Ridley Helium SL20 review

Flyweight Belgian climber still has what it takes

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £3,600.00 RRP | USD $4,620.00

Our review

Still light, still noble. The Helium SL is a joyful speed machine that continues to delight
Buy if, You want a pro-level frame in a (slightly) more affordable package
Pros: Impressively low weight; engaging, exciting ride
Cons: Tight clearances and focused personality won’t suit all
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The Ridley Helium SL has been around for four years, and with pictures of its successor emerging from the last Taipei International Cycle Show, it’s likely that the 2016 Tour de France will be its swansong. A lot has changed in those four years and you might wonder if the Helium SL could still be superbike material. We think it is.

Recipe for success

The recipe is a simple one: a svelte carbon frame with simple, angular lines, plus the usual modern trappings of a chunky press-fit bottom bracket, semi-internal cabling (not for the brakes) and a tapered fork. It’s not just any frame – claimed average weight is sub-800g. With a frameset coming in at a feathery 1050g or so; these are still highly competitive numbers.

Shimano’s Ultegra brakes are very similar to Dura-Ace…
David Caudery / Immediate Media
There’s a pleasing restraint to the whole thing in a world where the drive for striking aesthetics sometimes seems to overwhelm engineering common sense. Granted, the chainstays are fat and asymmetric as on every other high-end racer, but the flattened top tube is arrow straight, as are the dainty seatstays – there’s nothing you could accuse of being gimmickry. The ensemble is elegant and understated; this is not a bike with something to prove.

Our test subject isn’t in full WorldTour guise, with Shimano Ultegra and modest Fulcrum clinchers standing in for team Lotto-Soudal’s posh Campagnolo componentry. (The retail spec is slightly different again, losing the Rotor chainset and giving you Racing 5 wheels rather than Quattros.) The frame is the very same one the pros ride, however, and hasn’t failed to impress.

Aggressive ride character

Despite feeling almost delicate in the hand – one imagines a firm squeeze might crack its paper-thin tubing – the Helium is positively weapon-like on the move, with road manners that reward and encourage aggressive riding. It’s easy to see why a professional would appreciate it.

This isn’t a floaty endurance machine, nor is it the stiffest bike we’ve tested. Rather, it’s a sublimely good compromise, with a hard edge to its ride quality that enhances the sensation of speed and connection to the road, without wearing you down.

The Helium is poised and delightfully balanced bike – and one that’s truly a pleasure to ride
Robert Smith

The Helium SL doesn’t have any rough-road pretensions. There isn’t room for tyres bigger than 25mm, and everything about its design is focused on going quickly on tarmac, preferably either up or down the biggest mountain you can find.

Like many Ridleys, the sizing is a little weird: our small test bike had a 545mm top-tube (giving 385mm of reach), and a 145mm head-tube, numbers that would make it a medium in some brands. Ridley’s rider height recommendations seem pretty spot on however, with this 174cm-tall tester feeling right at home.

In some ways the Helium SL feels quite old school. It’s a firm-riding racer beloved of the Lotto-Soudal pros, a machine that’s at home in a world of 120psi tubulars and cassettes that stop at a muscular 23 teeth.

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Yet despite this conservative streak, it’s a poised and delightfully balanced bike, one that’s truly a pleasure to ride. When its successor finally appears, it will have a lot to live up to. In the meantime, we’re bidding a fond farewell to this flyweight favourite.

Product Specifications


Name Name, 0, 10, Name, Helium SL20
Brand Brand, 0, 20, Brand, Ridley

Available Sizes Available Sizes, 2, 0, Available Sizes, XS S M L
Bottom Bracket Bottom Bracket, 2, 0, Bottom Bracket, PF30
Brakes Brakes, 2, 0, Brakes, Shimano Ultegra
Cassette Cassette, 2, 0, Cassette, Shimano CS-5800 11-28
Chain Chain, 2, 0, Chain, KMC
Cranks Cranks, 2, 0, Cranks, Rotor 3D F 172.5mm 52/36
Fork Fork, 2, 0, Fork, Ridley Helium SL unidirectional carbon
Fork Offset Fork Offset, 2, 0, Fork Offset, 4.7
Frame Material Frame Material, 2, 0, Frame Material, Ridley Helium SL 60T-40T-30T HM unidirectional carbon
Front Tyre Front Tyre, 2, 0, Front Tyre, Continental Ultra Sport 700x25mm
Front Wheel Weight Front Wheel Weight, 2, 0, Front Wheel Weight, 1180
Handlebar Handlebar, 2, 0, Handlebar, Forza Cirrus 42cm
Head Angle Head Angle, 2, 0, Head Angle, 73.5
Headset Type Headset Type, 2, 0, Headset Type, FSA
Rear Derailleur Rear Derailleur, 2, 0, Rear Derailleur, Shimano Ultegra
Rear Tyre Rear Tyre, 2, 0, Rear Tyre, Continental Ultra Sport 700x25mm
Rear Wheel Weight Rear Wheel Weight, 2, 0, Rear Wheel Weight, 1720
Saddle Saddle, 2, 0, Saddle, Forza Cirrus Pro
Seat Angle Seat Angle, 2, 0, Seat Angle, 74
Seatpost Seatpost, 2, 0, Seatpost, Forza Cirrus Pro 27.2mm
Shifters Shifters, 2, 0, Shifters, Shimano Ultegra
Stem Stem, 2, 0, Stem, Forza Cirrus 100mm
Trail Trail, 2, 0, Trail, 5.1
Weight (kg) Weight (kg), 2, 0, Weight (kg), 7.56
Wheelset Wheelset, 2, 0, Wheelset, Fulcrum Racing Quattro, 35mm deep aluminium rims, 16 spokes front, 21 spokes rear
Bottom Bracket Height (cm) Bottom Bracket Height (cm), 2, 0, Bottom Bracket Height (cm), 28
Chainstays (cm) Chainstays (cm), 2, 0, Chainstays (cm), 40.5
Seat Tube (cm) Seat Tube (cm), 2, 0, Seat Tube (cm), 47
Standover Height (cm) Standover Height (cm), 2, 0, Standover Height (cm), 78
Top Tube (cm) Top Tube (cm), 2, 0, Top Tube (cm), 54
Wheelbase (cm) Wheelbase (cm), 2, 0, Wheelbase (cm), 98
Frame size tested Frame size tested, 2, 0, Frame size tested, S