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
Skip to view product specifications

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.

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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…
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
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

Product

Name Helium SL20
Brand Ridley

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