Ribble Aero 883 road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Ribble Aero 883 road bike – review

Does the internet hold the key to pairing you up with your perfect bike? Ribble think so and believe its online bike builder could be the cycling equivalent of Cupid’s bow

Thanks to the internet, our lives are immeasurably easier. We can instantly communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, the answer to any question is only a few keystrokes away and the products we want to buy can be purchased for less and delivered straight to our homes.

Even life’s thornier issues have been smoothed out by the internet. Finding a partner, for instance. All the time, effort and hassle of meeting someone, romancing them and building a relationship can be bypassed by filling out an online checklist and then handing over your bank details. Everlasting happiness with nothing more than a few electronic exchanges.

Or so we’re lead to believe. But can such couplings offer the same emotional bond as those that have grown organically through the chance encounters and budding affection of the more traditional – and perhaps overly romanticised – path?

The Aero 883 is Ribble’s aerodynamic road bike, developed in conjunction with Performance Engineered Solutions in Sheffield

Who knows? But before the arrival of the internet, choosing a new bike followed a similar process to choosing a potential partner: you saw one you liked the look of, spent some time with it to see how you got on together, perhaps taking a test ride at a shop, and, if there was a spark, you made the investment. And while plenty of people still follow that process, others are opting for the convenience and savings to be found by going down the online route.

Going online

Ribble was an early adopter of the internet sales model, going online in 2001. But the Lancashire-based company had been letting its customers spec their bikes from a distance for a long time already, having introduced a mail order arm to its Preston shop back in 1987.

Today, all Ribble’s bikes are sold direct to customers over the internet and with the frame and component options available through its online bike builder, you can customise your ride-to-be to your heart’s content. Which is all well and good, but is it any more likely to result in a bike you love than if you’d been able to get to know the bike before you took the plunge? To find out if online convenience can trump face-to-face fate, I agreed to be temporarily wedded to Ribble’s Aero 883.

  • Specification

  • Price: £2,088.89
  • Weight: 7.7kg
  • Sizes: 51cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm
  • Size tested: 58cm
  • Website: Ribble Cycles

The Aero 883 is Ribble’s full-carbon, aerodynamic road frame, designed in conjunction with Sheffield’s Performance Engineered Solutions. It features tubes of varying profiles and sizes, internal cable routing for the mechs and rear brake, and direct-mount calipers, with the rear unit hidden behind the bottom bracket shell. It’s a sleek, good-looking chassis with the sort of flat sides and sharp edges you might see on a stealth fighter. Ribble doesn’t provide any performance data for the Aero 883, so how it stacks up aerodynamically against the competition is unknown, but if appearances are anything to go by, it’s a decent foundation upon which to build.

The 883 was gradually tailored into my idea of a perfect partner using Ribble’s online bike builder. The frame was specced up with an 11-speed Shimano Ultegra groupset (53-39t chainrings and 12-25t cassette), a Fizik Arione saddle, Deda Trentacinque bars and stem, and Shimano RS81 wheels shod with 25mm Schwalbe Durano tyres for a final price of £2,088.89.

All of which is very nice kit and, on paper, was certainly enough to appeal to my head. But would it be able to win my heart when we finally met?

Love at first sight?

Unboxing the Aero 883 or, if you prefer, lifting the veil on it, is an exciting moment. First impressions, on the whole, are encouraging – it looks to be a classy, carefully sculpted frame with tight clearances between the front wheel and downtube, and rear wheel and seattube.

But it’s not without a few quirks. The first is on the seatstays. With the rear brake hidden behind the bottom bracket shell, the seatstays have nothing to carry and without a bridge to link them appear to be spaced very far apart.

Then there’s the seatpost clamp, which is probably the oddest design anyone’s ever come up with. Instead of a typical collar or internal wedge, the clamp on the Aero 883 relies on a vertically aligned plate inside the seattube which sandwiches the seatpost against the back of the tube’s wall. It’s an unconventional idea that does a very good job of holding the seatpost in place (there was no slippage throughout the entire test period despite a lack of carbon fibre grip gel) but it creates a couple of problems.

Ribble Aero 883 road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Ribble Aero 883 road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Ribble Aero 883 road bike - review (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The first is that the seatpost needs a slot running up its spine to accommodate the two Torx bolts that tighten the plate down. The result of which is that anything more than about 20cm of saddle elevation leaves the slot exposed, allowing the muck and moisture thrown up by the rear wheel to get into the frame. And once inside, it simply trickles down the seattube and collects around the bottom bracket.

The second problem is that the clamp uses two Torx bolts, one of which is located, naturally, on the back of the seattube at the top. The other, however, is approximately eight centimetres below it, which can make accessing it difficult. Use a long-shafted Torx wrench, it’s difficult to get at the bolt without the rear tyre getting in the way. Opt for a wide-bodied multi-tool instead and you don’t get much of a turn before you run into one of the seatstays.

These quirks are hardly what you’d call deal breakers but they’re examples of those unexpected peculiarities you’ll have to embrace if you are going to learn to love this bike. Generally speaking, despite a couple of peculiarities, you come away from the initial introduction to the 883 with good feelings.

On the road

Being an aero bike the 883 comes to life at speed. Once you get it above 20mph it’s really in its element, and the faster you go, the more at home it feels. It holds speed with ease and gives you the sensation of having almost endless momentum on the flat.

That sense of being caught in a tide also makes the 883 feel surprisingly capable on long, gradual climbs, where the distance present more of a challenge than the gradient.

The only trouble is until you reach the sort of speed that sparks it into life, the 883 feels like it’s lacking something. It’s not exactly lethargic but it doesn’t quite take off with every pedal stroke the way the best road bikes do. And, in a way, that’s probably to be expected.

The lower bolt on Aero 883’s integrated seatpost isn’t particularly easy to access, while the internal slot is prone to collecting dirt

Any aero bike is essentially a halfway house between a road bike and a time trial machine. The trick to making a good one is to blend the best parts of both – the road bike’s lively handling and the TT bike’s drag-reducing design. But in some cases a TT bike’s aero benefits are tied up with cumbersome handling, and untying that knot is a difficult proposition. Very few bike makers have successfully managed it and, based on the ride the Aero 883 offers, Ribble isn’t among them. It’s great at speed and in straight lines but there’s a hint of gondola to its accelerating and cornering.

For the most part, it’s perfectly fine, but it’s just that every now and again you notice it wallow a little through a bend or seem a little reluctant to pick up speed. Put simply, it lacks the spark that you find on the best pure road bikes. The 883 ticks all the boxes it needs to, just not the one you really want it to in creating a truly captivating ride.

And that ultimately is the risk you take with anything you buy, sight unseen, over the internet. It’s more a marriage of convenience than one of passion. You can specify and tailor whatever it might be as much as you like but there’s no way of knowing if it really what you’re looking for until you’ve spent some time with it.

However, Ribble may have struck the balance between online convenience and first-hand experience by recently introducing a 30-day ‘test ride’ period for its bikes (and a six-year warranty). It’s a generous policy – bikes can be ridden, with wear and tear accepted – and will allow customers to get to know their bike ‘in the flesh’. Dissatisfied customers can return the bike or have the components swapped onto a different frame. Alternatively, if you can get to the Ribble HQ in Preston, you’ll find the entire Ribble range on display.

Ribble’s online bike builder allows you to spec your bike as you please. We dressed the Aero 883 in Shimano Ultegra

Conclusion

The Ribble Aero 883 is a tempting prospect on paper – or, more accurately on web page. And being able to configure it to your preferred specification, whether that be price or performance, makes it an even more attractive proposition. But while there’s a lot to like about the 883, including it’s aero prowess at speed and efficiency, it also has a few quirks that stop us from absolutely loving it. If you’re considering taking the plunge, Ribble’s 30-day test ride gives you the chance to buy online and try it for yourself.

Pros

  • Great at going fast in a straight line
  • Stealthy good looks
  • Can be specced with exactly the kit you want
  • Quibble-free 30-day test ride

Cons

  • Don’t know exactly what you’re getting until it arrives
  • Seatpost clamp and debris-collecting slot
  • Lacks a little excitement
  • Mushy rear brake

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