RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Road

Ritchey Break-Away Road Ti / Carbon Review

Ritchey Breakaway Ti

I have had my Ritchey Break-Away for exactly two months.  We have done fifteen rides together.  I do try to be fair and alternate between my three bikes.  Although by default any rides that involve significant travel will now be on the Ritchey.  We covered 1,025 km / 635 mi.  There has been about 7,100 meters / 23,300 feet of climbing.

My other bikes are a steel framed Alchemy with carbon chain stays and fork, and a titanium framed Alchemy with carbon seat stays, chain stays and fork.  The Alchemys have identical geometries.  The Ritchey has a 56cm frame.  The tube lengths and angles of the Ritchey are as close to those of the Alchemys as dammit is to swearing.  All have SRAM group sets.  All have Ritchey carbon seat posts and cockpits.  All have Easton EA90 SLX wheels.  I like the tried and tested!

I include all that detail as a prelude to describing the differences between these bikes.  In the hope that it heads off a potential firestorm amongst all you aficionados out there around the relative virtues of steel versus titanium as a bike frame material, and the effect of tire choice, frame geometry, tube size etc. etc. on the ride quality of said bike frame materials.

The only differences that I can discern between the two Alchemys are that the titanium bike has a more ‘damped’ feel to it, and the steel bike has more flex.  A little less road chatter gets transmitted through the titanium frame.  I am no road racer but I can make the steel frame flex under pedaling load.  Not so with the titanium Alchemy.

I love the ride quality of my Alchemys.  They are very comfortable, even on the chip sealed back roads of Texas.

I love the ride quality of the Ritchey Break-Away too.  I don’t feel a difference between the titanium Alchemy and the Break-Away.  Logic tells me the Break-Away should not be as stiff as the Alchemy.  After all the Ritchey frame is in two pieces, connected at the seat tube / top tube junction and just in front of the bottom bracket.  Perhaps my senses are not tuned enough to pick up the difference.

That probably is part of the answer.  If I tested bicycles for a living my senses would be developed enough to feel some differences.  I think another part of the answer is in how well the Ritchey design eliminates flexing at the joints.

The top tube and seat tube are held in alignment by the seat post.  One bolt above the seam between the tubes and another bolt below the seam lock the tubes together.  What looks like a connection between the lower bolt and the top tube in the photograph below is actually a bracket welded to the lower bolt housing.  That bracket holds the rear brake housing stop slightly away from the top tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at www.gearreview.com

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at http://www.gearreview.com

The down tube is split just ahead of the bottom bracket.  The end of the down tube has a neck that slides into the fitting at the bottom bracket.

Photo courtesy of bikeradar.com

Photo courtesy of bikeradar.com

A hinged compression clamp fits over the lips or flanges on either edge of the joint and holds the two parts of the down tube together.  The two derailleur cable couplers are visible below the down tube.

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at www.gearreview.com

Photo courtesy of Jon Sharp at http://www.gearreview.com

This simple design uses just three bolts tightened to 4Nm to hold the front and rear triangles together.  Very securely I might add.  Nothing worked itself loose during my rides.  The bike tracked as expected.  There were no vibrations or unexpected wobbles.  Even at better than 65 kph / 40 mph down the relatively straight Smithville Hill during the BP MS150, and close to that on the switchback descent from Genting Sempah.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as an excellent bike to ride.

That brings me to the differentiating characteristic of this bike.  The ability to fit into a case that meets airline size specifications for checked luggage.  66 x 66 x 25.5 cm / 26 x 26 x 10 in.  The staff at the check-in counters at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Denver International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New York City didn’t bat an eyelid when I put the case holding the Ritchey onto the weighing scales.  They tagged the case and sent it on its way without a second glance.

Speaking of weight, bike and case weigh 15 kg / 33 lb.  Well within the limit of 23 kg / 50 lb for a checked bag in economy class.

I opted for the S&S Edge Pull Butterfly Latch Hard Case.  I recommend it over the Ritchey soft case, which is universally panned in all the reviews I have read.  The hard case weighs more, but the added durability and protection is worth that extra kilo or two.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I recommend a set of compression members to keep external pressure from pushing the sides of the case into the packed bicycle.  These are strong enough to stop the side bowing inward under the weight of a person standing on the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

I also like the TSA security net.  The net keeps the frame, wheels, compression members and whatever else you have packed together if a TSA inspector opens the lid of the case.

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Photo courtesy of S&S Machine

Packing the bike takes some practice.  There are a number of suggested ways to fit all the pieces into the case.  Ritchey includes an instruction sheet with the bike.  Ritchey also has step-by-step videos on their website.

I tried a variety of packing methods.  I prefer the S&S packing sequence, which is actually for an S&S coupled bike, but works very well for the Ritchey Breakaway too.  The first time it took quite a while to wrap all the tubes in the supplied pads, and to get all the pieces properly aligned in the case so that the lid would close.  The tricky bit was getting the handlebars into the case, and lining up the front wheel such that things like the bottom bracket fit between the spokes.  I get better at it each time I do it.

The Break-Away came through two domestic flights in the USA and one intercontinental flight from the USA to Asia via Europe unscathed.  Reassembly after each flight was straightforward and the bike was ready to ride right out of the case.

I have had one road trip.  Knowing that the case would not be subjected to any abuse, I didn’t use any of the supplied tube wraps, and I didn’t bother with the compression members and security net..  I also left the crank in the bottom bracket and the rear derailleur attached to the hanger.  That made packing simpler.  The bike was none the worse for it either.

A big help was the shorter steerer tube.  As delivered the steerer tube made the fork too long to fit flush against the edge of the case.  Which put the rest of the front triangle in the way of some of the other parts.  I had the steerer tube cut down.  Everything fits in the case much better now.

On road trips I can get away without any padding because the titanium frame is unpainted.  One of the few complaints about the painted steel frame is that it scuffs, scratches and chips easily.

Top marks for the Ritchey Break-Away as a bike that packs easily into an airline-friendly case.

I am delighted with my Ritchey Break-Away.  There is nothing about it that I am unhappy with.  It says a lot about the clever design and ride quality of this frame that the only weakness other reviewers have found with this bike is that the cable couplers sometimes rattle against the down tube on rough roads.

If you want a travel road bike that doesn’t compromise performance, the Ritchey Break-Away is for you.  Just be sure to get a hard case to go with it.

Jumping Into the Deep End

With each cheese and potato breakfast taco I thought more and more about getting a road bike.  My hybrid bike with the platform pedals had served me well from the moment I first dipped my toes into cycling.  It had taken me from those early heady days of 20 kilometer rides to keeping up with the Six Thirty group through 55 kilometers.  My fellow riders were suggesting that I join them on organised rides of 80 kilometers and more.  To do that would require a bike more suited to long road rides than my hybrid bike was.  A road bike.  But how to decide on exactly what to get?

I started paying more attention to what my Six Thirty friends were riding.  I took a closer look at the Specialized, Moots, Ibis and Independent Fabrications frames on display at West End Bicycles.  I browsed the Trek and Cannondale websites.  I read online reviews.  The choices boggled the mind.  Carbon, steel, aluminum or titanium frame.  Performance or comfort geometry.  Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM groupset.   The decisions to be made didn’t stop there.  The options for pedals, handle bars, stems, saddles, seat posts, headsets, wheels, tires and other bits and bobs can and do fill catalogs the size of telephone directories.

As I did my research one thought stayed in my mind.  I had been sold a bike that was too small for me.  Bicycle frames come in a range of sizes.  Unfortunately manufacturers do not use a consistent method to measure the frames that they produce.  So the right sized frame for an individual of a given height and reach is a combination of stand over height, top tube length, seat tube length, seat tube angle, bottom bracket height and some eye of newt.  Throw in riding style and personal preference and the choice of an ‘off-the-rack’ frame often comes down to selecting from a range of two or three sizes.  Which will it be?  The larger frame or the smaller frame?

The more I thought about it the more attractive a custom built frame became.  A made-to-measure frame would solve the fit problem.  Being able to choose the paint design and other elements to make the bike uniquely mine added to the appeal.  A few of the Six Thirty group rode hand-built frames.  A chat with them convinced me.  I would bypass retail and go straight to bespoke.  It was time to go all in and find a frame builder in the area.  The list of exhibitors at the recent 2nd Annual Texas Custom Bicycle Show was a good starting point.  Some builders were immediately eliminated from consideration because they built only Dutch-style city bikes, or worked exclusively in carbon, or had a long waiting list, or were too far away from Houston.  That narrowed the list down to two or three frame builders.  I devoured everything on their websites.  I drooled over their gallery photographs.  And I made a telephone call to each of them.

The Alchemy Bicycle Company builder profile stood out on the Texas Custom Bicycle Show website.  There was something about the tagline “The Passion to Transform” that I liked.  James Flatman answered the telephone when I called Alchemy.  We spoke for more than an hour about where we were from, when James started building frames, the relative merits of various frame-building materials, what I was looking for in a bicycle, what sort of riding I did, and what else I should think about if I wanted to continue down the path to a custom frame.  I had a good feeling about James.  I was impressed that he devoted ninety minutes to a telephone conversation with a speculative contact.

I took James up on his suggestion to visit the Alchemy shop in Austin.  He asked that I bring my hybrid bike so he could see what I had been riding.  ZAZ, my ‘biker chick,’ came with me.  This bicycle was going to be my birthday and Christmas present from her for 2009.  James and I talked bicycles while he took all sorts of measurements.  He made suggestions about what material he would use to build a frame for me.  I tried out groupsets from Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM.  We talked about components.  We looked at colour combinations.  After three hours in the shop ZAZ and I had made our choices.  Two months later James delivered this.

He made me a steel frame with carbon seat stays and fork.  He built it up with a SRAM Force groupset.  The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed the Red crankset.  There was a problem with the Force crankset and James swapped it out for the higher specification Red crankset at no charge.  Easton EA90 SLX wheels, a Chris King headset and bottom bracket, a Ritchey seatpost and handlebars, and a Selle Italia saddle and Speedplay pedals completed the package.  James and I agreed that a sterling silver head badge would look best.  This cool-looking badge is a blend of the old alchemy symbols for silver and gold.

There is one custom touch that makes this bike unique to me.  A Texas star on the seat tube.

I have pedaled almost 11,000 kilometers on this bike.  I don’t think I have to say any more about what a pleasure this bike is to ride.

There have been some changes at Alchemy.  James has left and Alchemy has just moved to Denver, CO.  The company has continued to grow, adding the capability to build frames using proprietary carbon tubes.  If you are in the market for a first-class hand-built bicycle give Alchemy Bicycle Company a call.