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Nobody’s travelling very far at the moment, but that hasn’t stopped Ritchey rolling out a couple of new travel models. This time, it’s the gravel-leaning Outback range that gets the Break-Away treatment, with Ritchey bringing out a travel tandem(!) that fits into two suitcases, as well as the long-awaited arrival of a Break-Away version of the steel Outback.
The Break-Away system is Ritchey’s well-established, well-liked system that breaks the frame at the seat tube and the down tube, with a seat post and a hinged joint holding it all together. With the frame in two halves, a full-sized bike can fit into a suitcase, avoiding most additional luggage charges and allowing you to bring your bike with you in a more compact package than a full-sized bike travel bag or case.
While it may seem incongruous to be launching travel bikes in the current context, I lean toward thinking that there’s a substantial symbolic significance to it. Travel’s cancelled, but we can still dream of adventure – of new gravel roads to explore, of new countries to discover, and of lines on a map unspooling into life.
And when you look at Ritchey’s new models through that lens, there’s plenty to get excited about.
A new Outback Break-Away
Let’s start with the Outback Break-Away Steel.
Now, attentive readers will note that there’s a carbon fibre Outback Break-Away in the brand’s line-up already. CyclingTips has even reviewed it previously. But despite bearing a similar name, this steel version is radically different beyond just the frame material, and a completely new addition to Ritchey’s range.
It mirrors the latest steel iteration of the Outback platform precisely in geometry, tube butting and tyre clearance. The new Outback (non-Break-Away) was released just a few months ago and is a more adventure-oriented version of the first-generation steel Outback, with yawning clearance for 700×48 mm or 650b x 2.0″ tyres, an entirely new fork, a more approachable geometry and loooong seatstays. It’s TIG-welded, and features Ritchey’s proprietary triple-butted Logic tubeset.
Ritchey considers its Break-Away models as not just ‘travel’ bikes, but bikes that happen to be able to travel. Indeed, Ritchey says the Break-Away equivalent is indistinguishable in ride quality from its non-Break-Away sibling – it just has the extra trick up its sleeve of allowing you to break the frame in half, disassemble the bike into a provided travel case, and jet off to new terrain for adventures. And given that, it seems refreshingly uncompromised, besides adding a hundred grams or so for the clamping hardware and cable decouplers.
Beyond that, the fact Ritchey has been able to squeeze all the capabilities of the current Outback into a travel version – without resorting to any weirdness in the geometry – will be music to the ears of the many people (or, perhaps just a vocal few?) who were pestering Ritchey for a steel Break-Away Outback. The Break-Away frameset retails for US$1,799 (including case and couplings), compared to US$1,399 for the standard version.
I have an Outback Break-Away frameset on hand for testing, and pending some additional parts – which have been slowed in transit by COVID-19, because hasn’t everything? – I am looking forward to putting it to the test. As you can see, it comes in a mustard yellow colour that I can best describe as ‘the same as my uncle’s Volkswagen when I was growing up’. I trust that reference point is relatable to you, too.
I’ll be approaching the review in two parts: as a review of the Outback platform at first, seeing as it should provide the same experience, and secondly as a travel bike when I can actually, uh, travel anywhere. Keep an eye open for the first part of that review in a couple of months, or whenever the groupset actually arrives.
Twice as nice
While the Outback Break-Away Steel is plenty interesting, I’d argue that it comes off second best for the coveted award of ‘most interesting product release from Ritchey this week’. Taking out that honour is the Outback TandM Break-Away, which is a tandem bike with gravel chops – it’ll take up to 700×43 mm tyres – that breaks down into two suitcases.
The TandM – the T and M comes from Tom and Martha Ritchey, which is cute as hell – is a revision of the brand’s discontinued Double Switchback tandem. It is inspired by the couple’s travels, and designed by Tom as a tool for exploration with some company. As the company notes, “the only thing better than experiencing life in foreign lands by bicycle is sharing those adventures with someone riding along with you.” The frameset – inclusive of all hardware and two suitcases – comes in at US$2,999.
The TandM uses the same Break-Away clamping system as the Outback, but with an additional couple of hinge clamps. It’s a gorgeous looking steel frame with Ritchey’s triple-butted tube profile, and comes in a merlot, creme and indigo colour scheme that harkens back to the brand’s trademark red, white and blue fade.
Unlike its carbon-forked siblings in the Outback range, the TandM uses a steel fork with a 1 1/8” steerer. That adds a bit of weight but it should provide some peace of mind given the physics of an extra person on a bike.
Because it’s a tandem there are some things that are a bit different to what you’d expect to see on a modern gravel bike. There’s an eccentric bottom bracket at the front end to finetune chain tension on the timing chain, while the rider at the rear – stoker, in tandem parlance – is most likely going to be spinning a triple chainring (52/39/30T). The brake mounts are IS rather than flat-mount, and it’s quick-release front and rear rather than thru-axle. There are five bidon cage mounts across the bike, plus fender and rack mounts.
The TandM comes in just one size, which limits fit options for the captain slightly – the front reach is a long 411.3 mm, to a stack of 596.6 mm. Given Tom Ritchey is tall and prefers a fairly long and low position, this geometry has his fingerprints all over it. However, there is greater scope for adjustment for the stoker, with stack and reach easily adjustable by (rearward-facing) stem length and bar, mounted to the captain’s seatpost.
I don’t have a TandM in for review, but the romantic ideal that Tom and Martha Ritchey are establishing with this bike is kinda making me wish I did. That said, there are plenty of other people beside lovers that can benefit from tandems – including vision and mobility impaired riders – so I really like that Ritchey is catering for them, somewhat niche as the product may be.
Both the Outback Break-Away Steel and Outback TandM Break-Away are available now through Ritchey, ready for adventures both far and (for now) near.