Ribble Sort've Racing: An Audax Bike

A review of my experience aboard a Ribble 'Sportive Racing'

The Audax UK website has some guidance on what sort of bicycle is suitable for audaxing in the UK:
  • The truth is, anything will do. But make sure it is roadworthy, well maintained and checked over before the start of any long ride. The most popular type of bike is something at the 'fast' end of 'touring', and many UK manufacturers now offer bikes badged as 'Audax' or 'Randonneur', which will have quite a lot in common with a lightweight steel-framed club racing bike while retaining the necessary clearances and brazings for mudguards and a luggage rack.
As I started out in audaxing I was mainly concerned with being physically capable of completing the distance, this meant being comfortable for long hour's riding. So I used my Spa Cycles Touring bike most of the time and there were a combination of components which made it extremely comfortable.
  • Titanium frame - like a steel frame: good at soaking up road buzz.
  • Carbon seatpost - stiff in the right directions, flexible in the right directions.
  • Brooks saddle - leather, slippery, a mixture of hard enough to be supportive and squishy enough to be forgiving.
  • Doubled up bar tape, or bar tape with extra padding; gave me extra bar width to wrap my fingers around and helped me avoid cramp in my fingers.
  • Low gearing: 28/38/48 Stronglight triple on the front, 12-28 cassette on the rear.
  • Dynamo lighting and a USB charger for self-sufficient energy production.

At 13.8kg it isn't too heavy, but it is a lot heavier than my Trek aluminium road bike which only weighed 8.8kg. I could keep pace with groups along the flat or downhill, but as soon as the road went up my pace dropped off - and I dropped off the back. It didn't matter what group I was riding with, the combination of my bodyweight and the bike's weight and gearing just left me spinning slowly uphill as everyone else rode away.

I have ridden a couple of 200km events using my Trek aluminium road bike, and I really enjoyed the feeling of being free, the lightness of cycling which fills me with bouncy joy and sees me spinning uphill in a 39/28 gear. The only drawback was that anything over 250km was uncomfortable. The road buzz through the bars, despite the full carbon forks, and the light but uncomfortable saddle drained my enthusiasm for cycling any further. This bicycle was perfect for fast rides in hilly countryside up to about 125 miles.

So this summer I sold the Trek and started a project to build my version of a 'perfect' audax bike. To some people my bike might look like a compromise, but to me it is an unflinching lack of compromise. I chose the Ribble Sportive Racing for a few reasons: for the price I was willing to pay, I bought a full carbon frame (1100g) and full carbon forks (390g) with complete Ultegra 11-speed groupset and top-end Deda Trentacinque carbon handlebars.

Over the next couple of weeks - and within my budget - I was able to add a 3T carbon seatpost, a Brooks saddle and some custom wheels from 23mm Wheels built with Ultegra rear hub and Son 28 front dynamo hub. I finally bought a torque wrench from Planet X, I felt that the manufacturers had probably put 'max torque' settings on their parts for good reasons and I wanted to work on the safe side.

My first test ride (up and down the street) was quite odd, and it was on the bike as shipped - with the stock 'Superleggra' alloy seatpost and standard 'Rodi Airline 5' wheels. The frame felt immensely stiff. There were some noises I didn't recognise, the Ultegra gearing was clunky, not smooth like on the old Trek, gear changes went ker-klunk with each click of the STI lever, and the cables rattled against the frame with a non-metallic sound. I was being super sensitive and wanted to be sure I'd bought the right bike - but with my first few laps around the street where I live, I was left feeling, "Umm, not sure." However, the bike was certainly light, and certainly stiff... so it had met two of my requirements straight away. The bike weighed 7.3kg.

My first shakedown-ride of the build was out towards Seaham. I was sensitive to every creak and rattle, wondering if the build quality was poor, wondering if the push-fit bottom bracket was a mistake... wondering and worrying. I headed out on quiet country lanes and there was one particular creak which was bothering me a lot. It was timed to happen as pushed down on the pedals, and I realised that I'd not applied any 'copper slip' to the threads when I'd attached the Shimano clipless pedals.

My first proper experience was to meet up with a friend in Darlington and ride a gentle loop down through the Teesside valley, test my gearing choices with a climb of Carlton Bank, test handling on the descent of Clay Bank and test comfort by making this a 100 mile loop.

As I rode I found that the Ultegra ker-klunk noises were getting quieter, and that the gears were starting to snick into place smoothly. I guess that the first few gear changes were needed to settle a brand new groupset in - whatever the reason, by the end of the 100 miles I was 100% happy with this new Ultegra groupset. The cables are internally routed through the Deda Trentacinque handlebars and leave the whole space in front of me clean and open. The compact 34/28 gearing was perfect for climbing Carlton Bank, and also for climbing Redhills Lane in Durham - the precariously narrow and steep climb beside and above the Durham Railway Viaduct.

I found the frame stiff and responsive, yet comfortable. Something I've not experienced before with either my aluminium frame or the titanium frame - and totally different to the whippy/flexible steel framed Thorn Audax. An example of how the frame felt stiff and yet comfortable came from riding on some roads with ugly and degraded top-dressing; the sort which vibrates through your arms as you ride. I stood up and put some effort in, I found that the rear wheel was jumping and bouncing over the road surface. Yet when I sat down, the weight of my body through the seat-stays kept the rear of the bike planted to the road surface and the bumps melted away - it became easier to ride in the saddle.

Descending Clay Bank was totally amazing - and I think the length of the wheelbase might have something to do with that. I'm 6 foot tall (1.83m), and have size 46 shoes. The cranks I've chosen are 175mm long; but I don't have toe overlap. Not that toe overlap bothers me. I think the combination of wheelbase and confidence inspiring stiffness and feedback had me descending the slightly rough Clay Bank at a comfortable but high speed. I never once felt out of control, then braking on a straight section knocked a whole bunch of speed off instantly and I felt secure on the bike the whole time.

At the end of my ride I arrived home feeling fresh. The comfort was undeniable, I'd ridden a mixture of 'touring' (slow and upright), faster (and on the drops), climbing and descending: I'd covered 100 miles on a new bike and was coming to the conclusion that this bike was already amazing. Recommendation at this point - the Ribble Sportive Racing is a really comfortable, confidence inspiring, lightweight bike. "A*+" to Ribble!

Before my second ride, I swapped the seatpost for a carbon one from 3T - the Ionic 0 Team appeared the be the best combination of value for money and weight, and it had an innovative 'Difflock' which allowed very fine adjustment of the saddle angle, and then freedom of movement fore/aft without altering this angle. The adjustment was fiddly, but with the help of YouTube videos I eventually worked it out and the Brooks saddle now sits perfectly level.

My second proper ride on my new Ribble Sportive Racing was a long awaited 400km DIY Audax, which I've written about here. Route from Durham down over the Humber Bridge to Scunthorpe and back to Durham via Tadcaster. This ride was 433km (269 miles) and completed with 18 hours in the saddle and 23 hours elapsed from beginning to end. An overnight ride.

The route had climbing, descending, long flat sections of time-trialing, rain, wind, smooth road, pot-holed road, dirt track - and hours and hours of non-stop riding. 400km rides are quite hard on the body, and yet I felt absolutely fine at the end of this one. I'd ridden faster than I'd planned to, I'd ridden it alone and when I got home I felt fine - like I could go out and do it again.

After two rides; one 100 mile pootle and one 269 mile overnight audax, my feedback on the 'Ribble Sportive Racing'? Amazing! Comfortable, light, fast. I am totally delighted with it.

So what could be left to change on a wonderful and amazing bike... well, there was just the lighting, the wheels and the mudguards... Michael at 23mm Wheels shipped me the new Ambrosio Exellight wheels, with the hubs I wanted. I picked up some Crud Roadracer Mk mudguards and from RoseBikes I ordered Supernova lighting. Weight now, after all these modifcations? 8.3kg... lighter than my aluminium Trek, and a lot lighter than my tourer.

The new wheels, even with the Son 28 dynamo hub are lighter than the Rodi Airline 5 wheels - the lighting required me to run some cabling around the bike frame and forks, which required a strategic use of inner tubes and cable ties. Also the Carradice rack mount which attaches to the Brooks saddle holds the Barley high enough over the rear wheel that the rear Supernova light fits to the seatpost area and is visible from behind and to the side.

My third ride was a summertime one-day tour of the rivers Tyne and Wear, which you can read about here. Everything has fitted together extremely well. It is difficult to tell the difference the new wheels make, but most significantly, with the dynamo Son 28 hub, they don't feel any slower. There is no noticeable drag from them at all, and I now have 24/7 day and night lighting - brilliant. I love the confidence that daytime running lights bring - especially at those moments when I find myself cycling through dappled sunlight filtered through trees - the sort of light levels that make it hard for drivers to make out hazards in the road.

So here it is: the finished article - my uncompromising Audax Bike

And I noticed that the cable ties for the rear light have given the bike its perfect name too:
The Ribble Sort've Racing - after all - audaxing isn't racing...

My conclusion after three rides (100 miles, 269 miles, 60 miles)

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