Orbea usually offers its road bikes in a range of carbon standards. The more expensive the bike, the more premium the material used. But with the all-new Avant – which won the 'best disc brake' accolade in Cycling Plus magazine's Bike of the Year Awards 2014 – the firm has done things a little differently.
This may be the first in the carbon line up of the new disc bike platform, but it shares exactly the same frame as the brilliant M50 Ltd we got the chance to ride over the winter. Now, for a frame that’s found on a superbike to arrive on a machine in this price bracket on launch is pretty rare – so we’d expect a few significant downgrades in its build up.
Video: Orbea Avant M50D
That’s exactly what you get – the drivetrain is predominantly 105, but with a Tiagra front mech and 11-28 cassette. The FSA Omega chainset is another obvious budget item and what’s essentially a reasonably well finished crankset is somewhat spoilt by a contrasting silver steel inner ring that’s at odds with the matt black finish on the outer ring and arms.
Shimano’s budget M517 cable brakes handle the stopping; we’ve little experience of these units as most road brands have opted for Avid or Hayes when it comes to disc anchors. Honestly, though, we came away impressed with the 517’s. They may look somewhat archaic, and when compared to a BB7 look pretty massive, but when it comes to the business of stopping they’re actually pretty damn good. They’re consistent, and it’s easy to feed in just enough power without over-braking too.
The mish-mash of parts that make up the drivetrain works well together: shifts are quick and slick at the back, with the front only having a hint of chainrub when powering up hill in the bigger rear sprockets and inner front ring. It’s all-acceptable but far from outstanding.
What very much is outstanding however is how the Avant feels on the road. The frame uses standard parallel 73-degree angles and a mid-to-tall 205mm headtube on our 57cm test bike. The sloping frame gives an effective 58cm top tube and the wheelbase is stretched to 1014mm to accommodate the disc set-up. Despite these figures, which suggest a stable, predictable and ‘possibly’ dull straightforward sportive bike, what you actually get is a steed that’s bursting with fun.
The wheelbase may be long, but the ride position is more aggressive than you’d expect at first glance. The sturdy straight-bladed fork means very direct steering responses. It comes together as a bike that’s swift to accelerate on the flat. Where it feels most at home, however, is descending. Put the Avant into a fast fall line ride with plenty of challenging corners and it tracks brilliantly. The sharp steering response means a bull’s-eye on every apex target, and the great feel to the brakes only aids in getting you there faster too.
Now, as stated above the M517s may not be the most refined looking brakes in the world, but (and this is more about discs in general) where they come into their own is in the very worst conditions. In heavy rain and standing water – as so much of our Bike of the Year testing period has been plagued with – the Orbea was the bike we wanted to be on.
Without the need to scrub the brakes before you need them to clear water from the rim, and without the grit and noise from debris-strewn roads, the Avant has a definite advantage. Knowing that when you pull the brake whatever the weather you're getting the same consistent performance is worth its weight in gold (and the M517s are heavy!). Its safer, yet faster to ride downhill in the wet with discs than standard brakes. That does however mean compromise elsewhere, and the first and probably the biggest bugbear to some roadies is weight.
The Orbea is finished with a selection of branded kit. The Selle Italia Nekkar saddle isn’t one of the Italian brands most celebrated designs but we like the flat profile and slightly angular look, that and its perfectly comfortable of course. Upfront a basic FSA Gossamer stem is paired with a Wing compact bar. The wing of the name refers the deep bladed shape to the tops, and because it's wrapped in thick tape it’s a very comfortable place to hold. The RX31 wheels are shod with Vittoria Zaffiro tyres in a 25c diameter. They’re solid enough boots, with good wet weather performance, but on dry surfaces they’re a little sluggish and the defined tread seems to swallow up the energy being put through the pedals
We opted for the upgrade wheel package of Shimano’s new disc-specific RX31’s, yet despite this option the bike still weighs in at 9.6kg. Not all of that’s down to the discs – the middleweight chainset and basic parts constraints of the budget certainly contribute. The brake units are heavy though; the Shimano wheels are a claimed 1795g a pair, which is fine for this price range but that of course doesn’t include the disc rotors.
We’d like to say the extra mass is hard to define, but on extended climbs the M50D does feel as if carrying an extra kilo or two. We may be a little jaded as we’re comparing it to its more glamorous cousin, which felt as flighty and light as a superbike should. It didn’t feel at all compromised by having discs – it felt enhanced – whereas this more basic model does.
In all we love that Orbea has committed to the disc road bike concept so quickly, and has done such a thoroughly good job of it. In this guise it may have a compromise too far to get in at the price, but let's not forget that the same chassis is found on a bike that’s more than four times the price.
Its too early to tell who’ll win the disc brake war on the road, but you’d be hard pushed to find a better base on which to hang those brakes on when it arrives. Make no mistake the Avant’s future proof and more than that a whole heap of fun, even if it’s carrying a few more pounds than we’d like.