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by Matt Wikstrom
September 15, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Ribble Cycles is well known to cyclists in the UK, and thanks to the rise of online trading, a growing number of customers from around the world. A large part of Ribble’s business is centered on its own brand of bikes, where shoppers get the opportunity to order a custom-built bike from a selection of models. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at one of these bikes, a full carbon fibre race-oriented bike dubbed R872.
With a history that can be traced all the way back to 1897, Ribble Cycles has been in the bike business for a long time. The company owes its name to a nearby river, and despite the business changing hands a number of times, it has remained in and around Preston in Lancashire, England.
The business has just changed hands again with the retirement of Terry Dove after more than 35 years at the helm. Dove embraced mail order during the late-‘80s to help his business grow and then the Internet in 2001 for even more growth after that.
By 2009, Ribble Cycles was ready to abandon its original shop space in favour of a large warehouse to cope with the dramatic rise in web sales. The company was pleased to report a profit of over £2million for 2011 as the number of customers rose to 75,000 a year, making it a very attractive acquisition. And while True Capital owns the business now, Terry Dove’s son James will continue the family’s involvement with the business, working as the Managing Director after joining the business in the early-‘90s.
Ribble attributes a large part of its success to the demand for its own brand of bikes. The company’s experience in manufacturing pre-dates Terry Dove’s tenure, which was making use of a nearby factory and paint shop to create Ribble-branded bikes. That strategy has evolved in recent years as Ribble switched to Asian manufacturing to stock its online catalogue with a wide range of bikes.
At face value, Ribble’s sales strategy is far from unique but they go one step further by recognising the individual needs of its customers. Thus, customers can select a new bike from a range of stock options, or, they can use the BikeBuilder to create their own bike from Ribble’s inventory.
At present, Ribble’s BikeBuilder comprises 28 models, the majority of which are road bikes. Prices start at AUD$1,149 (~US$882) for a complete road bike with a range of options for the groupset, wheels, cockpit, seating and tyres. In many instances, buyers are also able to specify gearing, crank length, stem length, handlebar width, along with the colour of the tyres, saddle and bar tape (options vary according to the products selected).
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding Ribble’s R872, a full carbon race-oriented bike built with Shimano’s Ultegra 11-speed mechanical groupset that retails for AUD$2,250 (~US$1,720).
The R872 frameset is constructed from Toray’s T800 high modulus carbon fibre with a tapered head tube (1.125-inch upper bearing; 1.5-inch lower bearing). According to Ribble’s specifications, the R872 has a BB30 bottom bracket however the bike sent for review had a BSA threaded bottom bracket instead. The R872 keeps pace with modern trends by providing internally routing for rear brake and gear cables with the option to accommodate electronic groupsets.
According to Ribble, the R872 has been designed with stiffness as a priority. I’ve already mentioned the tapered head tube — which is well known for increasing the stiffness of the front end — and the bottom bracket is fortified with extra material and mated with large chainstays for extra stiffness as well. Nevertheless, Ribble claims that the R872 “is still perfectly suited for longer day rides.”
There are five frame sizes on offer for the R872, as shown in the table below. The bike has sloping geometry and the size refers to the length of the seat tube (measured from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top):
The geometry of the R872 is race-oriented with relatively small head tube lengths at each size. Bottom bracket drop ranges 69-71mm (decreasing with the frame size) while the fork rake is 43mm for every frame size except the largest, which has 40mm of rake instead. See Ribble Cycles for a detailed geometry chart.
The R872 frameset is supplied with a minimum of decoration and the stealthy finish will appeal to any rider that likes a black bike. Whether by accident or design, it is difficult to identify Ribble’s branding for the bike, leaving most observers to guess at its identity. Interestingly, a few online forums have noted close similarities between the R872 and De Rosa’s R838 in the past, where the geometry is identical for the two frames (as well as De Rosa’s newest entry-level carbon road bike called Nick).
The profile of the R872 juxtaposes angles with curves for a curious (and perhaps disquieting) effect. The down tube is consistent with an aerodynamic design, yet the seat tube is quite large and perfectly round. The seatstays are slim, like an endurance-oriented bike, while the fork legs and chainstays have sharp kinks that reminded me of a wheel-truing jig. All told, there’s no mistaking this bike for anything other than a modern composite design.
The R872 is available in just one colour, but as mentioned above, buyers are able to customise the build with a selection of groupsets from Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM. Other choices extend to the wheels (Shimano, Mavic, Fulcrum and Campagnolo), cockpit (Deda, ITM), and seating (Selle Italia, Charge, Fabric, Fizik, Ritchey). Ribble’s Bike Builder dutifully displays the effect the each option will have on the final price of the bike, which can be as low as AUD$1,850 (~US$1,416) and as high as AUD$8,851 (~US$6,775).
Customising the build will require that buyers have some understanding of their bike fit. Ribble provides a chart that recommends frame sizes according to the buyer’s height, however no guidance is provided for crank length, stem length, and handlebar width. In the absence of a reasonably detailed bike fit, these are the sort of details that can only be guessed at until the buyer spends some time on the bike.
The R872 sent for review was built with Shimano’s 11-speed Ultegra mechanical groupset (with compact cranks and 11-28 cassette) and RS21 wheelset, Deda alloy bars and stem, CSN saddle, and Continental Ultra Sport tyres (25mm). Total weight for the size 50cm bike was 8.26kg without pedals or bidon cages.
The current asking price for this build (dubbed R872 Special Edition Shimano Ultegra 6800) is AUD$2,250 (~US$1,720). I’m told that this price includes delivery for buyers in Australia, however GST and duty is not, which will add ~15% to the final price (in this instance, an extra ~AUD$400 will be payable, bringing the final cost of the R872 Special Edition Shimano Ultegra 6800 to ~AUD$2,650).
According to Ribble, a lead-time of 5-10 days is required to prepare a custom-built bike for dispatch. All bikes are delivered in a semi-assembled state, requiring only installation of the bars, seatpost and front wheel, with after sales service in the form of email and chat. In time, Ribble expects to have a network of mobile mechanics in Australia along with one or two showrooms.
I had little trouble assembling the R872 sent for this review. In fact, I spent more time cutting away zip ties and removing packing materials than was needed to get the bike ready for the road. In the end, a few minor adjustments to the brakes and gears were all that were needed once the bike was assembled.
This is what buyers can expect to arrive at their door when they buy a bike from Ribble Cycles.
There’s plenty of foam packing to protect the bike…
…and lots of zip ties to keep it all in place.
Once unpacked, there’s a little bit of assembly to do.
The end result. A few minor adjustments and the R872 was ready for the road.
All Ribble-branded frames and forks are supplied with a six-year warranty however the 30-day test ride that is offered to UK-residents does not extend to international customers. For more information, visit Ribble Cycles.
From the outset, I did not have big expectations for the R872. After all, as a bargain-priced carbon fibre bike, it seemed unfair to expect the bike that could offer the same kind of performance as some of the more expensive brands that I’ve been riding this year, such as Scott, Festka and Parlee. And while the R872 never truly rivalled any of those bikes, I found that it was more than a bargain-priced bike.
The first thing that really stood out for me was the aggressive poise of the bike. All of the extra material and engineering designed to increase the stiffness of the chassis provided a sturdy platform for giving the bike a decent kick in the guts. The result is all business as the bike picks up speed quickly and barrels along with the aggressive intent of some of the best race bikes I’ve ever ridden.
With a total weight of around 8.5kg with the pedals installed, the R872 couldn’t offer the same kind of nimble responsiveness as a lighter bike (or build). I suspect bigger, stronger riders won’t notice the lag, but it was always there for me when kicking off from a standstill or trying to give the bike a solid kick. That’s not to say that the bike was an immovable oaf, just that there is a gap between it and the pricier competition (that is typically lighter).
That lag had some effect on the climbing abilities of the R872 as well, tempering the bike a little. A lighter bike will always feel more agile and responsive when trying to accelerate up a slope, especially steeper inclines (where the gradient is 10% or more) yet the R872 was still quite capable. Buyers hoping for a bike that shines in the hills probably won’t find much satisfaction with the R872, unless they are upgrading from a heavier alloy entry-level bike.
There is more to a great race bike than just stiffness and poise because it must handle well. And this is where the R872 trumps its similarly priced rivals. In short, the steering and handling of the bike is exceptional. Precise, certain, and confidence inspiring, the R872 moves through corners with ease and grace. I never felt like I had to wrestle with the bike regardless of whether I was trying to chop the apex of a bend or maintain my composure at very high speeds.
When combined with the rest of the bike’s attributes, the steering and handling does a lot to translate the rider’s efforts in an immediate and decisive fashion. The bike is ready to go where it is pointed, which means the rider can get on with concentrating on their effort, even when the bike gathers speed.
I found the R872 was easy to rocket around on for a couple of hours, but when the rides stretched to four or five hours, I started to suffer some discomfort. I found I ended up feeling saddle sore by the fourth hour along with some discomfort in the neck and shoulders that I never experience on my own bike. Thus, as an all-day bike, the R872 really doesn’t shine, so it’s better to think of it as a race bike.
Shimano’s 11-speed Ultegra mechanical groupset continues to perform at a very high level, offering precise shifting and braking with a light touch. It adds value to a bike at this price, not only in terms of performance, but also in terms of durability. Ultegra is robust enough to withstand daily riding as well as the demands of racing.
The RS21 wheelset is a modest product, yet Shimano pays attention to the small details to lift overall impressions. For example, the quality of the brake track is outstanding, making for smooth and predictable braking. These wheels are heavy for a low-profile clincher though, so buyers pondering where they can spend a little more to lift the performance of the bike should have a look at lighter wheels.
I didn’t suffer any of the kinds of problems that can plague a new bike during the review period. The seatpost never slipped in the frame and the headset wasn’t prone to coming loose. The internal gear cables made a little noise in the frame on rough roads; otherwise, the bike was quiet.
Ribble has been putting together bargain-priced bikes for a long time, so it really shouldn’t be surprising that the R872 comes together in a way that defies its pricing. That buyers have the option to customise the build only adds to the value of the bike, so they are less likely to end up feeling like they were forced to make a compromise to get the bike they wanted at a price that they were happy to pay.
I expect the R872 will appeal to riders on a tight budget, however the fact that tax and duty are not included in the sale price will shock unsuspecting buyers in Australia. Regardless, the R872 remains competitively priced when compared to other online retailers, and more significantly, local bike shops. Of course, buyers must be prepared to forego a test ride and decide on a frame size according to Ribble’s general guidelines.
Nevertheless, I see the R872 as a canny choice for junior racers looking for an affordable and robust race bike. Likewise, experienced riders looking for a bargain-priced training bike. Yes, the R872 is subject to some of the limitations associated with its pricing, so the bike carries a weight penalty, but the quality of steering and handling really means this is one of those rare bikes that delivers gold for the price of silver (or bronze).