Raleigh is the oldest bicycle company still producing bikes, but unless you are in the cyclocross world, when you think of Raleigh, you think of hybrid bikes at rental shops for tourists. But the new Skarn Pro is anything but a galavanting cruiser with a cushy seat — it is a full-suspension, carbon-frame 29er with Shimano XT and a Fox Float fork. Compared to some of the pro mountain bikes, it may appear simple, but the Skarn Pro weighs nothing, climbs like a beast and comes in under five grand. For that, it’s a bike (and a brand) worth considering.
When asked why the company decided to make a serious mountain bike, Mark Landsaat, Raleigh’s director of product development, commented, “We believe that many people are using their bikes to escape from their hectic everyday lives…An off-road experience really helps to get away from it all.” Simple, yet true — and it carries the Raleigh ethos onto the trail in plain speech.
I tested the Skarn on the 909 trails of Pleasant Valley, New York with my Sunday crew (which consists of year-round fatbike madmen and V-braking, hard-tail psychos). I was curious to see the reaction to the name. The initial response was confusion, and then, after some evaluation, respect: “Raleigh makes mountain bikes? Not bad, not bad…” We headed out on a course for the weekend’s race, which involved plenty of steady climbing. First impressions going up: The bike excelled on the climb. This shouldn’t have been a surprise on the 29er, but it’s always fun to remember on a climb the futility of 27.5 wheels. Trusting the bike for sharp turns was a bit more challenging, partially because I couldn’t find the right seat height. I finally settled on a position that was on the last marking on the seat post. At five-foot-four, the small size should have fit perfectly, not been a stretch. But the good news is that this seems to be the only flaw of the bike.
The new Skarn Pro is anything but a galavanting cruiser with a cushy seat — it is a full-suspension, carbon-frame 29er with Shimano XT and a Fox flat fork.
At the top of 909 is the trail Bykhed (pronounced “Bike Head”), and it’s as close as it gets to a downhill run in this trail system. It was here where I thought that the Skarn would struggle. But, at the base and once the dust settled, it turned out I had bested all my other Strava times. It proves that this can be, if need be, an extremely high-performance bike.
“The fact is, all the cyclocross riders we know ride mountain bikes in the summer,” Landsaat told me. “Given our involvement with the Raleigh Clement and the American Classic teams, it just made sense for us to develop a mountain bike that allows riders to be on Raleigh bikes year round, and not just during the cross season.” So that’s the more “core” reason for the bike, but in Raleigh’s typical, democratic way, they’re also trying to cater to the broader audience. Landsaat continued, “Raleigh’s mission is to allow access to the sport and to make it a fun experience…It brings you back to nature and away from the traffic and chaos of city life.” That’s more the Raleigh we all know. And while mountain biking grows in popularity and the very “base” bikes become better, the bar will continue to rise. So will the Skarn set a new standard for the mountains? Maybe not. But the next time you rent a bike at a trail base shop, you better hope there’ll be a set of Skarns waiting for you.