My Time on the World’s Lightest Production Bicycle

The Trek Emonda SLR 10. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly.
The Trek Emonda SLR 10. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly.

The hardest part of riding a sub-eleven pound, SRAM equipped, carbon fiber, one-piece bar/stem having, race tuned, fifteen thousand dollar bike is getting off it and giving it back.

I had my reservations about this machine, but when the call back came I didn’t want to give it up.

My wife, on the other hand, is happy to have the Trek Emonda SLR 10 out of the house, as I refused to leave this beauty in the garage.

This bike is light. Crazy light. Shockingly light. Everyone who put their hands on it made the same face. The “what the holy hell” face. And almost everyone who picked it up also asked “what are you doing with that?”

A very good question considering I am right on the edge of the bikes allowed weight limit and no one, and I mean no one, would consider me a climber. The only answer I could come up with is … “Why not?”

It was clear from the very first ride, the build choices for the SLR 10 were going to be an issue for me. The Tune wheels and saddle, although things of beauty, were not designed for everyday use. The Tune tubulars came laced up with a pair of tires more suited for the track than a long road ride and the saddle belonged in an art museum more than under my generous buttocks.

The Trek Emonda SLR 10
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

In short order I ate through the original tires and mounted up some excellent 25mm Continental Competition kicks. The more substantial tires fit into the Bontrager direct mount brakes no problem and upgrade the bike ride characteristic substantially.

I also mounted my favorite Specialized Toupe Saddle and down the road I went.

Oh wait, I also, unfortunately, had to add a water bottle, a cage and a tool bag to my wonder whip adding so much unwanted additional weight as to almost turn the World’s Lightest Production bike into a tanker. But so it goes.

So the ultimate build seemed to be more about the impressively low weight, than the day-to-day ride-ability of the build. And I love that about this bike. It is ridiculous, but glorious.

My friend Cory says this build is for a 110 pound rider, who has a ton of money, a great mechanic and a desire to go fast uphill above all else. And I don’t completely disagree. But I meet none of those criteria, and I love this bike.

This bike demands you pay attention.

It demands you are in it.

You can’t just get on this bike and mindlessly go for a ride.

But if you are paying attention the Emonda will reward you by converting your effort into forward propulsion. Whether it be on long, sustained climbs, a short angry pitch or even hammering along the flats. The Emonda impresses.

Descending is a blast. I know this bike is pegged as a climber’s bike, but I loved tossing the Emonda downhill. Sure, if the road was sketchy the Emonda definitely didn’t soak up the chatter like some of the more all-around bikes available. You have to be all-in if you are going to be riding an Emonda, but you get back what you put in.

The Trek Emonda SLR 10
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

The direct-mount Bontrager brakes are powerful and take some time to become comfortable with. In the early going I locked up the rear wheel on a regular basis, but dialed in what pressure was needed to inspire confidence. And I thought they looked pretty cool, until Trek just launched the new Madone with some super trick looking integrated brakes.

So what does this all mean to you? It means Trek continues to make some pretty amazing bikes. Trek seems to have struggled a little bit with their highend marketing strategy in the post-Armstrong era. But now they have three Tour-worthy steeds in their stable: the recently reborn Madone, the lightweight wonder Emonda and the Classics classic Domane.

I am just suggesting if you are looking for a new Trek, a new race bike, or you love riding a bike with a little bit of a persnickety personality, then go throw your leg over an Emonda. Look closer at the SLR8 with a solid Dura Ace build and not-so-jaw-dropping price.


The New Ridley X-Trail Is the Best of Both Worlds

The Ridley X-Trail.

We hinted at the arrival of an unnamed Ridley whip in our 10 drool-worthy items list and now it has finally arrived, name and all.

The all-new Ridley X-Trail.

The X-Trail is a Swiss-army knife of a bike that can do it all. It’s the Belgium bike maker’s answer for the growing segment of all-road riding.

My time with the then prototype X-Trail was limited to a few short rides during Bike PressCamp but the bike was impressive to say the least.

The X-Trail is a disc-only, using Shimano’s new flat mounting standard for a cleaner appearance. It will be using the Pressfit BB86 bottom bracket standard. By running PF BB86, Ridley engineers were able to allow more tire clearance while keeping the Q-factor at a minimum. As such, the X-Trail will accommodate up to 40C tires.

Ridley X-Trail

The frame is also nicely integrated with the fork similar to the Noah SL for better stiffness and aerodynamics. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Ridley X-Trail

The front uses a 15x100 thru-axle that's a popular standard in mountain bike fork. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly.

Ridley X-Trail

The rear uses the proven 12x142 thru axle for security and stiffness. All cables are neatly routed internally and it's compatible with both mechanical and electronic shift systems. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly.

Ridley X-Trail

Originally dubbed the X-Project, the X-Trail sports a full carbon frame build with Ridley's 30T and 24T High Modulus Carbon, as well as a 27.2 seatpost for better bump compliance. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly.

The Ridley X-Trail

The Ridley X-Trail. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly.

Ridley had test samples loaded with 27C and 40C Challenge rubbers at BPC. With each different tire width comes a slight change of the bike’s personality, narrower for more road and wider for more gnar. The 15×100 front and 12×142 rear thru-axles also stiffen the bike while making wheel changes a faster ordeal. The fork weighs in at a claimed 490 gram while a medium frame weighs competitively at about 1055 gram.

It’s as if someone threw a Helium SL, a Noah SL and a X-Knight into a blender and out came the X-Trail.

The bike feels like a road bike and cornering was very planted during the initial road test. With its bottom bracket placed in between a road bike and a cross bike, the X-Trail had the best of both worlds. Switching to the off road trails around Deer Valley was seamless and the X-Trail was eager to take up whatever challenge I pointed it towards. With the 40mm tires installed, it was reminiscent of an aggressive rigid 29er that doesn’t beat me up at the end of the ride, largely thanks to Ridley’s use of a 27.2 seatpost. The Shimano brakes were also confidence inspiring. I knew I’d be able to stop when I needed to with nothing more than a light squeeze at the lever. We also love the fender mounts for the wetter days.

They really mean it when they say it’s an all-road bike. We can’t wait to test the production version for a more thorough review.


Silence

<Text Message From Mom>

08/02/15: Brian passed away peacefully at 5:20 today with the whole family around him.

There was way too much in my head, crowding around, jostling for my attention. Work. Death. Bills. Fatherhood. Family. Retirement, or lack thereof. Relationship. Dreams. Nightmares. I had to get out. I needed silence. So I left work Wednesday afternoon and rolled for an overnight on Mt. Tamalpais. As the din of San Francisco started to fade, the only sounds that mattered were that of my own breathing and the bicycle underneath me. Slowly, very slowly the noises in my head started to be replaced by solitude, exhaustion and, eventually, a sense of peace.

Sometimes we get out overnight for the camaraderie, or for joy or for exercise. Every now and then, I personally just have to go and try to find a little slice of silence to live in, even if only for a mere 12 hours.

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Keep Cool, Look Cool With the POC Raceday Climber Jersey

POC Raceday Climber Jersey
POC Raceday Climber Jersey. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly.

The POC booth at the 2013 Interbike show was a showstopper. There was so much buzz around their booth, you couldn’t help but be excited about what they were up to. They had appeared on the bicycle scene with a scream, arriving out of nowhere.

Even if you weren’t crazy about orange as a color, their bright aesthetic and safety-first spiel was infectious. The helmets, and even the sunglasses, started to appear everywhere, with a whole pack of riders embracing their non-traditional style with a vengeance.

The apparel line on the other hand seemed to land with a little bit more of a whimper. This seemed to be part availability and part, if the internet is to be believed, early quality and sizing issues.

I can’t speak to the early versions of the POC apparel, but this Raceday Climber Jersey is an excellent piece of kit.

The Raceday jersey uses what they call 3d fabric. It feels like a quilted material and wicks the sweat away from your body. It also keeps you cool under the hottest of conditions. The arms and waist stay in place and the color, although not the bright, neon orange of their early kit, looks great in person.


Bontrager’s New Shoe Game Is on Point

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

First Bontrager brought their high-end road helmet game into play with any other helmet on the market with the Velocis and now they have landed a set of kicks worthy of shoe lust.

The XXX, XXX LE and even the Velocis are all a step in the right direction for Bontrager.

I unboxed a pair of the crispy white XXX beauties, mounted up a set of cleats with the help of my fit-wise friend, spun up the Boa dials and ran out the door for a 85 kilometer ride in the the hills of Chianti.

The fit is excellent and the Clarino microfiber upper is a beautiful mix between suppleness and toughness to make the kicks comfortable and scuff resistant.

These are not exactly designed to be cozy, but I found them to be reasonably comfortable, with excellent stiffness brought by the carbon sole.

It needs to be pointed out how many of my riding partners were jealous of my new shoes and somewhat surprised they were from Bontrager.

Bontrager is dialing in their high-end game one category at a time and we can’t wait to see where they go next.


Donkey Label’s Boutique Bike Kit Is Built With Local Love

Founder and product designer Paul Krumrich, right, and James Tainter are the team behind Minneapolis-based Donkey Label cycling apparel. (Photo: David Pierini)
Founder and product designer Paul Krumrich, right, and James Tainter are the team behind Minneapolis-based Donkey Label cycling apparel. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly.

Update: Donkey Label is offering Element.ly readers 20% off with the code “onthedl”.

When you think of Minnesota, donkeys are not the first thing which come to mind. But tucked away in a warehouse in Minnesota’s tree-lined residential neighborhood of Longfellow there are a pack of donkeys hard at work.

Not the actual animals, but there’s definitely some real-ass work going on. Donkey Label, makers of beautiful and unique bicycle kit, have set up shop in this midwest neighborhood.

“Minneapolis was a choice early in my life as I attended college here,” says Paul Krumrich, lead donkey. “Minneapolis is a great city for cycling: QBP, HED, Twin Six, Park Tool, Art Crank, Curt Goodrich, Appleman, Peacock Groove, One on One, Hollywood Cycles, Cars r Coffins are all located here.”

A Donkey Label speed suit. (Photo: David Pierini)
A Donkey Label speed suit. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly.

Donkey Label is the bicycle company version of the locavore, sourcing as much material locally as makes sense and stitching their cycling gear right inside the Twin Cities. They still turn to Italy for much of their actual technical fabrics, as it is still where the best materials are being created, but if there’s a local alternative they embrace it.

“I think Minneapolis has some cache in the cycling scene,” says Krumrich. “We are not Boulder or London or Italy. I think if I were in one of those locations DL would not exist as it is. It works because it is authentic. I might view the world differently if I was sipping cucumber water on the beach instead of sticking hand warmers down my shorts to get a ride in when it’s 14 degrees.”

James Tainter folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. (Photo: David Pierini)
James Tainter folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly.

Their warehouse is packed with containers of jerseys, exotic materials, zip pulls and sundry other items. The Donkey crew have a distinct laidback internet startup vibe. On top of their own bicycle apparel they also have socks, wallets made by a local guy and massage oils, natural soaps and embrocation made by a woman from Viroqua, Wisconsin.

The Donkey Label does things one way. Their way. The jerseys are admittedly in the neighborhood of pricey.

“Our stuff is not for everyone, and we are ok with that,” says Krumrich. “If we tried to hit the sweet spot in the market we would be forced into making decisions based solely on money. Our jerseys are worth every penny. And part of what makes them worth every penny is the knowledge of where those pennies go. Kit is printed and stitched right here in Minneapolis and our socks are made in North Carolina.”

Donkey Label. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly.
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

As the good folks at Donkey Label like to say “you vote with your money,” and we are voting for one of those sweet Artist Collaboration Miami Cycling Jerseys.

Krumrich was also nice enough to answer a few more of our silly questions here:

What thing in your life are you most proud of: My two boys.

Do you believe in love at first site: I believe in being overtaken by someone or something in a single instant. I’m just not sure that meets the definition of love.

Form or function: Function (by a nats’ ass).

Founder and product designer Paul Krumich, foreground, with team member James Tainter run Donkey Label out of small space in Minneapolis. (Photo:David Pierini)
Founder and product designer Paul Krumich, foreground, with team member James Tainter run Donkey Label out of small space in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

Toilet paper, over or under: Now that I have kids there is no question—UNDER. When Torbdog spins it like a wheel, it does not unravel all over the damn floor.

What is your spirit animal: I just had a flashback to interviews I had out of engineering school. Donkey.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Designing, riding, relaxing and repeating. Maybe in a different location with mountains, or oceans close by. My ADD doesn’t let me stay focused on any single thing for too long so five years is a lifetime.

Donkey Label
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

What is the last album you listened to in its entirety: Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boys. I listened to High Plains Drifter three times in a row, and then just let it go.

Yellow or Pink: Pink.

If you could be someone else for one day who would it be: Jeffrey Lebowski.

What is one thing about you almost no one knows: I have no belly button.

Boxers or briefs: Boxer briefs.

Founder and designer Paul Krumrich folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. (Photo: David Pierini)
Founder and designer Paul Krumrich folds a jersey at Donkey Label in Minneapolis. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly.

Are the stereotypes of the midwest accurate: Yes, we are overly nice, fatter than most and drink more than we should.

If you were thrown in jail for a bad habit, what would that habit be: Saying yes to everything.

What would be your chosen superpower: Mind control.

Merckx or someone else: Steve HED.

Describe your perfect vacation: I have been to 2 World Cups and it has been the perfect mix of exploring the country, meeting cool people from the reaches of the globe, and watching an unbelievable sport. I will repeat that as many times as I can in my life.

Donkey Label
Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly

What was the most embarrassing event in your life: Got a serious grundie in fifth grade that ripped my whitey tighties off, in front of the entire class. And/or the day my dad pulled over the captain of the football team for speeding. Half the football team was waiting at my locker when I got to school. My dad is not a police officer.

Favorite food: Dark chocolate.

Glass, half full or half empty: The Dude Abides.

Road bike or mtb: Yes.

Hardtail or full suspension: Hardtail.

Update: Donkey Label is offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who wants to try their kit for the first time. Code: onthedl


The S24O: Playing Hooky From Life

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There is something magical about leaving work, meeting up with some friends, and going camping for a single night in the middle of the week. It’s like playing hooky, or finding some little slice of the weekend on a Wednesday. Known as a “Sub 24 Hour Overnight“, or an S24O to the cool kids in the back of the bus, they can come from a whim, at a moment’s notice:

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With a feeling of anticipation, and maybe a touch of nervousness, gear is rapidly dug out of bins in the garage and loaded on the bike. Do I have everything? What’s missing? Crap! I’m out of fuel tabs! Where is my good bivy? Will it rain? And where in the Hell did that camping spoon go?!?! Rushing to and fro, finding, packing, loading, taking breaks to answer work emails and messages, praying that no emergencies pop up to keep me from missing that all important ride to the start of my escape from reality.

Getting to the start of an S24O by any means necessary. A ferry is one of the better means..

On the boat, and it’s almost empty. I’m swimming upstream against the tide of the commuters as they go home from their offices. Typically I am one of them. But not today. Today I worked from home, so that I could start early enough and leave early enough to have an effective departure. Leave too early and it’s trouble with the job that pays the bills. Leave too late and ride uphill into an increasingly cold, windy and dark night. There is a small, fine window for an S24O, you see. The destination, in this case Hawk Camp, has to be close enough to get to in good order, have time to set up camp and get dinner going before the temperature drops too far for comfort. The Marin Headlands is almost always fogged in, cold and damp. I’ve been there many, many nights and can count on 3 fingers the number of times I’ve seen the stars after dark.

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Nathan pauses at the bottom of the climb to Hawk Camp.

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Dirt road climbing in the Marin Headlands.

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The sun sets on Harrison as he gets closer to Hawk Camp.

On the other side, I anxiously await the arrival of my co-conspirators. Nathan is a seasoned bike tourer, with a setup to match. Harrison is a rookie, this is his first time out, riding a full suspension mountain bike with all his gear strapped to his back. Once they show up, we roll out, amidst all the cycling commuters. They have laptops and work clothes in their bags. We have sleeping pads, food, water, stoves, ground tarps, warm clothes and a bottle of rum in ours. Knowing that they’re going home to more obligations…making dinner, doing laundry, whatever else…while we’re going to sleep in the fog and listen to the coyotes heightens the pure joy of our S24O. It is, for the lack of a better phrase, a breathe of fresh air from the almost never ending daily hustle of life.

A quick stop at the Presidio Sports Basement for supplies and we’re back to fighting the wind. It’s always this way. The wind whips in off the Pacific in the late afternoon, though the gap at the Golden Gate Bridge, and shoves you around, makes you work twice as hard, turns the sidewalks around the towers on the bridge itself in to sketchy affairs on gear laden bikes. From there the 3 mile climb up to Hawk Camp is, well, it is what it is. Nathan is strong, I’m not, Harrison is but riding a heavier bike with 13lbs of gear on his shoulders. We slog and granny hear our way up, racing the setting sun and cooling temperatures.

Dinner? Dessert? Both?

But we’re outside, it’s Wednesday night, we’re going playing hooky. Life is just fiiiiinnne!

One of the joys of camping is the complete lack of anything to do at night but hang out and...talk.

The sun sets, our gear is out and the wind comes in harder. I brought a deck of playing cards but the gusts are so strong that they’ll blow away any cards set on the table. Harrison breaks out the rum, I heat up hot chocolate, we eat dinner, talk and listen to the roaring silence. That seems like a contradiction in terms, but you’ll understand if you ever camp up in the Marin Headlands. The elation of escape is gone, replaced by a tired, quiet, sleepy sense of satisfaction.

A S24O requires little equipment. Sleeping bag? Check. Sleeping pad? Check. Food, water? Check.

In the morning I wake up earlier than the boys. They’ve got a quick trip back to the office, but I have to catch a ferry back home to start the work day. The fog is still there, of course. That’s all right. It’ll clear as I cross over the Golden Gate Bridge, exposing a San Francisco that is no longer a vacation destination but the the source of our daily grind. But just outside it’s limits, the Marin Headlands await our next bout of mid week hooky.


Missing the State Bicycle Hell Ride in Phoenix

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I am zipping up my suitcase in an Austin, Texas hotel when my room phone rings.

“Hey Mark, it’s Scheduling. We have a schedule change for you. You won’t fly home tonight. You are going to fly two legs to Oakland, overnight there 12 hours, then deadhead back to Phoenix tomorrow afternoon. [Mmm-Kay?]”

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I have just been “extended.” Extended, as in, instead of finishing my work trip as originally scheduled, I have been chosen by the almighty scheduling computer to “take one for the team” and spend an extra night on the road filling the gaps for a disruption in the operation. Such is the life of a major airline pilot.

But I chose this job. Robin Williams once said riding bicycles is the closest you can get to flying. I have the privilege of getting to do both. Getting paid to fly airplanes funds my bicycle habit. It allows me time to train and the means to travel to different ends of the earth to ride. But today it threw a South Mountain-sized wet blanket on my plans to ride a local “Monument” of bragging rights and bro hugs. Damnit!!

Last July, State Bicycle Co. inaugurated their annual Hell Ride. South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona, fixed gear, high noon. Did I mention July? So, basically idiotic suffering at 105 degrees in the searing sunlight at 13 mph on a fixed gear up a 6-mile 6% climb, for bragging rights, beers, and a cool embroidered patch. Who cares about Strava at that point?

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Now mind you, I can ride up South Mountain any day of the week, any time, geared, fixed, paved, dirt, you name it. But today, I had to spy out the passenger window of my company’s airplane as we arrived in Phoenix. High noon. I could see the support vehicles parked at the summit. I shoulda been there.

Such is life when your schedule lies at the whim of the clouds, wind, and rain. It happens. I try to tell myself that there is always next time, next year, next season when these “schedule interruptions” happen. I guess the only remedy is to just go ride my bike.


Avoid Cancer and Farmer’s Tan With Sugoi Arm Coolers

Sugoi arm coolers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly
Sugoi arm coolers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly

Here in the Southwest desert, our riding heats up in the summer. The relative cool of the mountains has us pedaling at eight or nine thousand feet. Combine the altitude with low humidity and clear skies and the result is intense sun.

Even with proper sunscreen application, my startling farmer’s tan always elicits a little giggle from the girlfriend. This assault on my delicate machismo, combined with the very real threat of skin cancer was enough to add a pair of Sugoi arm coolers to the summer kit.

I was initially skeptical. How could adding a layer make me cooler rather than warmer? The first 50 yards wearing them dispelled any doubts. There is an immediate cooling sensation with any airflow over the material, like a fresh stick of peppermint gum. Add some sweat and the cooling ramps up. Even sitting still in full sun, they never feel warm, and the lack of sticky sunscreen is a big plus.

A generous band of elastic at the top and bottom, along with 9% spandex in the weave keeps the coolers in place and offer a slight compression effect. I consider myself an average armed guy, and the mediums fit well and stay put all day. They have quickly become an indispensible part of my summer ensemble, and my arms are slowly returning to their natural, WonderBread hue.

You can grab a pair of Sugoi Arm Coolers at REI.


Faster Than Fast With the Ridley Noah SL

Ridley Noah SL
Photo: Kip Malone

The day after I picked up the Ridley Noah SL, the weather forecast was truly shocking for the middle of May; mid thirties, rain and high wind. Despite this, I convinced myself to harden the fuck up, and headed out. Twenty minutes later, snow was driving horizontally and visibility was about fifty yards, the Belgian bike had summoned spring classic weather to the desert southwest. After waiting out the worst of it in a café, I headed out onto the wet windy road and started my dirty, lustful five-week love affair with the Noah SL.

Slotting in between Ridley’s Lighter Helium series and the fully aero Noah Fast option, the Noah SL incorporates a host of aero features into a bike suited for all-around racing and hard, fast riding.

It incorporates all the modern go fast aero features you would expect on a pro team ride, and Ridley takes things a step further with aero technology they claim shaves an additional 7% of wind resistance from the frame. Dubbed F-Surface, Ridley grooves the smooth surface of the downtube and seatpost to more efficiently channel air, like dimples on a golf ball. They also split the fork, directing air away from the turbulent front wheel.

Ridley Noah SL
Photo: Kip Malone

While this 7% claim is impossible to verify without a wind tunnel, a freshly shorn man in a skin suite and a gaggle of Flemish engineers, the real world riding is convincing. Compared to a non-aero bike, the Noah SL is simply faster at speed. Jumping out around a group into the wind or the first few seconds of a fast pull are noticeably less painful. Let the road tilt down even a little, and its hard not to smile. Long hard exertions in the drops are more satisfaction than suffering. This bike makes you want to go fast.

The overall ride of the SL is decidedly race. My 165 lbs creates little or no flex thanks to the chunky tubes and BB junction. Out of the saddle efforts are rewarded with a satisfying pop of acceleration, this bike loves to be hammered. Of course, this is no gravel grinder and all that stiffness comes at a price. Rough road sections are keenly felt, but surprisingly, small bumps are nicely absorbed by the Noah as long as they don’t come in rapid succession. With clearance for 25mm tires, comfort can be increased if that’s your thing. There is a slight weight penalty for all that stiff sleekness, but its still just a nudge over UCI limits.

For an aggressive bike, the handling is predicable and confident. My second date with the Ridley was a 106 mile mixed road sufferfest. There was a long dirt road mountain climb, a 40 mph descent on twisty drenched asphalt, big wind, miles and miles of fast dirt road descending and a high-speed Hail-Mary bunny-hop over a very broken cattle guard. It felt like we had known each other for years.

If you do your best work on the steeps or spend more at the chiropractor than the bike shop, this is likely not the bike for you. If you like it at the pointy end of the group and enjoy your time working in the drops, you should take a long, hard, shameless look at the Noah SL.

If you’re the kind of person who does their bike shopping online, check out the Ridley Noah SL on Competitive Cyclist.