Most bike tests I am involved with require some sort of travel. This time I was heading south to France with a huge box that Ridley had sent me a few days prior to departure, and I really should have looked in the box before taking it to Uriage les Bains.
When I arrived at the hotel, I opened the box, which contained the Ridley Noah, and was surprised to see the integrated seatpost sticking up. It hadn't been cut down to length! As we were leaving early in the morning for the bike test, I had to not only assemble the bike, but also find a saw to cut the seatpost to the right length.
Ever tried to track down a saw on short notice in a spa region in France? It's not an easy task. Eventually, the hotel concierge tracked one down for us - although I am sure it had survived World War I and II - and it has probably never been used since! Anyway, I got to work. The instructions said to ensure it was cut straight. But with the saw I had, that was almost an impossibility. It was definitely not straight, but once the saddle was on and it was adjusted to my 77.5-centimetre liking, you couldn't tell it was crooked.
Once assembled, the bike looked great. With the slick onepiece seat-tube, the nice curves, and the colour co-ordinated finish, it was stunningly beautiful. When I was putting the wheels in, I realised just how tiny the quick releases were - and not only that, but after closing them, I could unscrew the lever to make things more aerodynamic and shave a few more grams off.
The 4ZA wheels were also very aerodynamic, with 20 spokes in the front and 24 in the back. They reminded quite a lot of the Zipp 404 model, with the rim shape exactly the same, and with the PMP hubs, they were a fast and stiff set-up. The mounted Vredestein Fortezza tyres not only displayed the world champ logo and a Ridley branding, but on the side were these tiny little rubber things. Even the English-speaking guys on our trip couldn't agree what they should be called... Some said tabs... some said nipples. Whatever you like to call them, they didn't affect the performance of the bike.
I have to compliment Ridley on the paintjob. The black, grey and silver colours flowed from the head tube into the fork, so when you looked at the bike from the side it was in perfect harmony. The top tube painting still let the structure of the carbon shine through - in the evening sunlight, this is a delight to anyone's eye. The fact that the brake cable goes through the head tube will help to avoid the paint wearing off, and gives the bike a really clean look. But because bikes are mainly built for riding, and not for looking at, I was really keen to find out how the Ridley would go up and down the famed Alpe d'Huez.
As we headed off in the morning, I was given just one surprise - by the brake pads. Though unused, they were sliding out of the brake shoe too easily. While sitting sideways on the top tube before we took off, I touched the brakes, and with a little bit of backwards movement of the wheels, one brake pad at the front and one at the back slid out and fell on the ground. I had no idea what had happened. Luckily, one of the guys behind me noticed and told me, otherwise I would have been in for a nasty surprise trying to brake at the first intersection of the day.
With a few kilometres under the wheels, however, and some braking involved, the pads settled down, and with the heat produced were as tight as ever. The frame was stiff, and the riding comfortable. The 4ZA carbon handlebar and stem combination, called Cyclope, was pleasant to ride uphill, but when down on the drops, I would have liked to adjust the angle a bit, which was impossible. Anyone who opts for the 'one carbon piece' bar and stem should test the bars in all positions before making a decision in favour of stiffness and lightness and against flexibility.
The integrated FSA headset should last you forever, and the fork made the handling stiff and direct - plus it looks great! Not much needs to be said on the Campagnolo Record groupset. It worked perfectly, as ever, while the black brakes matched the whole set-up. But as the icing of the cake, I would have gone for the carbon crankset. I've got nothing against good-old aluminium, but I feel the carbon option would have made it picture perfect.
With the five size options Ridley provides for this sloping frame, they have a good range of geometries to offer too. Comprehensive angles with good tube lengths - every 'averagely built' person will find a bike to match their physique.
The wheelbase of the frame was 99cm, and despite the front centre of 59.6cm, the cornering on the initial slopes down the Alpe was fast and fun. I zoomed through the first few bends as if I was going to win a downhill race, but as my speed increased, managing to keep the perfect line became harder. The bike tended to drift wider than I would have liked, and forcing it back into the fast lane took a bit of work. The fact that I might have overinflated the tyres a little (to nine bar) didn't help the cornering much, but with the slightly more laid-back descending style I opted for about halfway down the hill, it proved a lot more fun.
Overall, the frame is good looking, quite aerodynamic, super stiff and light. I think the triangle shape of the top tube and the flat tops of the chainstays have an edge that makes the Noah different to other bikes. There is nothing wrong with this, though, but what should the interpretation of "integral regeneration" be? That's what is written on the top tube, and what I needed to get myself integrally regenerated after this ride was a shower, a little nap, and a good feed.
All other components in the Ridley-4ZA relationship met my high expectations. The saddle provided good comfort, the bottle cage held my bidons with a tight grip and there was no rattling or losing bottles, while it was still easy enough to pull one out when climbing near the limit. Great components on a great race bike - and if the silver- grey combination is not for you, Ridley has an all-matching golden bike as well - just so you can feel like a gold medal winner, or gold bike rider, at least.