Ridley Orion £1599, £999 frame, fork, FSA headset
Is there no stopping Ridley? First there were some truly exceptional ‘cross bikes, then the seminal Damocles with its Sharp Edge Design tube section and ProTour presence as the choice of Robbie McEwen’s Davitamon Lotto team, and now the new-for-2007 Orion. Pro Tour material it may not be, but it is unquestionably a fine road bike at a very attractive price that will satisfy anyone from Etape du Tour participants to 2nd cat road racers.
The general appearance is vaguely reminiscent of Cervelo’s R3, thanks to the boxy down tube and substantial chainstays. However, beefy seat stays and a kind of tri-lobe top tube with flat upper surface give the Orion a distinctive look of its own, which is enhanced by Ridley’s traditional high-quality colour scheme and decals. The top tube shields the rear brake cable, and is wide but not excessively so. Aluminium rear dropouts are shaped to permit a quick wheel change, and there’s a replaceable gear hanger. The frame is made using High Modulus carbon fibres, much of it uni-directional, for enhanced stiffness. Twill is used as an outer layer in high-stress areas such as the seat cluster. Overall the frame is well thought-out with pleasing detailing, including double bottle cage bosses, and a high-quality finish. Weight is a claimed 1250g, which may even be pessimistic going by the bike’s all-up weight of around 8kg.
The Ridley-owned 4ZA brand provides the Fenix all-carbon fork as well as the dual-pivot brake calipers, while Ritchey supplies the bars, stem and seat post. The STI shifters and gear mechs are Shimano Ultegra 10, the compact crankset is an FSA Gossamer with aluminium cranks and outboard bearings, and wheels are Fulcrum’s new Racing 7 model.
The 4ZA saddle looks potentially uncomfortable, but proved precisely the opposite from the first pedal stroke. The ‘bars are possibly on the wide side for a medium-sized machine, albeit well-shaped with a long bottom run that gives plenty of potential hand positions.
Setting up the bike provided a couple of challenges, since it is a lot smaller than the reviewer would normally ride. We contacted Ridley to ask for a set of 175mm cranks, which we got. However, the only crankset in this length readily available at Ridley had cyclo-cross style 46-36 chainrings, which we kept. Lowered to suit, the standard Ultegra front mech worked perfectly with the small outer chainring.
The other component to go was the 10cm stem, in exchange for a 13cm Ritchey stem that put the bars in exactly the right place. The frame’s geometry, with 73degree head angle, 54cm top tube and 74degree seat tube, offers considerable scope for fine tuning riding position, especially when combined with a seatpost with plenty of layback. The head tube is designed to be longer than usual for the frame size, reducing the number of spacers that might be needed and therefore enhancing front end stiffness. We were able to get our example properly set up despite it being smaller than the ideal.
The only problem encountered during set up was headset adjustment. The Fenix fork has a carbon steerer and comes with an expanding internal bung. There is also a thin aluminium shim that fits inside the steerer, presumably to protect its surface from the bung. Even with the bung done up tight, the shim would slide around, making proper headset adjustment impossible. Omitting the shim did not help because the bung is sized so that when tightened fully it is just smaller in diameter than the inside of the steerer. This protects the steerer from being overstressed when the bung is tightened. The solution was to Araldite the shim to the inside of the steerer to give the bung something to bite.
First ride impressions were immediately favourable despite the poorly adjusted headset. The frame is impressively stiff in torsion; this, combined with precise but stable steering geometry made for rapier line changes in London commuter traffic. The Orion also held a line easily on corners, although the short wheelbase inherent in a smaller sized frame left it feeling a little uncertain on the limit. Set up for a lighter rider of more suitable stature, it would surely feel entirely happy at this point.
Headset adjusted, the Orion really shone both in heavy traffic and at speed. The massively stiff chainstays and downtube provide a superb pedalling platform, while the frame as a whole rides bigger bumps with near indifference and an eerie lack of the bangs and cracks often associated with carbon frames at this price point.
FSA’s Gossamer cranks do the job, but are by no means the equal of the hollow Hollowtech II cranks found in Shimano’s R700 Compact Double. Otherwise, the specification is near impossible to fault. The Fulcrum wheels are especially impressive, although the front had a hint of play that proved impossible to remove with normal tools. These wheels have the feel of hoops that will last a long time with minimal attention; consider buying a lighter pair as an occasional performance boost.