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Bike preview: Orbea Orca Aero

Joseph Delves
4 Jul 2017

Will defying the UCI’s previous 3:1 ratio rule make for a speedier racing bike?

When the UCI scrapped its three-to-one rule it freed designers to start experimenting with more radical designs. One of the first to hit the market is Orbea’s new Orca Aero.

In an attempt to put the kibosh on the weird and wonderful designs of the early 90s the UCI instated a rule banning the filled-in designs typified by Chris Boardman’s radical Lotus 101.

Specifying that riders couldn't compete at UCI-sanctioned races on bikes with profiles that exceed a 3:1 ratio between the length and the width of the tubes and other components, the rule helped level the playing field for riders, along with undoubtedly preventing a few crosswind-related accidents. 

On the flip side the rules stifled bike design, and with improved understanding of aerodynamics they were starting to look increasingly outdated.

However, these rules were recently relaxed, giving greater scope for bike makers to experiment with radically deep tube profiles, with large sides and narrow fronts.

Already common in triathlon events, Basque brand Orbea is one of the first companies to launch a road racing specific bike that exceeds a 3:1 ratio. 

How times change

Now in use by the Cofidis pro team, despite the fact that it wouldn’t have been allowed in competition as recently as last year, the Orca Aero doesn’t look massively dissimilar to current aerodynamically focused designs.

That said it’s still a drastic departure from Orbea’s more traditional Orca OMR. The brand believes that by comparison the aerodynamic shaping of its latest model should save riders an average of 27 watts at 50kmh.

A chunk of this is achieved by the new freeflow fork design. Its wider opening supposedly reduces turbulence between the wheel and the inside of the fork blades.

Resistance around the front of the bike is also further lessened by an integrated bar, stem, and headset combination on the top-tier models. 

Moving backwards the frame’s tubes are surprisingly wide and boxy. This apparently improves airflow across them, while also setting up the currents for a smoother journey around the water bottles.

The position of these bottles can be adjusted, either to provide maximum carrying capacity or minimise drag.

A bike that prioritises raw speed, either for solo attacks or shorter sprint efforts, the Orca Aero’s other main priority is stiffness.

The entirety of the head tube junction, downtube and chainstays are designed to give as little as possible when pushed.

Integration is also a theme across the Orca Aero; because having a bike that looks slippery is almost as important as having one that is slippery.

The rear wheel is tucked into the seat tube. The direct mount calipers are tucked close into the frame and fork, although thankfully they remain where you’d expect them to be.

The seatpost collar and headset spacers neatly fill the gaps between their respective components. The covers for the cable routing are also interchangeable depending on whether the bike is spec'd with mechanical, electronic, or wireless gearing. 

Further adding to the slick look of the bike is the ability to customise its colour scheme at no extra cost. Available from £2,599 with a Shimano 105 groupset, hopefully we’ll have one in for test soon.

Orbea Orca Aero range:

M11i Team, SRAM Red eTAP, £6,799
M10i, Dura-Ace Di2, £6,799
M10, Dura-Ace, £4,199
M20i, Ultegra Di2, £3,499
M20, Ultegra, £2,799
M30, 105, £2,599

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