Ribble Ultra SL R aero bike gets you home three minutes faster

After three years in development, has Ribble created the most aerodynamically advanced road platform ever?

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I could start this news piece with something along the lines of: “British brand Ribble, trading since 1897, has unveiled a new aero road bike” but that seems like it might be a contender for understatement of the year.

As you can see from the photos of this new bike, Ribble has gone full “hold my beer (insert bigger brand name)”-level aeroness with a time trial-esque frame, handlebars with direct mount brake levers, and 65 mm Enve wheels.

Of course, the eyeballs and actual aerodynamic testing can deliver vastly different results, but the new Ribble Ultra has all the hallmarks of an ultra-fast road bike.

The Ribble design team had a clear, if not exactly simple, design brief: “develop the world’s most aerodynamically advanced road platform.” Looking like someone took the rear end of the Cannondale SystemSix, the down tube from the 3T Exploro Racemax, and the front end of a Pinarello Bolide, the new Ultra certainly screams aero from every angle. The end result is a bike Ribble CEO Andy Smallwood says gives “pro riders and customers a proven and meaningful performance advantage.”

What’s a meaningful advantage you ask? Well, Ribble claims the new Ultra SL R can save riders approximately three minutes on a “typical 100 km ride with average yaw conditions” compared to the brand’s current Endurance SL R bike.

The new Ultra is the result of three years of development, including CFD, wind tunnel, and real-world testing of bike and rider for what Ribble says is “a clear statement of our position as a world-class, innovative, and exciting British cycling brand.”

As part of this development process, Ribble says it analysed and tested every tube profile to create “the optimum shape to perform across all yaw conditions”, with the shape, length, and width of the frame and forks all designed to enhance airflow attachment. The end result is a design with a particular focus on each section’s integration and interaction with the rest of the bike – the forks integrate with the upper down tube to maintain flow attachment for longer, and the lower down tube is said to integrate the water bottle so well the bike is faster with a bottle. 

While some might argue much of the frame design is nothing new, the handlebars are next-level innovation by anyone’s standards. The integrated and patent-pending Ultra Bar is said to achieve “unmatched aerodynamic integration through innovation” with a “wake-generating design creating a drag reduction zone for the rider to sit in as well as directing vortexes around the rider, further enhancing the airflow.” Or in simpler terms, Ribble has created a Formula 1 front wing with STI levers to deflect airflow away from the rider. 

The bar certainly looks strikingly different with its “wake-generating” optimised shape, adjustable direct mount brake levers, and textured bar-tape-free finish all combining to enhance aerodynamic performance. 

Ribble says one of the most restrictive factors its R&D team faced was the limitations of standard brake design integration. So Ribble designers went completely “off-piste”, developing a removable and adjustable plate to which the brake lever mounts, thereby removing the standard 23.5 mm lever clamp. Removing this clamp gave Ribble designers the freedom to create what they say is a more ergonomic and aerodynamic drop section. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Ribble’s connection to Dan Bigham, the Ultra Bar is available as narrow as just 33 cm at the hoods, tapering wider at the drops.  

Ribble claims the net drag reduction of this new Ultra cockpit is in the region of 2.1%, versus Ribble’s Level 5 aero bars, which are said to already offer a staggering drag reduction of up to 40% compared to a standard handlebar and stem. This claimed extra 2.1% drag reduction translates to a claimed 23.2 seconds at 22 mph (35 km/h) over 40 km, (please Ribble: aerodynamics are confusing enough without multiple measurement units). Even greater gains are available if a rider moves from wider bars to Ribble’s narrower options. 

Ribble has published data from wind tunnel testing of the new Ultra showing the importance of testing bikes with riders. The published data shows the new Ultra SL R with the new Ultra bars and a rider tested 75.1 seconds faster over 40 km at 22 mph (35 km/h) or 61.4 seconds for faster riders hitting 29 mph (47 km/h) over the same 40 km (5-10° yaw) versus its current Endurance SL R bike. Without a rider, the lower-spec Ultra with the Level 5 cockpit tested fastest. 

On the specific test courses it demonstrated an average performance gain of 2.99 seconds per mile (1.89 seconds per kilometre), which is within 0.04% of the results from the wind tunnel testing at 22 mph (35 km/h).

The new Ultra SL R has a claimed weight of 7.6 kg, a figure I found relatively impressive given the bike’s all-in-for-aero focus. 

The Ultra is available in two models, with the Ultra SL R (pictured here) starting at £3,899 (roughly US$5,350 / AU$6,800), and the Ultra SL, which features the 2.1% slower Level 5 bars starting at £3,199 (roughly US$4,400 / AU$4,890).

Ribble is offering multiple build options and custom colour options across both models through its website’s bike builder configurator. 

We hope to have a review bike in soon. In the meantime, more information is available at RibbleCycles.co.uk.

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