Every road gives a different feeling – some inspire us to ride fast, some beckon to be explored, others encourage us to just take it in.
Ride enough, and you realize that bikes are the same way – some make you feel really fast, some scare the pants off you and (the really good ones) make you feel really happy. Combine the best bikes with the best roads, something magical happens: rides that stick with you forever.
Which is why the three of us – Geordie, Megan and I – have travelled to Southern California. The brilliant Belgians over at Ridley set us up with three rides purpose-built for tackling a wide range of road types: the race and cobble ready Liz CR40; the revamped and Paris Roubaix-proven Fenix SL40; and the do-it-all newcomer wunderkind – the X-Trail C30. Over the course of a long weekend, we put each bike through its paces by tackling plenty of pavé, switchbacks, merciless climbs, and bucolic stretches of rolling California paradise. While power meters and heart-rate monitors are essential and useful tools for any cyclist, we haven’t brought either along. Why? Because we’re here with a simple goal in mind: to find three roads that best represent each Ridley ride we’ve brought along.
Here it is, then: 3 Ridleys for 3 Roads.
Prefumo Canyon Road + The Fenix SL40
What’s the road like?
A cobbly, scarred snake of asphalt carved into rolling, densely treed hills. Undulating sections lead to steep pitches, brief descents and tight switchbacks from start to finish.
Three-quarters of the way up it opens to an astounding view of endless rolling hills and the shining Pacific to the west. Closing in on the summit, a picturesque switchback gives way to a steep ramp, another hairpin, and a beautifully exposed finishing section.
And that descent?
A technical delight. There’s plenty of less-than-ideal asphalt, so you have to concentrate. Outside of that, it’s just plain fun. Fast rolling sections give a roller coaster like feel, and we collectively “whoop” and “yip” on the way down.
Tell me about this Fenix SL40
The SL40 is a totally revamped Fenix for 2016. Not to be mistaken with the Fenix CR, Ridley placed it between the lightweight Helium and the aero Noah. Skinny seat stays and clearance for 30mm tires give plenty of rough-road comfort, but don’t think of it as a cushy slouch – the massive BB and tapered headtube boost stiffness, while the geometry firmly places it in the realm of race bike.
So how is it, then?
Outstanding. It really is a convincing endurance/race bike. Climbing up Prefumo, it’s race-bike fast and responsive under hard efforts. Unlike some hard-edged race bikes, it doesn’t toss you around over rough asphalt, and you never get the feeling that it’s trying to kill you. Instead, it infectiously coaxes you to ride a bit faster, corner a bit harder and ride longer than expected
Descending Prefumo, it’s a gem. The predictable turn-in and outstanding stability nails the apex on the way down. And when riding over that scarred and gnarly asphalt? Cool as a cucumber. Brilliantly composed with race-ready climbing abilities and handling prowess, somehow it just feels built for fast European feeling roads like Prefumo.
Figueroa Mountain Road + The X-Trail CR50
What’s the road like?
Nestled in Los Padres National Forest, it’s less of a road than an experience. 15km of climbing, too many cattle gates to count, ridiculously rough pavement and endless technical corners. It’s a hoot of a road, with just a hint of terror. We scope some gravel detours and get a sense of just how incredibly expansive this park is (we end up coming back three days later). You could seriously lose yourself here for days on end, exploring everything from fast asphalt, to singletrack (with knobby tires on the X-Trail), to bouts of gravel. It’s a cyclist’s dream.
So what of the X-Trail?
Road bike, cross bike and gravel grinder – the X-Trail C30 is a bit of everything. Ridley chose to push the “one bike to rule them all” notion to whole new levels. The result is a bike that feels road-bike responsive under power, yet totally competent and nimble on technical terrain. With 38mm of clearance, you can tackle cross and gravel-grinding. Looking to winter ride? No sweat. Fender eyelets make that a cinch. It is, simply put, the most versatile bike here (and, just maybe, on the market).
So why the X-Trail for Figueroa Road?
When climbing, it’s remarkable how much it resembles the Fenix and Liz. It’s a bit heavier and the geometry is slacker, but it never struggles to keep up, an impressive feat for a bike this versatile. When descending, it really shines.
Winding, technical and rough – descend Figueroa Road with some gusto, and it gets serious. Thankfully, the X-Trail made short work of it. The bridgeless seat stay design lends itself to a ride that’s even more compliant than the Fenix or the Liz’s – a remarkable achievement. And then, there’s the game-changer: those brakes.
We had reservations about disc-brakes on road bikes, but on a demanding road like this, the benefits are irrefutable. The X-Trail is running Shimano’s 105 spec hydraulic disc brakes, and it’s incredible how much they can change a road like this. For one, you can brake much, much later. It’s difficult to comprehend how much speed you can scrub before tackling frightening corners. On top of outright power, the control and modulation is unlike anything else. There are still benefits to caliper brakes (we wrote an article about the pros and cons), certainly, but our brief encounter with these discs forced us to reconsider our once stubborn opinions. On top of that, the thru-axles obliterate any sense of flex under hard braking or accelerating.
Every bike here is exceptional, but on Figueroa Mountain Road, the X-Trail is the clear winner.
Nacimiento Road + The Liz CR40
What’s the road like?
Sometimes, pictures do a better job of telling a story than words ever can. So, here goes:
Right? It’s unlike anything else. The views are nothing short of spectacular, the climb up is difficult but satisfying, and the descent is so delirious that you feel like you’re going to teeter off the edge of the world. One particularly steep and fast section gives the impression that you’re going to plummet straight into the Pacific Ocean.
And that Liz?
The Liz CR40 is likely the stiffest of the bunch, and has the looks and responsiveness to make it a true crit weapon. It’s a touch small for Geordie and I to ride, but Megan’s pace up Nacimiento under a hard effort demonstrates just how fast this thing is. Despite that, there are endurance bike touches throughout, and it retains the diamond shaped tubing that graces the Fenix and the X-Trail (Ridley’s unique tube design that boosts stiffness and strength).
Megan swears it’s just as stiff as race bikes she’s shredded in the past, yet retains a level of composure and comfort on the rough stuff that others can’t match. At one point, Geordie manages to scoop it from Megan for an extended test ride. He quickly falls in love with the stiffness and pink paint job, and it takes a lot of convincing for him to give it back.
So why the Liz and Nacimiento Road?
Think of it this way: when you were a kid, the colour of your bike really mattered. My first bike was neon yellow and I chose it because it was neon yellow. Why? Because it screamed fun and fast in equal measure. Whenever I rode it around the neighbourhood, there was a giddy promise of adventure and discovery. While all of the bikes on display here bring out that feeling, the Liz is one that makes you grin every single time you look at it. It taps into those feelings of adventure, discovery and excitement that we felt as kids when looking at a shiny, colourful new bike.
As a road, Nacimiento does something similar. The foaming brilliant Pacific below, the golden sunset above, those perfect sun-soaked corners and the briny wind in our faces – I’ve known Geordie and Megan for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen bigger smiles on either of them. Riding Nacimiento for the first time, we all felt like kids giddily riding around on bikes, feeling that sense of adventure and discovery that got us hooked on bikes in the first place.
The Liz captures that sensation, but so do the Fenix and X-Trail. With the advent of incredibly versatile road bikes that can go seemingly anywhere, there’s good reason to be excited, more roads than ever before are yours to ride. And while not everyone will have the chance to explore every nook and cranny of Southern California this year, that giddy feeling of discovery is always out there waiting to be found. The trick to finding it? You just gotta ride more roads.