Ridley Orion Review

Ridley Orion at Cap de Formentor, MallorcaRidley bikes of Belgium are perhaps best known for their Noah range of aero bikes and their wide range of cyclo cross bikes, but a very popular model in their range is the Orion. The Orion sits in what Ridley call their “Endurance” range (as opposed to “Aero” or “Stiffness to Weight”), and are the cheapest carbon road bikes in their range. At just over £1500 for the C10 105 version, there are cheaper carbon road bikes on the market, but this is a good price point to examine exactly what you can get for your money from a big brand name as opposed to a web based company.

The Orion’s proving ground would be the beautiful Balearic island of Mallorca, a playground for roadies that was once referred to by Bradley Wiggins as “Scalextric for Cyclists”. A million miles from the drunken nightlife of Magaluf or the packed tourist beaches to the South of the Island, the real Mallorca has to be seen to be believed. Through the centre of the island are picturesque, winding country roads making their way through endless vineyards, agricultural land, windmills and tiny, traditional towns and villages barely touched by tourism. Running from the South West to the North East of the island is the stunning Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, through which snakes multiple climbs worthy of any cyclist’s bucket list, including the infamous and daunting Sa Calobra, a 10km / 668 metre climb with 26 hairpin bends from sea level up to the peak of Col de Reis.

Ridley OrionFirst impressions of the Orion is that it’s not the lightest bike in the world. A quick scan over the bike reveals the reasons why – Fulcrum 7 wheels, the lower end of 4ZA (Ridley’s own brand) finishing kit, and a Shimano 105 groupset. The frame itself isn’t designed to be an ultra light race frame either – it’s built from the slightly lower grade 24 ton modulus carbon fibre (which usually requires more raw material to hit the required strength & stiffness). Put all this together and we have a bike that tips the scales at 19lbs in the XXS size. However, to mark the Orion down on weight alone would be unfair – the Orion is designed and specced to hit a price point, which it does admirably.

Out on the Mallorcan roads the Orion’s 19lb weight isn’t an issue. You find within the first few miles of riding the budget Ridley that it is a proper road racing bicycle, and despite it’s endurance tag, this bike is designed with going fast in mind. Despite this, I wanted to test it’s credentials as an endurance bike as that’s how Ridley markets it, so a long day in the saddle was called for – touring the Island’s villages from North to South with a lunchtime of reflection in the quiet town of Petra.

Ridley Orion in Campanet, MallorcaFor the most part, Mallorca’s roads are silky smooth, mainly due to the fairer winter weather and regular resurfacing. That’s not to say all the roads are good – some minor roads are little better than tracks, and the roads from Campanet to the wine producing town of Binissalem (via Moscari, Biniamar, and Lloseta) serve as a great place to test the comfort of a bike. The Orion does a reasonable job of smoothing out the road chatter, poor road surface and smaller potholes, about what you would expect for this price point. There are other bikes available that offer more comfort, but they would lose out heavily to the Ridley Orion in other areas.

Once onto the smoother roads, the Orion becomes an extremely competent cruiser. The front end isn’t overly responsive, which makes for a predictable and confident ride, but as I discovered later, it is still twitchy enough to give you a fright if you don’t give it the respect it deserves. The miles that were built up on the Orion over the smooth roads around the fruit groves, vineyards and through the sleepy Mallorcan villages were proving to be pleasant ones, and I was really enjoying my time on the Ridley.

Petra, MallorcaAt Petra, I took time to give the bike a good look over. The great thing about the Ridley is, unlike a lot of lower priced carbon frame bikes, this isn’t what’s called an “open mould”. An open mould is a frame mould owned by a factory, and frames from it can be sold to any company who wants to paint and retail them, and is a very cheap way of getting frames to market. It’s important to remember that not all carbon frames are created equal. As with all Ridleys, the Belgian company has designed the Orion themselves, and the pedigree shows. The frame uses Ridley’s trademark diamond shaped downtube and toptube, which is not only intended to increase stiffness but also side impact strength, and also gives the bike a visual presence rarely found in budget carbon frames. The seatstay is a rear monostay that meets massive boxy chainstays, presumably designed to retain lateral stiffness whilst providing the comfort required of an endurance bike. As expected at this price, cable routing is external with a screw in bottom bracket and a alloy steerer tube on the carbon fork. My particular bike had a unidirectional carbon finish, but the bike is available in the UK in black or white. All in all, the Orion is a handsome looking bike, and visually doesn’t try too hard.

Ridley Orion diamond downtubeA couple of days later, I would take the opportunity to test the bike’s ability to climb. With sore legs from 2 long days in the saddle, and with only a morning to spare, I’d use the time to take the 40 mile ride from our base in Alcanada to Cap de Formentor and back. The ride to the Cap is very popular as it is challenging without requiring an entire day to complete and takes in stunning views of the Balearic Sea and Cala Figuera bay, with the reward of coffee and cake at the lighthouse at Far de Formentor looking out over the Med. It’s a ride I usually do on my first day of a week’s training in Mallorca, as it gives me a short but valuable opportunity to find my climbing legs. Climbing from Pollensa to the view point at Formentor is usually a good indicator of two things – firstly how my legs are and secondly how well my hire bike climbs. My legs weren’t great – this wasn’t a pleasant re-introduction to climbing. The bike, whilst it predictably lacked the urgency of more expensive race bikes, was plenty stiff enough to transfer pedal power into forward motion with no real drama. There was no noticeable deflection in the bottom bracket area, and when I needed to get out of the saddle the bike responded well. The real problem with the bike is the wheels – at over 2kg without tyres, the Fulcrum 7s aren’t the best choice for climbing, and I could feel the wheels bogging the bike down whenever the road pointed upwards. Over the first climb, I zipped my jersey up, got out of the saddle and accelerated for the descent. The Orion had lulled me into a false sense of security on the flatlands, as the front end that had been a bit lazy on the flat suddenly became twitchy and light downhill. I soon found myself weaving around the cars and hitting the corners at speed, with my confidence in the Orion building with every turn. Again, lighter wheels would have made the Orion even more competent here. Over the second climb my initial thoughts were confirmed – the Orion is a very a competent climber that is stifled by the wheel choice.

At the Cap, I again took time to appreciate the subtle looks of the Ridley Orion, and found that it was attracting admiring glances from other riders (especially those who were riding Centurion hire bikes from the island’s largest tour operator). I had really begun to enjoy riding the Orion, and considered what I would change if the bike was mine. Obviously, the wheels would go. The Shimano 105 groupset had performed as expected, without fault, if a little uninteresting to look at. An upgrade to a set of Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels would turn the bike into a completely different machine, one worthy of a place in my bike room. The other immediate change would be the saddle. Saddles are obviously very personal, but I had found the 4ZA saddle to be nothing but uncomfortable, and certainly not up to long days in the saddle.

Ridley Orion C10The Orion then is something of a find. In standard build, it represents a real bargain, and would be a fantastic upgrade for someone with an aluminium bike looking to make their first foray into the world of carbon fibre. More than that though, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, with a frameset that punches way above it’s weight and budget. At this price point there are “Internet bikes” with better overall specifications (which can be misleading to customers who assume that means a better bike), but Ridley has really done it’s homework with the design of the frame and forks. Ultimately, that’s where your money is going and there aren’t many frames that get close to the Orion at this price.

Ridley Orion C20At £1500 for a 105 equipped race bike with a proper carbon fibre frame, you can’t go wrong. As an entry point into carbon, the Orion has every box ticked, and as an ongoing investment, there’s plenty of room for upgrades that are worthy of the quality chassis, starting with the wheels and saddle. Ridley also offer a slightly cheaper version of the Orion called the Orion C20, equipped with a Tiagra groupset and 4ZA wheels for £1325.00.