Orbea Orca

Orbea Orca

In the last couple of years I’ve ridden a number of bikes that aimed to be the best at something. The stiffest, the lightest, the most comfortable, the most custom. Many of those superlative-earning pursuits leave me cold. I’ve ridden a few bikes and decided not to review them so lacking in a quality I consider essential to a bike—giving a ride that is enjoyable.

Honestly, I was beginning to despair. I was afraid that with some notable exceptions that the bike industry had forgotten the purpose of a great road bike. That’s an overstatement, but I began to wonder just how many bikes were out there that really aren’t that much fun to ride. I’m glad I didn’t pursue the answer.

In riding the newest iteration of the Orbea Orca OMR I was reminded of how refreshing it can be to get on a great road bike. Some 14 years ago I rode the Orca and while I was impressed at how stiff it was compared to other bikes of the era, I didn’t find the bike to be a particularly compelling ride. This latest Orca is a bike made with a very different design philosophy. The OMR is the disc-only version. Orbea also offers the OMP, which is a rim-brake version.

How should a road bike ride? It seems like a simple enough question, right? But when you really start to think about the handling, the fit, the ride quality, the ways in which it springs under load, and how much it should weigh, well, the answer becomes a good deal more complicated.

Of course, consumer marketing is part of the challenge to overcome as well. Among those of us willing to replace and upgrade bikes periodically, we need to be convinced that the new stuff is substantively better than the old stuff. And to convince people that the new is better than the old the new needs to be better at something: It needs to be stiffer, lighter—faster.

Therein lies the challenge the Orca OMR faces. Sure, the new frame is lighter than the old one, but I defy anyone to notice a loss of 35 grams in a frame (that’s the disc-brake version I rode, compared to the old rim-brake model). When you compare red delicious to winesap, that is, rim brake to rim brake, you get an 80g difference, which is still too small for almost anyone to notice.

The frame is also stiffer now, with a more than 20 percent increase in torsional stiffness. Orbea reports this gives the Orca the best stiffness-to-weight ratio they’ve ever achieved. If there’s an objective measure of a bike’s performance other than aerodynamics that I think riders can truly appreciate, it’s stiffness to weight. In that pairing of weight and response that I think a bike’s character really begins to show.

Subtlety
The thing about the Orca OMR is that other than the orange in the paint, there’s nothing loud or brash about this bike. Sure, it’s stiff, but it’s still comfortable on a road with lousy pavement. And yes, it’s a comfortable bike, but the effort to sprint away from a stoplight is rewarded with sort of acceleration you want from a race bike.

One of the more interesting evolutions in the Orca was that the engineers made the fork blades 5mm shorter to reduce flex at the fork. This may sound difficult to do considering the wheel size didn’t shrink as well. So how do you shorten fork blades. Well the first step is to increase the crown size and then to increase the head tube length and moving the lower headset bearing closer to the wheel. You’d think that would decrease the tire clearance, but the Orca OMR can easily accept 28mm-wide tires.

When I first looked at the bike following assembly the fork blades bow away from the front wheel more than many other bikes I see. The reason for this is aerodynamics. The more distance that there is between the front wheel (and in particular, the spokes) and the fork blades, the less aerodynamic interference there is between the two.

Like so many bikes that have gone through multiple iterations over the life of the model, the Orca OMR is, when compared to its previous self, a series of tweaks. That may not sound like much. I can’t think of a marketing line to sex that idea up, but the reality is that the changes made to this bike make it one of the best-riding disc road bikes I’ve been on.

How big?
One of my favorite features of the Orca OMR is that it comes in seven sizes. There are plenty of bikes out there in five sizes; I find myself often celebrating a bike available in six sizes. The fact that Orbea cut tooling for seven sizes shows their commitment not just to great fit, but also to smaller riders. The size run goes:

During the golden age of Italian production bikes, the mark of a great retailer was having the complete size run of a model, say the Colnago Master. Colnago, Pinarello, DeRosa, etc. sized their bikes in 1cm increments according to seat tube length. Top tube length was often increased in 1cm increments, but not always. But here’s the thing: because of the way reach—a dimension no one was talking about in 1996—varies relative to the interaction of top tube length and seat tube angle, you could end up with bikes where the 50cm size had more reach than the 52cm size. Designing for reach has eliminated that.

The Orca OMR is a fitter’s dream, at least, for a production bike. The biggest single jump in size comes between the 55 and the 57, a 7cm jump in length, but it’s still less than a full centimeter, which will make choosing the appropriate size relatively easy.

One of my favorite aspects of the design of the Orca is that thanks to CNC-machined molds, carbon fiber can be laid up with ultra-fine gradations of head tube angle. From the smallest size to the largest, the head tube angle only varies by 2.2 degrees. Normally, head tube angle will increase by a half a degree with each size resulting in a 3 degree spread, which I’ve long thought was too great a span from slackest to steepest, often resulting in a small bike that won’t turn or a large bike that’s too quick in its handling, sometimes both. This owes to the fact that traditional frame building jigs only allow for half-degree increments of angle selection. Thanks to the use of two fork rakes, 48 and 43mm, trail varies from 6.6cm to roughly 5.8cm, resulting in a more consistent feel throughout the size range.

Road Worthy
There’s a climb near me, one that mixes bad pavement with good, shallow pitches with steep ramps, tight turns with lazy sweeps. Descending that road is part of my yardstick for any bike. Fundamentally, what I look for in a bike is a relaxed demeanor as I make my way down. What we know is that a bike that reduces your perceived rate of speed is one that will allow you to descend with confidence at speed. you don’t want to ride a bike that makes 20 mph feel like 30; you want one that makes 30 feel like 20.

The Orca OMR managed to balance maneuverability against calm stability. Achieving that balance can be difficult. I’ve ridden bikes that wanted to go anywhere but straight and bikes that absolutely didn’t want to turn. It’s rare that you get an extreme like those, but the extremes help illustrate just how critical that balance can be. That I sensed the bike’s sensitivity in the first 50 feet I was on it was refreshing.

The Orca was shod with 25mm Vittoria tires, and while I love every tire I’ve ridden from Vittoria of late, with the roads we have, 28 is the new 25. I really try not to ride 25s when I can, and I definitely don’t ride 23s up here. The smaller tire did result in a somewhat rougher ride, but it wasn’t so bad that I’d consider giving up cycling.

Part of what plays into the Orca good ride is that the traditional seat collar was nixed in favor of a pinch bolt situated inside the top tube. More and more, bike companies are shifting to a pinch bolt instead of a seat collar. Why? Well, first, pinching carbon tubes like that isn’t the best way to secure a seatpost, because it means applying a not-quite-crushing load to the seatpost, which requires that both the seat tube and the seatpost be overbuilt to take that load. Second, by eliminating the seat collar and moving the clamping point roughly 2cm lower, that allows the seatpost to flex more because more of the post sits above the clamping point. That means that Orbea can make a stiffer frame without undermining comfort.

When I think back on the bikes that made group rides a joy, that allowed me to descend high alpine roads without feeling like I was taking my life in my hands, I think of bikes that handled much as the Orca OMR does. And they delivered comfort much the way

On Budget
As I mentioned, the Orca is available either as a disc-brake bike or as a rim-brake bike. It is available in 10 different specs, ranging from the M10iLTD-D with deep-section DT Swiss wheels, disc brakes and Dura-Ace Di2 for $9499, down to the M20 with rim brakes and Ultegra components for $4299. The sweet spot in the lineup is arguably the M20Team-D which features an Ultegra mechanical drivetrain with hydraulic discs.

What is likely to set the Orca apart from many other bikes is Orbea’s MyO program. There aren’t many opportunities to customize production bikes out there. Trek has Project One, but it has scant competition. Orbea’s MyO program allows you to customize the look of your bike as well as some key component choices. While the graphic design of the paint scheme is standardized, there are six different locations on the bike where you get to choose the color. There are 22 different color choices. Yes, it’s possible to create a bike more garish than a velvet Elvis painting, but it’s also possible to create a bike that is as stylish as it is unique.

Component choices in the MyO program can include different wheels, different cranks (including swapping a 53/39 crank for a 50/34 compact), tubeless tires, different bars, different stems, different seatposts and even different saddles. While many of these options are upgrades that are more expensive, not all of them necessitate an uncharge. The program even includes options regarding ergonomics, so you can choose dimensions like crank length, stem length and bar width. The selection range is an incredible boon to riders as it gives them a chance to purchase a much more personalized bike on the front end, decreasing the odds of needing to swap out a component after making the purchase. It also makes like easier for the bike shop as well because it means they are much less likely to have to take parts out of stock to meet a rider’s needs.

Honestly, were I buying a bike right now, I’d be only too happy to steer my purchase to a company that allows me to get a bike truly tailored to my needs and desires. Why shouldn’t we be purchasing customized bikes made in short runs by a company that isn’t jamming incredible stock numbers down the throats of their dealers. I spend a lot of time thinking about what is healthy for the bike industry. Ditching model years, high stock requirements and the need for dealers to inventory large numbers of bikes that only come in two colors strikes me as a sustainable business model, both for manufacturer and retailer.

All that is well and good, but a flexible product purchase doesn’t mean much if the underlying product is marginal, and that is what makes an Orbea purchase so compelling. With competitive frame weight, frame stiffness and handling that makes the bike as all-purpose a road bike as one may expect today, the Orca OMR is now one of my favorite bikes on the market.

Final thought: Burger King had it right—have it your way.

 

 


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3 comments

  1. Mark

    An editing nitpick:
    The biggest single jump in size comes between the 55 and the 57, a 7cm jump in length, but it’s still less than a full centimeter, which will make choosing the appropriate size relatively easy.
    should probably read:
    “The biggest single jump in reach comes between the 55 and the 57, a 7mm jump in length, but it’s still less than a full centimeter, which will make choosing the appropriate size relatively easy.”

    Thanks for the review. Indeed, the necessity for marketing metrics seems to have pushed the idea of “ride” to the side, which is unfortunate.

  2. AG

    Orbea makes great bikes. I think they are somewhat under rated in the shadows of the bike giants. Their bikes are well designed and subtle in their details, they look classy, and they have cool paint schemes without being garish. If I was in the market, I would absolutely take a look, for mountain or road.

  3. Lucien Walsh

    now that the Tarmac SL6 comes with disc brakes down to the Expert trim level, how do you think the Orca OMR compares?

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