Most of my cycling friends live in a perpetual state of want, and if you’re like them, you always want a new bike, or at least think about owning a new bike, no matter how wonderful your bike may be. You might even find yourself staring at other people’s bikes.
How many bikes can you realistically own? Apparently the correct number is n+1, as Velominati notes, with an important caveat: “While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.”
But if you could really own just one bike, which would it be? I’d want a bike that could do just about everything and not be crazy expensive. It wouldn’t have to be perfect at anything, except at doing everything well. I like riding on all terrains, often in the same week, and sometimes on the same ride, so it would need to be an all-seasons commuter, fast enough for weekend group rides, and something I could confidently take off-road when the trails call. It’d also have to be fun and good-looking.
For me, the Raleigh Roker Comp would probably be that bike. I just rode it for a month, and this is what it’s all about:
This Roker Comp came to me brand new, via a local bike shop, assembled with Shimano 105 components, disc brakes, 700c wheels, and 40mm tires. In size 58cm it weighs 20.4 pounds (claimed, without pedals) and sells for $3,300.
Nottingham, England-based Raleigh Bicycle Co. is one of the oldest bicycle companies in the world and has built its reputation on steel bikes, but the Roker Comp's frame and fork are made of carbon fibre, the super-stiff and extremely light material used in the vast majority of higher-end performance bikes today. And as is the case with a lot of big bike companies now, Raleigh's bicycles are made in Asia -- its carbon and aluminium bikes in China and its steel bikes in Taiwan.
As I rode it home the first day, the bike felt remarkably comfortable, plush even -- in contrast to my aluminium cyclocross bike turned commuter -- but also immediately responsive when I sprinted.
In all, about half the riding I did was commuting to work, between Brooklyn and Manhattan, a 10-mile ride brings me down (unavoidable) bone-rattling streets with potholes, uneven surfaces, and sunken manhole covers. None of it was a bother on the Roker Comp, which with its wide tires and relaxed frame geometry smoothed out the bumps.
On weekends I hit dirt trails, gravel and fire roads, and singletrack wherever I could find it, usually in nearby Long Island. While not intended for hardcore mountain biking, on not-too-technical singletrack and fast-and-flowy trails the Roker Comp rose to the occasion. All I wanted to do was bunny-hop and jump stuff and, most of all, keep riding. On one local twisty descent, where you reach 30 mph in a few seconds, the thing was perfectly predictable each time.
I appreciated what it lacked too. It didn't have the harsh rigidity of a road or even cyclocross bike, but it didn't have the heaviness of a sluggish mountain bike either. And that's what made it so fun to ride for hours: the pleasing snappiness of the carbon frame, the tall wheels, the excellent tires, the stability, good for on the road and off. It's a serious bike, and it's a fun bike.
What kind of bike is the Roker Comp exactly? I asked Dave Pearson, the product manager at Raleigh. 'It's all road, any road, a go-anywhere, do-anything bike,' Pearson told Business Insider. 'I like to call it an adventure bike.'
So what are those? In short, and as the name implies, they're bikes you can ride almost anywhere. Adventure bikes typically have frames that resemble those of cyclocross bikes, drop handlebars, disc brakes, and extra tire clearance for mud.
Frame geometry has a lot to do with how a bike rides and how well it handles. Generally the more relaxed the tube angles, the more comfortable the ride, and the longer the rear end, the more stable it feels. And in an age of computer-based design, a lot of the features designed into the Roker Comp came through on-the-ground feedback, from folks like gravel-cycling blogger Guitar Ted.
The geometry of adventure bikes tends to be less aggressive, not as race-oriented, and more forgiving. That's often achieved with a longer wheelbase, a lower bottom bracket, longer chainstays, a taller head tube, and a more laid-back seat tube.
'It all makes the bike handle a lot better when, for example, you're in loose-type gravelly turns,' Pearson said. 'It does not have as quick acceleration as a 'cross bike, because the stays are longer in the back, but it does have nice handling characteristics, especially on bumpy roads and high-speed descending, where it's very comfortable turning.'
Earlier iterations of the Roker Comp included the Tamland, a steel bike marketed as a 'gravel bike.' While it was kind of heavy, Pearson was 'blown away at how stable it was,' especially going down gravel roads, and in gravel turns, at high speed. Later, the company came out with the Willard, essentially an aluminium follow-up to the Tamland, which was a couple of pounds lighter and climbed faster.
And so with the carbon Roker Comp the company has a lighter and faster bike with finer handling characteristics, but it also has more bikes at more price points. Plus, it has shifted its focus to target those who maybe don't ride gravel a lot and are looking to hit other terrains.
The handsome cockpit features Raleigh's 200 series handlebar. It's wrapped with Raleigh's grippy AllCondition tape. I really liked the long, comfortable Shimano 105 brake hoods.
The handlebar drops flare out 12 degrees toward the ends. These are good for long rides when you want to mix up your hand position and have increased stability. The tape is appropriately sticky and, according to Pearson, long-lasting. The whole cockpit is ultra-comfortable.
The Raleigh 200 series saddle was comfortable on all sorts of terrain and on long rides. Pearson said Raleigh had it custom-made, even though the company knows seven out of 10 riders will probably swap out the saddle with their preferred one.
Note that the seat rails have markings so you know exactly where to set your saddle in the fore-and-aft position.
The tall head tube means you're not riding in a low race position and can sit up higher on the bike -- that is, more comfortably. Another nice feature is that cables run internally through the frame.
The relaxed geometry made for a comfy ride without sacrificing performance, and helped keep the rear wheel stable in extreme situations. The well-designed carbon frame felt snappy and wanting to go, especially at speed, and the beefy bottom bracket offered solid pedalling efficiency. The bike had a bit of give, which I liked, because that way it didn't feel rigid, as when pedalling down rough streets or jagged singletrack.
Power transfer was precise. On one loose-dirt climb, I kept my pace even, but as I neared the top, the grade increased sharply, and I hammered as hard as I could while in the saddle. The rear wheel stayed planted, and as I pulled on the tops the bike gunned forward. It was one of a handful of revealing moments when the bike won me over.
'The new mechanical brakes work really well also,' Pearson said, 'but once you start riding hydraulics, it's like, man, game over. It's just like when people on mountain bikes went to hydraulics. Once you ride these, it's hard to go back to anything else.'
For me, the disc brakes were flawless, providing smooth, powerful braking consistently in every situation.
Up front are 46-34 chainrings, which served me well on every ride. Also, if you look close, you can see there's room for a third water bottle, under the downtube, though you might have a hard time keeping it clean down there.
One thing the purist in me regretted about the Roker Comp was that the near-complete Shimano 105 component group fell short at the cranks, these being made by Samox. (Raleigh confirmed this was done to keep the bike at a lower price point.) The 105 cranks have a look I like.
The Clément X'Plor MSO tires performed superbly. The tread has a smooth-rolling center knobs and aggressive shoulder lugs.
I changed up the tire pressure a lot. The recommended psi range was 55-90, and I ran 90 on the road. While the tires are nearly twice as wide as my regular road tires, I was pleasantly surprised how quick these 40mm tires rolled on asphalt.
When I ran 55 psi off-road, the bike tracked better and made me feel more confident when riding aggressively into dirt hairpins, over ruts, through gravel corners, and on snowy trails. I loved pushing it when I could, because the bike handled so well.
These were the best all-around tires I'd ever ridden.
On this particular ride, the Roker Comp really shone. I did a half-hour loop out on the road, headed into the woods for an hour, then got back on the road for the 15-minute spin home. While I really like my road and cyclocross bikes, neither would have served me as quite well on a ride like this and let me mix up my riding depending on what I was in the mood for. I have done this same ride on my 'cross bike, but on singletrack, when it's technical, that bike is more aggressive and feels too twitchy, and noticeably less stable and comfortable than the Raleigh.
There were times when I would purposely shift my weight around the bike at speed, say, while pushing it hard into a tight corner on the road or riding over bumpy singletrack. In all these instances the bike felt remarkably well balanced and made me more confident riding it.
On trails like this the Roker Comp really came to life. It was a happy marriage of road-bike speed and cyclocross/mountain stability. It made me feel like I could go anywhere, any time. Plus, as a comfortable performance bike, it's easy to ride all day long. Bored with the road? Head into the woods. Not digging the singletrack today? Switch to the open road. Mix it up on a whim. No bike change needed. That's where adventure bikes come into their own.
The more I rode the Roker Comp the more I liked it, and the more I wanted to keep riding it. I tried in vain to find something wrong with it, yet in every situation the bike delivered. It's an extremely comfortable bike that inspires confidence at high speed and on trails; it's also a nimble performance bike that will meet the needs of demanding cyclists.
The bike is not perfect -- no bike is -- and for the price I expected at least full Shimano 105, if not full Ultegra, 105's lighter and crisper-shifting sibling. And for a carbon bike I expected it to weigh a good pound or two less. Overall, though, it is a very, very fun and good-looking bike, ideal for anyone who wants one bike to go most anywhere.
On a practical level, there's something liberating about owning one bike, the hassle-free nature of it, where n+1 becomes 1. I could ride this to work and back all week, then throw it on my car's bike rack and head out of town to ride trails all weekend. The Roker Comp will hold its own on group rides, and if you want to go touring or bike camping, it can do that too. Of course you could always swap out the tires with a different size or type to suit your road or off-road needs.
Call it an adventure bike, call it an all-road bike, call it a gravel bike. Point is, it can take you many places many bikes can't.
More information at Raleigh.
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