Monday 31 October 2016

Bike Review: Raleigh Mustang Sport Gravel Bike

As we head into the winter months it is comforting to be out on a sturdy bike that can withstand adverse conditions such as early morning frost, extra debris on the roads, and something you can ride off piste if you decide to take short cuts through off-road sections; or even just something on which you can enjoy a leisurely winter off-road bike ride. This is where a gravel bike could be an option.

Since April I have been testing out the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel bike. These are a relatively new breed of bike to the ever increasing range of bicycles that one can stock their garage with - and hopefully ride!

The gravel bike (also known as an adventure bike) is a cross between a cyclocross bike and a road bike. Some might it describe it in other ways, but basically it looks like a cross bike, but without the zippiness that you would want in a race, however it is very comfortable to be on for long rides.

That means that its sturdiness makes it a good bike to use when riding off-road or going cycle touring on trails. It is handy that the bike also has areas where you can mount a rack and mudguards - which is what I have taken to using on the bike lately.

I used the bike when I rode a series of routes along rail trails around the country, and also on longer rides such as on a route to Brighton from Guildford along the Down's Link and the South Downs Way. I also used the Mustang Sport to ride across the Transpennine Trail. The Mustang Sport even did a foray abroad, when I used it for a cycle tour to get to Paris, where part of the route went along the disused railway line from Dieppe to Forge-Les-Eaux known as Avenue Verte.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Raleigh Mustang Sport:

Although the Mustang Sport is happier off-road it performs perfectly well on tarmac. If you want to do extensive riding on-road it may be better to use something like Land Cruisers which are tough and can deal with some less rugged off-road sections. Some of my rides were on tarmac and I rode with the Schwalbe CX Comp tyres that came with the bike.  On these tarmacked sections the Mustang Sport was fairly unchallenged and rolled along smoothly along. Carbon forks as well as the tyres provided good dampening when I went over some cobbled sections such as areas of Hull Old Town, or down the Champs Elysees in Paris. 

When on trails such as the Hudson Way between Beverley and Market Weighton, or the Tissington Trail in the Peak District the Mustang Sport was really in its element on these gravelly trails which had a few sections of single track. the bike held the paths well and steering was smooth and responsive when maneuvering through narrow sections. 

On the muddier, boggier sections such as when I rode on the trail between Scarborough and Whitby  the Mustang knew how to get through it, and having disc brakes meant that there was very good clearance between the frame and the tyres. So I didn't have to worry about the bike getting clogged up. I just had to worry about the big clean-up when I got home!

You have the option to buy the bike set up with tubeless tyres  on the Mustang Sport, though I didn't choose this option. I must admit I  am not so familiar with these and don't trust myself to fitting them properly. I think in future I would put these on as you will have one less thing to think about when it comes to tyre pressures and punctures. In any case the clincher tyres I had worked well and they held their pressures well. 

On my ride to Brighton via the Downs Link with the Mustang Sport I decided to leave this trail in search for a bit more of a challenge - so in my wisdom I took the South Downs Way. Now this is probably the thin end of the wedge in terms of what the Mustang Sport will take. There are long sections of grass on the downs, which is completely fine for the bike. However, there is a fair share of steep rugged single track. The great thing was the gears were low enough for me to get up these 18-20% hills, but the bike was definitely challenged on the descent. It was very much a bone-shaker and the disc brakes squeaked quite a lot. The Mustang Sport endured the 10 mile-section that I rode, but I think it would be you, rather than the bike that would give up the ghost first if you intended doing the full 100 miles of the South Downs Way! I am sure the bike would be fine for a short section - in the same way that people do the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales on their cyclocross bikes. Just make sure to use bomb-proof tyres, and keep your body in tip-top condition!

In my opinion the Raleigh Mustang Sport is a good option for multi-terrain rides particularly if you are not a speed merchant. It is heavier than some cyclocross bikes, but that makes it a sturdy option on all surfaces.

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