Ridgeback Century £799.99

Understated all-rounder

BikeRadar score 4/5

The leaner option in Ridgeback's touring line-up, this British designed steel road bike is aimed at audax/sportive use, but it's equally suitable for training or commuting.

It's the attention to detail that sets the Century apart and makes it more than just a comfortable, versatile road bike. It has well thought out touches that other bikes at this price mostly lack.

Reach, for example, is spot-on for a non-race bike; the tyres and bar are ideal for purpose; you get separate rack eyelets; and you don't just get mudguards, you get the right mudguards. All it really lacks is a bigger sprocket at the back, so you've got something in reserve for the hilliest rides.

  • Frame: Understated steel frame and carbon fork with the clearances and fitments that are key to this kind of bike. Not super-light, naturally (8/10)
  • Handling: Long-ride comfort, courtesy of a short-reach, shallow-drop bar and fat tyres. The benefits of the carbon fork and steel frame are hard to quantify but certainly feel nicer (9/10)
  • Equipment: Shimano Sora is functional and effective enough, but a wider cassette would be a bonus. Contact points are sound and the mudguards are ideal (8/10)
  • Wheels: 32-spoke wheels emphasise reliability over weight saving. Tyres are good, though we’d prefer 700x25 (7/10)

The Ridgeback is designed in the UK and built from traditional butted steel tubing: Reynolds 520 chromoly. Steel makes heavier frames than aluminium, unless you build the former like a beer can and the latter like a battleship. But it can offer a smidgen of springiness – mostly in the fork or laterally in the frame – which aluminium cannot.

The Century’s fork isn’t steel but (mostly) carbon. This should help take the edge off road buzz through the bar and certainly saves weight. Carbon fibre can have a strength-to-weight ratio better than any metal. Only ‘can’ because it’s anisotropic, and its strength in a given plane depends how the manufacturer aligns, binds and bakes the fibres. The main benefits of this carbon fork are more prosaic: there’s a decent amount of room under the crown and there are mudguard eyelets.

The frame has rack and mudguard eyelets, and it’s good to see that they won’t have to share a single set at the neatly cowled dropouts. At the front, the head tube uses a conventional, non-integrated headset. There’s a net weight-saving from this as less metal is required in the head tube, and this design is more durable. The head tube itself isn’t particularly tall, yet there’s a good range of bar height adjustment thanks to an inch or so of spacers. We left the bar fairly high, to improve lower back comfort and to prevent too much tarmac gazing.

The stem is on the short side, which complements this ‘easy-cruising’ rather than aero position, sitting you up more and putting less weight on your hands. There’s another benefit from the shorter stem. The trail figure of the Century is fairly generous, yet it doesn’t feel overly stable or ‘unflickable’ because the shorter stem makes the steering response more immediate; the bar is turning through a shorter arc. The stem is oversize (31.8mm), as is the comfortably short-drop bar, and this usefully stiffens the steering for strong or heavy riders.

The gearing is a 50/34 Shimano Sora chainset with a nine-speed Tiagra 11-25 rear mech. For riding unladen, the compact double keeps things manageable even up long or steep climbs. Given the choice, we’d prefer a cassette that went to 27 teeth rather than 25. All Shimano road mechs will cope with a 27T bottom and you’d gain an extra climbing gear.

Unfortunately nine-speed cassettes with a 27t sprocket don’t exist in Shimano’s Sora/Tiagra line-up, only Ultegra (12-27), which would cost an extra £25. Upgrading to 10-speed is also the only way to get Shimano STI shifters that route the gear cables under the bar tape instead of stringing them ahead of you like washing lines. While shifting performance is fine with these Sora units, you’ll struggle to fit a bar bag. And a bike like the Century is exactly the kind of machine where you’d want one.

The Century uses 57mm-drop sidepull brakes, which are deep enough to reach over the bike’s mudguards and 28mm tyres.  The mudguards are good SKS ones, with breakaway clips to prevent you face-planting on the road if anything gets jammed, while the tyres are Continental Ultra Gatorskins. These offer an excellent balance between rolling performance and puncture resistance, and the 28mm width is more shock absorbing.

You do get the odd chirrup when mudguard stay bolts brush the tyre if you ride one-handed or hit a bump, and for that reason, as well as to improve clearance under the ’guard for bits of grit to rattle through, we’d prefer 25mm versions. Despite the mudguard we didn’t suffer from toe overlap, so didn’t have to worry when zigzagging up steep climbs or trackstanding at traffic lights.

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