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Ribble Ultra TT review

12 Nov 2020
Verdict:

Ribble Ultra TT is fast, competitive with higher end brands & takes Ribble another step away from its comfort zone of winter training bikes

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fast on the flat • Climbs well enough • Wind-tunnel optimised
Against 
Would benefit from satellite shifters elsewhere on the bars • Under-BB rear brake can catch the rim when out of the saddle

Many cyclists, for reasons known only to them, seem to have a real problem with other people doing triathlons. However, being one of those awful people who does sometimes likes to swim before and run after a bike ride, I'd pencilled in a number of events this year at which I would have used the Ribble Ultra TT.

Then someone interfered with the natural world in ways they shouldn't have and we all became far more familiar with the insides of our own homes. Consequently, for obvious reasons, the Ribble Ultra TT hasn't seen much – that is any at all – actual competition this year. 

Despite 2020 being a write-off for most cycling and triathlon events – and I appreciate that's small fry compared to the suffering of millions around the world – I had raced on the bike once towards the end of 2019, trained outside on it a few times and spent longer than I might have hoped riding it on a turbo trainer.

It's that experience, albeit being less than I wanted, that I'm basing my review of the Ribble Ultra TT on.

Buy the Ribble Ultra TT on Ribble's BikeBuilder here

Frameset

I've made a Trigger's Broom reference with regards to bikes before, which triggered (pun intended) an email from a reader to the editor. It was not positive.

Nonetheless, here's a similar theme again. A Ribble Ultra TT is still a Ribble Ultra TT whether it's got Zipp wheels, Roval wheels or no wheels at all (the last option isn't recommended).

Ultegra Di2 or Sram Red eTap, 19mm tubs from the 1980s or up-to-the-minute tubeless-ready tyres at nearly twice that width: whatever you put on this bike it is still a Ribble Ultra TT because that's what its frameset is.

This is even more the case thanks to Ribble's BikeBuilder, which does exactly what it sounds like it should by allowing customers to put together their own bike build online and then sit back and wait for it to arrive.

All that said, if you opt for a few more fairings and lunchboxes when assembling the bike online, it actually morphs into what Ribble calls the Ultra Tri – much the same bike just with a few more bits to give the UCI a headache.

My test bike didn't actually come with any of these additional aero features. I wonder how much time I can claim to have lost in my single competitive outing as a result? Probably not the 6:03 between me and the overall winner.

Specification

The bike came with a Zipp 454 NSW front wheel and a full Zipp disc wheel in the rear, both of which were clad in Vittoria Corsa tyres. One ride around Regent's Park during a lunchtime at the office showed me that I've neither the strength nor nerve to use such a setup in anything other than winds below 1kmh.

Fortunately, to hand was a Roval CLX 64 carbon wheelset, which I've since used for every subsequent ride on the Ribble Ultra TT. These wheels gave little away in terms of speed but the rear was much better on windy days, in particular on a notoriously bad crosswind section during my one race on the bike.

I also upgraded the tyres to a pair of Michelin Power Road when I swapped the wheels.

The shifting is provided by Shimano's top-of-the-pile Dura-Ace Di2, which is controlled from upshift and downshift buttons on the end of the TT bars. With only the two buttons, the bike is best left in full synchroshift mode to enable changing between the front chain rings.

I would have liked additional satellite shifters inside the brake lever extensions, which would have been beneficial on steeper climbs when I was unable to stay on the skis – something to look for when using Ribble's BikeBuilder.

The Vision Metron cockpit comes with a high level of adjustability throughout, so finding a good position was boosted by being able to tweak the height and angle of the bars, the length of the TT extensions and position of the elbow pads.

The saddle was another out-the-box component I felt the need to change. Unable to get on with the ISM PN 1.1 split nose saddle I changed to a Specialized Power model to match the Specialized Venge Pro I was riding on the road at the time.

The brakes deviate from the standard Dura-Ace callipers with the use of a TRP aero brakeset. The front brake is incorporated into the frame and works excellently. The rear, however, is not quite as good.

Hidden under the bottom bracket for aerodynamic purposes, the rear brake has a mild tendancy to catch the rim when a lot of power is put through the pedals during out of the saddle climbing efforts.

It's not a massive problem, but it all adds up and is something I have experienced on under-BB rear brakes across a number of brands. It's really a feature manufacturers need to move away from and should hopefully be killed off by the move to disc brakes.

Q&A with Ribble's head of product, Jamie Burrow

Interested in how the bike was designed and manufactured, I spoke to Ribble's head of product Jamie Burrow to get more information on the process from the drawing board to the finished product.

Cyclist: What difference do the add-on fairings make to the bike's speed? Was this measured in the wind-tunnel?

Jamie Burrow: The brake fairings were designed using CFD analysis and then tested in the velodrome, real world and wind-tunnel using 3D-printed prototypes. The total gains from the base bike with no attachments, to a bike with front and rear brake covers and rear bento box were up to 53 seconds over 25 miles at 29mph.

Cyc: How was the frame's geometry decided upon?

JB: Feedback from time-triallists and triathletes from club to world level athletes. The Ribble-Weldtite Pro Cycling team gave us access to arguably some of the best TT riders not only from a UK perspective but globally, specialists who know that in a TT every detail no matter how small equates to valuable watts and time saved.

We wanted to keep the geometry as neutral as possible to allow ideal fit and handling for domestic TT riders of all levels, pro-level athletes and triathletes.

Cyc: Is the target market time-trialling or triathlon? Or both equally?

JB: Definitely both. As the bike of choice for Ribble-Weldtite and used to smash course records, win multiple National TT titles and World Championship medals with Dan Bigham and John Archibald, the model has certainly gained respect on the UK TT scene.

However, the triathlon market is equally important, with the aerodynamically optimised triathlon-focussed hydration, nutrition and storage package seeing significant domestic and international success giving riders at all levels a significant discipline specific performance advantage.

Cyc: How much rider input was there against what the wind tunnel said was fastest? The most aero might not be the most stable/comfortable: was there a noticeable compromise?

JB: The bike was always tested with a rider as opposed to bike only, testing with just the bike only tells part of the aero and performance story so the holistic package of bike and rider has to be taken into account throughout the process.

From initial CFD testing and our digitally scanned rider, through all phases of wind tunnel and real world testing. We worked in the velodrome to survey sustained race simulating efforts over longer periods with multiple runs, testing different rider positions, using both male and female triathletes and time-trial specialists.

BikeBuilder

As mentioned already, Ribble customers can pick and choose their new bike's specification using the brand's Bike Builder.

Walking you through the process step-by-step, this helps keep an eye on cost and allows you to choose the spec that best suits your wants and wallet.

The bigger problem, as shown by the above screenshot, is likely to be stock levels rather than decisions around what colour bar tape to choose. Ribble, like most bike manufacturers, has seen a welcome surge in sales this year, which has led to some supply issues, but it says it is now working to meet demand.

If you go for a Ribble Ultra TT, it'll be worth the wait and should arrive in time for 2021's racing season – assuming there is a TT and traithlon racing season next year.

Build your own Ribble Ultra TT on Ribble's BikeBuilder here

Race tested

My one competitive outing on the bike to date was the 2019 West Wight Triathlon. A brilliant, community-focussed event held at the West Wight Sports Centre on the Isle of Wight.

A 600m pool swim is followed by a 34km hilly, wind-exposed bike leg and finished with a 7km run.

Riding the Ribble Ultra TT, I finished fifth overall and won my age category. This was in no small part thanks to the bike leg: after a decent swim I gained a lot of time on others while riding before things went slightly awry on the run.

Aggravating a back injury about 300m into the run, I hobbled through the rest of it only staying ahead of my nearest rival for the age category thanks to time banked on the bike.

Descending between Freshwater Bay and Compton Bay there is a corner where you are guaranteed a violent crosswind, regardless of what the weather might otherwise be doing.

Add in heavy rain on the day of the race (rain so bad, in fact, that I almost didn't race until a talking to from my sister prompted me to see sense) and I was glad to have changed out the Zipp disc wheel.

Summary

Ribble continues its quest away from its previous incarnation as a supplier of winter training bikes and not much more, towards the recognition it deserves as a supplier of serious and fast bikes – in particular with the Ribble Ultra TT.

It's certainly not perfect, but a few simple tweaks – disc brakes, more gear shift buttons, inclusion of the fairings shown on the BikeBuilder for example – would bring this bike truly into the big leagues.

As it is, the Ribble Ultra TT is a fast bike with high levels of adjustability – both in the build process and once it arrives – that will see most of us right in local time-trials and triathlons, as was the case for me.

I'll be racing on this bike as much as I can next year, if that's even possible, to make up for a lost season of competition. My willingness to continue using it is indicative of positive experience of the bike so far (although if a new one comes out with the improvements I'm looking for, I'll jump ship without hesitation).

Review photography: Joseph Delves

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

Price: 
£8,999 as supplied, prices vary by spec on the BikeBuilder

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