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by Matt Wikstrom
September 16, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Ritte is a rider-owned brand based in Los Angeles, California. The company is passionate about road racing but it still has a sense of humour about it. In this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom compares two of Ritte’s race-oriented road framesets, the carbon fibre Ace and stainless steel Snob.
Ritte Cycles began life as a fake racing team but Spencer Canon did such a good job designing the kit that people started to take notice. According to at least one account, the team was able to attract some sponsors, and at that point, Spencer started to take the whole concept a little more seriously.
The Ritte kit was followed by a frameset in 2010 and the company has been in business ever since. Ritte experimented with custom handbuilt framesets but it had more success with open-mould products. Just like the fake racing team, Ritte discovered it could sell bikes on the strength of styling alone.
The key, of course, was finding an open-mould design that worked well. Canon’s first bike, the Bosberg, ultimately impressed many on the strength of its price, styling and performance. Canon was able to add to the brand’s charm by marketing the bikes with a healthy dose of humour—such as a “news report” where the UCI announced it was banning the Bosberg from professional competition because of an “unfair aesthetic advantage.”
Ritte’s current catalogue comprises five race-oriented framesets, three of which are designed for the road. The Bosberg has been retired but its successor is the Vlaanderen that was unveiled a few years ago. The Ace is the company’s newest design that serves as the flagship for the road. The third road frame, called the Snob, eschews carbon in favour of stainless steel, and is offered in two versions, one for rim brakes and the other for discs.
For this review, Ritte’s Australian distributor Skol provided two framesets—an Ace and a Snob—so I could compare them to learn more about what the company can achieve with two very different frame materials.
Ritte unveiled the Ace frameset at the beginning of the year and in many ways, it represents the culmination of everything that the company has learned about carbon race bikes since introducing the Bosberg in 2010.
For example, Ritte had been using a semi-monocoque construction process for the Vlaanderen but decided to commit to a monocoque process for the Ace. As a result, the frame has no joints or seams. Similarly, having gained experience with T700 carbon fibre for the Vlaanderen, Ritte added T1000 for the Ace. Clearly, Ritte was intent on maximising the rigidity of the new frame.
The Bosberg and Vlaanderen both had integrated seatposts but Ritte decided to abandon this feature for the Ace in favour of a standard 31.8mm seatpost. And while earlier bikes were built with a BB30 bottom bracket, the Ace has a PF30 bottom bracket. As for the headset, the Ace continues with Ritte’s preference for a tapered headtube and steerer with a 1.125-inch upper bearing and 1.25-inch lower bearing.
The Ace has internal cable routing for the rear brake and derailleurs like Ritte’s other carbon road bikes but it has been refined so that is compatible with both electronic and mechanical groupsets. In addition, Ritte has ensured that the frameset will accommodate all 25mm tyres (and some 28mm tyres).
The Snob frameset has been part of Ritte’s catalogue for a couple of years however the company has been working with stainless steel for almost as long as it has carbon. Indeed, one of the early bikes was the Muur, a custom handbuilt frame that combined stainless steel with carbon main tubes to capitalise on the strength of the two materials.
The Snob was not designed to compete with the Ace or the Vlaanderen. Ritte likes stainless steel for its forgiving ride quality and corrosion-resistance, and the company designed the Snob to appeal to riders that wanted “comfort and sheer traction” rather than “brute stiffness”.
Like the Ace, the Snob is built in Taiwan. Grade 630 stainless steel tubing is used for the frame, which has a high proportion of chromium and more strength than other grades of stainless steel. The extra strength comes at the expense of some corrosion-resistance but it’s a minor trade-off considering that bikes are not used in particularly demanding environments.
The Snob takes advantage of contemporary features such as compact frame geometry and oversized tubing to add an edge to the performance of the bike. A PF30 bottom bracket and a 44mm head tube continue with this theme. There are two traditional touches though: a 27.2mm seatpost and strictly external cable routing (which means the Snob won’t accommodate an electronic transmission).
The Snob frame is mated to an Enve carbon fork with a tapered steerer, continuing Ritte’s preference for an oversized 1.25-inch lower bearing. Interestingly, the rear derailleur hanger is replaceable, a standard feature for any carbon frame, but arguably a redundant choice for a steel frame. Indeed, I see it as a compromise because the alloy hanger supplied with the Snob was flimsy compared to steel.
The geometry of the Ace and the Snob is race-oriented, where the Ace offers a slightly more aggressive fit and an extra frame size, as shown in the tables below:
It should be noted that the headtube length of the Snob includes a Chris King inset headset (stack=14mm). The Snob has a lower bottom bracket (4-5mm) than the Ace and uses a fork with 43mm rake instead of 45mm, as shown in Ritte’s detailed geometry charts for the Ace and the Snob.
The Ace frameset is available in three colours (gloss white, matte black and light blue) while there is a choice of two for the Snob (crème/raw and midnight blue/raw) along with a custom paint option (starting at $600). In this instance, the Snob was custom painted to celebrate a recent trip to Japan by Slowpokes cycling club using a palette of traditional Japanese colours.
The finish of each frameset was expertly rendered. The Ace presents with a strong, chiselled profile and sporty lines that were enhanced by the simple, understated finish. In contrast, the round tubing softened the presence of the Snob somewhat. I liked the raw metal that was left exposed at the rear of the bike, but the paint job seemed incomplete, demanding an extra panel of colour for the seat tube to satisfy my eye.
The framesets supplied for this review were both size M and built with Campagnolo Super Record groupsets and 3T carbon bars and alloy stems. Skunkworks supplied a set of Curve 38mm carbon clinchers laced to White Industries T11 hubs to complete the bikes. Total weight for the Snob was 7.80kg with cages and Speedplay pedals compared to 6.99kg for the Ace with cages and the same pedals.
The Ace is available as a frameset only with a recommended retail of $3,999 while the Snob frameset costs $4,499. Both bikes get a lifetime warranty and Ritte offers crash replacement for the first 12 months. For more information, visit Skol and Ritte.
From the outset, I expected a lot of contrast between the Ace and the Snob. After all, they were constructed from distinct materials with equally distinct design intentions. Both bikes still managed to surprise me a little but ultimately, each one lived up to Ritte’s marketing claims.
With a combination of high modulus carbon fibre and monocoque construction, the Ace promised to be a stiff bike, and it only took one ride around the block to confirm this notion. The bike was also immediately impressive in its responsiveness. Every time I applied some force to the pedals, the Ace would surge, and that sense stayed with me for the rest of my time on the bike.
At 6.99kg, the Ace qualifies as a lightweight—but only just—yet there were times when the bike seemed to shed another kilogram out on the road. It was the agility of the bike that had me fooled. It was always so willing to react to my every effort.
The steering was quick—very quick—the kind of quick that demands good reflexes. But it was a thrill to ride the Ace through any corner, especially at speed, where I was free to pick my line and then change it at will. Experienced riders shouldn’t have any trouble controlling the Ace, especially those that thrive on criterium racing and threading through crowds at high speed.
While the quick steering needed a sure hand, the Ace wasn’t too demanding to ride because it was extremely stable. I couldn’t unsettle the bike at any speed. However, I scared myself once by knocking the bars with a loose hand after taking a sip of water. Most bikes normally wiggle in that situation but the Ace swerved. I was never in danger of being bucked from the bike but it provided a clear demonstration of how quickly the Ace can change direction.
The Ace was stable and sure-footed on every descent. I was able to settle into the drops and pick my lines as easily as switching TV channels with a remote. However, I wouldn’t rate the Ace as an ideal bike for descents because the quick steering demanded an extra level of attentiveness. Sudden gusts of wind, for example, could cause the Ace to veer without warning. Some bikes can inspire confidence but the Ace isn’t one of those, so riders will have to supply their own.
I enjoyed climbing with the Ace. It didn’t matter whether I was seated or standing, the bike always seemed to prance lightly up the slopes. The stiff chassis inspired me to attack steep ramps and surge through the corners. Similarly, the Ace was always keen for a sprint whether it was uphill or on the flats.
Given the stiff chassis, it’s not surprising that the Ace was susceptible to road shock. I found the bike was generally comfortable to ride on most surfaces, but rough roads were a challenge. I was able to complete a few four-hour rides on the Ace without any complaint or regret but I suspect an all-day jaunt would be too testing for all but the most resilient of riders.
The Snob was a much better choice for long rides, and in many ways, it was the antithesis of the Ace. Indeed, if the Ace was a hard dining chair, then switching to the Snob was like sinking into a soft lounge. The Snob consistently provided a plush ride, regardless of the terrain, and I was able to proceed without any concern for road shock or chatter.
Indeed, the Snob is the most comfortable bike I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve long suspected that much of the engineering that has been devoted to improving the comfort of carbon endurance/fondo bikes could have been easily achieved with steel, and the Snob proves the point. Moreover, the Snob manages to do it with simple tube shapes and a standard frame design.
It’s important to note that when I refer to the comfort of the Snob, I’m only describing the ride quality of the bike. The geometry of the Snob is reasonably aggressive and race-oriented, so riders looking for a bike that offers the comfort of an upright position won’t be satisfied by the Snob, no matter how plush its ride quality may be.
While the Snob was able to protect me from all road buzz and chatter, I found myself wishing for a little more feedback from the bike. It was like driving around in a car with all the windows closed, such was the sense of insulation. This is not something that has any bearing upon the performance of the Snob, but it will influence its appeal, depending on personal preference.
The Snob was as stable as the Ace at any speed however the steering seemed slower. I found I couldn’t corner with the same agility and I didn’t have the same freedom to alter my line. Interestingly, the head angle of the Snob (size M) was actually steeper than the Ace (72.5° versus 72°) and the forks had less rake (43mm versus 45mm), however the difference in trail was only 2mm (Snob, 61mm; Ace, 63mm). I can’t explain why the steering of the Snob felt slower but one possibility is that the extra stiffness of the Ace enhanced the steering response of the bike.
I didn’t have any trouble climbing or sprinting with the Snob, and overall, it was a capable—even versatile—performer. By comparison though, it never felt as agile or responsive as the Ace. So was it any slower? I don’t know, but it’s worth noting that while there is plenty of data demonstrating that aerodynamic designs are faster, there is no such data for a stiffened chassis.
Curve’s 38mm carbon wheels felt equally stiff and light on each bike but they added much more of an edge to the ride quality of the Snob than the Ace. Swapping to a set of low profile alloy wheels with wider tyres had a marginal effect on the Ace by softening the ride a little, while the Snob lost most of its racing edge to feel more like a touring bike, further highlighting its versatility.
By the end of the review period, I settled on the Snob as my favourite because of its versatility. A ride, a race, a trek; I could see myself tackling them all on the Snob, but not the Ace. The Ace is a pure race-day bike.
I hope that this review isn’t perceived as some kind of contest between carbon and steel. The strengths and weaknesses of each material are well known, but importantly, both can be manipulated to provide a variety of ride qualities. The distinction therefore lies not with the material but with the way it is utilised.
Ritte understands this distinction and the team has made canny use of each material to create two distinctive bikes with equally distinct ride qualities.
For those buyers desiring a stiff and responsive race bike and that have the experience and confidence to handle a very quick-steering bike, the Ace has a lot to offer for the price. That the Snob costs more may surprise some but compared to other stainless steel bikes, the Snob is reasonably priced. However, I see a lot of competition from frame-builders offering custom-built (and painted) steel frames for around the same price, where the value of a personalised build can outweigh the allure of exotic steel.
Ultimately, the choice between the Ace, Snob and any other bike on the market is a matter of personal preference. Ritte has done a fine job in creating two very distinct race-oriented bikes that embrace one extreme over the other, like sweet versus sour or yin versus yang.