Winter bikes have traditionally been one of two types, either an old race frame with nominal clearances and a hotch potch of parts from the spares bin, or a heavier yet worthy machines with big clearances and full winter kit. Both these approaches have their merits and their fans, even so there is a definite demand for winter machines that mimic race bikes yet incorporate sensible provision for the grimier season and - manufacturers are taking note.
Not so many years ago, aluminium and carbon fibre were considered the preserve of the exotic and not the stuff of the winter workhorse. At the heart of the Ribble lies a 7005 series aluminium frameset which unusually bucks the compact trend, opting for a horizontal top tube. With rectangular top and down tubes it retains a highly contemporary theme which is complemented by a classy and yet functional, understated finish that belies the price tag and resisted chipping throughout the test period. TIG Welds are both very pretty and uniform and attention to detail is commendable throughout, dropouts and seat stay bridge are both very functional and yet pleasingly ornate and there is nothing workman-like about its construction.
Removing the bottle screws revealed clean frame threads with no trace of paint choking. Braze-ons include two water bottle mounts, mudguard eyes, and four-point carrier fixings so a bit of audaxing would not be out of the question - this bike really could be the antidote to the winter blues. At this point I was suspicious corners may have been cut elsewhere but was relieved to find a replaceable gear hanger - essential if tears are to be spared in the face of a tumble. At 3.6lbs, the frame is a reassuring weight neither feeling delicate nor particularly vulnerable to denting.
As I am proportionally much longer in the leg than torso, the 54cm top tube on the 58cm frame felt just right in terms of reach and whilst not offered as a gender specific version, this coupled with the range of sizes might make it a consideration for women looking for something sharp at a competitive off the peg price
Geometry is race orientated and clearances are comfortably tight, translating into a very direct, yet surprisingly efficient ride. Branded carbon forks are another bonus at this price and whilst some purists would say an alloy steerer is cheating, the ITM fork seems well finished and plenty robust enough for winter training and general riding and doubtless responsible for the more compliant ride. The only evidence of penny pinching is the decals which though they look crisp are unsealed and may well have a short life span. Mind you, I reckon the more anonymous a frame, the greater the chances of it remaining with its rightful owner.
Were the Ribble a lonely heart, it would rightly describe itself as chatty and vivacious, and it delivers a very responsive and engaging ride that's easily a match for my traditional steel road race machine. From the outset it encourages you to ride harder and accelerates effortlessly on climbs. Eminently flickable, it almost turns avoiding potholes, glass and other obstacles effortless into a fun antidote to the winter gloom. The wheelbase and absence of toe clip overlap makes confident turns easy regardless of pace and it carves through corners with a tenacity lacking on some more expensive machines. This confidence inspiring handling is thanks in part to the performance of the well specced components on our bike in particular the stopping prowess of the 105 dual pivot callipers which will appeal to those who leave their braking late.
Even when leaning very sharply into corners, I failed to persuade a pedal to ground out and this, coupled with the handling characteristics suggests the machine will turn its hand to urban commutes with as much pizzazz as long Sunday club/ training rides.
Stability is excellent on the flat and unlike some, it's well behaved even at slow speeds thanks in part to the sensibly wide (44cm) ITM bars, narrower bars are good for sneaking through gaps but if you've got broad shoulders like me then can feel restrictive. Out of the saddle, the frame's stiffness, particularly around the all important bottom bracket area gave no suggestion of power sapping flex even when dancing on the pedals, so bigger riders should have no complaints.
For all this charm, the lively handling was marred (for this tester) by our bike's frisky steering which became tiring on long rides when you just want the machine to guide you safely home. I am used to more neutral steering in a winter bike, but the lively ride here should not be too surprising given the Ribble's racing geometry
Our bike came built up with 9-speed 105 but you can pretty much build it up via the Ribble website with any mix of parts you want. There is a basic build for £495 with Campag Xenon, (or for a tenner less Shimano Sora) which has a number of cost free spec alternatives, along with numerous upgrade options. It's also worth looking out the Special Edition bikes on the website these are set builds at eye catching prices. As an example our bike was available as a Special Edition for £555.
105 throughout should be good enough - although we'd spend the extra, £44.04 and upgrade to 10- speed. Mind you 9-speed is a good performer and the STI units are noticeably crisper than their lower end siblings with no trace of the irritating rattle that plagued some models. Shifting under load poses no problems despite one or two miss-timed shifts uphill. It's forgiving enough not to derail the chain but there was audible complaint from the rear cassette reminding me to be more sensitive. The braking offers excellent modulation and stopping power.
Our bike was a nine-speed double and while might not want to attempt the Ventoux there are plenty of gears to allow for bombing, cruising and climbing. Even on some steep local climbs I never found the ratios too tall, although I'm sure this was helped by the frame's stiffness, for £30 extra you can have the 105 triple.
Finishing kit is equally well conceived, striking an excellent balance between quality where it was important and economy where prudent. Whilst I liked the width of the ITM bars, I failed to get comfortable, particularly when riding on the tops. Even with thick winter gloves they felt harsh and I could feel the cabling beneath the bar tape. This would be easily fixed with a bar tape upgrade to one of the thicker, shock absorbent types available. The matching stem is adequate and sufficiently rigid and I didn't feel any noticeable flex - this is also something that can be upgraded later if the need arises. The Selle Italia Trans Am wasn't quite my perch of choice but these things are subjective and are easily changed. The unbranded black post is not the least bit glamorous but does the job and saves money to spend on more important areas.
SKS guards with their secure fix system will give years of good service and with stainless steel stays will hold their looks longer than cheaper alternatives. A dynamo tail lamp is a nice touch, although fitting a tyre drive dynamo might require some lateral thinking but good alternative battery lighting systems have, like exotic frame materials, fallen dramatically in price.
Shimano's complete 105 wheelset has a deservedly good reputation and is a big contributor to the machine's responsive charms and climbing ability. Hubs are well sealed and the design proves a strong wheel is no longer dictated by the number of spokes. Hubs are well sealed and jet washing aside, should see many a season. Despite mud and pot-hole strewn lanes, they remained true throughout. I prefer a fairly large pocket of air for winter duties, although at 23mm the Vittoria Rubino seemed surprisingly comfortable and remained puncture free. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the white of the tread looked grubby after only a few miles.