I suppose the typical bike reviewer thing to do when writing up the Rauler Classic Lugged steel bike would be to exclaim, “OMFG! Steel is reeeeal!” But I already know steel is… steel. Bikes I’ve owned include a 1980 Motobecane Team Champion (I stupidly traded it for skis 25 years ago), and a Waterford R-22 (currently in my brother’s possession). A few years ago, I bought a Rock Lobster Team TIG SL (with matching steel fork), which I ride regularly.
I ride so many stiff, light, and fast carbon fiber bikes. Most of them are great. I like stiff, light, and fast carbon bikes; I like how they feel, I like how they move. And I appreciate how carbon lets engineers do things that are literally not possible with steel (or titanium, or aluminum). If someone asked me what I thought the best road bike in the world is today, I’d pick a carbon bike.
But holy ass crackers; this Rauler. So smooth. It’s liquid; it’s like rolling down the road on wheels made of fluffy kittens.
To be fair (to me), I think anyone who took a spin on this bike—especially with the wheels in the pictures (three cross spokes, Mavic Reflex tubular rims, and 25mm Continental Competition tubulars)—would step off the Rauler and blurt out all the synonyms for ‘smooth’ they could think of. Because it is that smooth.
Everything today is big: big frame tubes, big tires, big brakes, big cassettes. The Rauler is small: The downtube on this bike ( about 32mm) has approximately the same diameter as the center portion of a modern road handlebar; it has a one-inch headtube, and fork legs that look like toothpicks.
For the category, it’s a plenty-stiff bike, and I heard little brake or chainring rub when climbing. The handling is relaxed, and the bike is stable and predictable. It requires deliberate inputs, but corners great, and is composed at speed. Here’s a strange comparison: It reminded me of cornering a full-suspension mountain bike. You preload the bike as you initiate the turn, feel the frame load up through the apex, and then spring out of the exit.
Modern carbon racing-style bikes don’t flow like this through corners; they’re ferocious, biting and clawing at every bit of available traction. The modern bike is probably faster, and it is more precise, especially though a series of high speed turns. Faster is fun, but the Rauler is a different kind of fun—warm and pleasurable, like bare feet on soft grass.
And of course, this bike tingles with the feel that only a steel bike can have. Actually, the feel only a lugged, small-diameter, steel bike can have. “Modern” TIG-welded steel bikes with larger-diameter, air-hardened tube sets ride a little stiffer, and a little more flat. I found myself using the word “delightful” when describing the feel of this bike to friends. I don’t think I’ve ever called a carbon bike delightful. The Rauler is bright, springy, and smooth in a way no carbon bike can be. This is the payoff for forgoing the lightness, stiffness, and sharpness of a modern bike.
Once I got over the initial shock of the ride, the Rauler was comfortingly familiar. Like a lot of y’all, I grew up riding steel bikes. That was all that was available, so that was all I knew. And then the other materials started to show up. Now it’s mostly carbon and aluminum and a bit of titanium, and many riders have never ridden steel. I wonder what it would be like to ride the Rauler never having experienced a lugged steel road bike. Like riding a smooth, heavy noodle, perhaps?
I ride enough bikes to know how great a stiff 13-pound bike climbs; how easily an aero road bike punches through the air. The Rauler can’t compete with this.
So what do I compare it to? It’s not like I’ve ridden 20 lugged steel bikes recently and can pinpoint the Rauler’s place among them. I probably haven’t ridden 10 lugged steel bikes in 20 years of reviewing bikes for Bicycling.
I suppose I should just say what it is: a smooth and classic bike that’s a delight to ride today, regardless of being from a different time (exemplified by the wooden crate it’s shipped in from Italy).
In the era when lugged steel bikes were the pinnacle of performance, I suspect the Rauler Classic Lugged would compare well to the best bikes on the market. Raul Gozzi, the builder, knows what he’s doing.
Gozzi received training from and worked for Ernesto Colnago. According to Rauler’s North American importer, Gozzi was building the custom team bikes for Colnago-sponsored pros in the ’70s and ’80s. Gozzi chose to honor this connection by naming his brand Rauler, a portmanteau of Raul and the first two letters of Ernesto Colnago’s name.
The Classic Lugged frame, with fork, sells for $2,799. For that price, the buyer has their choice of tube sets: Columbus Spirit For Lugs, or Dedacciai Zero (the fork is made from Columbus).
When asked for a description of the differences between the tube sets, Rauler’s importer said, “I’ve spoken to builders and the differences are subtle. Columbus Spirit For Lugs is also known as Pego-Richie and typically seen as the superior tubeset. I will say as a guy who’s built and designed a few steel bikes, the Deda lugged tubeset also has a nice profile, is close in weight and ride quality in the lighter versions, but might be just a bit beefier and more durable.”
The frame is offered in 14 stock sizes; 10 colors (the buyer can choose glossy or matte finish); and traditional or paneled logos. Addition options include choosing between an English- or Italian-threaded bottom bracket; threaded or threadless steerer (1-inch); and a chromed drive-side chainstay. Upgrades include internal rear brake routing ($100); two-centimeter head tube extension ($100); and custom geometry ($350) in sloping or level top tube configurations. The current wait for a custom frame is about eight weeks.
I received the bike as a frameset and built it up with available parts. I’ve received plenty of grief for the SRAM Force22 drivetrain and threadless stem adapter: Yeah, the “proper” way to build this bike would be with Campagnolo and a quill stem, but that wasn’t an option at the time. Besides, the SRAM drivetrain and brakes worked great, and I liked having bars with a modern bend. With the tubular wheels mentioned earlier, the bike came in at 18.8 pounds.
It once was, but the Rauler is no longer a typical bike. It’s a throwback, a specialty piece; what those foulard- and goggle-wearing eccentrics who do L’Eroica ride. But I think it’s more significant than that. “Steel is real” has become so generic, it’s applied to any steel bike. But it is bikes like the Rauler that the phrase was invented for. This is the real steel.