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Ritte Phantom review

16 Feb 2021
Verdict:

Proof that a skinny-tubed, steel bike can still deliver a stiff and responsive ride

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,999 frameset, £4,800 as tested
For 
Stiff • Modern touches • Sleek • Traditional aesthetic
Against 
Unsightly cable entry points on down tube • Weight

Type the words ‘largest winning margin at the Tour of Flanders’ into Google and you will discover the name Henri ‘Ritte’ Vanlerberghe.

In the early years of the 20th century the Belgian cyclist was renowned for his brazen riding style, often attacking from the start but almost as often unable to sustain his lead until the end.

The one time it did work, spectacularly so, was at the 1919 Ronde van Vlaanderen. Legend has it Vanlerberghe turned up to the race without a bike, having arrived directly from the front line of the First World War, but he managed to borrow one and, in typical fashion, attacked into a block headwind 120km from the finish.

This time he amassed a huge lead, reportedly aided by an incident involving a stationary train blocking a level crossing on the route. Vanlerberghe simply boarded the train, exited through the opposite door and continued on his way. The rest of the field lost significant time while they waited for the train to move away.

Vanlerberghe’s lead then continued to grow to the point where, knowing his triumph was assured, he pulled into a cafe near the finish and sank a few beers with fans.

It took his team manager to force him to remount and cross the line, still some 14 minutes clear of his nearest rival, declaring to the crowd, ‘You might as well go home, I’m half a day ahead.’

The tale has likely been embellished in the telling over the years, but Vanlerberghe’s winning margin remains a matter of race record – and one that will likely never be bettered. And it’s from the eccentric Belgian that Ritte Bicycles takes its name.

 

The company’s founder, American Spencer Canon, wanted to echo the ethos embodied by Vanlerberghe and create a bike brand that was fun, flamboyant and which didn’t take itself too seriously.

Buy the Ritte Phantom now

New steel

In truth, Ritte hasn’t gained much traction on these shores since it launched in 2010. But it has a new UK distributor for 2020 in Dorset-based Rockets and Rascals, which aims to change that – and has every chance of doing so, if this steel Phantom is anything to go by. The Reynolds 725 frame is simply exquisite in its every detail.

Reynolds 725 is what you might call ‘new steel’. The tubes are made with a heat-treated cro-moly using a process that allows them to have extremely thin walls (flick the top tube with your fingernail and it will return a beautifully high-pitched ping), while also delivering stiffness and performance at a weight within sight of carbon frames.

Of course, it’s still heavier than carbon, but by less than you’d think. This size large Phantom, specced with Sram’s second-tier Force mechanical disc groupset, weighs in at a respectable 8.59kg.

Plus there’s no shortage of modernity in the details, including the latest T47 threaded bottom bracket, internal cabling, flat-mount disc brakes, thru-axles… it’s all here.

Ritte intends the Phantom to be a race bike, so don’t be fooled by its skinny frame. The geometry is near-identical to Cannondale’s race bike, the SuperSix Evo, and that translates to an appreciably spritely feel on the road.

 

It’s certainly not a laid-back ride, nor is it super-compliant and comfy as steel bikes are often assumed to be. During my test rides the Phantom offered a good balance of feedback from the road and adequate absorption of any sudden jolts, although I strongly suspect that without the 30mm Vittoria Corsa Control tyres I would have felt a lot more road buzz.

With my head dropped in full-attack mode, I’d often glimpse those thin tubes and wonder how they could so capably withstand everything I was throwing at them. Granted, I’m no Robert Förstemann, but I was still impressed at the lack of flex through the frame.

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Despite all that, there’s no denying steel conveys a different sensation to carbon. No matter the quality of the materials and build (and the Phantom is right up there with the best), I can’t help feeling that steel race bikes are akin to watching a movie in standard definition rather than HD. It just feels I’m missing that extra degree of sharpness that a top-end carbon race rig can bring.

Buy the Ritte Phantom now

With a bike like the Phantom, however, comparing steel and carbon is missing the point. If you’re the sort of person who is immediately drawn in by its classically handsome, clean lines and elegant welds, then all this talk of frame materials becomes largely irrelevant.

 

Pick of the kit

Castelli Active Cooling sleeveless base layer, £70, saddleback.co.uk

Whether you should wear a base layer on a hot day is still up for debate, but this new sleeveless number from Castelli is strong evidence for the defence.

The Polartec Delta fabric uses a combination of hydrophilic and hydrophobic yarns, holding some moisture next to your skin while allowing airflow through the fabric to create an evaporative cooling effect close to the body to reduce core temperature. That’s the theory anyway, and I reckon it works pretty well.

Buy the Castelli Active Cooling sleeveless base layer from Tredz

Alternatively…


Go gravel

Like the Phantom, Ritte’s Satyr (£1,999 frameset) is a collaboration with American framebuilding guru Tom Kellogg, so has the same classic look and feel of the Phantom, only this time aimed at gravel.

Buy the Ritte Satyr

Prefer carbon?

Built in a true monocoque construction, the Ritte Ace has lightweight performance as its core values. What’s more it will actually set you back less than the steel Phantom, costing £1,700 for the frameset.

Buy the Ritte Ace

Spec

Frame Ritte Phantom
Groupset Sram Force
Brakes Sram Force
Chainset Sram Force
Cassette Sram Force
Bars Easton EA70
Stem Easton EC70
Seatpost Easton EC70
Saddle Fabric Scoop Sport
Wheels Hunt 30 Carbon Aero Disc, Vittoria Corsa Control 2.0 30mm tyres
Weight 8.59kg (large)
Contact ritte.cc>

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

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