An incredibly lightweight climbing bike that makes heading uphill a cinch. The ride can be harsh for big rides, but if you choose the spec carefully then you can unlock the potential of a frame that's built to fly.
New Dura-Ace is great
Ribble BikeBuilder makes it competitively priced
Ribble BikeBuilder makes it easier to swap out components
Skinny 23mm tyres
Flexi Deda bars
Aero bikes, racing bikes, sportive bikes – Ribble has released the lot. But now, the British brand has set its sights on the skies, releasing its lightest ever frame and its first dedicated climbing bike, the Ribble SL.
The frame weighs a claimed 840g, while the full build - on our scales at least - weighs in at an astonishing 6.60kg. A lightweight, deadly competitive bike, we took the Ribble SL to the highlands of Scotland to test it out.
With its sleek carbon tubes narrowing towards their respective junctions, and those almost preposterously thin seat stays – this is a bike that screams weight saving. In fact, it’s so slinky that you can almost see where the excess material has been forgone.
Of course, Ribble says the SL has the whole lot: it’s light enough for the hills, stiff for efficiency and comfortable for the distance. It’d be natural to be sceptical; it’s a rare bike that can do it all, and compromise is a key part of almost any bike design.
With its oversized headtube and built up bottom bracket, the Ribble SL ticks all the boxes of a modern, stiff carbon bike, and there’s definitely no denying that this bike is light. Tap the tubes and you can hear that resonant hollow thud of carbon. The Ribble's carbon can feel disconcertingly thin, but that's probably not a surprise when the weight is as low as this.
There’s also those classic skinny seat stays which not only give a bit of spring to the performance frame, but also help keep the rear end clipped to a boxy 405mm. Elsewhere, a reach of 38.8cm and a slammed stack of 57.1cm puts you in an aggressive racing position.
With the Ribble BikeBuilder, the spec list is your own to decide, but our Ribble SL came sporting new Dura-Ace 9100, personally a first ride on Shimano’s new groupset. For the period of the test, the bike's shifting was flawless, with resonant thunks when shifting down and a light feeling to the shifter on the upstroke. The standout feature, though, has got to be the brakes, which delivered good stopping power time and again, even in the rain.
The Mavic Ksyrium Pro wheels were also a welcome addition to the bike, and performed admirably throughout the test, and felt bombproof. For reasons we’ll come to though, we’d actually spend a bit more and add the Mavic Cosmic deep wheels.
Deda’s finishing kit made up the front end of the bike with its 100 series bar and stem. The bars were a tad narrow for my comfort and there was a level of flex in the drops that was noticeable on hard efforts. Again, we’d consider opting up for the stiffer Deda SuperZero bar and stem.
Similarly, the Selle Italia saddle also had a degree of flex to it, but this helped iron out some of the harshness from the frame. The relief channel was comfortable, though, and the flat profile helps you make the most out of the bike's aggro racing geometry.
On calm, smooth roads, the Ribble SL trucks along with the very best. The frame is direct, and the Mavic wheels keep it going along through undulations. But the zing was really added to the ride after I tried some deep sections wheels with the frame, and the injection of pace and the way they held their speed convinced me that if you’re feeling flush, I’d spec a pair of Mavic Cosmic Elites in the BikeBuilder.
It’s when the road surface turns sour that the ride quality becomes less convincing, and things become a little bit uncomfortable.
It definitely didn’t feel like there was much forgiveness in the frame, and on prolonged, jarring rides the discomfort rose.
It wasn’t until two 100km+ rides in the north-west of Scotland that I truly noticed the harshness, and the repeated little bumps of the freeze-thaw roads numbed my hands. The 23mm Mavic Yksion tyres certainly weren’t unable to iron out the ride. In fact, for the longer stuff I’d be tempted to take the weight penalty and add some larger volume tyres to iron it out a little.
But this was a bike born to go uphill, and it’s supremely lightweight, weighing a featherweight 6.60kg. On prolonged climbs you really feel the benefit of every gram that isn’t there, and on both abrupt, steep climbs and the more drawn out roads of mountainous Scotland it never felt out of its depth when climbing.
Watch: How much faster are aero wheels?
Here in the UK, you can buy the version of the Ribble SL that we tested for £3,374, which pretty good value when you consider you’re getting new Dura-Ace 9100, Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels and a featherweight frame.
Our ideal spec, with the upgraded stem and bars, plus the Cosmic Ultimate wheels, comes in at £3,740.
It sits in line with other climbing bikes. For example, Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX 8.0 Di2 comes in at £3,599; albeit with Ultegra Di2. Likewise, the SuperSix Evo offerings from Cannondale tend to rock in around the same price, if not a little cheaper with Ultegra electronic shifting.
For more info: Ribble cycles
For the sake of comparison, Ribble’s recommended build actually comes in at £2,999 with Ultegra Di2 shifting – either way, it’s pretty competitive.
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