Ritchey Road Logic frameset review: Classic steel, epitomized

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The Ritchey Road Logic deftly blends old and new, marrying the timeless aesthetic of small-diameter steel tubing with more modern touches such as an integrated head tube, subtly sloping top tube, and a carbon fork. It’s a gorgeous machine that vividly recalls the romanticism of cycling’s rich history while still offering the conveniences of modernity. Yet for all its visual appeal, can the Road Logic compete with newer machines? U.S. technical editor James Huang built one up for himself, and found that the answers aren’t quite so straightforward.

Building a modern classic

Tom Ritchey didn’t break the mold when it came to designing the Road Logic, and for fans of steel road bikes, that’ll mostly be a good thing. Save for some very slight ovalization at the base of the seat tube and through the midsection of the chainstays, all of the tubes are arrow-straight and round. Moreover, Ritchey uses classic tube sizes throughout, including a 1 1/4″-diameter down tube, a 1 1/8″ top tube, and a 1 1/8″ seat tube, all of which look positively anemic as compared to modern composite or aluminum frames.

That commitment to traditionalism also extends to the straight 1 1/8″ steerer tube, standard 27.2mm round seatpost, threaded bottom bracket, and external cable routing with slotted stops that will only work with mechanical drivetrains (lest you resign yourself to surface-mounted wires and vestigial welded-on housing stops). Up top is a fastback-style seat cluster standing in place of the more common separate seatpost collar, while the rear end is finished with Ritchey’s long-standing socket-style dropouts.

The rear end looks positively tiny when compared to carbon or aluminum stays.

Ritchey does draw the line at brazing and lugs, instead preferring to join the tubes with tidily executed TIG welds. Officially, tire clearance is pegged at a modest 27mm front and rear — and with a pinch point between the chain stays of roughly 35mm, there isn’t room for much more, although the actual number will vary a bit depending on the specific wheel and tire choice.

The frame geometry is about as straightforward as it gets, too, with parallel 73.5-degree angles for average-to-larger sizes (with steeper seat tubes and slacker head tubes on smaller sizes), a stable 72mm bottom bracket drop, slightly longer-than-average 410mm chainstays, and aggressively short head tubes throughout paired with generous top tube lengths that let riders comfortably stretch out for long days in the saddle.

Ritchey does modify the script up front, however, with a forged-and-machined head tube design that not only integrates the upper and lower headset cups directly into the frame, but also allows for a smaller tube diameter than would otherwise be needed with traditional cups. This setup saves 80g, according to Ritchey, while also yielding a nicely finished and cohesive look.

The straight 1 1/8″ head tube features integrated bearing cups that save a few grams and clean up the front end.

Despite that clever feature and triple-butted tubing, no weight weenie would consider the Road Logic frameset to be competitive with other materials at the scale; this is a steel frame, after all, and there’s only so much that can be done to offset its inherent density disadvantage. Actual weight of my 52cm test frame was 1,694g, plus 372g for the matching Ritchey WCS full-carbon fork (uncut steerer), 74g for the headset, and another 43g for the steerer compression plug.

Built with a Campagnolo Chorus mechanical groupset, Ritchey WCS Carbon Apex 38 carbon clinchers, Ritchey WCS forged aluminum stem and seatpost, Ritchey WCS Carbon traditional-bend handlebar, 25mm-wide Clement LCV tires, an Astute Starlite VT saddle, and Zevlin handlebar tape, total weight was a very respectable 7.66kg (16.89lb) without pedals — not exactly a lump of pig iron.

“Tom’s background is in racing, and providing racing bikes, and road touring,” said Ritchey US marketing manager Fergus Liam. “Tom optimized the first Road Logic in the late 70s and early 80s for long road racing. To him, center of gravity on a bike plays a role in design, as does the type of rider and riding.

“The story, as Tom puts it, is not in the thickness but in Logic tubing. What makes a Ritchey is the Logic tubing: the differential butting and tapering of the tubes that give our bikes a unique ride quality. The secret sauce is in the length of the center section of the tubes and the way the butting occurs.”

Ritchey builds the Road Logic with triple butted chromoly steel tubing, with traditional diameters and shapes throughout.

Putting steel to pavement

Road bike performance is often evaluated on a linear scale: a stiffer frame transfers more power and is therefore deemed more efficient; a lighter bike climbs faster than a heavier one; a more aerodynamic shape slices more efficiently through the air than a round-tubed bike; and ultimately, a bike that is faster is widely perceived as just being better overall.

When judged by those parameters, the Ritchey Road Logic is an unequivocal throwback.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the extra half-kilogram on steep climbs that this frame packs over even an average carbon fiber chassis. It’s also plainly evident that the smaller-diameter tubing flexes more when you apply the power, and slightly dulls your pedaling inputs. And while the frame is admirably soft on bigger impacts that can sometimes rattle your fillings on newer carbon bikes, there’s more buzziness on coarsely paved roads since the material just doesn’t damp vibration as well. On paper, the Road Logic clearly seems to be an inferior choice.

The decision to buy a Ritchey Road Logic will quite likely be more an emotional one rather than a, well, logical one.

But the criteria we use when choosing bikes isn’t always so absolute, and to evaluate the Road Logic on the same scale as a new carbon fiber competitor would be to sell short more intangible attributes.

Despite the name, the appeal of the Road Logic lies more in emotion than numbers.

For fans of steel bikes, it’s that subtle spring-like flex — often touted as “liveliness” — and heightened vibration transmission that lends to a bike’s personality, which the Road Logic has in spades. You feel more of the road beneath you, and there’s more of a sense that you’re working in cooperation with the chassis, as opposed to simply having it obediently follow your commands. You don’t force the Road Logic to do your bidding; you ask nicely, and the Road Logic politely obliges in kind.

The matching Ritchey carbon fiber fork is very light and helps smooth out the ride quality as compared to a steel fork, but doesn’t take much away from the frame’s ferrous personality.

Instead of just stomping on the pedals to pick up speed, for example, the Road Logic reacts better to more gradual increases in power and cadence. Likewise, steep climbs are best tackled in the saddle with a smooth pedal stroke instead of rising up and rocking the bike from side to side.

Nevertheless, it remains debatable whether frame flex is a significant detractor to pedaling efficiency at all. Jan Heine — purveyor of Compass Bicycles, popular blogger, and publisher of print magazine Bicycle Quarterly — has coined the term, “planing“, to describe the side-to-side flex of softer frames, and according to him, the phenomenon doesn’t make you slower; it actually makes you faster.

“On a bike with optimized frame flex characteristics, the rider can put out more power with less fatigue,” he wrote in one blog post. “Imagine that the frame stores the energy, and releases it at the end of your power stroke. This stored energy is released when the pedal stroke approaches the dead spots. The right type of frame flex thus prolongs your power stroke, allowing you to put more power into the bike without having to accelerate it more.”

There’s more side-to-side movement at the bottom bracket under power than what you’d normally see in a modern carbon fiber or aluminum bike, but it’s debatable whether that’s a bad thing.

Granted, Heine’s theory hasn’t been verified by any independent testing outside of his own — but then again, it hasn’t yet been refuted, either, and there are plenty of big-name outfits that would benefit from confirming the commonly held belief that a stiff bike is an efficient one.

That said, having ridden more progressive steel bikes myself, I couldn’t help but wish at times that the Road Logic didn’t adhere so faithfully to tradition. The smaller-diameter tubes do help keep the weight in check (larger tubes equal more surface area, and, thus, more weight), but today’s oversized steel tubes not only provide a stiffness advantage, but also a ride quality advantage, as their thinner walls also feel even snappier and more resilient than the ones used here.

Tube bending stiffness increases exponentially with increasing diameter, too, so a little goes a long way. Even if that extra rigidity doesn’t necessarily yield automatic speed advantages, I think it’s safe to say that we’re well past arguing the merits of steel bikes on their performance virtues alone, and if you have more fun and just plain “feel” better on a stiffer bike, so be it.

A bit of red, white, and blue spices up the grey metallic paint.

Either way, handling is definitely one of the strongest attributes of the Road Logic, and the patience you invest on the uphill is most certainly repaid on the way back down. The lower bottom bracket — and, more importantly, the lower center of gravity it produces — lends fantastic stability in high-speed descents as well as a more “in the bike” sensation, and the refined geometry is an absolute treat to snake through sinuous downhills. It’s not nervous and twitchy like a more purpose-built crit machine; rather, the bike gracefully flows through corners like water, calmly and effortlessly cascading from apex to apex with minimal input required of its rider.

The riding position benefits from many years of refinement, too, with a modestly long-and-low layout that promotes a comfortably stretched-out posture — just the thing for all-day rides, provided your core is fit enough for the challenge.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s no denying the bike’s aesthetic appeal, with the more delicate lines and timeless panel-style graphics striking a more graceful profile than today’s hyper-oversized frame members and in-your-face logos. The unsolicited comments the Road Logic drew from onlookers may have been due more to the bike’s novelty than anything else, but it drew compliments nonetheless.

A frame like this almost demands a classic-bend bar. Red Zevlin tape adds a bit of color to what would otherwise be a somewhat drab palette.

In some ways, riding the Road Logic was like taking a trip back to my earlier days of cycling, as I couldn’t help but recall my first boutique frame: a mid-1990s, Ross Shafer-era Salsa La Raza, which featured similar tubing diameters and TIG-welded joints as the Road Logic, as well as a before-its-time sloping top tube born from the company’s mountain-bike roots. It was a wonderfully communicative and lively machine that I still look back upon fondly two decades later, and that personality is alive and well in the Ritchey Road Logic.

I’ve since moved on to more modern bikes, but I sometimes still wish I had that old orange bike with its orange powder-coated finish and black vinyl decals with no clearcoat. Like the Road Logic, that old La Raza doesn’t make much sense when compared to more heavily engineered contemporary machines with their vastly greater stiffness measurements, sleek aero tubing, and feathery weights. But I miss it all the same, and would likely still ride it from time to time if I still had it.

As it turns out, Ritchey says most Road Logic buyers view their purchases in much the same light.

“Most typical Ritchey owners are reasonably well versed in cycling, and a Ritchey isn’t their first bike,” said Liam. “It’s usually an amendment to their carbon bike — something with more personality. Ritcheys sit somewhere between an introduction to steel and a custom-built rig, with leanings more toward the latter. In a lot of ways, owning a Ritchey is like owning a domestic Colnago or Cinelli; it’s a brand with heritage and a name with meaning, and I think our customers recognize that.”

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