Ritchey Ti/Carbon Road Break Away
By Jon Sharp
When I was much younger, and first starting my obsession with cycling, I really wanted to get into touring. To me, it seemed like the ultimate to live on my bike as I saw the world. What better way to travel? After all, I'd want a bike when I got to wherever I was going anyway. Touring, alas, never happened for me. I was still a teenager in school, and stuck riding my bike around home. As I got older, I realized that I might not want to have to carry all my gear and food with me on my bike. No, riding from hotel to hotel using a credit card in place of some of my gear would really be the ultimate. Of course, I never had money enough for that. Now that I'm "grown up" I no longer even think about seeing the world by touring. My desire to have my bike whenever I arrive at my destination, however, has never faded. If I end up in some exotic, out-of-the-way corner of the globe, I want to be able to climb on my bike and explore.
Ritchey understands this desire. More importantly, though, they understand the hurdles I need to go through to get my bike anywhere I can't drive to. Thus was born the Break Away--a series of bikes they made that fit into normal suitcases. "Normal" in this case means, "not subject to overage charges by the airline." In other words, it doesn't look like a bike, and you're not charged like it's a bike. This is good. Very, very good.
The heart of every Break Away is the frame. Uh, well, I suppose that's the heart of any bike. But the Break Away frame is different than most hearts. Um, that doesn't make sense. Okay, how about this: The Break Away frame actually comes apart--which is the key to fitting into such a small suitcase. The way it comes apart--or, more importantly, the way it is held together--is what makes this design so ingenious. First off, there is a split in the frame in the seat tube just below the seat tube/seat stay/top tube junction. Instead of just one clamp for the seatpost, the Break Away design has another just below this split. Both pieces clamp on the seatpost and fit together like a puzzle. The result is a strong union with very little added material--basically just another bolt and threaded end. The other part of the frame that splits is just to the front of the bottom bracket on the down tube. This part utilizes a small collar that connects the two halves. The added weight to the frame is a paltry 100g.
The question that should be on your minds is how these joints affect the stiffness and overall quality of ride of the bike. The answer is surprising. Or, rather, it's surprising if you think the bike would ride like two halves held together by a couple of tiny bolts. Because, in fact, the Ti/Carbon Break Away we reviewed handles like a nice titanium bike (with carbon stays). In other words, it seems the only disadvantage of having the bike come apart is the modest 100g weight penalty. (Unless you consider loosening two bolts to raise or lower your seat a disadvantage.) Before I get to the ride quality, let's talk parts.
Ritchey, of course, makes almost everything else for bikes. The Ti/Carbon Break Away came with their top billing across the board. The fork is Ritchey's all carbon light-weight WCS fork. Not only is it light, but very stiff and responsive. Right out of the gate, I really fell in love with this fork. Very predictable and stable both at speed and around tight, hair-pin turns. The cockpit is Ritchey's WCS 4-Axis aluminum stem. Though a very light stem, it is also very stiff. I suppose Ritchey could have used their WCS carbon bars, but perhaps they wanted a bar that could handle constant installation and removal. It came with a WCS Logic Road bar (aluminum) weighing 210 grams. Though carbon can offer a bit smoother ride, it's hard to complain about the strength, stiffness, and weight of their WCS Logic Road bar. The seat post is a WCS Carbon post (not the 1 bolt version).
Rounding out the cockpit is the WCS Streem saddle and it deserves a paragraph all to itself. I was impressed by how comfortable the minimalist design turned out to be. In fact, of all the saddles I've straddled in recent memory, I found the Streem to be the most comfortable. Saddles are a deeply personal thing (as we've said many times before), but they are also a very important part of your bike. A comfortable saddle makes for a long and happy ride. I had many of these astride this saddle.
Are you starting to see a pattern here with components. In case you haven't picked up on it yet, Ritchey's WCS version of products is always the top of the line.
Wheels are, appropriately, Ritchey's WCS Protocols with WCS Race Slick tires. The Protocols weigh in at 1604 grams. Though not the lightest wheels around, they aren't heavy either. The rims are a semi-deep profile and it's laced with bladed spokes. The front is radial laced with the rear having a two cross pattern (both drive and non-drive side). As for the Race Slick tires, they are a good light tire--though not quite as supple as a higher thread-count tire. Still, at 120tpi, I found it to give good feedback from the road. (Well, good unless the road was rough. That kind of feedback I never want.)
Everything else is Shimano Dura Ace. The cranks, derailleurs, brakes and shifters. You can't really go wrong with Dura Ace. It's great stuff and I have never had problems with any of it.
The fit and feel of Ritchey components are top notch. Ritchey components are offered in a wide array of sizes so I was able to get the Ti/Carbon Break Away set up perfectly. Though, perhaps, not quite as stiff as some carbon fiber frames out there, I was very impressed with how stiff it was. I never once felt like it was too flexy or flimsy. The carbon chain stays connect into the rest of the frame through a large box-section of titanium welded to the bottom bracket shell. (The front derailleur cable is nicely routed through a hole in this section.) This massive junction helps to keep things stiff in the bottom bracket area. Of course, one of the great properties of carbon fiber is its ability to damp high frequency vibrations. Having carbon seat and chain stays helps to take some of the sting off long hours in the saddle. There is a certain springiness that comes from a nice titanium frame that you just don't get in most carbon frames, though, and the Break Away wasn't a stranger to this.
Instead of decals or paint, Ritchey takes advantage of the inherent beauty of titanium. The finish is bare, and all the markings are sand-blasted on. This is perfect for a frame that's going to see some abuse as it travels the world with you. It also makes for a beautiful frame. Unfortunately, I was less impressed with the quality of welds. It isn't that they were large and terribly messy, just that they weren't quite as even as I like to see on an expensive titanium frame. Other than the welds, though, the quality and finish of the bike (and all the Ritchey parts) was excellent.
In short, this bike is a joy to ride.
Now, let's get to the meat of this review. I mean, sure it rides well and has nice components, but how does it pack down into a "normal-sized" suitcase? In a nutshell, here are the steps:
- Remove the water bottle cages (unfortunately, they get in the way).
- Remove the pedals.
- Remove the front wheel.
- Remove the rear wheel.
- Secure the chain to the chain stays and wrap the stays (all four) with padding of some sort.
- It's also a good idea to wrap the rear derailleur with something--both for protection and to keep the dirty parts away from the clean parts.
- Remove the skewers and put the wheels in the suitcase with the cassette fitting nicely into the strange bulge on one side. (The tires have to be deflated to fit into the suitcase. This also means you need to bring a pump with you--one good enough to get your tires up to full pressure. No, a floor pump doesn't fit into the suitcase with the bike.)
- Put the divider in.
- Lay down the frame--actually, without the wheels, I guess it's probably already laying down.
- Unbolt the stem face plate and remove the handlebar (and replace the stem flace plate afterwards) and disconnect all the cable connectors.
- Unbolt the two seatpost binder bolts.
- Remove the collar at the junction near the bottom bracket.
- Now your frame is in two pieces! Okay, now is the tricky part getting the rest in the suitcase.
- Put in the rear half of the frame so that the rear derailleur fits into the corner where the wheels are.
- Fit in the front half of the frame so that the stem is in the opposite corner.
- Oh, did you forget to pad the rest of the frame and fork and handlebars? Remove the two parts and do that.
- Once everything is in there, use straps and such to hold it all together.
- Stuff the empty space with jerseys, shoes, socks and such.
- Make sure and put in your water bottle cages, also.
- Don't forget to pack all the tools you just used to take it apart. You really don't want to arrive at your destination without these.
Okay, whew, I think that's most of what you'll need. Luckily, Ritchey has a nice video that does a better job of actually showing you what you need to do. I'm sure I missed something in there, so watch the video.
I'm sure at this point that you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by all this. In practice, it takes about 30-45 minutes to either assemble or dissemble the bike. Before traveling, though, it'd be a good idea to practice a few times. I was impressed at the finished product. That is, when packing everything away, I wasn't sure I was getting it right-even though I watched the video many, many times. Once the suitcase was zipped up, however, it seemed very well put together. The suitcase itself, though "soft sided" has many compression straps and a hearty zipper to keep things together. If I were a very frequent traveler, I'd probably invest in a hard-sided case for even better protection, though.
Summary: Though I was surprised by many things with this bike, I think the only surprise I wasn't excited about was the price. At about $5500 (MSRP) it might be too much for a travel-only bike. Fortunately, after many, many miles and lots of long rides, I would feel confidant riding this bike as my _only_ bike. For this price, you get a high-end titanium road bike with top-quality components. Not only that, but you get a way to pack it down and take it with you. Not only is it useful, but with the price of gas increasing, it's nice to put the bike _inside_ your car, and save on your gas-mileage.
Jon Sharp is a contributing editor at GearReview. Though he's small, Jon doesn't fit in a normal-sized suitecase. Read more at his blog.
For more information, contact: