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Ritchey Break-Away Carbon review

15 Aug 2016
Verdict:

The Ritchey Break-Away Carbon can split in two for travelling, but can it keep it together on the road?

Price: 
£2,475 (frame & fork)

Tom Ritchey is a man who likes to travel. Before he launched his eponymous bike brand, he toured the world on his steel bike, but was never keen on paying extortionate flight charges or lugging around a cumbersome bike bag. So in 2002 he invented the Break-Away frame, which could split into two pieces and pack down into a normal suitcase. It wasn’t until last year, though, that Ritchey did it in carbon.

Ritchey’s Break-Away system has been built into steel and titanium frames over the past 15 years, which would seem a natural choice given the treatment that a bike may get in a plane’s cargo hold. But there’s no doubt that the performance benefits of carbon are hard to beat, and so it was no surprise that Ritchey looked to the black stuff to bridge the gap in weight and stiffness created by splitting the frame. With that in mind, though, Ritchey wanted to preserve much of the feel of the steel range in this carbon iteration. 

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon seat clamp

‘We selected the tubing to give it similar ride qualities to steel, at a lighter weight,’ says Fergus Tanaka of Ritchey Design. The frame is also designed to cope with a range of different terrains, all with a build that comes in only half a kilo above the UCI minimum weight.

Travelling tales

Given the Break-Away has the unique feature of splitting in two, I thought it only appropriate to test it by travelling with it. The workings of the Break-Away are a little mind-boggling at first. Two carbon flanges on the down tube meet to be held in place by a small metal clamp. Then the seatpost clamp fixes the top tube to the seat tube – sliding over the seat tube like a sleeve. When both are tightened the bike is held together as one piece rather than two. But the packing and unpacking process is not as easy as just that. There are two obstacles that complicate the task of splitting the frame in two: separating the cables and fitting it into its airline-compliant bag. 

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon chainset

Splitting cables is easy, as Ritchey provides a cable splitter for the rear brake and both gear cables. These are unscrewed by hand and then the front brake needs to be fully removed. That leaves the handlebar separate for easy packing. I say ‘easy’, but packing the Ritchey is an art in lateral thinking, creativity and zip-squeezing.

On my first packing of the Ritchey it took me two hours from complete bike to packed bag. Ritchey has a recommended orientation for how to pack a bag (rear wheel, front wheel, rear triangle, front triangle) I quickly discovered this wasn’t actually the best approach (I went for rear triangle, rear wheel, front triangle, front wheel). Then there are important considerations such as making sure the bars won’t damage the tubes when the bag is squeezed and that the front brake won’t swing into components. Ritchey has paid attention to every detail, with features such as chain and tube covers and Velcro ties to keep the tubes in place. 

Like a bicycle-themed Tetris, there is some fun in the task, and once you work out the best orientation for a given bike size and components it gets much quicker. On my second attempt at packing, when pushed for time for a flight, I managed it in 25 minutes. There are some who claim to be able to do it in less than 10.

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon rear derailleur

Once packed it’s an incredible sight – an entire bike with riding gear in a bag so small the tyres have to be let down to fit a single wheel in. The tubes seem resilient too, with Ritchey claiming all the strength of the steel or Ti equivalent, and I personally saw no signs of damage.

While that may all seem like an excessive faff, it not only saved on airfare, but opened up the opportunity to use trains, buses and small hotel rooms. Travelling with a bike is only worthwhile if the bike is worth the travel, though. My fear was that the couplings that hold the frame together would also be the weak points, creating unwanted flex that would compromise handling and speed. Luckily, this wasn’t the case.

Splitting hairs

On my first rides on the Break-Away, I spent half the time staring anxiously at the clamp on the down tube, and the other half convinced that the bike would begin to wobble uncontrollably like a noodle. Neither happened. I descended sharp hairpins, blitzed over cracked road surfaces and bunny-hopped significant obstacles – all without any sign of the clamp budging a micrometre. The Break-Away was also agreeably rigid, but as road bikes go it could do with offering a little more punch at times.

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon rear brake

While I never felt as though I was riding a bike that was compromised, I wasn’t stunned by the performance either. It was a pleasant ride and generally stiff enough, save for hard accelerations, but when I switched to the Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc, I was reminded of just how much difference a finely tuned race frame could make. 

Credit is due to Ritchey for making an excellent solution to travel and a very impressive first foray into carbon fibre

Similarly, I gradually came to feel that the Break-Away’s frame leeched my efforts ever so slightly on gruelling climbs. Perhaps it would be best described as up there with the very best of steel frames rather than being a match for the best of carbon. I doubt it would have held me back in any race, though, and they’re a regular feature of the US road racing scene, according to Tanaka: ‘Last year we had a couple of our employees travel to the mid-West and race Break-Aways in National Race Calendar criteriums, and they performed as well as ever.’ 

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon ride

In terms of weight, the frame and fork come together just north of 1,800g, which is a little hefty for a carbon set-up, but a big step on from Ritchey’s steel range, and much lighter than any of its steel Break-Away frames, which come in at around 2.5kg. To be honest, I never noticed the weight. The feathery Campagnolo Chrous groupset and FFWD wheelset helped a great deal, meaning this build isn’t much heavier than other bikes at this price point.

Comparing the Break-Away to top-end carbon frames at the price point is perhaps a little unfair. Taking into account the Break-Away’s travel advantages, and extremely fetching appearance, the mildest of performance sacrifices quickly become irrelevant. In a world of wireless eTap shifting and single chainring groupsets, the opportunities will become ever greater for the Break-Away. Credit is due to Ritchey for making an excellent solution to travel and a very impressive first foray into carbon fibre.

Spec

Ritchey Break-Away Carbon
Frame Ritchey Break-Away Carbon
Groupset Campagnolo Chorus
Brakes Campagnolo Chorus
Chainset Campagnolo Chorus
Cassette Campagnolo Chorus
Bars Ritchey WCS Logic II
Stem Ritchey WCS C220
Seatpost FSA K-Force
Wheels FFWD F3
Saddle Ritchey WCS Streem
Weight 7.38kg (56cm)
Contact paligap.cc

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