better way to get into the groove for the Tour de France than get out
there and ride a bike like the pro's. The Orbea Orca is ridden by
the Euskaltel Euskadi Pro Tour Team and is the preferred frame of their
riders. I'll explain why later.
Orbea's are built in the
heart of the Spanish Pyreneees, the Basque Euskadi region, which is the
home of around 1500 cycle clubs. They have a very critical
audience and have been around since 1840 building bikes for many, many years.
They know a thing or two about bike building and now I can add my opinion by
riding their award winning carbon fibre offering, the Orca.
The Orca and the Opal are the top two
frames in Orbea's line up. They are however, subtly different.
The Orca is made of a combination of high modulus and medium modulus
carbon fibres. I won't go in to all sciency detail here but you
get the drift from the high and medium bit. The Opal is all high
modulus. Now high isn't always better.
Nothing but nothing will get
you from A to B quicker than a Formula One car. But, driving lots
of miles in a racing car will leave you somewhat jaded, trust me, I
know. When we go away to our cyclos we use our trusty bus, a
Chrysler Voyager turbo diesel. Not as fast as an F1 but it's like
driving your favourite armchair. What's this got to do with bikes?
Well F1 cars are built from
high modulus carbon fibre. It's strong. it's light, it's
unforgiving. Orbea's Opal is all high modulus. By combining
a mix of high and medium modulus fibres the Orca gives you the best of
both worlds. It handles like a Formula One car but rides like a
Chrysler Voyager. You get performance and comfort. So, if
your riding nothing but crits on a billiard smooth road go Opal.
If you value your comfort, want to do long distances and want to
have energy left for a big sprint go Orca. That's why the pro's
The semi-compact sloping
frame is a beautifully organic creation that flows from front to
back, top to bottom. The head, seat and bottom bracket clusters are massive,
beefy, energy propelling works of art. No straight round tubes here, just
one shape slowly melding into another to get every milli-watt of power to where
it's needed, the rear wheel. Everywhere you look there are ridges, ripples
and crests to add strength without adding weight.
be honest it
looks a heavy frame because there appears to be so much of it.
But as with most things in life you must never trust appearances alone. This is a seriously light,
and resilient bike. With a ribbed, in-house, Zeus, curved fork up front held in place by a
substantial head tube and an FSA hidden headset there is no lateral or
longitudal flex whatsoever.
Nice touches include but are
not limited to, a front race number hanger, a replaceable rear derailleur
drop out and a tiny cable hole in the bottom bracket to give the front mech
cable a cleaner run! The curved rear stays give added comfort and
heel clearance and feed in to a single wishbone just behind the seat
As ever these days the
Orca came with Shimano gears and brakes. On the road test frame it
was the Ultegra 10. And to be honest it was boringly reliable, as
are all groupsets these days. Read one of my other tests for my
thoughts on previously tested Ultegra equipped bikes.
They did everything
perfectly when I needed them to. Of course Dura Ace and Record do
everything just that little bit better, but they cost more than a little
bit more! Ultegra is just fine and dandy for all but the pro's and
the less financially challenged or egotistically perverse. Or if
you're a vet and worked your way up over the years!
The chainset however, was a
Zeus carbon jobbie. Apart from a little chain rub when sprinting
really hard up the side of the Lobster Pot it never ever gave cause for
concern. Which is as it should be. Up front we had some wide
(maybe too wide) Zeus anatomical carbon bars, But they didn't
flex, they were fantastically comfortable, they weren't too anatomical,
if you know what I mean, and they didn't smack my forearms when
sprinting. So perhaps they weren't too wide after all?
The wheels were Shimano
WD-600's equipped with Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres. A nice solid
wheelset, 1700 g, but maybe a tad under specced for a frame of this calibre.
A Selle Italia, 225g, Signo, genuine gel saddle, was perched atop a once
more beautifully sculptured piece of carbon, the Zeus seatpost.
When you can make your own kit this good, why buy it in from other
stem, however, is another story. A true triumph of function over
form. It has to be the ugliest stem I've ever seen. But boy
does it work! It's super stiff, cradles the wide bars to prevent
flex, has a built in water channel, cum fag holder in the middle, and
has the cleanest top section fork clamp grip I've seen. It's an
acquired taste and certainly a talking point. But like every ugly
child, it's parents love it.
Due to the design of the stem I wasn't able to lower the bars
to my desired height so felt a centimetre too tall. But once In
the groove of things I just rode around it. When testing the
limits of a bike you need to have confidence in the front end and feel
comfortable. I wasn't uncomfortable I just wasn't as comfortable
as I could have been.
All that disappeared when I
climbed my first hill. Sitting on Dave Whitt's wheel I was dragged
up St Aubin's Hill with no sense of flex, distortion or power-loss.
Only to be told we would be heading straight into St Brelade's bay to
come out of the Chapel Hill. The 40 mph descent in to the bay was
stable, smooth and comfortable, as would be expected from a pro bike.
But it wasn't nervous or twitchy on the limit at all. Despite my
high front end, oo-er missus!
Now I was beginning to get
confidence in the machine. A pro bike that's comfortable, not
nervous and light. How does that work? Then, came the acid
test. One of my, "I'm not braking here" corners, is coming past
Corbiere lighthouse and in to the bay.
unsure of the tyres I feathered the brakes at the bottom and kicked
myself for not having the confidence of my convictions. These
tyres aren't the lightest, but they have massive diamond treads on the
I've raced on and used, for
the last 20 years, Vittoria Corsa CX's and only use Continental
4-Seasons for my sportives (puncture proof) and Schwalbe Stelvio's for
my cobbled excursions (bomb proof with grip). With CX's I know
exactly where the limit is, with the others I know exactly what I'm
getting and trade off the speed, comfort and grip for reliability and
long-life . It seems the Rubino Pro's are a combination of all
three! Good grip, long life and puncture resistant.
I know they grip because
when we descended from Mont a la Brune down the side road we met a car
coming up the one car wide road. I already had my escape route
planned, braked, threw the bike to the far left of the road, just
clipped his mirror with my shirt sleeve as I went passed and dragged the
bike beck to the centre of the road to get around the corner.
I flew round the corner,
basking in the glory of the bike and how it handled, was just going to
to shout to Dave how well it did, when another car came! We see a
car once every six months on this road. Now we get two in 10
seconds! This time with an even smaller gap, I made it through.
Dave, on my C50 was cadence braking behind me! I expected a "thud"
that never came, so obviously he made it and was behind me.
So I can say, without fear
of contradiction, that an Orbea Orca handles as well as a C50 in
emergency situations! And to be fair to Dave, my brakes are the
opposite way round to his so he may have been surprised when he first
grabbed them. But he didn't panic, as an ex-karter wouldn't then thought
and calmly steered his way out of trouble.
like climbing descending and cornering on an Orca is a pleasure.
This is a seriously good bike with no obvious vices or quirks.
When we go out, we have a few hills we test ourselves on. One is a
20 second test hill where we attack, from a standstill, up a seriously
steep climb with a 90 degree left at the top. During these tests I
knock out around 900 watts, so it's a fair test of the rigidity of the
whole bike and the application of the power to the ground. Any
flex, skip, wobble, weakness or creaky componentry will be found out
here. As expected the Orca passed with flying colours. It
tracked well, it felt solid in the bottom bracket area and it never felt
like the back was steering the front; something you get if a bike has
any weak areas in the back end. This one doesn't.
For some the following numbers mean nothing, for others they'll be
studied for hours as all the variables of seat tube, top tube, stem
requirements and head angles are all worked out to the nth degree. It's here to
help you see how you can get an Orca to fit you!
The Orca has a solid front end that allows it to snap and track in to
corners, and out of situations, like it's on rails. It's solid,
lengthy chainstays give it rear end comfort and a reassuredness that
prevents the whole package from becoming a nervous handful. Some
pro bikes are bucking broncos when ridden in the real world environment
that we mere mortals inhabit. Not all pro bikes are the dream we
believe them to be and not all of them translate to life on the road.
The Orca, with a
mix of high and medium modulus fibres, gives the perfect compromise of ride, handling
and comfort, proving these dichotomies (trichotomies?) are not mutually exclusive!
At 7.3 kilos, for the Record
and 7.9 for the Ultegra, they're right in the
ball park for life-time owning race bikes and is more than a match for it's price point
If I was to suggest anything, it would be do a deal and get the wheels
upgraded. The Shimano 600's are average race wheels on an exceptional
frame, but the overall presentation is an above average package.
Invest a little more in your purchase and upgrade the wheelset to Mavics
or Campags and you've got a bike as good as
any workhorse pro's.
These bikes have won stages
in the mountains of the Tour, they're more than a match for any bike
you'll see at your local clubber. With five sizes it shouldn't
be hard to get your fit just right. Visit the lads at the shop and
they'll spend as long as it takes to get you right. Don't take my word for it,
get down to Pedal Power and
find out for yourself.
If you're still unsure if the Orca is the bike for you, get down to
Pedal Power and ride it for
a weekend! They have
a race ready demonstrator
available for you to try. The 57cm bike I tested is available with a massive 15% discount.
Ride it and be prepared to leave a deposit on the way out!
A brand new, Ultegra equipped, Orca is £2,395. All you need to add are pedals.
The Orca frameset and forks come in at £1295. The TDF version with
Campag Record is £3450 and the TDI with Chorus is £2895. A Dura
Ace equipped TDE is £3250 and the Ultegra TBP is £2395.
I've checked the old
interweb and you'll pay up to £500 more on some of the UK sites, with a
five week delivery! If you see cheaper prices, which I have, make
sure what you're getting is the 2006 models, not the earlier and heavier
2004 ones. Support your local bike shops!
What makes me think I'm qualified to write articles and critique
bikes? Click here and I'll try to explain.