Ridley In Yellow

Tony Gallopin's custom painted Ridley Helium SL celebrates his wearing of the Yellow Leaders Jersey

Tony Gallopin’s custom painted Ridley Helium SL celebrates his wearing of the Yellow Leaders Jersey

On behalf of Performance Bicycle, we’d like to congratulate Tony Gallopin and the entire Lotto-Belisol team for capturing the Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France yesterday. After a hard day of riding, Gallopin was able to take the overall lead of the race from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Few professional riders will ever have the honor to earn the Yellow leader’s jersey at The Tour, and Gallopin definitely earned it with an amazing ride that saw him finish over 8 minutes ahead of most of the other riders.

It’s a huge accomplishment, and a career-defining moment for Gallopin.

To honor the occasion, Ridley painted up a special bike for Tony. Joachim Aerts, founder and CEO of Ridley, came into the office late on Sunday to personally select, prep, and paint a Ridley Helium SL in Ridley‘s new “retro” paint scheme.. They worked fast, and managed to hand-deliver the bike to the team to be built up for the start of the next stage of the race today (Monday, 14 July).

Check out his new bike below.

Shop for Bikes of the Tour

Shop for Bikes of the Tour

Want to learn more? Check out our articles below.

Ridley Factory Tour

ridley_officeOne of the many highlights of our trip to Belgium was an opportunity to visit the Ridley Factory.

The cool thing about Ridley, and what really sets them apart from the crowd, is the fact that many of their frames are finished by hand in Belgium. The final frame prep, painting, clear coat, and assembly are all done by a small team at Ridley’s facility in Hasselt, near the heart of Flemish cycling.

We got to see the whole process from start to finish, and it was definitely pretty cool. The best part though was getting to check out all the eye candy at the end :).

Check out the photo galleries below to see more

Frame Prep

Painting and Decals

Clear Coat

Assembly

Eye Candy

Hear more from Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

 

See more about our trip to Belgium Here

Performance Visits The Paterberg

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This is going to hurt. At over 22% in places and entirely cobbled, the Paterberg is one of the toughest climbs in cycling

Sadly, cycling’s heroic cobbled classics races are now over for the year. Always one of the high points of the season, we were very fortunate to get to see one live this year. While in Belgium, our hosts, Ridley Bicycles, generously arranged for us to to be able to see the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the slopes of the Paterberg– a once in a lifetime chance we won’t soon forget.

Flemish cartpet

Flemish carpet

While only paved and added to the Ronde in 1986, the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status in cycling. This small hill– only about 260 feet tall and rising innocuously out of the Flemish countryside– seems insignificant when compared to giants like the Alpe d’Huez or the Angliru, but the Paterberg is a small monster in its own right: blowing apart races, ripping apart chains, and sometimes forcing even the hardest of the hardmen to dismount and walk.

We climbed the Paterberg as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo ride the day before the actual pro race, and it was every bit as difficult as it looks. Rising steeply at a pitch of nearly 13% and at times maxing out at a leg searing gradient in excess of 20%, all of it cobbled, the Paterberg is truly in a class with few equals. The hill is a devil to climb, with a grade that makes your breath scrape in your lungs and cobbles that don’t lightly forgive the rider who loses his focus, but it offers unparalleled rewards. At the top, you find yourself in a broad meadow covered in tall, waving grasses. Looking out from the Paterberg’s summit you take in a vista of rolling Flemish farm country, often viewed under the shifting light from racing clouds. Sheep and cattle graze in lush green fields that have been farmed for thousands of years.

A view of the race is open to all...provided you get there early enough

A view of the race is open to all…provided you get there early enough

Climbed twice in the race’s finale, the Paterberg is often the scene of an attack that detonates the race and truly separates the weak from the strong. And seeing that the Paterberg’s second ascent is also the final climb before the finish, it’s definitely where we wanted to be to witness what’s frequently the race’s deciding move.

When we got to the Paterberg, it was like arriving in cycling heaven. In a pasture field alongside the narrow road, hundreds of Belgian, Dutch, British and French cycling fans milled around, watching a giant outdoor video screen, waiting for the race to come through. The Lion of Flanders, the iconic yellow flag with a black lion that has been a symbol of northern Belgium for centuries, was on display everywhere. Lotto-Belisol and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep supporters waved small flags, and everyone wore the cycling cap or jersey of their favorite team. Nearby, a small stand was set up to sell Jupiler beer—a staple of Belgian cycling events, and another to sell frites in wax paper cones. Small children wandered around waving multiple Flanders flags and chanting “Tommke! Tommke! Tommke!” (Tom Boonen, the hometown favorite).

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

We settled into a decent spot where we could see both the screen and still be close enough to the road to get a good spot when the race came through. We could always tell where it was by watching the hovering helicopters covering the race. The closer the race got, the more crowded the hill became and the more the energy built.

Belgium is a country with cycling close to its heart. It’s difficult to explain how deeply two wheels run in Belgian culture– but these guys grow up riding, spend their autumn watching ‘cross, and come out by the millions to watch the Ronde. By the time the women’s race came around, the crowd was already pretty fired up, and cheered loudly as the first riders charged up the hill. One of the last riders in the group, a rider from Estado de México-Faren Kuota, broke her chain and was forced to walk. The crowd began to chant “Give her a bike! Give her a bike!” as team car after team car drove past.

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Riders in the women’s race are cheered on up the Paterberg

Several hours later when the men’s race came by, the crowd was in full-on party mode. As Tom Boonen came charging in with a group including Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and other favorites, the crowd rushed to the barricades, cheering for their hometown hero. The biggest show of support, though, was for a virtually unknown Cofidis domestique. His rear derailleur broke less than half way up the hill. With no team car in sight to get a new bike, he was forced to sit by the side of the road. By the time his car got to him, the rest of the peloton was far out of sight. At this point in the race, there would have been no shame in stopping. The Cofidis team was completely out of contention, and what remained was over an hour of brutal cobbled hills and roads with terrible headwinds, all of which he would have to ride alone. When his team car finally showed up, instead of getting inside he pulled a fresh bike off the roof, got back on and started pedaling. The crowd went nuts. Belgians love this kind of stuff. The guy who doesn’t give up, who keeps on going even when there’s no hope of winning.

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost (he’s waiting for a new bike)

After watching Mr. Cofidis get to the top, everyone moved back into position at either the Jupiler tent or in front of the big TV screen. Shortly after the first run up the Paterberg, Boonen found himself flailing and out of contention. At this point crowd allegiances switched to everyone’s favorite adopted Belgian, Fabian Cancellara. This subtle but quick shift didn’t seem to particularly bother anyone, so we just rolled with it too. When the race came around to the Paterberg the second time, the crowd rushed to the rails to watch Cancellara and Sep Vanmarck duel it out on the climb, trying to chase down a breakaway, then immediately proceeded to ignore the rest of the peloton and  ran back to the video monitor.

In the closing kilometers, the crowd packed in tighter and tighter to watch. People cheered on their favorite riders in a cacophony languages, and the crowd took on a collective energy that felt almost overwhelming. It was without a doubt the most intense excitement we’ve ever felt during a bike race. In the final meters, as the race came down to a match sprint, the crowd roared and the tension built. When Cancellara finally edged out Greg Van Avermaet for the win, it felt like a wave finally broke over us, the tension released with a huge rush of cheers.

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Walking back down to the car, we stepped over discarded paper Lion of Flanders flags, crushed Jupiler cans and lost Lotto-Belisol team caps. The dust from the race still hung heavy in the air over the cobbled roads. The people we passed seemed subdued, spent somehow from the excitement of watching the race. In the absence of the cheering crowds, the Flemish countryside seemed oddly quiet and empty. To watch  live and in person that we’d seen so many times on TV was an experience that would take us a long time to really full comprehend. The riders go so fast, and the race is so frenetic, that it’s not until long after the riders have passed that it sinks in what you’ve just seen. But it’s not something we’re ever likely to forget.

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 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”.

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