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.

Getting The Right One: A Guide to Kids Bikes

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

We all remember that joy of getting your first bike. The fun of riding with training wheels,  the abject terror of that first time you tried to ride on two wheels, and then finally the thrilling freedom of your world opening up when you learned to ride on two wheels. New Bike Day is still one of our favorite days, but nothing will ever compare to that very first time.

Learn more about how to teach your kid how to ride a bike.

If you’re thinking about getting your little guy or girl a bike this spring, we have several programs that can help make it easier. Performance Bicycle offers the Kids Bike Growth Guarantee - so even as your kid grows up, they’ll never outgrow their love of riding. We also offer our Spin Doctor bike build services, so  your child will never have to wait for the bike to be put together, and our Hide A Bike program ensures you won’t have to worry about where to keep it from prying little eyes. To learn more, visit your local Performance Bicycle shop.

If you’d like to learn more about buying a kid’s bike, we have a few resources that can guide you through the process.

Make sure you get the right size bike by following our Kids Bike Sizing Chart:

Using our kid's bike growth chart is a great way to make sure you pick the right sized bike

Our kid’s bike growth chart will help you pick the right sized bike.

Learn more about how to buy a kids bike.

Learn more about how to assemble a kids bike.

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.

3 Tips For Getting A Friend Into Cycling

 

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We all know how awesome it is to be a cyclist—but sometimes it’s nice to share the love. Many cyclists have tried valiantly over the last century or so to turn their friends and loved ones into members of our community, with varying degrees of success. It can be done, but it needs to be done with care—push it too hard, and it could backfire.

Here are a few simple tips to help get your loved one into the 2-wheeled lifestyle.

 

1. Keep It Accessible

There’s nothing cyclists love more than geeking out about gear and numbers—but you want to avoid making things sound harder or more complicated than they really are. Keep it simple, easy, and accessible.

Here are some common errors to avoid:

  • Resist the temptation to go all-out with gear, and focus more on what they want instead of what you think they need. Example: if they don’t feel comfortable in lycra cycling wear, try turning them onto more relaxed gear like apparel from Club Ride or Performance.
  • Don’t push them into getting a super aggressive or racy bike (at least not at first). The bike they pick should be one they like and feel comfortable on.
  • Don’t push the use of clipless pedals, aerobars, or other things like that at first. Wait until they get more confidence on the bike.

As they get more into it, hopefully all that stuff will come with time. But to start, just keep things simple. Here are a few additional tips, from our Learning Center.

 

Casual cycling apparel offers many of the performance benefits of lycra gear for the beginning cyclist

 

2. Make It Fun

Don’t just get them hooked up with a bike and a helmet, and expect them to go out and ride. When you’re just getting into cycling, it helps to have someone who can encourage and guide you on your journey. Ride together and get out and have fun. But tread carefully here, my friend.

If you try and drag your friend or significant other on long rides or push the pace too hard, you risk making them think cycling is too hard. You want cycling to be remembered as something fun and a respite from every day worries, not something that they had to suffer through.

Try picking short scenic routes or a bike path to start with, and ride at a pace where you can talk and hold a conversation. If you find yourself unconsciously pushing the pace harder, try riding in the little chainring, which will act as a hobble and prevent you from riding too fast.

 

Centralia, WA

Remember to have fun out there. Organized events and fun rides, like charity rides or fund raisers, are a great way to introduce new riders to the sport.

 

3. Prioritize Safety

Even if you get everything else right, it will all be for naught if your your new cycling buddy doesn’t feel safe on the bike. And feeling safe on the bike is very important. While most experienced riders have the bike handling skills and experience to ride in traffic with cars zooming by, it can be a scary experience for newer cyclists. To start, pick routes with little traffic and lower speed limits, or head for the bike path. Also try riding during off-peak hours, so there will be less traffic. And remember, if they express any concerns or fears, don’t scoff or dismiss them as unfounded. Try and accommodate their concerns as much as possible, so they’ll have the confidence to go riding again.

For more information, check out our article about riding defensively.

Riding on a bike path or low-traffic street is a good way to help beginner cyclists feel safe

Riding on a bike path or low-traffic street is a good way to help beginner cyclists feel safe

 

Did we miss anything? If you have any tips for helping someone get into riding, feel free to share in the comments section.

Diamondback Podium Optum Pro Cycling Team Edition Road Bike

Painted in team livery colors, hung with SRAM Red 22 and rolling on HED wheels, this is one serious machine

Painted in team livery colors, hung with SRAM Red 22 and rolling on HED wheels, this is one serious machine

It’s not often that most of us get to ride the exact same machines that the pro’s do. While we can buy team replica frames, most often they don’t come with the same parts that the pro’s actually ride. Sure you may end up with a bike that may have the same color scheme, and some of the components may look almost right, but when you see a close-up of the pro’s equipment you realize that what you ended up with is indeed just a replica. It’s not the same race-ready gear that is built to hold up to the rigors of the upper echelon of pro cycling.

But Diamondback set out to change all of that in 2014 when they announced that the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team was going to ride Diamondback Podium bikes. The Podium is one of the finest bikes we’ve ever had the opportunity to ride. Stiff, fast, responsive, and drop-dead gorgeous, these are bikes that can help Optum, and you, take the win. And this is no “team replica” bike either. The light Continuous Fiber Technology frameset is painted up in team livery colors, hung with pro-level SRAM Red 22 components, and rolling on stiff HED carbon tubulars - in short it’s the exact same bike the Optum pro’s will be riding in the Tour of California and other top races in North America and Europe. And the best news is, it’s now available at Performance Bicycle.

To see more, check out the gallery below.

Wordless Wednesday

Independence_Pass_zoom

Wordless Wednesday

Ride Report: Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo

Well, we were warned that Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo was “the most challenging and adventurous Gran Fondo in the United States”, and we can now safely say that it was definitely the hardest road ride that this author has ever been on! Right from the start we (that’s David and Chris, from our headquarters) could tell that we were in for an epic day in the countryside around Harrisonburg, VA. But let’s begin at the beginning, as they say.

We started our adventure loading up the car in the rain, which we have a knack for finding whenever we head out. We drove up to Harrisonburg the night before the big ride to attend the gala dinner, where we got the chance to meet some of our fellow gran fondo riders, and even chat with Jeremiah Bishop himself. As he was all weekend, Jeremiah was approachable and excited to talk cycling – we talked about his experience riding in the pre-Olympic mountain bike test race (the course is harder than it looks) and he even talked a little smack about the upcoming Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (where he’s the 2-time defending champ). But mainly we talked about the route for the Gran Fondo – the route was designed by Jeremiah to be the most challenging training ride for himself and his friends  that he could devise. He scoured Google Earth to find back roads, country lanes, wicked climbs and amazing views. He promised us that the route would make us think that we had been transported to the Alps, while also testing our limits to the fullest. When a guy with Jeremiah’s record tells you that a ride is going to be hard, you tend to believe him.

The next day we were up early to get to the start in downtown Harrisonburg, VA. Greeting us was a crowd of almost 300 like-minded riders, ready to enjoy a slightly overcast day out on the road. Here we are kitted out in our Scattante Team jerseys and Forza bib shorts. We had updated our respective Scattante and Fuji road bikes with brand new Kenda Kriterium Endurance 700x25c tires, built to handle rugged roads with their puncture-resistant Iron Cloak protection (inflated to 95 psi, per Jeremiah’s advice).

alpine_loop_2011_1 With the blowing of an alpine horn, we rolled out of town to start our long day in the saddle. Everyone started their respective route on the same road, in one big peloton (there were also shorter Medio and Piccolo route options). Jeremiah circulated throughout the pack, making sure that everyone was having a good time.

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Photo by Jay Moglia http://www.rawtalentranch.com/

But after a convivial few miles at an easy pace, Jeremiah moved to the front and put the pedal down right before the first King of the Mountain climb (award jerseys were determined by your time on 2 pre-selected climbs, not on your overall time).  The field quickly strung out over the 4 miles to the top of the Shenandoah, and we settled in to a pace we could maintain for the 70 miles we still had to ride. Of course the long climb up meant that a fantastic descent awaited us on the other side. We flew down the mountain to rural West Virginia roads, where the first rest stop awaited us. Fully stocked with tasty treats and friendly volunteers, you really could get used to this treatment! But we’re here to talk about the ride, so we’ll move along – to the dreaded first dirt road climb!

alpine_loop_2011_3

Photos can’t do this monster justice – it was super steep and just slick enough that you couldn’t stand up without your rear tire spinning out. Sometimes it felt like you were about to topple over backwards, and we saw more than one person walking with their bike. It made us think of what the earliest Tour de France riders must have faced, such as Octave Lapize in his assault on the dirt roads of the Tourmalet in 1910 (thankfully we had more than 2 gears)! Once over the top, it was time for the equally challenging dirt road descent to the valley below.

alpine_loop_2011_4

After this road, the ride was more of a blur, but in a good way. Our legs were toast, but the riding was fantastic – we rode through valleys, down deserted country roads, and through small West Virginia towns. Take a look at the picture below – it could just as easily be a photo from France or Switzerland as the Virginia/West Virginia countryside (and since we just rode in the Alps in July, this comparison was fresh in our minds).

alpine_loop_2011_5Onward we rolled, sometimes joining up with other riders in a small pack, and sometimes just sailing along by ourselves. The course was so well-marked that there was never a chance of getting lost, so we just found a rhythm and kept on pedaling. Eventually we made it to the final KOM climb of the day, a 6 mile ascent to Reddish Knob, up another dirt road, of course. We just kept telling ourselves, Jeremiah really rides this as a training ride!

alpine_loop_2011_6Once over the Shenandoah again, it was all downhill to the finish in Harrisonburg.  No, scratch that, it was sort of downhill to the finish. The last 20 or so miles wound their way through the rolling farm fields outside of town, with barely any flat road in sight. Our route was expertly mapped to bypass the main roads into town, opting for the purely pastoral path, with plenty of friendly locals waving hello as we rode by (we even passed an Amish horse and buggy).

alpine_loop_2011_7Finally we rolled into town and made it to the finish line festivities – with nary a flat tire between us all day thanks to our rugged Kenda tires. Food and finisher’s medals were waiting for us as soon as we crossed the finish line – the helpful volunteers even had moist towels ready so we could clean off a day’s worth of hard-earned grime. And it was indeed hard-earned, as we could see when we downloaded the data from our Garmin Edge 800 GPS bike computers. We rode over 90 miles in total, with almost 11,000 feet of climbing (and just as much descending). Once we got cleaned up, we caught up with Jeremiah to see what he thought about putting on his very first Gran Fondo, and also about his preparation for the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race (mixed with some ride highlights we captured with our Contour GPS helmet cam):

So would we ride it again? Absolutely (although maybe give us a week to recover)! If you judge by the results page, you’ll see that we didn’t exactly light up the record books, but that’s only part of what a Gran Fondo is all about. It’s really about challenging yourself, experiencing something new, and just having fun. Jeremiah and his team of volunteers (led by his wife Erin) made sure that all of those boxes were checked for the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo. Definitely make plans to give it a try next year, because now that Jeremiah has let everyone in on his secret training ride, this event is only going to get bigger and better. Just bring a positive attitude and your climbing legs and you’ll have a great time.

alpine_loop_2011_8To see all of our pictures from the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo, check out our photo album on Facebook.

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