Cyclocross test-ride: Ridley X-Bow, and how to fit on a bike pt.2

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I had friends in high-school that were really into skateboarding, were complete punk attitude, and axle-grind-kick-flipped off anything they could find in town. That was the norm-oh, and trying not to flip off the cops took effort. This is a bike that starts the rider down that road. This is not a road bike. Ridley cross bikes are aggression. Once I found a frame size that fit me, the attitude came out.

Ridley cyclocross bikes have bizarre fitment issues because everyone thinks about road bikes as their starting point of reference. Since this is 100% NOT a road bike, most of what you know on bicycle fitting is out the window. Earlier in this blog I mentioned how stand-over height really doesn’t matter anymore as it’s now all about how you feel while ON the bike, not where your junk is in relation to the top tube. You have to be comfortable with how your reach to the handlebars is and what your body can tolerate. (Not everyone can tolerate the Greg LeMond horizontal super-man position.) Ignore Ridley’s chart listed stand-over height on their cross bikes. Also ignore Ridley’s seat tube measurement to choose a size of frame. You might as well ignore the top tube measurement because the slightly different angles of those seat and head tubes change the measurements enough where you can’t count on that as selection criteria. The bottom line here, is that a Ridley cross bike is more compact and taller than what you’re used to. The bottom bracket is the single zero point of reference and it is also higher than you are used to. Every measure of what you want or like on a bike starts there. Know what you need for Reach, use a longer stem to accomplish that.

The reach is the primary factor. That is from bottom bracket center measured horizontally to where the center of the top of the head tube is located. What is it on your road bike? On my CAAD9 60cm road frame it is 404mm. Remember the goal here is slightly less – an inch shorter (25mm) or close to that. Looking at the Ridley X-Bow geometry chart, the size L reach is 389mm. About 3/4 inch less than my road frame. This was on the money of what i should expect and according to the professionals here and there, in a range where we I need it to be for my height. I made a few calls and found a shop with one in stock and actually built. I arranged a test ride and rode my CAAD9 19 miles to their store. A nice warm-up.

They did a quick fit to the bike, swapping my pedals over. Once on it I forgot what lower pressure knobby tires feel like. I thought I was on a flat, or was dragging a sail in the water. I noticed right away that this frame was more nimble than a road frame. It wasn’t right away something to be careful of, but it was noticeably easier to change direction from when in a right turn transitioning immediately to a left turn. Twitchy. I was reminded of something I read in my childhood enthusiasm for airplanes. The F-16 fighter jet was designed to be unstable so it could change directions faster and evade or attack easily. The computers keep it stable for you in the meantime. You are the computer on this bike so you had better like a more responsive ride.

I made my way up the road a bit and then found a small park with some gravel pathways allowing bike traffic. I went in for 5 minutes and came out. Holy crap, that was all it took. It had 50psi in the tires and it carved pretty well on some turns. I can only imagine what it would have been like with 30psi tubeless rims and the associated grip laying it over and digging in, leaving ruts. If I were only that talented with handling.

The X-Bow was easy to hop a rut or jump off some smaller bumps. I felt really in control and whatever handling skills I had before, were enhanced significantly on this frame. It felt much better. I’m not sure if it was psychosomatic, like wearing a tank top automatically makes you bench press another fifty pounds (or 20 kilos). But it did feel more like the satisfaction of having the right tool for the job instead of improvising with a hybrid conversion. The higher bottom bracket was not an issue. It allowed me to pedal while leaned over in turns and really get the power in earlier on corner exit.

Power transfer was great. I dare say that this frame is stiffer than my CAAD9 in acceleration force, and that bike is known as one of the stiffest aluminum road frames out there for criterium racing. A go to. Power down was a direct translation. Riding back to the shop I was on the sidewalk, some dirt paths, grass, I tried to be anywhere but on the road because I just didn’t want to be on pavement anymore. I just turned left and jumped off a curb, then bunny-hopped over road kill. I could weave and bob and dodge like a boxer. The problem here, is the new unleashed handling abilities tempt the rider to do stupid stuff on the road. The kind of things that get cyclists in trouble and give us bad names. A skater punk on a bike. Get yourself chased by cops.

Keep in mind that the X-bow is the lowest spec bike of Ridley’s cross offerings. It’s frame geometry is just a degree or two different than the upper spec bikes such as the X-ride; X-fire; X-night. The next step up is the X-ride and that aluminum frame is not only the lightest alloy cyclocross frame available (as the 2014 models go) but it shares the same geometry with the top line X-Night carbon bike. So if this X-bow is this leaning toward wicked and fun, the bikes above it must truly be special if not downright nervous and ready to over react. True fighting machines. No wonder it’s so popular around here.

[Edited notes: After racing a Fuji cross a year after this article, I can say that a higher bottom bracket is now useful if you are a rider that forcefully drives into the corner and really attacks the course pedaling everywher to get ahead. Result: you have to jump a few mil higher to remount. A geometry for committment in corners otherwist youll feel a bit tipsy]

The X-bow, according to company literature, has a frame weight of around 1800 grams, or nearly four pounds! the fork was the surprise. It weighs in at around 750 grams, or close to 1.7 pounds. This makes for a frame and fork combined weight of 5.5 pounds. Not light, but given how stiff and capable this bike is and what abuses it’s designed for, that’s pretty good. Comparing to it’s top flight X-Night, that’s 2.2 pounds heavier than the best of their best carbon offering. Separating the parts, the X-ride aluminum frame (the lightest alloy frame in cyclocross remember…) is only a pound lighter overall than the X-Bow and the majority of that is in the fork differences. All up weight of the test-ride bike is a claimed 20+ pounds. Not so bad. Two pounds can easily be lost through budget purchases of ebay stuff. Wheel rim and tire choices, seat post and handlebar stuff can all reap rewards for not much money. This bike is truly a fantastic ride for anyone wanting a maneuverable city bike (complete with pannier and fender mounts) or a great entry race bike that can compete all the way into the mid Cat levels until you become good enough the bike itself is the limitation. That’s quite a bit of fitness to attain.

This handled magnitudes better than the Trek Boone carbon cross bike I tested a few weeks ago, admittedly in street clothes, but I could immediately feel where the Boone tendencies were and they were not twitchy and nervous. This bike has personality. This bike has ability. This geometry is for punks and hooligans. What else couldmake the ride more enjoyable?

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