Review: Ritchey Break-Away Ascent

We all enjoy a good escape on peaceful back roads where dilapidated farm houses often outnumber the passing cars. Maybe there is no set route, and each intersection allows for that last-second decision with only the falling sun as our guide. Perhaps your route rolls on by a park with some dirt paths or maybe even some singletrack. Regardless of the destination, the points between A and B will provide an adventure themselves with endless possibilities, assuming your bike is up to the task.

I want to be able to jump on my bike and go as I please. I want to escape the busy roads as quickly as I can, leaving careless drivers far behind. If I see that sweet little doubletrack path through the green space, I want the ability to take it without hesitation. I want my equipment to be up for anything it may encounter, including plenty of rough terrain. What I want is complete freedom to roam. The answer to that freedom is none other than the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent. It’s exactly what a bike should be: a do-all, go-anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one-trick ponies and niche categories.

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Most cycling enthusiasts, regardless of which bike-nerd level they have achieved, are familiar enough to know that the Ritchey brand is of a finer quality. Ritchey has a long history, starting with production road frames made for Palo Alto, a Bay Area bike shop in 1974. Soon after, a partnership formed between Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher to produce the first production mountain bikes. Once that partnership dissolved in the early ‘80s, Ritchey rebuilt the brand into Ritchey Bikes. Eventually, as more and more of the pro peloton made the switch from steel to aluminum bicycles, Ritchey shifted his focus to working with other companies (such as Shimano) designing specific components, creating what we know today as Ritchey Designs. Almost 40 years later, Ritchey continues to lead by example, instilling the “relentless innovation” mantra at Ritchey Designs, striving to improve and perfect the products we all love to push to the limits on a daily basis.

Going back to 1985, Ritchey released the Ascent, which replaced the Timber Wolf as the company’s entry-level off -road bicycle. After a few years, Ritchey updated the Ascent’s geometry, shortening the chainstays and creating steeper head and seat angles. As stated in the 1988 Ritchey catalog, “as a result, the bikes retain their stable handling characteristics while positioning the rider further forward for more efficient pedaling.” Almost 30 years later, today’s Ascent mirrors the 1988 Ascent Comp with the exception of a few small upgrades. Those upgrades include Ritchey’s custom internal headset cups, Ritchey Logic steel tubing, disc brake compatibility, 100 and 135 mm quick-release hub spacing and fender and rack mounts for all your touring and commuting needs.

Speaking of wheels and disc brakes, that’s probably my favorite feature of this frameset, it has the ability to run up to 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires. Sure, it may not roll the fastest with all that rubber, but it’s going to fit wide, puncture-resistant commuting tires or even some nice mountain bike tread for singletrack action. Or, you could always throw some road slicks in there to get your speed jollies off. That’s the beauty of it; it all works!

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While the versatility of the tires is certainly awesome, what makes this frameset the ultimate adventure seeker’s bike is the Break-Away frame design. Tom Ritchey built the first Break-Away model in 1999, and the first production run soon followed in 2001. Interestingly enough, Ritchey still rides the first Break-Away model today.

The Ritchey Break-Away design implements a locking compression system to achieve a travel frame without sacrificing ride quality or needing any special tools for disassembly. The frame can be assembled with 4 mm and 5 mm Allen wrenches and a few simple thumb turns for the derailleur cables. Personally, I prefer the aesthetics of the Ritchey Break-Away design over S&S couplers as it maintains the smooth lines of the TIG welded tubing. As far as the breakdown and assembly, even though no special tools are required, this is no speedy task and is not for those that lack the ability to perform intermediate-level maintenance on their bikes. You are essentially taking most of the bike apart in order to make it fit in the travel bag and then reassembling. Make sure you perform a dry run, or three, before you travel. Once you figure out how to successfully pack the bike in its bag, I would suggest taking photos of the step-by-step process so you can more easily replicate it again.

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The included Break-Away soft-sided travel bag measures 8.5 x 26.5 x 31 inches, or 66 linear inches. Yes, that’s correct, that’s 4 inches over the 62 inch oversized airline baggage policy. Based on internet forum discussions, I found that travelers typically were not paying oversize fees. However, I would not rely on that always being the norm.

Although the Break-Away Ascent is only offered as a frameset, the awesome team at Ritchey sent ours as a complete bike. The frame was accented with Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS components, a SRAM Force 2×11 compact road drivetrain and BB7 mechanical disc brakes. This build features the company’s new VentureMax off-road drop bar, which offers a 6 degree sweep on top and an ergonomic bio-bend with 24-degree flare in the drops. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a flat bar kind of rider, and although the VentureMax was comfortable, I still prefer the leverage of a flat bar when climbing out of the saddle. Thankfully, the Ascent’s geometry is versatile enough to accommodate either flat or drop bar builds. The tubeless-ready Vantage II wheels and 27.5×2.1 Shield tires provide a surprising amount of traction for the dual-purpose, low-profile tread design, rolling well on the pavement and offering just enough side knob to stay confident on the dirt. Although the bike handled singletrack quite well, I was quickly reminded of its low (in terms of mountain bike standards) bottom bracket when taking on log overs. However, that same bottom bracket height was appreciated when letting the bike flow through gravel descents earlier in the ride.

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As a whole, this is one hell of a bike. The smooth Ritchey Logic steel tubing rides like a dream, and the mountain-bike-esque geometry provides all-day comfort. I am confident that any adventure seeker would love this bike and the ability to fine-tune the build to their liking. The Ritchey Break-Away provides ample possibilities to discover the world on two wheels.


Tester: Scott Williams
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
Price: $1,650 (frameset and travel bag)
Weight: 23 lbs. (as tested)
Find out more at ritcheylogic.com


Editor’s Note: When we originally published this review in Bicycle Times 46, we mistakenly printed that this frame was fillet brazed, not TIG welded. Our sincerest apologies for that error. 

 

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Review: Felt V85

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Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $1,500
Weight: 22.4 pounds
Sizes: 43, 45, 51, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 61
More info: Felt Bicycles V85

Felt makes a lot of drop-bar bikes: race, endurance, aero, cyclocross, track and women’s. This V85 is the middle child of the adventure branch of the Felt drop-bar family. What makes this bike adventurous? “With a slightly longer wheelbase, rugged components and wheels, the V is the perfect bike for anyone searching for an exciting new experience. Be it an epic tour or simply continuing to ride beyond the road’s end, the V is made to last,” Felt says.

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To tackle adventure, Felt starts with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, disc brakes and tire clearance for up to 38 mm tires. Shimano’s excellent 105 group provides the shifters, 50/34 crankset, derailleurs and 11-32 cassette. Discs are de rigueur for adventure, and TRP’s Spyres take care of stopping duties with 160/140 mm rotors. All good stuff.

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I took a particular shine to a few items. The tubeless rims are a nice touch for future tire upgrades, but even with tubes, the stock Challenge Strada Bianca 33 mm tires provide a stellar ride. I wasn’t a fan of the big, gel-padded Selle Royal Look In saddle—it seems out of place on an otherwise sporty bike.

Overall it is a nice group of parts for the money, but how does it ride? In a word, refined.

Taking the best of cyclocross and endurance road DNA, the V85 goes down the road with more panache than the average aluminum-framed road bike. Some of the credit for that goes the those Challange tires. This isn’t my first time on these tires, and every time I get back on them I’m reminded they are some of the finest clinchers I’ve ever ridden. For a bigger tire they never felt slow and took the edge off harsh roads and off-road shenanigans.

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Handling was not razor sharp, but it is a very sporty feeling bike. While it handles itself well when the pavement turns to dirt, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a true rough-and-tumble adventure bike like a Specialized AWOL or Trek 920. The V85 likes to get dirty, but starts to feel out of its element on anything that starts to look mountain-bikey.

As a tool for fun and fitness, the V85 should keep a lot of people very happy. Fast enough for group rides and sturdy enough for dirt road exploring, the V85 also has rack and fender mounts. This could also make it great for long-distance commutes, or even short tours. The easily adjustable stem makes it simple to change handlebar height for a more comfortable or more sporty position on the bike, so going from weekday commuter to weekend speedster is easy.

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With some sturdier tires this could make for a solid gravel race bike. It handles all types of unpaved roads and responds well to aggressive riding, both sprinting up hills and attacking the corners on the way down. A little more tire clearance would help, as some of the rougher courses would be better suited to 40 mm tires.

Felt is known as a racing company, and that racing spirit was always in the back of my mind while riding this bike. The V85 is a versatile drop-bar bike that took me all over on all kinds of adventures: five hour rainy slogs to my parents for Thanksgiving, back road exploring, fumbly attempts at “training” rides and plenty of off-road detours.

Not much to complain about here, Felt did a great job creating what I would call an “adventure-lite” bike for riders looking for plenty of on-road speed with some dirt aptitude.

 

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