saddle when adjusted to your normal saddle height. Doing so should prevent any potential fit issues.

The Brooks B17 “Narrow” saddle is an unexpected and welcome addition on a production commuter bike, though I found it to be too narrow for this bike’s upright geometry. Saddle preferences are highly personal, but a standard-width B17 would be a better choice for most people on this bike. My test bike is a pre-production model, so it may be that the final production version will come outfitted with the more popular standard-width B17.

Ride Quality

The Alley Way is stable and novice-friendly. It likes to go straight and it takes little thought or effort to keep it on track (riding no-hands on the Alley Way is a cinch). All of that stability comes at the price of some quickness and maneuverability, but many people will find the undemanding geometry a plus, particularly those transitioning from cruisers and hybrids to their first purpose-built commuter. The frame is plenty stiff at the bottom bracket and it has that characteristic lively, shock absorbing quality found in many chromoly steel bikes. As I mentioned above, the Alfine IGH/Gates Carbon Drive combo is completely silent, and when combined with the steel frame and 35mm Vittoria Randonneur Cross tires, the overall impression is one of smoothness and stability when ridden at commuting speeds.

Conclusion

The Alley Way is a highly competent city bike that has something to offer for commuters of all experience levels. Its relatively relaxed frame geometry should make it particularly appealing to less experienced riders who might be intimidated by quicker handling bikes. The cutting edge Gates Carbon Drive/Alfine IGH drivetrain dramatically reduces the need for maintenance while providing a uniquely quiet and smooth riding/shifting experience. The matching celeste green frame, fenders, chainguard, and integrated bar/stem add the finishing touches to a functional and attractive package that turns heads wherever it goes.

Specifications

Sizes: S, M, L
Frame: Reynolds 520 Butted Chromo w/CNC Dropouts
Fork: 4130 Chromo Cross w/Disc Mounts
Handlebar: Custom Chromo 1pc with integrated stem
Seatpost: Alloy Micro Adjust 27.2x400mm
Saddle: Brooks B17
Headset: Ahead 1-1/8″ w/Alloy Cup/Sealed Cartridge Bearing
Cranks: 2pc Forged w/External BB and Gates Belt Drive Chainwheel w/Guard 50t
Rear Cog: Gates Belt Drive 24t
Shifter: Shimano Alfine
Brake Levers: Tektro Comfort
Brakes: Shimano BR-M416 Disc
Hubs: (F) Shimano Alfine Dynamo 32h (R) Shimano Alfine Internal 8spd 32h
Rims: Weinmann XM260 Disc
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur Cross w/Reflective Side 700x35c
Weight as Tested: Approximately 32 lbs.
Retail Price: $1425

Raleigh USA

Disclosure

Raleigh is a sponsor of this website and supplied the Alley Way used for this road test.

38 Responses to “Road Test: Raleigh Alley Way”

  • Sami says:

    Excellent review! So excellent that I’m writhing in jealousy. Plus I completely agree about the B17 narrow being a tad too narrow for upright geometry, as I have also found this to be the truth when it comes to my own ride.

  • shane says:

    I might be partial to the carbon drive, but I really like the clean lines of this bike. I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to include the dynamo, smart. I only wish one had been included on my SOHO as I now ponder the decision to add a dynamo and lighting. Great review and photos!

  • Alan says:

    Thanks, Shane!

  • Aaron says:

    I’m curious about the whole stem-steer tube relationship. Can you swap it out for a regular threadless stem & spacers if you wanted? Looking at the pictures I’m guessing that there’s a star nut down near the headset below the clamp bolts and the rest is just sitting on top.

  • AH says:

    what about panniers? some of us want to carry stuff.

  • Alan says:

    @Aaron

    Yes, you can replace the integrated bar/stem with a standard threadless stem/spacer arrangement.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @AH

    Just add your favorite rack. :-) As I mentioned in the review, the necessary eyelets are there.

    Alan

  • doug says:

    I’ve always been curious about the “weight savings” argument in regards to radically sloping top tubes. Those extra-long seat posts are not exactly light weight. And at 32 lbs sans racks and bags and other extras, weight savings was clearly not the prime consideration.

  • Iain says:

    Alan, great review, its one fo the bikes I am thinking about this year. Will you be doing a review on the other mass produced alfine/belt combo the Trek Soho?

  • Dwainedibbly says:

    Nice review. One question: what is the availability of alternate cog & chainring (beltring?) sizes in case one wants to change the overall gearing? 50/24 on an alfine doesn’t quite get me the low gears that I need on some of the hills around here, especially with any sort of load.

  • Alan says:

    @Dwainedibbly

    Here you go: Gates Sprockets

    Alan

  • Hercule says:

    That’s a nice bike. Apart from changing the bars and saddle, and fitting a rack and appropriate lights, that looks spot on for me. It’s a pity Raleigh USA is not the same as Raleigh UK… can’t find any reference to it this side of the pond.

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    Alan,
    One quick thing about the Gates Spockets. Since the belts only come in set lengths, you may not be able to successfully swap to a smaller crank sprocket (24t on the back is your only choice with Nexus/Alfine hubs.) You must know your chain stay lengths and maximum forward and rear positions on the rear dropouts. Then you use their calculator to determine which belt will work. Not all combos will work on the same frame. This is the downside of not being able to add or subtract links.

  • Alan says:

    @Elliott

    Thanks for the info!

  • Giffen says:

    @Doug:

    It baffles me how everyone is so obsessed about weight. The savings from little things like this are completely negligible.

    Note how bike shops give the same advice about bike weight to every customer regardless of his size. If it actually mattered for cycling in some absolute sense, then they would tell skinny people “any bike will be fine for you” and to fat people “you really should consider losing some pounds to enjoy your rides more”.

  • Alan says:

    @Iain

    “Will you be doing a review on the other mass produced alfine/belt combo the Trek Soho?”

    I’d like to, though I don’t have a source for a review loaner yet. I’ll keep you posted.

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    I agree that in this case weight savings was not likely the motivator for the sloping top tube. More likely it was to make the bike more appealing to individuals who might wear a skirt or dress while riding.

    Alan

  • Molnar says:

    Oddly enough, although I have no interest in purchasing this bike, I wanted to post a “thank you” to Alan for writing such a nice review; I see I’m not the only one to have that reaction. Thank you, Alan.

    Giffen: I agree. It’s not nice to tell your customers they’re too fat, but I tell that to myself quite often. And I’m right!

  • Doug R. says:

    Wow, this is the bike you told me you were going to review! NICE! My old Raleigh Supercourse needs a new friend….. hhhhmmm?

  • Ahmad says:

    What is that blue stuff? I notice the blue coating on the teeth of the belt drive seems to be wearing off on the sprocket. Looking around, some belts seem to have the blue, while others do not. Curious.

  • Walter Webb says:

    If you are considering the Trek Soho, read the fine print. The hub is Nexus 8, and the shifter is Alfine. Only the shifter. If you want Alfine, look elsewhere.

  • Alan says:

    @Ahmad

    “What is that blue stuff?”

    It’s a “Nylon Jacket” fabric layer that extends the life of the belt.

    Alan

  • Adrienne says:

    No kickstand, no sale. Period. For $1425 if I can not have it stand on its own then the deal is broken. My center stand is one of my favorite parts of my Batavus.

  • Alan says:

    @Adrienne

    The stays have room for a Pletscher Double, but it would sure be nice if it had an integrated mounting plate a la Rivendell…

    To me, the plate is more important than the kickstand itself because you can always pick up a kickstand cheap, but I hate scuffing the frame tubes with a clamp-on stand.

    Alan

  • guez says:

    Why, oh why, do they only offer three frame sizes? This bike may fit the reviewer, but what about someone who doesn’t correspond exactly to their idea of a S, M, & L rider.

  • Adrienne says:

    One should not have to clamp anything on for that price. My Bat was $1000 and had a chain case, fenders, a generator hub, lights, a heavy duty rack and a really robust kick stand. I am sure the Raleigh is great, I am just tired of being nickled and dimed for every little thing on a bike, especially one for the “city commuter”.

    I think the lack of completeness in new bicycles is one of the reasons that many woman do not like to buy bicycles. There are too many things that new bikes need to have put on them and too many choices in what to put on that always add to at least another $300 before you get out the door of the shop. If you are new to riding or not inclined to put all the stuff on yourself, that is a bike that will very likely be overlooked.

    That being said, I wouldn’t mind riding it! : )

  • Mistie says:

    If you are looking for an affordable, quality made “dutch style” commuter bike you should check out http://www.bowerylanebicycles.com

    They are made by hand in american, out of american steel using solar power and they only cost $595.

  • Jim says:

    I have 20 mile commute each way, and have been riding my road bike, but am looking for something that can carry more, and is more comfortable than what I am riding now. I have tried the Civia Hyland, and my toes kept hitting the front fender. I have not tried the Breezer Finesse yet. So my question, do you think that this bike would work well for a long commute? Thanks

  • Alan says:

    @Jim

    While it could certainly be used for that purpose, the Alley Way is really designed for city riding and shorter distances than you’ll be doing. Personally, for the kind of distances you’ll be riding, I’d be looking at bikes with handlebars that provide multiple hand positions, and depending upon the terrain you’ll be covering, possibly a wide ratio drivetrain.

    Alan

  • Sam says:

    I’m so excited to see a review of this bike. I won’t be buying it because I want drop bars and because the S, M & L options are unlikely to work for me without significant alteration. But I’d love to hear how it stacks up with the Civia Bryant, which has the same carbon/internal hub setup, steel frame, and disc brakes. Anyone have any experience with the Bryant?
    thanks.

  • sygyzy says:

    Alan, do you have any tips on how to size mixte frames? I am used to sizing regular road frames, without sloping top tubes. What factors do you use, especially if the local shop doesn’t have all sizes in stock to try on, or in my case, none at all.

  • Alan says:

    Sizing mixtes is no different than sizing standard diamond frames, though they’re a little more forgiving because of the step-through. Just draw an imaginary line from the top of the head tube to the top of the seat tube and treat it like a standard bike.

    The typical approach is to set your saddle height first, then determine whether or not you can get the bars in the correct relation to the saddle for your preferences. If the frame is too large there will be little to no seat post extending above the seat tube, if the frame is too small, you’ll have to raise the stem an inordinate amount above the headtube to get the bars where you like them. This is only a rough guide, but it’s a start. If at all possible, it’s best to actually ride a bike before making a purchase.

    Alan

  • sygyzy says:

    Thanks a bunch Alan!

  • Ian says:

    I took one out for a test ride last week and settled on Raleigh’s Superbe Roadster instead. The fit just felt better. The biggest thing wrong was the handlebars, which felt very wide, making the steering feel unstable. Of course I could have swapped them out, but the other bike just felt right all around. The Alley Way is indeed a beautiful machine, though, and I was sorry to miss out on the belt drive.

  • frank pollack says:

    Could you comment on the single butted frame vs what seems to be everyone else’s use of double butted frames? My question is does the affect the stregnth / long term lasting of the frame or just the weight……thanks very much

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