Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sex Machine: 2011 Orbea Orca

This doesn't qualify as a product review because I didn't get to try said product, but I did have the privilege of taking a close look at a pre-production 2011 Orbea Orca recently when I went by Orbea USA in downtown Argenta to visit Steve Shepherd. I've got to say that the Orca evoked a little bike lust. I'm deeply involved in a happy, comfortable relationship with my titanium Litespeed Ghisallo, but sometimes the flash of carbon fiber and the flare of a shapely seat stay can turn my head. The new Orca is definitely a sexy machine.

The new Orca retains the elegant curves of recent models, but a closer look reveals some important design features.
The front view reveals the slick aerodynamic profile. The head tube is tapered for stiffness and features an hourglass shape that is supposed to reduce drag while allowing the cable guide profile to be reduced. The cable guides are designed specifically for Gore RideOn cables. The seat mast, fork and seat stays also feature improved aerodynamics.

The proprietary seat mast was designed in cooperation with Selle Italia and features Selle Italia's Monolink clamp system. Very cool, but limits your saddle choices to Selle Italia. Orbea addresses this with an optional seat mast to accommodate standard saddle rail systems. The mast clamp is also unique. Production models will feature a Torx bolt instead of the standard hex bolt. Apparently SRAM is moving toward the use of Torx fasteners, as well.

The Monolink rail system allows for easier tuning of saddle position and more front to back adjustment range.

The highly shaped seat and chain stays are tucked in close to the wheel.

The sculpted seat stay has become common on TT bikes and makes sense for an aerodynamically slick road bike. With adapters, both BB30 and standard bottom brackets may be used.

The cockpit is furnished with a lot of woven carbon. Bolt torque requirements seemed to be printed on every part and should be strictly adhered to. I think it is becoming time for home mechanics to invest in a torque wrench. It's on my shopping list.

I didn't ride this bike, but I'm sure that you can find plenty of expert opinions and detailed tech talk elsewhere. I was very impressed by what I saw and I appreciated getting a look at the Orca before it got packed away for the trip to Interbike. It's a beautiful bike!

Moving away from standardization?

I came away with a couple of general thoughts about some recent trends in bike design. One of the very positive things that I noticed about bikes when I got involved a few years back was that most components were fairly universal. Any saddle would fit on any seat post, bottom brackets were either French or English threaded, there were a couple of standards in seat post diameters and with little more than a few hex wrenches, you could put it all together and take it all apart. Shifter cables were generic and available at any shop. Most components could easily be moved from bike to bike. Some things, like tapered head tubes, integrated headsets, and BB30 bottom brackets, have become fairly standard and are not items that are likely to need immediate service or replacement on the road. Proprietary seat masts are fine, as a seat post is rarely changed once your fit is tuned in. Proprietary seat clamps and saddle rails severely limit choices, but likely represent an improvement in a long-standard design. A more subtle change is the word that more Torx bolts are coming into use in SRAM products and showing up in places like the seat mast clamp on the Orca. If you're not familiar with them, Torx  have a  6 pointed star pattern and started showing up in automobiles years ago. I did a little general research, aka: "Googled it", and found that Torx have more surface area for tool contact and can more easily transmit torque. A common complaint is that the heads are easily stripped, which seems contradictory to the torque transmission statement to some extent. Currently, 3 hex wrench sizes will do almost everything that you need done on a road bike. I don't want to have to carry another set of wrenches and don't see the Torx as being much of an improvement, but that appears to be where some segments of the industry are headed.
This isn't really a complaint, as many of the proprietary designs represent progress in design and the application of materials, particularly carbon fiber. The result is likely a more a better performing product but with fewer applicable component choices.

The really remarkable thing about this article is that I was able to see the new Orca weeks before most dealers and bike industry types see it at Interbike. It's notable that right here in my home town, we have a couple of major entities in the North American bicycle industry in the form of Orbea USA and Competitive Cyclist, in addition to our wealth of outstanding local bike shops. We are rich in that regard!

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