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Tech-Redux: Ridley Helium Shimano Dura-Ace

From issue 2 • February/March 2011 • Images by John Maynard

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As we near our 100th issue, we take a look back at some of the tech we covered including a boatload of sweet bikes. This Ridley is from issue 2. FUN FACT: $3,000 (for the frameset) in 2011 is equivalent to about $3,517 in 2020 money (according to saving.org)!

Ridley has built their reputation on the cobbled roads of Belgium. In their thirteen-year existence they have battled for the podium under the riders of the Lotto and Katusha teams. For the 2011, Belgian road and time trial champion, Stjin Devolder will ride Ridley bikes at the newly revamped Vacansoleil team. Sitting at the top of the Ridley line is the lightweight Helium and the aerodynamic Noah.

Expanding past their Belgian roots, the Helium was designed with the purpose of the winning the Tour de France with then Lotto rider, Cadel Evans. Originally based on the Ridley Excalibur, except with an integrated seatmast, the Helium has evolved into a lightweight all-around racing machine that still contains enough Belgian blood in it to survive the harsh, unforgiving cobbles of Northern Europe

The Details.

Constructed using the same hollow-tech molding technology that they pioneered with the Noah, Ridley is able to significantly reduce excess material inside the Helium frame—especially around the bottom bracket and head tube junctions. This helps to reduce weight, but increases frame strength and stiffness. The frame design includes a bi-axel down tube, 1.5-1.25-inch tapered head tube, vertically oversized chain stays, carbon dropouts, an integrated seatmast and ultra-thin horizontally ovalized chain stays. All of these elements have been included to increase the Helium’s performance and ride quality while still hitting the 950-gram mark.

One of the most notable frame features is the ultra-thin horizontally ovalized seatstays. These wide but thin structures are made from 30-ton high-modulus carbon fiber reinforced with 50- and 40-ton carbon with a 12K multidirectional carbon finish and stiffen the rear of the bike by resisting lateral movement, but absorb road shock by flexing vertically. The previous version of the Helium was known for its tight rear wheel clearance at the bottom bracket and chain stay junction. Ridley solved this with the use of vertically oversized chain stays. The new design has had the added effect of further increasing stiffness in the rear triangle and bottom bracket.

The frame is then mated to Ridley’s 4ZA Helium full carbon monocoque fork with a tapered carbon steerer tube. The fork is designed to complement the feel of the frame, providing lateral stiffness with a bit of vertical compliance. The oversized fork blades feature a scalloped profile that acts to resist twisting forces, and absorb road vibrations as they travel up the fork toward the rider. The fork’s lateral stiffness is further reinforced by the Helium’s 1.5-inch lower headset bearing. Ridley was one of the first companies to spec tapered headsets with oversized bearings, and it has become a trademark feature throughout the Ridley line.

The Ride. Hitting the road on the Helium, one of the first traits to become apparent is the lateral stiffness of the bottom bracket. The oversized bottom bracket gives the Helium quick acceleration and a snappy feel when jumping out of the saddle. The stiff feel of the bottom bracket was mirrored by the front triangle and oversized fork, providing solid handling when railing the Helium through tight corners.

Our Helium came equipped with a complete Shimano Dura- Ace drivetrain, FSA K-Force compact handlebar and OS-99 CSI stem with Fulcrum Racing 1 2-Way wheels wrapped in Hutchinson Fusion 3 tires. A fi:z’ik Arione completed the setup. This build helps keep the weight to a feathery 15.1 pounds with pedals. During the test we found no cause to switch out parts, as all worked as expected and complemented the performance of the Helium.

Just a few miles of putting power to the pedals is required to figure out that the Helium is bred for racing. The 73.5 head tube angle provides a quick but solid front end with the 56.5-centimeter top tube feeling longer than its actual length. The overall feel of the cockpit is that of a classic European road racer. The slightly sloping top added to the open feel, while the masthead for the 73-degree integrated seatmast provided plenty of fore and aft adjustment. As with all integrated seatmasts, cutting to the right size is a nerve-racking experience. The Helium is no different, but the addition of height indicators made it easier to measure and mark before breaking out the hacksaw.

Ride quality on smooth roads was superb, while rough roads made it clear that the Helium was also designed to handle the mud, ruts and cobbles of the Belgian landscape. The chain stays soak up nasty rough roads and broken concrete better than we expected and matches the shock absorbing properties of the fork for a balanced feel. The stiff frame and high overall ride quality allowed the Helium to be hammered on any type of terrain.

Going up hill, the Helium shined, instantly lunging forward when power was applied to the pedals. The long top tube creates a race-ready position that provokes the rider to be aggressive and attack climbs. However, it is on descents that the Helium really made its presence known. The stiff frame was confidence inspiring, carving both tight and sweeping corners with precision. The vertical compliance of the rear triangle, and overall balanced feel allows the rider to charge downhill regardless of road surface. Dive hard into a corner, weight the outside pedal and one can hold virtually any line without the road dictating the Helium’s path.

The Rider. The Helium rider is looking for a top-level climbing bike with a bit of Belgium heritage. They want a bike that accelerates like a rocket during out-of-the-saddle efforts, can climb the biggest mountains with the best in the world and then charge down the other side with reckless abandon. They understand that impeccable road manners matter more after you have dropped your rivals across the rain and wind-blown cobbles of Flanders.

Builds. In the United States the Helium is available as a frameset with various build kits available through distributors. This allows the customer to build a custom bike to fit their performance or cost requirements. To make the Helium unique to individual owners or race teams, Ridley offers custom paint options through their Customizer software. The web-based Customizer is an online graphics program that provides the user with a graphic representation of the frame and a wide selection of colors to choose from. The graphics on the Helium feature three different colors, while the Customizer provides 27 color choices for each of the options—giving the user virtually countless choices. The Customizer also allows the user to choose component colors for the saddle, tires and handlebar tape.

The Bottom Line.
PRICE: $3,000 [frame/fork]
GROUP: Shimano Dura-Ace
WHEELSET: Fulcrum Racing 1 2-way
OTHER: FSA K-Force bar with FSA OS-99 CSI stem
WEIGHT: 15.1 lbs. with pedals and cages [Medium]; 950 grams [frame]

From issue 2. SOLD OUT!