Orbea Orca OMX first-ride review: An N+1 killer?

by Dave Everett


The humble Gâteau Basque is one of my favorite cakes. There’s cream, there’s apple, but for the good stuff, go for the rich cherry-filled version. Originally the region’s tasty treat was nothing more than a healthy loaf of bread — pure, nourishing substance but nothing out of the ordinary. Somewhere along the way it got ‘spiced up’, stuffed with local cherries and extra sugar, eventually getting to a point where the original is near impossible to find.

In some ways, Orbea’s new Orca OMX could be likened to the Gâteau Basque. The original does its job superbly. But the question is, will sweetening it up, making it something a bit more palatable, a bit more fun, make the original a thing of the past? Or is the new Orca a bike that bastardises what a true all-out race bike should be? I headed to Orio on the Spanish Basque coast to find out.


SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Basque road surfaces vary wildly. From silky smooth tarmac, to ‘mild gravel’ trails that link old farmhouses to paved roads, through to broken, pot-hole-strewn tracks that kick up at unpleasant angles. After riding the new Orca on all of these surfaces, it’s clearly a product of the region. So it’s pretty damn lucky that it’s this sort of mixed terrain that you’ll find in many parts of the world, and where many of us now venture.

But let’s be clear before I delve into the details of the bike: this is not Orbea’s new endurance bike — the Avant is still in the brand’s line-up. Nor is it a replacement for the current Orca OMR or Orca Aero (only time will tell if this is definite). No, the new Orca is an addition, not just to Orbea’s line-up but also to the trend we’re slowly seeing appear: performance bikes that offer that little bit extra.

The new Orca OMX has got all the hallmarks of an ‘on trend’ road bike. It has a smattering of aero features from its wind-cheating sibling, the Orca Aero: dropped stays, integration, and room for wider tires. It sounds all pretty standard for a 2020 model. But after riding it for two days in the Basque region, it seems, oddly, to be a bike that defies what it should be on paper. First let’s dive into the tech.

The bike’s huge chainstays and 386 bottom bracket do a fine job of delivering all the power to the road.

LIGHTER? NO. STIFFER? YES. More AERO? A LITTLE. MORE VERSATILE? HECK YEAH!

Finding your bike amongst the rest of the attending journalists’ test bikes at a product launch is usually a case of looking for your name on the top tube. For the Orca OMX it was a case of Orbea representatives telling me “it’s the one that Egan Bernal looks like he should be riding”. They’d distinctively painted each bike in a myriad of colours, a showcase for the MyO project (more on that later). Mine was a glossy yellow, red and blue affair — something bright and punchy to look at if (and when) my head would drop on the climbs we’d be taking on.

There are normally a few guarantees at a road bike presentation. One is that somewhere along the way the brand will mention that they’ve closely worked with pro team ‘X’, had the riders test the bikes, and changed or kept features and ride qualities that the team liked or disliked. But the new Orca OMX, we were told, is aimed squarely at today’s consumers.

Out go the need to make it super aero/stiff/light and instead, the order of priorities seems to be: ride quality, adaptability, weight, and then finally aero. That’s not to say they haven’t had feedback from a handful of riders on their sponsored teams (Vital Concept and WMT-Rotor)

‘Chunky’ would be one word to describe the look of this bike, but that doesn’t mean it’s weighty. Orbea has unapologetically aimed to keep the weight of this bike in the same ballpark as the OMR. At 833g for a painted frame and 370g for the fork, that’s still a competitive weight in today’s market.

It’s not just the down tube that’s gotten beefy either — the spacing for tyre width also has. There’s enough room to comfortably fit up to 32mm tyres, and a minimum of 25mm for race days. Obviously, in this day and age, out go the calliper brakes and in come the (direct-mount) discs. There will be no rim-brake version offered. (As a side note, it’s quite surprising that Orbea’s road bike pre-orders in 2020 are 95% disc models. Pretty much the only rim brake bikes that make up that last 5% are entry-level models. That’s quite a change from only a few years back.)

Those Free Flow forks welcome big tyres (for roadies).

Up front, the huge 1 1/2″ headset bearings both top and bottom result in a chunky-looking headtube. The steerer tube itself is still 1 1/8″. This makes for a stiff front end, but it’s far from aero, making the competitor’s headtubes look as slight as a Grand Tour contender in comparison. The forks follow Orbea’s “free-flow” design — basically wide-legged to reduce turbulence. This also has the benefit of allowing ample room for those 32mm tyres.

The new Orca has a few shaped tubes — the down tube, though massive, has a truncated Kamm design. Along with a few other minimal aero flourishes — such as the dropped seatstays and integrated cockpit — the D shaped seat post, and new neat seat clamp (20% lighter than the Orca OMR’s) make for a slick-looking bike with a claimed 10% reduction in drag. But I wouldn’t say that, even with these added design tweaks, it’s noticeably faster than the standard Orca out on the road (a bike I thoroughly enjoy riding).

To be honest, the aero claims didn’t seem to be a big part of the presentation. Orbea’s addressed many people’s desire to have a few aero features, but judging by the result, it seems to be more of a token gesture. It came across as an area they were happy to compromise on if it meant the bike didn’t ride quite how they wanted or hit the desired weight. Personally, I appreciate the honesty and the recognition that, for who this bike is aimed at, aero is not necessarily at the top of the priority list.

Time for some numbers. Orbea claims the Orca OMX is 27 seconds faster over 50km at 50kph than the Orca XLM: an 8-watt saving. In comparison, the Orca Aero is 87 seconds faster over 50km at 50kph over the Orca OMR. Question is, who the hell rides at that speed? I know I sure don’t (I’m more of a 48kph man myself). They’re silly claims (particuarly given the target market) but at least they didn’t go down the route of trying to drag other brands’ aero qualities (or lack thereof) into the presentation with dodgy maths.

Interestingly, Orbea admitted that simply swapping out the Mavic Speed Release levers for a flush bolt achieved just as much aero gain as all the new tube shapes.

The oversized chainstays delivered all the power to the back wheel. The bottom bracket is just as meaty in size.

Box section seatstays matched to a sizeable-diameter bottom bracket and the meaty down tube help you get all that power out. The new Orca’s a claimed 15% stiffer than the OMR, but chatting with head engineer Jon Ander Ortuondo, they’d not aimed to make it ‘pro’ stiff. “For consumers, stiffness is more about safety than putting out ‘pro’ watts,” he said.

That’s certainly a different take compared to what we usually hear, but out on the road, it feels like the bike transfers all the power you pump into the pedals. You’re neither fighting it nor wanting for more. It’s predictable, confident, and more than surefooted when the road gets tricky.

To keep these characteristics constant across frame sizes, the layup differs between 47-51cm and 53-60cm frames. In total, seven frame sizes and five build options will be available. The base model costs US$4,999 / £4,199 / €4,699 and comes equipped with a full Ultegra R8000 groupset and either Vision 40 SC Disc Carbon TL, Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon, or DT Swiss ARC 1400 Dicut DB 48 Carbon wheels. The top-notch build retails for US$9,599 / £8,299 / €9,499 with SRAM Red AXS and either Ksyrium Pro Carbon, DT Swiss ARC 1400 Dicut DB 48 Carbon, or Vision Metron 40 SC DB Carbon Clinchers.

I rode the Dura-Ace Di2 build. Unsurprisingly, the groupset worked flawlessly.

The three remaining builds use either Ultegra Di2, SRAM’s new Force AXS, or Dura-Ace Di2. Currently, there won’t be any Campagnolo build options.

GEOMeTRY

All the angles scream race bike. Long, low and tight. This isn’t anything like the Avant’s geometry; it’s more like the Orca OMR or Aero. It’s this balance of race (or shall I say ‘performance’) geometry and the gaggles of space for those 32mm tyres that had me slightly struggling to pigeonhole this bike.

The new Orca will be going up against the likes of the new BMC Roadmachine, Trek’s latest Domane, and Specialized’s Roubaix, but it’ll also be up against something like Specialized’s Tarmac, which allows for (some) 30mm tyres, or Scott’s new Addict RS.

Seven sizes, and five build options will be available.

There’s just no direct comparison from the main players that I can currently think of. The closest I’d say is either Trek’s 2020 Domane with its Pro Endurance geometry (H1.5), or the pro geometry version of the Roubaix. Both of these come at a premium price though, plus they are only available in limited sizes. In the case of the Domane, it’s unfortunately only available through Trek’s Project One program. A BMC Roadmachine, standard H3 Domane, and the new standard Roubaix are more upright endurance machines.

There are, of course, bikes like the latest Tarmac or Scott RS which fit some 30mm tyres, but there’s no bike that can easily fit a 32mm tyre and still give you that race feel on 25mm tyres.

INTEGRATION

A simple solution to hiding the cables, but not the most elegant. There is also an integrated GPS mount.

This is the first fully integrated bike from Orbea. And like many of the bikes we’ve seen this year, it’s achieved with proprietary brand components. These go under the name ‘OC2’.

The Orca OMX goes down the same route as the Scott Addict RS by having a separate bar and stem, not a one-piece setup. This has its benefits, being less hassle to route, and to change the size of both bar and stem if the need arises. The bars are just a standard set of carbon bars, though Orbea claims that all products aren’t OEM; instead they’re designed in-house and developed along with the bike.

Cables run on the underside of the bars then route on the underside of the IRC stem. A polycarbonate (read: toughened plastic) cap keeps things tucked away and clean. It’s not the slickest design we’ve seen, but it’s clean, tidy and does the job well. It also allows for this bike to accept mechanical as well as electrical shifting. The cable then enters the frame and drops down the centre of the bearings. As for the bar and stem, both were stiff and comfortable.

The new OC stem hides all the routing on the underside under a cap. It’s pretty simple but tidy.

Orbea’s OC IRC stem seems a breeze to route (I needed to do mine twice to get a correct fit before roll-out on the first day’s test). Size range is generous: it comes in 10mm increments from 80mm through to 130mm. Weight is 160g for a 100mm and has a -8-degree drop.

As for the bars, these are carbon in construction, they come in five sizes ranging from 38-44cm, they have a reach of 85mm, a drop of 120mm, and they tip the scales at 220g. The shape is relatively classic and reminded me of FSA’s ever-popular Compact Pro. The diameter does feel slightly smaller than standard, though, but this may simply be down to the choice of tape used. If you’re not a fan of the shape you can always pop in your own personal preference.

Clam-style spacers allow for easy height adjustment and come in 5 and 10mm sizes. These were quick to take out and snap back in to place.

The seat post is a proprietary design so no other post — even the one from the Orca Aero — will fit. It’s 216g, has tilt adjust of 15% +- and a setback of 0-25mm. The micro-adjustment, one-bolt design looks as fiddly as any one-bolt post. It’s also where the battery for Di2 is housed, again with a proprietary plug to keep it in place.

The seatclamp bolt seemed pretty easy to adjust but just like most internal clamps it could be an absolute pain to initially install or keep in place if you travel a lot.

OTHER TOUCHES

Keeping the wheels in place are Mavic’s ingenious Speed Release levers. You can swap these out if you prefer, and Orbea will be offering aftermarket skewers for those that need to attach their bike to a home trainer. It’s a tiny but nice touch. Other little touches include an integrated chain catcher and the electronic junction box housed in the down tube.

STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD WITH MYO

If one of the five builds doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, you can always customise your build through Orbea’s online tool, MyO. There you can change certain elements of the groupset and wheels to get it just how you like it. For no additional charge you can also make your bike as personal or as wild-looking as you want.

The MyO online tool will have you whiling away hours, I promise you. Here you can tinker to your heart’s content on the final paint scheme of your bike. It’s been available for a few years now but for 2020 Orbea has upped the ante by adding some seriously crazy fork graphics. This is where I feel Orbea successfully separates itself from the pack.

All the paintwork is done in house at Orbea’s HQ in Mallabia. We visited the facilities a few years back, but they’ve grown substantially since then.

The bike is a blast on downhills. The 30 or 32mm tyres should inspire confidence.

REVIEW

Given the versatility of this bike, you may be wondering if it’s a case of “jack of all trades, master of none”. In this case, the full, original and oft-forgotten quote actually sums up the bike much better: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

Design flourishes such as the FreeFlow forks, the dropped stays, the D shaped seatpost, and the seat tube are reminiscent of the Orca Aero.

The bike’s not as slippery as an all-out aero race bike, or as whispy light as a pure climbing bike. It also doesn’t have as much tyre clearance as some of the recently released endurance bikes (here’s looking at you Trek with your 40mm of clearance!). But it offers a solid smattering of each of these qualities to make it stand out.

It could easily feel like a muddled mess, wanting to be something to everyone. Instead, it rides like a highly capable race bike when you slap 25mm tyres on, with characteristics similar to the standard Orca. Sure, with this setup the gaping space between tyre and frame mightn’t be aesthetic pleasing, but it doesn’t distract from what is a perfectly well-balanced race bike.

The aero gains are very marginal, if not a little pointless to mention. The integration is clean enough, but not as slick as some. As for the endurance/comfort capabilities, you can put a big fat tick in that box too. It’s hard not to have a smooth ride with 30 or 32mm under you at about five bar (72psi).

As you’d expect, the ride characteristics change slightly with wider rubber — the nippiness of the handling is somewhat diluted. But downhill, with the wider footprint, the Orca OMX’s snappy accelerations and low race position encourage you to be brave. At some point on the second day I hit 80kph. This may not sound fast, but the route’s descents were as twitchy as a teenager who’s downed far too much Red Bull.

There are several other bikes out there that offer something similar to the new Orca OMX, but this is the first I’ve ridden and also the first of what I hope is a new bread where pigeonholing it as a race or endurance bike doesn’t do it justice.

The Orca OMX is just simply a fun, smile-inducing ride. It’s fast, competent, and very reminiscent of the OMR when in ‘road mode’. But in ‘girthy tyre mode’ it’ll take you places that you’ve wanted to go but haven’t possibly ventured … or may have but not comfortably.

Sure it sacrifices a little bit of what a wholeheartedly new Orca could be, sure it feels a little unrefined as a pure race bike or even what a wholeheartedly new Avant could be, but it’s a recipe that has me wondering if it could undermine the road cyclist’s rule of N+1.

Gallery

Editors Picks