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10th November 2010 Words: Matt Lamy
Ridgeback may be better known for hybrids and commuting bikes but this fully-featured touring machine sits atop its range. Like the Claud Butler Dalesman it benefits from being a flagship model, and as such it features some extra bells and whistles.
Unlike Claud Butler, Ridgeback has eschewed little novelties, instead concentrating on making the most of the bike’s already significant touring potential. Wherever there is a bracket or boss there is an accessory fitted to it. All three bottle cage mounts are complemented by three decent Blackburn bottle cages. The non-driveside seatstay hand-pump mount has a hand pump attached. And, uniquely in this test, the front fork rack mounts have Blackburn lowrider racks fixed.
Hot metal machine
The fulsome specification doesn’t stop there. Like the Dalesman, a pair of Tektro frogleg brake levers are positioned on top of the bars, but rather than the Tektro cantilever brakes fitted to its rivals, the Panorama benefits from genuine Shimano stopping power. Ridgeback has also upped the ante with the transmission, fitting a funky XT rear derailleur. Not only is this higher up Shimano’s range than the Deore mech found elsewhere but its very current design instantly makes the bike look like a truly 21st Century tourer.
Probably the most important specification difference, though, is in the choice of tubing. Rather than Reynolds 631, Ridgeback has gone one step higher and chosen Reynolds 725 for the Panorama. Just to get a bit technical about metal for a minute, 631 is a cold-drawn, air-hardening steel while 725 is heat-treated chromoly steel, which in simple terms means that thinner walled, ie lighter, tubes can be used.
As far as contact points go Ridgeback has kitted out the Panorama sensibly. There’s a decent leather saddle with a pressure relief channel, and good quality stem and bars. The 2010 model of the Panorama came fitted with Shimano SPD pedals, but although there’s been a £50 increase to its retail price, our test sample came only with toe-clips and straps. Finally, up front, those pleasantly grippable Tiagra STI levers provide hood-holds.
Bright and brittle
So the Panorama has a number of small individual advantages over the other bikes here, but how do they combine to function on the road? The first thing to say is that if we were just looking for a sense of Britishness in these bikes, the Ridgeback would come last. It is almost Teutonic in its efficiency, particularly when climbing. When the ground points up this bike just lets you sit in the saddle and spin on. It’s a similar story coming downhill, with the Shimano cantilever brakes and Tiagra levers providing assured stopping power.
However, when you reach the rough stuff something else becomes apparent. The frame qualities that make climbing such a doddle also make the bike slightly less amenable over bumps. Unlike the Pearson that rocks and rolls, the Panorama tends to bounce and bump. Despite its superior tubing, the Panorama feels a lot less supple than the other steel bikes in this test. So much so that it’s reminiscent of an aluminium machine.
Despite being exactly the same model, the STI gear shifters provided a far better experience on the Panorama than with the Dalesman, but gear changes were nowhere near as smooth as with the bar-end levers. And although the XT rear mech is a step up, and it certainly did its job without grumbling, I think you’d be hard pushed to notice a performance difference over Deore.
The Panorama is a great bike to ride, a really efficient machine for cranking out the miles and overcoming nature’s obstacles. It feels indestructible, the front and rear racks almost goad you into loading them up with masses of kit. In short, it’s a bike that will take you almost anywhere — just make sure you’ve got some comfy shorts.
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