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