Ridley has taken the Indian performance bicycle market by storm, with its Ridley India range. While this continues, Ridley’s international and Belgium range of bicycles are also available in the sub-continent. Our team had reviewed the Ridley Fenix A10 earlier this year, and was looking forward to more from their international range. When we heard that Ridley was bringing in the pro tour acclaimed Helium SL in its Aluminum avatar – The Helium SLA - 105 mix, we didn’t waste time and got right down to reviewing it.
The hero of the Ridley Helium SLA is its frame. It weighs around 1,200 grams and has been built using a combination of triple butted and hydroformed 6061 and 6066 aluminium alloys. The overall weight of the Helium SLA is around 8.7kgs, and this along with the superior package makes this bicycle ride like a carbon, or in some cases even better than one. The SLA falls under the ‘Stiffness to weight’ segment under the race road bicycles range of Ridley. It’s elder sibling, the Helium SL, has won many pro tour titles, and has seen Andre Greipel dominate the sprints and climbs with equal aplomb. The frame comes with internal cabling that makes the overall design clean, along with some neat elements such as ensuring the brake cables runs from right to left to ensure it is compact and creates no noises.
The Frame build has been designed in a manner where there is maximum strength and stiffness on offer, while ensuring it is lightweight. The tube profiles have been kept simple with a combination of circular and tapered tubing. The front is highlighted by the longer head tube that is attached to a stiff carbon fork, made up of unidirectional carbon. The seat stays are kept extremely thin but strong, and along with the other elements of the rear triangle; they ensure that it absorbs a good amount of the vibrations on your ride. Double pass welds have given the Helium SLA smooth joints (a’ la a carbon bicycle), reinforced support at key pressure points and long-term durability.
The Ridley Helium SLA is very similar in design to the pro tour Helium SL edition. The tube profiles and the overall geometry are so identical that it is difficult for a regular eye to point out the differences. The bicycle looks, feels and has the finish of a full carbon cycle. Staying true to Ridley’s design philosophy, the Helium SLA comes with a minimalist and classy colour scheme. They have predominantly used black with white, along with splashes of blue, which was our favourite. The paint combination along with Ridley’s decals certainly gave the SLA the look of a super premium, pro- tour bicycle.
The Ridley Helium SLA comes with the latest Shimano 105 – 5800 groupset. This tried and tested 105 series from Shimano has successfully powered many a bicycle in the performance space. The 22-gear system comes with the Shimano 105, FD-5800 (2 Speed) for front derailleurs, and Shimano 105, RD-5800 (11 Speed) for rear derailleurs. These are aided by the FSA Gossamer Pro crankset with a 50/34T and Shimano 105, 11-32 Cassette combination, which gives it the flexibility to deliver on flat surfaces as well as in the hills.
The Helium SLA has one added advantage to it’s peers who are also specced with the 105 groupset, and that advantage is it’s superlight and stiff frame. The combination of the superior Alu-Carbon frame, along with the 105 groupset translates into some dizzy acceleration capabilities. The bicycle hit top speeds at a feverish pace, and we loved every bit of it. The gearing on offer was extremely precise and smooth at every stage of the ride.
Ridley has used the Forza finishing kit for most of the components. The brakes also get a set of 4ZA Cirrus rim brakes, which work well. They provided good stopping power at all speeds. We have been riding a lot of roadies with the disc option for brakes, and purely out of curiosity, we would love to see how that would gel with the Helium SLA.
The longer headtube that we mentioned earlier plays an integral role in the handling of the SLA. This combined with the stiff and ’dagger shaped’ carbon forks, makes for a stable, sharp and nimble handling bicycle. The Helium SLA is very comfortable changing directions, and has the right balance of being nimble and stable. It corners with supreme stability and confidence. This bicycle is also very comfortable while climbing and on descents. It was well in control to off the saddle riding, and reacted well to the added power exerted. The overall cockpit was well specced with the 4ZA stratos handlebar that felt like it belonged to the SLA.
The overall ergonomics of the Helium SLA is aggressive, with a clear objective of getting you in the best position for speed. This being said, one would usually expect the ride to be uncomfortable for aggressive road geometry. The engineers at Ridley Belgium have ensured that while they optimized for stiffness, weight and strength, they have not compromised on rider comfort. The rear triangle, most importantly the slim seat stays have been designed to absorb most of the feedback from the road. The 4ZA Stratos dynamic comfort saddle is well contoured and firm enough to keep you in a good position through the ride.
The wheelset on the SLA was impressive. It comes with the 4ZA RC23 SL rim set which are reasonable weighted, boast of superior strength and durability, and all of this without being too expensive. These rims have been built after extensive testing in the rugged and harsh roads of Belgium. Ridley have added the Continental Ultrasport 700 * 25c tires on to this bicycle. They have very little rolling resistance and score an average on puncture resistance.
Ridley has pushed the bar of engineering brilliance when it comes to the aluminium road performance bicycles. With geometry, design and performance in line with the top notch pro tour series range, the Ridley Helium SLA will shatter any myth that says aluminium bicycles cannot be better than carbon ones. At Rs.1.3 lakhs, the Helium SLA has been built for the fastest growing segment of amateur and semi-pro riders, who want a quick, light and stiff performance road bicycle at a budget. To add to these features a well-engineered aluminum bicycle comes with the advantage of not being a ‘touch me not’. Which means that it will be more durable and will have a longer life than it’s carbon rivals. Enough said from our side. You need to ride the Ridley Helium SLA to truly understand why bicycle design and engineering is an art form in itself. A big thumbs up to team Ridley!