Ridley’s original Noah was one of the first aerodynamic bikes designed purely for the road, and the all-new FB version has taken the concept to previously unseen territory.
Because the UCI’s minimum weight of 6.8kg is now easy for manufacturers to achieve, advantages need to be found elsewhere. For Ridley, that’s meant creating a bike that’s as slippery through the air as possible. At 40kph a rider is using more than two-thirds of their total power conquering air resistance; reduce that and you’re gaining free speed for the same effort. The Fast frame has three features to achieve this: an F-Surface treatment, an F-Split fork design and an F-Brake.
Aerofoil shapes are good at cutting into the air, but problems arise if the airflow detaches from the surface. The F-Surface treatment places a textured finish at the most important areas, making the air detach then re-attach. Testing has shown this leads to a reduction in drag of around four percent, depending on speed. It’s a small gain, but remember that’s on an already very slippery bike.
A split aerofoil fork blade isn’t new – Oval Concepts, in conjunction with aero engineer Jon Cobb, produced such a fork for Lance Armstrong among others. The split design combats the turbulence created when air hitting the front meets air from the spinning wheel; the split allows the air moving forwards from the spinning wheel – in the same direction you’re moving – to be turned and channelled into the same path as the air from the front, reducing the turbulence and therefore drag. Testing this has shown an improvement of around seven percent.
The Noah’s most obvious development is the F-Brake. We’ve seen brakes hidden behind fork crowns and under the rear chainstays before, all in an effort to reduce frontal area and potential turbulence-causing protrusions, but Ridley have integrated both brakes. This reduces overall weight by around 300g compared to standard brakes, and the sleeker profile has shown significant drag reduction, with fewer watts needed to achieve the same speed.
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Ridley Noah FAST (official Ridley video)
All this is meaningless if the bike doesn’t deliver where necessary: on the road, underneath you. But the Noah is fast. Seriously fast. It responds to power with a brutal kick in speed. Get it into the twisty stuff and it slices through apexes with poise. It inspires confidence, and the faster you push it, the more rewarding your ride.
On our favourite piece of flat dual-carriageway we can maintain 26mph at a set heart rate on a long-term test bike; with the FB, for the same effort, this rose to 28.5mph. The Fast is ruthlessly efficient, getting up to speed quicker and requiring less effort. It’s a serious race weapon, and beyond a decent saddle and bar tape it has no concessions to comfort. The ride is taut and rigid, the handling sharp and, over long distances, just a little punishing.
The innovative F-brakes also contribute to the Noah’s speed, not only by improving the aerodynamics, but by affecting the way you slow down and accelerate. They use part of the fork and the rear seatstays as the arms of what is essentially a V-style mountain bike type brake, with two pivots on each arm activated by a linear horizontal cable. The feel is completely different to the latest dual-pivot callipers from the likes of Shimano or SRAM.
The arms have a very small amount of movement before they contact the rim, then when they do it’s a case of increasing pressure for the amount of speed you want to scrub off. It’s difficult to ‘feed in’ braking like you would with a callipers or to modulate pressure in the same way. The same amount of power is available, it’s how you apply it that changes.
If you’re the sort of rider who favours dragging the brake for longer in anticipation of a corner or stop, you’ll need to adjust the way you ride. Think Formula One driver: get on the brakes, scrub off the speed, then get straight back on the power. We think the Ridley’s on-off nature ends up being quicker overall, but this most definitely isn’t a bike for a gentle pootle. Every time you get on you’ll need to be on top of your game to get the best out of it.
As you’d expect on a bike such as this, there’s pro-level gearing, here courtesy of Shimano Dura-Ace with a Rotor chainset, but the light weight and positive reaction to pedal input meant we never found ourselves wanting on climbs. The 4ZA carbon wheels have remained tight, true and the bearings smooth rolling, but the braking surface isn’t up to that found on either Easton’s or Zipp’s latest carbon designs (we tried the Fast with both EC90SLs and 404s). The front wheel was also more affected by side winds than we’ve found on equivalent Zipp or HED models.
At more than £9,000 the Noah FB is astonishingly expensive, but you can see where the money is going. The frameset is available separately for £3,999. Build it up with the best kit available – essentially the meat of what’s here but opting for the likes of a set of Zipp 404s – and the Noah FB would be nigh-on perfect.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.