Ridden and Reviewed: The Ridley Helium

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

Lighter Than Air

The Ridley Helium is part of the lightweight line of Ridley bikes. While the Helium SL claims top honors in Ridley’s “superlight” category, the Helium is still one of the lightest production frames available, and in fact was the basis for what became the SL. This tried and true chassis has been ridden to victory by riders from several different Pro Tour teams, and after spending a few days on it, it’s easy to see how.

So exactly where does the Helium fit into Ridley’s lineup? Like all of Ridley’s other bikes, the Helium originally grew out of a request from Ridley’s pro riders, who needed a lightweight frame that would make climbing during difficult mountain stages easier. While the Fenix is Ridley’s “go everywhere, do everything” bike, and the Noah is designed to be an ultra-stiff aero-wonder for the sprinters, the Helium was designed to shave every possible gram for the climbers.

But this isn’t to say the bike is only at home in the mountains…

All of Ridley's bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand's own durability standards

All of Ridley’s bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand’s own durability standards

Beyond the Mountains

When we visited Ridley in Belgium a few weeks ago, among the bikes we were given to test out were a pair of Heliums. While they weren’t spec’ed exactly the same as the Performance models, we got a pretty fair sense for how the Helium rode, and for two of our testers, it came to be the bike of choice for the Tour of Flanders sportif (the others chose the Fenix).

 While Ridley may bill the Helium as a climbers bike built for the mountains, we actually found that the bike was more than at home on the cobbled roads of Flanders—a realization that was backed up by the fact that several of the Lotto-Belisol riders chose to ride the pro-level Helium SL for the actual Tour of Flanders. Thanks to its super-thin seat stays and more traditional rounded tubing, we found the ride to be plenty compliant for even the toughest cobbled sections we encountered.

Even our test bikes, which were built up with some super-stiff, low spoke count carbon wheels, seemed to have almost no problems dealing with the cobbled roads and descents found on the sportif. At no point did we feel we were bouncing off the rocks or getting bucked all over the road. Not that the ride was exactly silky, but the Helium had the chops to take the hits. But this isn’t to say the Helium is a noodle either—it was plenty stiff enough to deliver the goods come smash time on the Circuit Zolder, where it was right at home in a paceline involving a few pro’s, local hardmen and excitable juniors. The bike just felt fast, responsive and lively.

We were able to follow sprints, break-aways and surges with aplomb, and when we stood up to go for the gusto, the bike instantly responded with plenty of forward speed.

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

Climbers Delight

Despite it’s all-arounder abilities, we have to say that the bike did truly come into it’s own on the climbs. We started the day of the Tour of Flanders sportif feeling more than a little anxious about going up the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmont and the Paterberg—all legendary cobbled hills with brutal gradients that can surpass 20%, but eventually we came to almost look forward to them.

We’re not the worst climbers in the world, after all we do live in North Carolina, but aboard the Helium we felt almost delusionally gifted—enough so to even try to challenge a Trek Factory Racing pro we happened upon on the Kwarmont (it didn’t end well for us). Making the turns into the climbs made us feel almost giddy, because you really do get the sensation of floating uphill. The bike is very light, but it’s more than that. The geometry, the fork rake, and the blend of both stiffer and more compliant carbon fibers all seem to function together in an almost unquantifiable way to just make climbing feel easier and more natural.

This isn’t to say we weren’t suffering on the Paterberg at the 22% pitch, but we rarely felt we had to resort to standing to make it up the hills. The bike seemed to work with us to make the going easier, and that’s something we can always appreciate.

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

A More In-Depth Look

After riding the Helium for a few days, we got a chance to talk with Dirk, the lead product manager at Ridley about what went into making the Helium, and out of that conversation came a true insight into what the Ridley brand is all about. The Helium is if nothing else a pragmatic machine, built to solve problems with substance instead of style and marketing.

Neither the Helium nor the pro-level Helium SL are anywhere close to the lightest production frames available, but that’s not something that Ridley is really interested in making. Ridley believes that behind most of those other super-lightweight frames is a directive from a brand’s marketing department, not an actual benefit to the consumer. To make a sub-700 gram frame isn’t difficult, but to make a sub-700 gram frame that can actually be ridden is.

With the Helium series, Ridley looked at how cyclists actually ride. Pro’s, amateurs, weekend warriors, everyone. Then they talked with pro mechanics, materials engineers, designers—basically anybody who would ever have to work one—about what they wanted to see in a lightweight bike. The consensus was clear: it didn’t matter if it was the lightest bike on the market if it couldn’t survive a full season, or transfer all your power into the pedals. Where they arrived at was a frame that was just a few grams heavier than the competition, but that would stand up to the abuse of racing, training and everyday riding like nothing else in its class. In fact, the frames ended up being so dependable that the Lotto-Belisol pro’s just ride off the shelf bikes, painted up in team colors.

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The Verdict

The Helium is just a flat out great bike. It has a ride feel that combines so many different aspects into one bike, which is a hard act to follow. Stiff enough to sprint, comfortable enough for the cobbles, and purpose-built for climbing, this bike comes pretty close to being the total package.

The bike definitely has a race-tuned geometry, so if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed you might want to look at the Fenix, but if you want a go-fast machine that performs as a true all-around high performance bike, then the Helium is the way to go.

Ridden and Reviewed: Ridley Fenix

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The Ridley Fenix was built to tame the cobbled roads of Flanders

The Belgian Swiss Army Knife

A few months ago when Ridley invited us to come to Belgium to learn more about their brand, we were pretty excited. When Ridley told us were going to be testing their bikes on cobbles, we were a little less thrilled. We’ve ridden cobbles before, and if you’ve ever wanted to know what’s like to ride a bike inside of a paint mixer, taking a spin down a Belgian lane is a pretty good approximation. We knew that Ridley makes some tough bikes though, so we figured this would be the ultimate test of a bike’s durability.

The Ridley Fenix is what Ridley describes as their “Swiss Army knife” bike. The bike was designed at the behest of the riders of Ridley’s pro-tour teams, who needed a bike that could conquer the long, brutal spring classics races in Italy, Belgium and France. Looking at lessons learned from the Damocles and the Excalibur, two of Ridley’s most successful bikes ever, Ridley’s designers came up with the Fenix. Built with a more “endurance” tuned geometry for improved comfort over long distances, flattened seat stays for improved compliance on the terrible cobbles, and diamond-shaped tubes for incredible durability and strength, the Fenix is one of the toughest, most versatile bikes ever.

The Performance-exclusive Ridley Fenix CR1 is built around the same frame the pro's ride

The Performance-exclusive Ridley Fenix CR1 is built around the same frame the pro’s ride

About The Ride

Because Ridley had a lot of journalists and vendors visiting the week we were there (during that Tour of Flanders), the bike we ended up with wasn’t exactly spec’ed the same as the Performance-exclusive CR1 model (different crank, handlebars and saddle), but it was close enough to give us a general feel for the bike. And wow, were we impressed.

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The Fenix more than lives up to its reputation. From the minute we first put a leg over the bike, it felt like it came alive. The handling was snappy, and the bike felt responsive from the first pedal stroke. On the pavement it handles like one of the finest race steeds we’ve ever encountered (in fact the bike more than held it’s own when we took it to the brutally fast Wednesday night ride at the famed Zolder Circuit), but where the bike really came to life was on the cobbles.

We’re not going to say that it made the cobbles smooth like butter–there’s only so much a bike can do, but the Fenix certainly made the ride less jarring than we remembered. Turning onto our first cobbled section at speed, we braced for the first bike impacts and tried to prepare for the bone shaking hits. We didn’t really need to though, since the Fenix definitely took some of the sting out of the cobbles. It was especially apparent in the saddle, where the flat-section seat stays made a noticeable difference and transmitted much less vibration and absorbed the worst of the hits.

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Even these cobbles were smoothed out some by the frame’s flattened seatstays

The bike also held it’s line and tracked far better in the rough stuff than we were expecting. Even our lighter weight tester, who normally gets bounced off the cobbles pretty well and ends up all over the road, was able to find a line and hold it on the Fenix over some of the worst cobbles we encountered. On the one occasion when we did crash, the bike was just fine—thanks to the diamond shaped tubing that gives it a higher strength and makes the tubes more resistant to side impacts. After a few kilometers (sorry, we were in Europe), we could definitely see why the Lotto-Belisol guys love the Fenix.

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The Fenix handles rough roads well, with a stable handling feel that helps you hold your line

About The Bike

After our experience testing the bike, we had a chance to talk with Joachim Aerts, founder of Ridley, and Dirk, the lead product developer, about what went into the bike. It turns out that the inspiration for the Fenix came not only from the shapes found in nature, but also from real world riding. Both of them grew up in Belgium, riding on the cobbled roads, and thought about the kind of bike they would want to ride on those roads. After getting more input from pro riders, they turned to the Lotto-Belisol mechanics, and asked for their opinions about the bike. Would it be easy to work on? Could it survive a crash? Did the internal cable routing make sense from a practical stand point? Once all these questions were answered and problems solved, and only then, did the bike move into production.

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The carbon fiber frame found on this test bike, as well as the Performance-exclusive CR1 and CR2 are the same as the ones ridden by the pro’s from the Lotto Belisol team

Ridley, and the Lotto-Belisol team, were so thrilled with the final product that they didn’t even make a special version for the pro team, which is fairly unusual in the bike industry. The pro riders literally get off-the-shelf Ridley Fenix bikes, painted in the team colors, and built up with their pro livery parts.

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Jurgan Roelandts of Lotto-Belisol chose to ride the Fenix (outfitted with team-issue Campagnolo Super Record 11 EPS and Bora Ultra wheels) in the Tour of Flanders

Overall, we’d say that the Fenix is one of the best all-around bikes we’ve ever ridden. Stiff enough to hold it’s own on one of the fastest group rides we’ve ever done, comfortable enough to ride all day on some of the roughest cobbles in the world, and tough enough to survive a fairly gnarly crash. If you want a bike for riding a charity ride, a gran fondo, and even racing, then this is definitely the bike for you. This bike not only gets our seal of approval, but the seal of Belgian approval as well.

Introducing Ridley Bikes at Performance Bicycle

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If you know nothing else about Belgium, you should know that the roads are cobbled and the weather is, well, we’ll be polite and call it changeable. If your bicycle is anything less than the toughest thing around, you won’t be owning that bike for very long. Which is why if you ever go to Belgium you’ll notice that most people ride Ridley bikes—because they’re made in Belgium, for Belgian roads.

When your roads look like this, your bikes better be as tough as the riders

When your roads look like this, your bikes better be as tough as the riders

Ridley Bikes was founded with the design philosophy of “tough enough to ride, fast enough to win, tested in every day life”. The company was started in Hasselt, Belgium in 1990 by Joachim Aerts, a former juniors racer. Originally founded as a bicycle paint shop in his father’s garage, Ridley has since evolved into one of the most innovative and dependable bike brands in cycling.

Joachim got his start by offering both custom frames, and later custom paint for pro and amateur riders. At the time, during the age of steel bikes, most professional would have their bikes built by the favorite custom frame builder (usually someone local who knew the rider well), but would have them painted to match their sponsor and team colors. When riders switched to aluminum bikes however, entirely new construction techniques became possible and Joachim used his experience as a juniors racer to begin designing a  new generation of bikes that were tougher, stronger, and faster than anything available before.

Ridley's facilities remain in Hasselt, where most of the bikes are still finished and assembled

Ridley’s facilities remain in Beringen, where many of the bikes are still finished and assembled

The evolution only continued with carbon fiber, and Ridley now makes bikes that are shaped to be strong, engineered to be fast, and ones so light they practically float up the hills.

The Ridley line-up consists of four basic models:

The Ridley Fenix was engineered for cycling’s “Spring Classics” races. It features a more relaxed geometry than their other road bikes, and Ridley’s innovative diamond-shaped tubing shapes for superior strength. The Fenix is available in 4 models, in both carbon fiber and aluminum, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

The Ridley Fenix is one of toughest bikes around –  perfect for racing, gran fondos, and every day riding.

The Ridley Noah was designed with input from famed sprinter Andre Greipel, and is designed solely for speed. With water-droplet shaped tubes and the F-Split fork to knife through the wind. The Noah is available with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed groupset, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

With it’s aero tube shapes, F-Surface treatment and revolutionary F-Split fork, the Ridley Noah is one of the fastest bikes in the world.

The Ridley Helium was designed for climbers, with circle shaped tubes that offer the best strength-to-weight ratio possible, allowing Ridley to shave off every possible gram. The Helium is available with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed group set, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

The circle shaped tubing offers the best strength-to-weight ratio possible, which allowed Ridley’s engineers to make the Helium as light as possible.

The Ridley Liz is a women’s specific bike, and was designed for the ultimate in fit, performance and comfort without compromise. The Liz is available in two carbon fiber models, with either Shimano Ultegra 6800 or Shimano 105, and as a carbon fiber frameset.

To get the best mix of performance, comfort, and fit, Ridley worked with several pro women’s teams to find the best geometry for the Liz.

Today, Ridley is one of the most recognizable bikes in cycling. Famed for their toughness, and for their race-winning performance under the riders of the UCI World Tour Pro team Lotto-Belisol, Ridley’s penchant for innovation has made them one of the most imitated and watched brands in the industry, but the only one with the heritage and hard-earned reputation to be able to say “We Are Belgium”.

The Fuji Altamira SL

The Fuji Altamira SL is one amazing bike

The Fuji Altamira SL is one amazing bike

We’ve always really liked the Fuji Altamira. The blend of race-winning performance, high tech construction, and a geometry that you can ride all day have made it a staple for road riders around the office.

We were really excited though when we learned that our friend and coworker Jeff decided to get the Fuji Altamira SL. While all of the Altamira’s are fine bikes, the engineers at Fuji made the SL their special project—and pulled out all the stops to make it as light as they possibly could. When Jeff unboxed his bike and threw it on the scale, it turned out to be so light that it was not UCI/USCF legal to race. His size large bike, fully built up, weighed in at an astonishing 13.6 pounds—about 2 full pounds lighter than any of the other carbon-everything super steeds around the office.

When we picked it up to check it out, we almost felt like we were going to accidentally throw the thing through the ceiling.

So how did they get there? The Fuji Altamira SL is built around the same High Modulus, High Compaction C15 carbon fiber frame as the other high-end Altamiras, but where things get interesting is in the component choices. Full carbon fiber Oval Concepts handlebars, stem, and seatpost offer some serious weight savings over traditional alloy components, while the SRAM Red 22 groupset is the lightest component set available, saving over 200 grams versus Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 and about 110 grams over Campagnolo Super Record Titanium. But what really helps this bike fly up the hills are the Oval Concepts 970 full carbon fiber tubular wheels. Weighing in at only about 1100 grams, these wheels are almost a full pound lighter than a pair of carbon clincher wheels.

Jeff customized his build with a Fizik Antares saddle (the shape of the included Oval 970 full carbon saddle just didn’t work for him, but it’s a fine saddle in and of itself) and a set of Speedplay pedals.

This is one sweet ride, and we’re insanely jealous of his beautiful, welter-weight bike. If you’re looking for a machine that can get you up and over just about any sized hill in your path, then the Fuji Altamira SL is for you, and available at Performancebike.com.

To learn more about the Fuji Altamira line of bikes, check out our article.

 

To see more detailed pictures, check out the gallery below.

Interbike Wrap-Up

A few weeks ago we covered our big trends and favorite new gear from Eurobike, the world’s biggest cycling trade show, but this week we’re turning our focus to Interbike, the huge North American cycling trade show that takes place every year in the bright lights and high heat of Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite the distractions of Sin City, we were focused on bikes and cycling gear – read on below for a few highlights from our week in the desert.

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Las Vegas Strip by night

1. One of the coolest parts of Interbike is getting to test-ride new bikes on the dusty trails at Bootleg Canyon, so this year we took the opportunity to take a few 27.5″ trail bikes out for a spin. Our verdict? This in-between wheel size can definitely be a lot of fun – being a bit larger means that they roll over obstacles easier than a 26″ bike, while at the same time being more nimble and maneuverable than a 29″ bike. 2 of our test-ride favorites came from our friends at GT and Breezer – these guys know mountain bikes, and it shows. GT has 2 brand new 27.5″ platforms for 2014, the 130mm Sensor and the 150mm Force, both of which feature their Angle Optimized Suspension design. Breezer is back in the full-suspension mountain bike game in a big way with their brand new Repack model, which is built around an innovative MLink suspension design that pivots around a link midway down the chainstay.

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We actually got the chance to talk to Joe Breeze about the Repack later in the week and found out more about the history of the iconic Repack name and about how the 160mm of travel plus the MLink suspension technology is designed to create an all-mountain riding machine, with snappy handling and stability on the downhills:

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2. Also at OutDoor Demo, our eyes were drawn to a gorgeous fleet of custom frames outfitted with top end Easton Cycling bars, stems, seatposts and their brand new EC90 Aero 55 wheels. It turns out that Easton is giving away these hand built road bike beauties (from Caletti Cycles, Calfee Design, Black Cat, Hunter and Rock Lobster) in their Dream Bike Charity Raffle. Each of the next 5 months Easton is raffling off one of these custom bikes to support the charity of the frame-builder’s choice – you can purchase multiple $5 raffle tickets to increase your chances of winning and 100% of the proceeds from each raffle will go to the charity (although no purchase is necessary to enter). We were lucky enough to test ride the Calfee and Rock Lobster bikes, and we can say that you won’t be disappointed if you win either one!

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This month you still have a chance to win a Calfee Manta (although Calfee will build any size/model frame the winner prefers) –  a wild “race platform” road bike that leverages a patented, active suspension system at the rear wheel. The design enhances traction, power transmission and comfort to increase rider performance – plus the bike just looks amazing. All proceeds from this raffle go to Cyclists for Cultural Exchange - you can enter on the Easton Cycling Facebook page by September 30 and the winner will be selected randomly on October 1, 2013. Dain from Easton told us more about the Dream Bike Charity Raffle at OutDoor Demo:

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3. Fat bikes were also a big presence at Interbike this year, no pun intended (OK, maybe a little one). These big-wheeled bikes were cropping up all over the show floor, along with the accessories to go with them. Of note was the 21 pound all carbon fat bike from Borealis, along with tubeless rim systems from HED (in carbon) and Stan’s NoTubes – with this kind of technology, you might start seeing fat bikes regularly on your local trails soon.

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4. It’s hard to sum up the rest of Interbike this year – there was development on the technical front with hydraulic disc brake systems for road bikes becoming a common sight, from both Shimano and SRAM, but much of the other developments were tweaks and improvements to existing gear. New all-mountain style helmets were on display from Bern, Bell and Smith Optics (they of the interesting Forefront model). More high-viz colors cropped up throughout the show style-wise, but camo and earth-tone colors were common as well. Most of the wheel manufacturers had refined hubs or rims, with new gear from Easton, Reynolds and Zipp on display, among others. These weren’t dramatic changes, but they were evolutionary changes that promise improved performance and durability. All in all it was an Interbike without any real big surprises (once you got beyond road hydraulic brakes and 11 speeds as original equipment, but most of you have seen those by now) – but maybe that’s a good thing.

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As always, you can find all of our photos from Interbike in a gallery on our Facebook page.

Wordless Wednesday

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Product Profile: Diamondback Bicycle 2014 Overdrive Carbon Hardtails

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When we heard that Diamondback was adding a new lineup of Overdrive Carbon hardtail mountain bikes for 2014, we were excited. Utilizing the same trail/XC geometry as Diamondback’s Aluminum Overdrive series, the 29″-wheeled Overdrive Carbon designs incorporate their proprietary Advanced Monocoque Molding Process (AMMP) technology using the highest-grade carbon, constructed in the most precise manner, to produce world-class cross country machines. Our bike buyer, Ben, got a chance to try out one of the new high-speed off-road machines at the 2013 Sea Otter Classic XC race (a stern 40 mile test of California hills and dusty trails). How did he sum up the new bike? In a word – impressed. He called the Overdrive Carbon “a great all-around 29er race bike that climbs like a mountain goat, with crisp, precise single track handling and the components to match.”

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Pro Mountain Bike

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Pro Mountain Bike

The 2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Pro Mountain Bike is dialed-in from top to bottom, featuring a lightweight carbon frame, Fox suspension and SRAM XO components. 142×12mm carbon rear drop out, a tapered head tube, and a 15mm thru-axle fork increase stiffness for enhanced steering and traction. The sloping top tube provides ample standover clearance. A 71° head tube angle and a 73° seat tube angle create the perfect XC/trail geometry. The 440mm (17.3 inch) chainstays equate to an extremely snappy bike.

The top shelf FOX 32 FLOAT CTD 29″ E-S fork gives you 100mm of plush travel up front with a CTD damper that supplies five different compression settings to optimize your ride for low and high rates of speed from a handlebar-mounted remote. A top shelf SRAM XO group including shifters, derailleurs and hydraulic disc brakes give you the absolute best of the best in performance, period. Add in Easton EA90XC 29″ Clincher wheels and you have one of the most comprehensive competition-based packages on the market.

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert Mountain Bike

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert Mountain Bike

The 2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert Mountain Bike is built for maximum speed, stiffness and fun. With the same lightweight carbon frame and Fox suspension as the Overdrive Carbon Pro, the Overdrive Carbon Expert comes equipped with SRAM X7/X9 components. The bike’s Avid Elixir 7 Hydraulic Disc brakes have 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors for maximum modulation on the trail. The 10 speed drivetrain features a high quality X7 Front derailleur, X9 Type 2 Rear Derailleur and the S1400 10-speed crankset. Add in Diamondback SL-7 double wall rims with WTB Wolverine Race tires and you are set to conquer any and all off-road obstacles.

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Mountain Bike

2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Mountain Bike

The 2014 Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Mountain Bike is sure to elevate your heart rate before you even hit the saddle. Utilizing the same Advanced Monocoque Molding Process (AMMP) carbon frame as the Overdrive Carbon Pro and the Overdrive Carbon Expert guarantees an extremely snappy bike with enhanced stiffness for precise steering and control. Avid Elixir 1 Hydraulic Disc brakes with 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors provide ample stopping power. SRAM provides a 10-speed drivetrain with an X5 Front derailleur and crankset mated to an X7 long cage rear derailleur for smooth shifting performance. Diamondback SL-7 double wall rims with WTB Wolverine Race tires round out this race and trail-ready package.

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