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Ridley Helium SLX Disc review

9 Jun 2020
Verdict:

A bike for every situation, as much a joy to corner on as to sprint, to descend on as to climb

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
€6,850 (approx £5,980)
For 
Light • Responsive • Stiff
Against 
Unexceptional wheels

Bikes are great. I love their simplicity, their democracy, their freedom. However, sometimes I’m less than enamoured with their longevity. If you bought a £10,000 car and the accelerator started squeaking, the gears slipping and it developed play in the steering wheel after just three months, you’d be rightly annoyed.

And yet in bikes it happens far more often than it should, and in part I think the problem lies with manufacturers making overly complex designs.

I don’t mention this to level criticism at the Ridley Helium, but rather as context for praise. Because the frustrations of being on a rattling, mal-tuned bike only serve to highlight just how wonderful it feels when everything is working in harmony. Which is where the Helium comes in.

The Gorilla, GVA and TDG

As an enduring model of the Ridley range, the Helium puts up with a lot. It has been wrestled in sprints by André Greipel and pounded over cobbles by Greg Van Avermaet, and – if pros ever race again this year – stands to be beasted over immense breakaways by Thomas De Gendt.

(Although even lockdown hasn’t given the bike a reprieve, as De Gendt and his Helium were recently neutralised by Zwift for ‘unfair’ power numbers, the Belgian happily sustaining 500W on the virtual racing platform.)

Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles for €4,399

So I expected a stiff bike, and in that regard was immediately satisfied. I stamped, it surged. What I wasn’t banking on was how effortlessly light it would feel, popping and zinging along the road and tick-tocking up climbs.

The frame weighs a claimed 780g for a medium, which certainly helps, although at 7.6kg overall this is no flyweight. So once again it’s the way stiffness can offset a few extra grams on a climb, although that isn’t the whole story.

 

There’s something else here that almost defies definition. The bike feels taut, as if the individual components are not just bolted to the frame but somehow inextricably linked.

Other bikes can have this feeling, of course – typically when they are fresh off the assembly line or have super-fancy parts – yet the Helium is possessed of something more. 

While the Ultegra Di2 groupset and in-house finishing kit from Forza are decent quality, they are very much the stuff of serviceable realities rather than dreams.

But there are two other more considered inclusions: DT Swiss 350 hubs, which in my opinion roll as smoothly as 240s but are just slightly heavier, and Vittoria Corsa 2.0 tyres, which I defy anyone to fit and not feel an immediate improvement from. But yet again these are not exotic parts. So what gives?

As unexciting as this explanation will sound, it’s not just any one thing, but a combination of everything that gives the Helium its cohesive feel.

Keep it simple

If I was writing the design brief for the perfect road bike it would go like this: disc brakes; light, preferably close to 7kg; racy geometry; stiff; comfort can come mainly from seatpost and saddle; aerodynamics can come mainly from deep section wheels (under 1,500g please).

It’s not rocket science but it is paying attention to those details, and it is what Ridley engineers have done. It’s the way the Helium’s weight is distributed top to bottom – more pronounced near the bottom bracket and hubs for stability, less concentrated in the top half of the bike for ease of side-to-side movement on climbs or sprints.

Add head tube and bottom bracket stiffness into that mix and climbing suddenly feels that much more floaty. Yet despite its obvious aplomb up hills, the Helium still turns its hand marvellously to sprints.

 

Speed in these sprints is aided by the stiff, aero wheels, which while not from a coveted brand do weigh a claimed 1,490g and are 45mm deep. They could do with being tubeless-ready and a touch wider internally (they are 17mm inner, 27mm outer) to offer even better grip from the 25mm tyres, but I’ll let that slide because the handling here is borderline superb.

In the main this comes from the geometry, key measurements being a short (so nimble) 987mm wheelbase and a steep (so sharp) 73.5° head tube angle. But again, without stiffness in the head tube, fork and BB or a light overall weight, this sharpness would be dulled.

The geometry here isn’t groundbreaking, but in a sense it’s this approach to design that makes the Helium so good. Ridley hasn’t tried to reinvent anything, so on paper the Helium looks kind of normal. And it’s this that is the bike’s secret – it has no secret.

Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles for €4,399

Ridley has just looked to tried and tested methods and ideas and executed them very well. In doing so it has paid the utmost attention to nuance and subtlety, eschewing gimmicks and realising that ‘normal’ is another way of saying ‘it works’. Which is just how I’d describe the Helium, a bike that ‘just works’, and does so in thoroughly rewarding harmony.

Alternatively…

Go wireless

 

For £6,369 the Helium SLX can come with Sram Force eTap AXS, which doesn’t make it any more aero since the bike is already fully integrated, but does make travel a cinch.

Keep it classic

 

Not everyone wants disc brakes, so if you prefer classic looks and want to save 50g from the frame (and a few quid), the Helium SLX is available with rim brakes for £5,549.

Spec

Frame Ridley Helium SLX Disc
Groupset   Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Brakes Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Chainset Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Cassette Shimano Ultegra Di2 Disc
Bars Forza Cirrus Pro
Stem Forza Cirrus Pro
Seatpost Forza Cirrus
Saddle Selle Italia SLR TM
Wheels Forza Vardar db on DT Swiss 350 hubs, Vittoria Corsa 2.0 25mm tyres  
Weight 7.57kg (medium)
Contact ridley-bikes.com

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

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