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First Ride: Orbea Orca Aero

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — I love sprinting. Save the all-day climbs for skinny kids. I want to test my short-term bursts handlebar-to-handlebar with the big legs, and I want to do it on a super-responsive bike tailored for speed and stability. Snappy handling is a bonus. That’s why I had so much fun on Orbea’s Orca Aero, a sleek machine for the breakaway artists and flat-stage blasters. It’s an excellent addition to the Spanish company’s growing arsenal of WorldTour-ready rides. And it’s got a trick up its sleeve: The Orca Aero is one of the first bikes to market that is no longer constrained by the UCI’s 3:1 rule.

To recap, the 3:1 rule dictates that a frame tube’s length cannot be more than three times its width. Since that’s no longer a constraint, Orbea engineers went slightly longer, extending the Freeflow fork’s blades. In theory, this should make the fork more aerodynamic and faster. (Orbea says the fork alone will save you 4 watts.)

Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

But Orbea didn’t go too extreme. The changes are subtle, and you probably wouldn’t notice that the fork is outside of the 3:1 ratio unless you had a pair of digital calipers. The bike still looks like a bike, in other words. The aesthetics fit the aero category. I was drawn to immediately to the sleek, fast appearance.

You can also customize your paint with Orbea’s Myo program. With its own paint facilities, Orbea offers this perk at no extra cost. I saw many custom paint schemes at the official launch in San Sebastian, Spain, and each was impeccable and eye-catching.

Beyond looks, Orbea’s making some major aero claims: It says this bike saves 27 watts — or 82 seconds — in a 50-kilometer race, compared to its predecessor, the Orca OMR. Orbea tested its aerodynamics at Mondragon University in Spain’s Basque country to get a sense of what those longer tube shapes could do.

Unsurprisingly, everything is integrated, from the one-piece Vision Metron 5D handlebar and stem to the internal cable routing and low-profile seatpost clamp. The frame was designed to work best with 55-millimeter-deep wheels. My test bike was spec’d with Vision’s Metron 55 SL wheels wrapped in 25-millimeter tires, though Orbea says you can fit a 28-millimeter tire with room to spare.

First ride

It’s easy to pigeonhole an aero bike as a flatlander’s ride. While the Orca Aero certainly excels on such rides, it also held its own on the sustained climbs through Basque country.

The Orca Aero is yet another example of how road bike categories are blending. Naturally, it would be a top contender for a sprint stage, but it wouldn’t be a big disadvantage on a climbing day either. The Orca Aero is unsurprisingly heavier than most climbing-specific bikes but respectably lively. On high-speed descents, its quick steering and overall stability were exceptional.

It’s handling is well above average for the aero category. Over the course of nearly 100 miles in northern Spain, I expected to encounter that one tight switchback that would put the fear in me, too tight for the 59-millimeter trail. But it never came. The 408-millimeter chain stays and short 991-millimeter wheelbase make for a snappy feel. Plus, the fork is five millimeters shorter than the fork on Orbea’s endurance ride, the Avant. This helps increase lateral stiffness and tightens up the steering in corners. The Orca Aero might be one of the best-handling aero bikes I’ve tested this year.

I’d still prefer this bike for flat or rolling rides, despite its capabilities on the climbs. As expected, all those massive tubes push compliance to the back burner, and this was most noticeable at high speeds over deep cracks and potholes. Small chatter transmits most dramatically in the front end, less so in the rear. While it falls toward the more comfortable end of the aero-compliance spectrum, it won’t be mistaken for an endurance bike or pure climber, which often feature flex and vibration-damping features.

While the handling is superb, Orbea doesn’t break the mold in any particular aspect of its design: truncated air foil tube shapes, lowered seat stays, integration, a wide fork to improve air flow over the wheel … We’ve seen all this in other aero bikes. When it comes time to choose between the Orca Aero and another aero bike, the deciding factors will likely come down to brand loyalty, price, and spec. And, of course, wind tunnel data.

This shouldn’t diminish the Orca Aero, though. Orbea has done well to position itself against much bigger manufacturers with endless R&D, marketing budgets, and global reach.

My test bike came equipped with Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain, Vision Metron 55 SL wheels, and Vision Metron 5D integrated cockpit. It was easy to see why so many sprinters like the Metron 5D handlebar/stem combo: It’s incredibly stiff and you can torque on it dramatically without a bit of give. It does contribute to the front-end harshness, though, and while it’s a comfortable bar for an aero set-up, it is still a flat-top bar, so be aware of that if you’re a round-bar devotee. Perhaps most importantly, it looks cool, especially when you slam the stem.

We all want a vast stable of bikes, but realistically, most of us can only afford one, maybe two. The Orca Aero could easily be the one bike in your garage, as long as you understand what this bike is made for: rolling terrain, fast sprints, and occasional forays into the mountains.

Pricing ranges from $3,300 up to $8,500, largely depending on build.

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