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.

Introducing the Garmin Edge 1000 GPS

Garmin has stepped up their GPS game with the brand new Edge 1000 GPS. The color touchscreen Edge 1000 GPS bike computer puts in-ride challenges, via Garmin Connect segments with real-time results, and bike-specific navigation at your fingertips – all on a rugged, dual-orientation display with a large, high resolution 3.0″ full-color screen that is optimized for use with gloves and in the rain.

Garmin Edge 1000 GPS

Garmin Edge 1000 GPS has a bright 3.0″ display

Packed with lots of new features, the Edge 1000 GPS bike computer is still easy to use, and even adjusts the display automatically for low light areas, like shady spots and tunnels. You can transform your ride into a race by competing on Garmin Connect segments and view real-time results, including alerts for segment start and finish, and leaderboard rankings. Navigate the best cycling roads and explore new on-road and off-road routes with the preloaded Garmin Cycling Map and RoundTrip Routing function. Enter routes to specific Points of Interest, like your favorite restaurants, or just plug in a distance and let the Edge 1000 GPS pick a route for you!

Garmin Edge 1000 out-front mount

New out-front mount is included with the Garmin Edge 1000

The Edge 1000 GPS has connected features, like incoming calls, emails and text alerts from your iPhone 4S or later, social media sharing, sending/receiving courses, live tracking, and wireless uploads to Garmin Connect. It also provides advanced performance analysis, including integration with compatible Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems. Pair your Edge 1000 GPS with an ANT+ heart rate monitor, speed sensor, cadence sensor or compatible power meter for a finely tuned analysis of your ride.

Order your Garmin Edge 1000 GPS today – either the Garmin Edge 1000 GPS or the Garmin Edge 100 GPS Bundle, which includes a heart rate monitor strap and speed/cadence sensor.

Diamondback Interval Carbon Flat Bar Road Bike

It’s not everyday that the most exciting bike in our offices turns out to be a flatbar road bike. Now, we don’t mean any disrespect…flatbar road bikes are fun to ride, comfortable and offer plenty of advantages… but they usually aren’t the bikes that everyone in the office crowds around to see. That is until the Diamondback Interval Carbon Flat Bar road bike showed up.

Diamondback Interval Carbon Flat Bar Road Bike

Diamondback Interval Carbon Flat Bar Road Bike

First off, lets start with that paint job. Wow. Between the amazing job they did on the Podium series and now this, we’d say that Diamondback’s graphics department is knocking it out of the park right now. With the subtle, nuanced paint job, pops of color, and thoughtfully designed graphics, this is a bike that will definitely turn heads out on the road. Or outside your garage. Or parked outside the coffee shop. Pretty much anywhere. And that frame isn’t all just pretty paint either. With the Interval Carbon, the true beauty lies in the details. The Interval Carbon is built around a high performance, full carbon frame with a nice, relaxed sloping geometry that’s easy on the shoulders and back, but is definitely stiff and responsive enough to have some get up and go if you’re so inclined. But take a look at the frame around the stem…see the top tube junction scoops down into the head tube? That’s a feature normally found on high-end time trial and aero road bikes to decrease the aerodynamic profile of the bike. And lets look at that fork, it looks shockingly like a time trial fork. With it’s narrow profile and a sculpted fairing that helps eliminate drag space with the down tube. But it also includes disc mounts. And fender braze-ons. The bike also has internal cable routing, and is compatible with both mechanical and electronic groupsets.

One of the most distinctive elements of the frame is the recessed head tube area

One of the most distinctive elements of the frame is the recessed head tube area

This is a bike that truly marries performance and comfort in the best possible way. Out of the box it’s equipped with a set of flat handlebars, Shimano Tiagra 10-speed trigger shifters and derailleurs and a set of hydraulic disc brakes. This gives you plenty of gearing and powerful stopping power to get around on any roads. Nice, big tire clearance lets you run some fairly large volume tires, and still gives you room for fenders. There is also a set of rack mounts in the back, if you’re the type that prefers to put your stuff on the bike instead of your back. The really intriguing thing to us though is how versatile this bike is. We took it out for a quick spin around the parking lot, and were really surprised at not only how fun it was ride, but also how responsive and lively it felt. This is a bike that responds to rider input, both in the pedals and the handlebars.

With a little bit of technical know-how, a rider could easily have multiple road bikes in the Diamondback Interval Carbon. Want to do a charity ride or just get out for some exercise on the weekend? Roll it out of the garage and you’ll have a comfortable bike that will go as fast as you want it to. Commuting or cruising around town? Throw a rack on it, some fenders and you have a super comfortable, practical bike for getting around. Doing a fast ride or even racing? Replace the flat bar and trigger shifters with some drop bars and Shimano STI levers, and you would have one sweet carbon fiber disc-brake road bike. If you’re looking for a bike that delivers the very best of all worlds, with unmatched performance, versatility, and flexibility, we would definitely recommend the Diamondback Interval Carbon flatbar road bike.

Our Favorite Youtube Videos

Have you checked out the Performance Bicycle Youtube channel lately? If not, it’s definitely worth a peek. It’s packed full of Product Reviews, Buyer’s Guides, Riding Tips, How To Guides, and more to help you find the products you want, stay up to date, and help you get more out of your bike and gear.

Of the hundreds of videos we have, here are some of our favorites:

 

 Riding Tips

Ever wondered what the best way to clear that log in your path was? Learn how in our How To Jump A Log video:

 

How To Guides

Adjusting your front derailleur is more art than science. To get the hang of it, check out our How To Adjust Your Front Derailleur video:

 

Buyer’s Guides

Shopping around for a new indoor trainer? We break down the different types to choose from in our Guide To Indoor Trainers video:

 

Product Reviews

Looking for a great pair of all-around wheels? Check out our product review of the Zipp 202 Firecrest wheels.

Product Profile: Nuun Active Hydration

nuun active hydration

You may have seen one of the tubes of Nuun active hydration (pronounced “Noon”) in one of our local Performance Bicycle stores and wondered what was up with these tiny tabs that you drop into your water bottle. Nuun was originally the brainchild of a professor from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. An avid cyclist, he longed for a lightweight, easy to use hydration method that didn’t involve a sticky high-calorie mess. His research led to the creation of the sugarless, dissolvable, and portable tablet called Nuun – separating electrolyte replacement from carbohydrates. You get the electrolytes your body needs during a hard ride, without the sugars or carbohydrates that can cause stomach upset or inhibit absorption.

Nuun Active Hydration

Nuun Active Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun Active Hydration Drink Tablets

The original Nuun Active Hydration drink tabs are portable, taste great and deliver a fast-absorbing electrolyte blend without the sugar or waste of bottled sport drinks. Just pop out a Nuun tablet from the tube, drop it in your water bottle, toss the tube in your jersey pocket and you’re ready to go. It also contains 4 essential electrolytes that when combined with water, give you optimal and balanced hydration — sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Plus the refreshing flavor with a bit of fizz reminds you to keep drinking.

Nuun All Day Hydration

Nuun All Day Natural Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun All Day Natural Hydration Drink Tablets

Nuun All Day Hydration drink tablets are a vitamin enhanced formula to help you stay hydrated throughout the day. They’ll keep you healthy, energized and focused, with a crisp, refreshing flavor that goes down easy. With zero sugar, all natural ingredients, and under 8 calories per serving, you can add more water to your daily routine with Nuun All Day.

Nuun Energy

Nuun Energy

New Nuun Energy tablets

The newest member of the Nuun family is Nuun Energy drink tablets. Nuun Energy takes their essential electrolyte mix and elevates it with a caffeine boost, and energizing B Vitamins. There is still no sugar, just the same light and refreshing Nuun flavors with the electrolytes you need to make the most of your water, but enhanced with B Vitamins to turn carbohydrates into accessible fuel and caffeine to energize your mind and body without the crash.

You can buy Nuun online at PerformanceBike.com and in your local Performance Bicycle store.

 

Check out our Learning Center for more info from our Advanced Guide to Hydration.

Ridden and Reviewed: Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 Carbon Hardtail Mountain Bike

Race-ready with the Fuji SLM

Our coworker Eddie getting ready to race with the Fuji SLM

We first had an opportunity to throw a leg over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 at the Outdoor Dirt Demo. It was hot off the presses at the time and was something like the 48th bike claiming to be “The Ultimate Bike Ever Made” that we’d seen that day. By this point in the afternoon though, we needed to see some proof in the pudding. You can’t imagine our surprise when after a couple of laps the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 turned out to be our favorite bike of the day.

IMG_5922

About The Bike:

The Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 is a 29″ carbon fiber hardtail bike that’s tailor made for the XC and racing markets. Reading over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 parts spec, there’s a lot to be impressed by. This is a carbon fiber hardtail that’s dripping with XTR. XTR shifters and derailleurs, sure. But brakes? Cassette? Chain? This bike is decked out in Shimano’s highest level of racing components with only the carbon Oval M600 Crankset breaking the pattern. Why would Fuji decide to pass on Shimano’s crankset? As anyone who has recently spec’d a mountain bike will tell you, Shimano doesn’t make their XTR crankset with a true PF30 spindle. You can get an adapter for the Hollowtech II spindle, but if you truly want to take advantage of the increased stiffness afforded to you by the SLM’s PF30 bottom bracket, a crankset like the Oval M600 is going to deliver.

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The next area that the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 excels in is the frame. Rather than trying to pass off some lesser carbon fiber as the next big thing, Fuji actually uses the next big thing. C15 super-light high-modulus carbon outfitted with internal shift cable routing, the aforementioned PF30 bottom bracket, a tapered headtube and wide 142x12mm dropouts. This makes for one of the lightest hardtail frames available while also providing stiffness to spare. The bike darts uphill so fast you will leave your friends in the dust.

Fuji also offers Fuji SLM 29er 1.3, 2.1, and 2.3 to make it easy for riders to find the 29″ hardtail to fit their needs and skill levels

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The Ride:

Enough about the components, let’s get to the riding! The very first experience we had on board the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 was one that would be repeated with nearly every ride: the tester riding the SLM 1.1 had to wait at the top of the climb for everyone else to catch up. The 29” wheels and knobby tires gave confidence to spare on the descents and it even held its own through moderate rock sections. Where this bike truly excels, however, is the climbing. You’ll float uphill as though the tires are filled with helium.

Another thing that became clear in the ride quality is that this bike was spec’d by someone who really rides and understands mountain bikes. A perfect example is the handlebar. Sure, it was probably picked out of Oval’s lineup for being the lightest bar they make at an amazing 185g. But that’s not all a bar is about. This bar is 710mm wide and has a 9 degree sweep giving the rider confident handling and a comfortable hand position.

Well spec'd parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

Well spec’d parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

The Verdict:

Thoughtful component choices and a finely tuned ride quality make this one of the finest hardtails we’ve ever ridden. This bike is for the rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance from his machine, who wants to win races, and who will settle for nothing but the best.  The XC racing bike snob will be as happy as the everyday trail warrior. They are all sweet perfection in mountain biking, balancing weight, comfort, and performance. If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail that you’ll never want to part with, look no further than the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1. The bike was so fast, that we all started arguing about who would get to use our demo model for the upcoming race season. Sitting atop the Fuji, our coworker Eddie rocketed straight to the top of the podium.

Most races on the SLM end only one way: the top of the podium

Most races on the SLM 1.1 end only one way: the top of the podium (#3 left early, it wasn’t just a two person race)

Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

I’m not much of a mountain biker. Mostly, I get my kicks—such as they are—on the road. I dabble every now and again, but nothing serious. That is until the dreaded Polar Vortex (I, II, or III– I can’t remember which now) pummeled our North Carolina office with a couple of inches (gasp!) of snow, taking road cycling off the table. I was getting all ready to not ride a bike at all and go lift, when instead I was given a chance to test ride the Charge Cooker Maxi fat bike on a snowy trail ride. I scrounged around for some ill-fitting clothing, geared up and headed out. I admit I looked at the bike dubiously, but within minutes of getting on, I was sold.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Big fat bike, big fat fun.

About The Bike: The Charge Cooker Maxi is a fat bike with a steel frame and fork. The bike is designed to accommodate massive, 26X4” tires that mount on 26” x 80mm wide Wienmann rims. This gives you the feel of riding a full suspension bike without all the mechanical moving parts. The bike is a beast that can pretty much roll over anything, and is great for snow, sand, loose dirt, or just generally finding your inner-gnar on the trail. It’s equipped with a SRAM X5 2×10 drivetrain (with an FSA Comet crank).

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance, and rack braze-ons make it ideal for bike camping or other off-road touring

Unboxing and Set Up: My Charge Cooker Maxi was already set up as a demo bike, but it should be generally straight forward, since it’s basically a conventional full-rigid mountain bike (with massive tires), so you don’t have to worry about setting suspension sag or fork rebound. The only thing to be aware of is pumping up the tires— they’re so big that even getting to the ultra-low volume of 8-10 PSI can take you several minutes.

I added a set of Forte Platform pedals, bringing the weight to about: 36.6 lbs.

The Ride:  Taking the bike out on the trails in the snow was just pure fun. At first I was a little nervous riding the bike over the snow and compacted ice, but all my worry turned out to be for naught. The bike handled the snow, ice, and buried trail hazards with ease. The feel of the bike is less like riding a mountain bike and more like driving an Abrams tank, sans cannon. It didn’t so much roll over the snow as churn through it, and I rarely felt like I lost traction (actually, the only time I did was when I tried to take an icy corner too tight). I truly felt like I could roll over just about anything—which proved to be the case. Because the tires are so huge, and have such a low volume, the bike can handle rough trail like a full suspension bike—making tackling rocks, logs and trail bumps feel easy and comfortable, but the full rigid frame and fork gave a feel of pedaling efficiency you sometimes don’t get from a full-squish bike.

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike isn’t the lightest thing in the world, particularly if you’re used to a featherweight XC rig, but to lament it’s weight is to kind of miss the point. The fat bike isn’t about winning races, it’s about going anywhere you’ve ever wanted to go on a bike. Even with all that heft, it’s still maneuverable and light enough that I was able to chase down some of that ever-elusive Fat Bike Air at one point. Handling was pretty easy, and didn’t feel nearly as sluggish as I had expected. The bike easily got up to speed, and carried momentum nicely into turns. The mechanical disc brakes provide great all-weather stopping power that easily scrubbed speed and provided well-modulated stopping power when I needed it.

The gearing on the bike is also nice and low, so you can spin at a high cadence, but still generate plenty of torque and power to tackle almost anything in your path. One small niggle I did have was fit. Because of the geometry modifications that had to be made to the chainstays to accommodate the massive rear tire, I found the q-factor on the cranks to be a little too wide for me, however that was fixed by simply switching from clipless pedals to a pair of platforms. This actually turned out to be preferable anyway, since I was able to wear hiking boots instead which were A) warmer, and B) easier to get off the bike and go check out stuff off the trail.

Tackling the snow and ice was easy-- and a blast

Tackling the snow and ice was easy– and a blast

The bike also incorporates rack mounts, which make it almost ideal for bikepacking or really getting out and exploring the back country. With no suspension to worry about, the Cooker Maxi would be a nice and dependable rig for some serious trail trips. I love touring and s24o (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping, so I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of taking the fat bike out and exploring the mountains of western North Carolina this summer.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a fun, versatile, go-anywhere bike, the Charge Cooker Maxi is definitely for you. No matter what conditions or terrain, I have no doubts that this bike could handle them with ease. The Cooker Maxi takes the best aspects of a full-suspension and a hardtail and mixes them together—but with more utility. If you’re not worried about racing, but just want a pure adventure machine then this is the bike for you.

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The adventures on this bike have just begun

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