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In a marketplace full of sloping top tubes, tall head tubes and compact chainsets frames like Ragley's Cragg Vale are becoming a rarity these days. Traditional style geometry and a headtube so short it'd make most time trial bikes jealous all come together to create a proper roadie's machine and one of the best bikes I've tested.
The aluminium frameset (including frame, carbon fork, headset, top-cap, 3M reflective sticker kit & seat collar) is designed here in the UK while manufacturing is outsourced to Taiwan. Conceived as a winter trainer or year round commuter the Cragg Vale has been designed to provide a racier position as opposed to the audax/touring style bikes usually being marketed for getting the miles in over the off season. Allowing you to train in the same position as your racing steed is always beneficial and it's great to see a manufacturer realising this. In many ways its ironic that a bike that will surely appeal to the soul of any old school roadie was designed by Brant Richard a name synonymous with mountain biking.
The frame gives a lot of feedback and provides a stiff yet supple ride more reminiscent of steel than aluminium. This is certainly a big advantage on the long rides allowing you to feel exactly what the bike is doing underneath you without your contact points feeling as though they're being given a kicking. Handling is just on the twitchy side of neutral providing an engaging ride without becoming a white knuckle event.
At 1600g for the frame the Ragley is a sensible weight for a bike that's going to get you through harsh winters and probably be dropped a couple of times when Jack Frost pops his head out. This extra weight works as an advantage when descending and cornering giving a very planted feel and with the level of feedback mentioned above you can really let the bike go on the downhill bits without fear of any surprises. There are no hydroformed tubes or over built bottom brackets here, all the ride quality and stiffness is provided by well designed geometry. The carbon/alloy fork performed well, stiff enough while allowing enough fore and aft to match the comfort of the frame. Surprisingly with the amount of weight involved the Cragg Vale climbs well, that stiffness keeping flex to a minimum. Due to the low front end climbing out of the saddle rather than staying sat and spinning seemed to work best.
When the 'just in' feature was put on the site there was some welcome debate about mudguard clearance. The Cragg Vale is designed to be used with standard drop brakes which limits tyre size to 23mm if you want to use full guards while 28mm is possible without. Being designed as a winter commuter it does seem a bit of an oversight on Ragley's behalf to basically alienate a lot of possible customers. From a personal point of view I ride 23mm tyres right through the winter so it was of little concern for me (plus the fact there were very few wet days over the test period) but judging by a lot of the comments left on that original piece I am in a minority.
The overall finish of the frame is great quality from the welds to the paintjob. The thick striking blue finish stands out well, helped out in the darker hours by the included reflective sticker kit. Side visibility is always a concern with night time riding especially at roundabouts and junctions. The 3M kit that comes with the frameset features stickers that you apply yourself allowing you to customise how visible you want to be. Our test sample came with the full kit already fitted and as most of the test miles were made up of an hour each way commute in the dark I can vouch for its effectiveness.
While the Cragg Vale is only available as a frameset the build we were sent provides a great benchmark for building one up yourself. A full Shimano 105 groupset, Pro-Lite finishing kit and wheels coming in around the £1000 - £1100 mark is hugely impressive.
The Pro-Lite Como wheels matched the frame for feel and rolled well and stayed absolutely true in what were some hard testing miles. Pro-Lite's bar, stem and seatpost were stiff, balanced out by the frames forgiving nature and create a perfect partnership. Meanwhile Ragley's own saddle was very comfortable at all distances and also looks pretty good to boot, the white and black finish matching the rest of the frames finishing kit. Shimano's latest 105 groupset worked brilliantly with excellent shifting and braking performance and has got to be one of the best groupsets out there at the moment bang for buck. Michelin's Pro Optimum tyres certainly deserve a mention, 25mm wide front and rear specific, they provide grip levels more akin to summer tyres wet or dry. Even after 1000 miles there were no signs of any serious wear or cuts.
All in all the Cragg Vale is one of the best bikes I've ridden with the ride comparing to the Genesis Equilibrium and the Kona Haole (see reviews) but with a much racier position. Its solid dependable feel and ride quality meant it was always the bike I grabbed from the shed especially if I was heading out on the rough lanes. Taking the price into account for the frameset its great value for money and the build we were supplied with above is a great place to start as every part complemented the others. Personally when my commuter needs replacing the Cragg Vale will be top of the list as a replacement. It's a shame that the mudguard issue is going to put so many people off buying it but maybe that's something that Ragley can address for the next batch.
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Make and model: Ragley Cragg Vale
Size tested: Blue
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From Ragley's site - Classic British Winter Training Frame; Designed on long nights and dark days in the Pennines, the Cragg Vale is a road bike for people wanting to 'get the miles in' during the off season, or wanting a strong durable but zippy feeling commuting bike. I think they've hit the nail pretty much on the head, the Cragg Vale is such an all rounder.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
A well built aluminium frame with a carbon/alloy fork. A suprisingly simple set up without loads of anacronyms to decipher about which bit tube does what for the ride
beautiful paint job and welding
Does everything well, the stiff frame keeps the power going through the pedals and performance is only just slow of most lightweight racers. Taking everything in to account (handling, descending, climbing, straight line speed) you'll never be disappointed.
It certainly looks like its built to last. the paint is thick which should keep chips at bay.
As a winter trainer/commuter the weight is pretty spot on to meet the balance of performace vs longevity. Our test sample came in around the 20lb mark.
Very comfortable 'steel' like ride while still keeping the handling engagingly lively
There ain't much better out there bang for buck
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent. club runs,commuting and just general training were all taken in its stride. A very easy bike to ride but still giving plenty of feedback and fun.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The package as a whole works well with the frame complementing the fork and vice versa. The paint colour really finishes it off plus the reflective sticker kit is a nice touch
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The mudguard issue is going to be a problem for some
Did you enjoy using the product? yes
Would you consider buying the product? yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? yes
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
An all round cracking frame and fork. Stiffness, comfort, easy to ride yet engaging, it certainly takes some doing.
Age: 32 Height: 180cm Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Ribble Winter Trainer for commuting My best bike is: Ribble Gran Fondo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!