Tested over two epic rides, we were looking for a bike that could climb with ease and prove comfortable for very long days in the saddle. Would the Helium prove to be lighter than air when the gradient kicked in? Jonathan Manning took a look
The thrill of watching the world’s greatest cyclists racing on the same roads and same bikes that I can ride has never left me. I’ll never go for a spin in Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and nor will I ever bowl at Lords or score a try at Twickenham, but I have ridden many of the roads that feature in the Tour de France, and with a bit of saving and planning I could do so on the same bikes as the stars of the sport.
So it was with a frisson of excitement that I sat watching riders in the Lotto Soudal team fly up Alps in the Tour de France on the Ridley Helium.
True, they were going far faster than I’ll ever ride, but they were on the super light version of the Helium, and my test bike was the standard frameset… it is after all, all about the bike.
The Helium is one of a three-strong range of Ridley road bikes. The Belgian bike manufacturer has designed the Noah as a stiff aero bike for sprinters, the Fenix as an endurance bike for cobbled races and the Helium to hit the sweetspot of maximum stiffness for minimum weight.
It’s a delicate balance; there’s no point in creating a featherweight frame incapable of transferring all your power to the road because it flexes too much. The Helium SL tips the scales at 750g yet handles all the power that the giant German sprinter Andre Greipel can push through the cranks, a telling example of how sophisticated layering of carbon fibre can create stiffness without piling on the pounds.
The Helium is slightly heavier at 950g for a size medium, but adopts the same geometry and design. The result is an attractive, understated frame with an oversized downtube and chunky chainstays for power delivery.
Comfort is engineered into the package via flattened, pipe-cleaner thin seat stays, a narrow 27.2mm seat post and 25mm Continental Ultra Sport tyres. On the road this translates to excellent power delivery and outstanding smoothness; fatigue-inducing road vibration is kept well at bay.
On two monstrously hilly rides, one in the Pennines of 145km with 2,600m of ascent and the other, the 220km Ardechoise sportive in France with nearly 4,300m of ascent, the Helium proved a dream companion. It climbs brilliantly, even on 20% gradients, and inspires confidence for descents with the directness of its handling.
Moreover, after the better part of 11 hours in the saddle in a single day, its levels of comfort were extraordinary. A mention in despatches then for the rather luxurious 4ZA Cirrus Pro saddle.
The C10 comes with 11-speed Shimano Ultegra as standard, while the fairly new semi-compact 52/36 chainrings offer a useful spread of gears for hilly terrain when paired with the 11-28 cassette.
My only gripe is with the fairly workaday Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels, which feel a bit leaden compared to the sprightliness of the rest of this speed machine. They’d be fine for commuting or winter rides, but a bike this good deserves upgraded hoops.
At the end of these tests, bikes get boxed up and returned to the manufacturer, but I was so desperate to keep the Ridley that I put my beloved Cervelo R3 on ebay in the hope of raising the funds to buy the Belgian contender. It’s been my favourite bike of the year by a country mile.
Frame: Helium, 30T-24T HM Unidirectional carbon
Fork: Helium, 30T-24T HM Unidirectional carbon
Chainset: Shimano Ultegra 5 2/3 6
Gears: Shimano Ultegra 11s, Shimano 105 cassette 11-28
Brakes: Shimano Ultegra
Wheels: Fulcrum Racing 5 LG
Tyres: Continental Ultra Sport II FB 700x25c
More info, sportline.co.uk