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Orbea Orca Aero M11i Team review

12 Oct 2018

Page 1 of 2Orbea Orca Aero M11i Team review

Verdict:

Orbea has exploited the UCI's rule changes to good effect, but that extra speed comes at a cost

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£6,999
For 
Racy geometry complements stiff frame • aerodynamic design has noticeable effect at high speed
Against 
Heavy weight • little concession to comfort

When I was younger, I used to play a lot of cricket. Whenever the pitch was predictable and consistent, and therefore easy for the batting side, the term ‘flat-track bully’ was given by exasperated bowlers to a particular type of batsman who only tended to play well in such benign conditions.

Orbea’s new Orca Aero is a flat-track bully.

My first couple of rides on it involved laps of London’s Regent’s Park, where the roads are smooth and almost pancake-flat.

In those conditions, I doubt many of its competitors could score as many runs as this bike.

That’s a bold statement to make considering this is the Basque brand’s first true foray into aerodynamic design.

But in a way, being late to the game has given Orbea an advantage over some of its rivals.

While other brands were learning how to cheat the wind by testing and developing in wind-tunnels, Orbea could watch from the sidelines and learn from their mistakes.

As such, the Orca Aero adopts a similar kamm-tail design on most of its tube profiles to other well-proven aero machines.

A kamm-tail is a truncated airfoil shape – a bit like an aeroplane wing with the trailing edge partially sliced off.

Historically, this profile maintained much of the aerodynamic efficiency of the teardrop shape while conforming to the UCI’s 3:1 depth-to-width ratio rule, whereby frame tubes on UCI-compliant bikes couldn’t be more than three times deeper in cross section than they were tall.

However, in January of this year the UCI decided to relax the 3:1 ratio rule, and so Orbea has reaped the benefit of its tardiness by being the first to market with a frame that has pushed aero tube shaping beyond what was previously permitted.

It means several areas of the Orca Aero, for instance the fork blades, down tube and seat tube, are noticeably deeper in profile than you’ll find on many other aero road bikes.

Orbea says this has had a marked effect on the aerodynamic efficiency of the frame compared to the regular Orca (which, despite having aero pretensions, never actually saw the inside of a wind-tunnel).

According to the company, at 50kmh the new Orca Aero will save as much as 27 watts over its sibling.

Increased efficiency aside, I think the tube shapes afford the Orca Aero a wickedly aggressive look.

This is the aero bike’s aero bike. Such an exaggerated shape is likely to be divisive but in my opinion Orbea has nailed it and created a quintessential take on the genre.

Mind you, I’ve always been a sucker for a burly kamm-tail. (The other day I got a hint as to why when I came across a quote by the great Enzo Ferrari, who said, ‘Aerodynamics is for those who cannot manufacture good engines.’)

Bigger brother

The Aero mirrors the geometry of the regular Orca but Orbea says it has improved frame stiffness, which is up from 96Nm/degree to 106Nm/degree (a measure of torsional stiffness) in a test protocol that claims to simulate high-torque sprint efforts.

Comparing the two visually, it’s unsurprising that the Orca Aero is stiffer. Side by side the bikes look like the before and after photographs of the original Orca if it had undertaken a year of weightlifting and anabolic steroid use.

I tested the regular Orca back in issue 66 so can attest to the stiffness of that bike.

It made me wonder whether any more rigidity would actually be a good thing or not, and I fear that the transformation has tipped the Orca Aero’s ride quality to slightly the wrong side of practical.

As much as Orbea has been able to reduce its learning curve by biding its time before entering the aero road arena, it is still in many ways behind the competition.

While it has focussed purely on straight-line speed, many of the big brands are already taking that next step by making concessions to comfort and weight.

By contrast the Orca Aero is unapologetically rigid. What’s more, at 7.6kg in its rim-brake guise it is half a kilo heavier than Specialized’s latest Venge, which weighs 7.1kg with disc brakes (a system that can add 300g compared to rim brakes).

This means that the Orca Aero lacks the composed ride quality of something more compliant or the whip-crack acceleration of something lighter.

Yet before I rebuke the design too much I’d like to qualify that my time on the bike has been nothing short of thrilling.

It may not be the quickest off the line, but get past those laborious first few seconds of effort and the Orca Aero goes and goes, and keeps going.

Unfailingly my legs gave out before I felt the bike had reached the limit of its potential on flat ground.

Many of my test routes feature rolling terrain and short, punchy rises, and the Orca Aero thrives here too.

The frame’s stiffness mitigates any weight penalty and its previously illegal level of aerodynamics preserves speed easily, meaning regular hilly routes I’ve ridden on considerably lighter bikes were completed just as quickly, and

I had more fun doing them to boot.

Flawed brilliance

The Orca Aero does have its limitations – it’s not a bike for all day ambles or recovery rides.

It’s a bike that goads you into going fast. Even the gear shifts sound baritone and menacing.

Tap on the Sram eTap shifter paddle, and the rear derailleur thunks down through the cassette with satisfying donks that reverberate through the cavernous tubes.

Psychologically it’s a sound to strike fear in the hearts of fellow sprinters – I wouldn’t like to hear that behind me in a sprint now that I know how easily this bike goes from fast to faster – but when you are the rider on board it is a demonically gratifying bonus to the ride experience.

While I’d say the Orca Aero does cede ground as a total package to the market leaders, its price should be taken into consideration.

At a pound shy of £7,000, this top-spec model is hardly cheap, but it is around £2,500 less than some similarly specced competitors.

When you drop down the levels of those other brands to find an equivalently priced model, the differences in weight become a lot smaller.

And while those other brands may win out on comfort and versatility, I’d say they’d have a hard time matching the visceral joy of the Orca Aero.

Spec

Groupset Sram Red eTap
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace 9110 direct mount
Chainset Sram Red eTap
Cassette Sram Red eTap
Bars Vision Metron 5D
Stem Vision Metron 5D
Seatpost Orbea Orca OMR
Saddle Prologo Navo Evo
Wheels DT Swiss PRC 1400 Spline 65, Hutchinson Fusion 5 All Season TLR 25mm tyres
Weight 7.60kg (55cm)
Contact orbea.com

Page 1 of 2Orbea Orca Aero M11i Team review

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