Ridley has sought more speed from its range-topping Noah… by making it less aerodynamic
Aerodynamics in cycling seems like a modern trend, but actually it was the 1980s that saw the most committed attempts to beat wind resistance. Not only were steel frames designed with wacky aerodynamic shapes, but groupset manufacturers followed suit with the likes of Campagnolo’s aerodynamic Delta brake and Shimano’s AX series Dura-Ace groupset. It proved to be a fad, however, and consumers gradually lost interest, put off by the sacrifices in weight and ride quality. The aero trend has resurfaced recently but, as before, certain manufacturers seem to be abandoning their more flamboyant attempts at aero innovation to make performance improvements in other areas. Ridley, with its new Noah SL, is one such example.
Cyclist tested the Ridley Noah Fast a couple of years ago, and it came with all the aerodynamic details any bike could wish for: brakes integrated into the forks and seatstays; slits in the fork to channel air around the wheel, and rough strips of material on the head tube and down tube designed to ‘trip’ the wind. With the Noah SL, Ridley has sacrificed a few of those features to target the rest of the equation, promising to trim some grams, smooth the ride and increase the stopping power.
First to go has been the turbulent flow strips that Ridley was so proud of, which has bolstered my initial suspicion that these strips didn’t achieve much. More importantly, though, Ridley’s innovative integrated brake system has been replaced by conventional dual-pivot brakes. Also, the integrated seatmast of old has disappeared and the new Noah SL comes with a removeable seatpost, albeit still shaped for maximum aerodynamic efficiency.
Ridley’s brand manager, John Harris, says, ‘Switching away from integrated brakes has allowed for a slight tweaking of particular stress points. That makes for a marginally more comfortable ride.’ In addition, the move to a removeable seatpost and the repositioning of the seatstays, which now join the seat tube lower down, are also aimed at improving compliance and rider comfort. All these performance-enhancing changes have resulted in a bike that Ridley claims is 400g lighter than the Noah Fast, but just as quick.
My first impression of the Noah SL was marred by a malfunctioning seatpost clamp. As I pedalled, the seatpost slipped down, and no matter how many times I readjusted it and tightened the bolt on the clamp, it wouldn’t stay up. I generally approve of removeable seatposts because they avoid problems when packing the frame in a bike bag for travelling, plus they make the bike easier to resell at a later date, but it does seem that slipping is a common problem when seatposts are anything but round.
The tolerances of standard circular seatposts are very tight, and the margins for error on the seat tube are the strictest of a frame’s entire design. With a teardrop-shaped aero seatpost, those tolerances need to be even tighter, so even the slightest irregularity can result in slippages. The fault has since been corrected and shouldn’t be a problem for any new customers, but it meant that for my test rides a huge amount of grip paste along with a small piece of sand paper was essential, which is a bodge I’d rather not have to make, especially on a bike of this price.
Ridley Noah SL frame
For its sheer speed I loved the Noah Fast, but it had the typical compromises that come with an aero frame in terms of added weight and a certain amount of discomfort. The Noah SL, by comparison, offers a smoother ride yet is every bit as stiff. That stiffness helped me to feel connected to the road, with the details of every curve and ripple transmitted in full, but not in a way that disrupted the ride. Bumps didn’t go unnoticed but it was never uncomfortable.
While it’s not possible to properly quantify the bike’s aerodynamic credentials, I felt that the Noah SL didn’t carry speed to quite the same degree as its Fast sibling, but the differences were minimal. It’s still a fast bike.
Concealing brakes within a fork or at the bottom bracket probably offers some aerodynamic gains but can create problems in usability and maintenance. Tuning the lever travel or fixing slightly uneven brakes can often be a drawn-out task involving tiny springs, grub screws and headache-inducing internal cabling. With that in mind it’s refreshing to see a conventional brake set-up on the Noah SL. Equally, a standard finishing kit at the front end is a welcome relief from the internally cabled and integrated aero handlebar designs seen on the likes of the Trek Madone and Canyon Aeroad. While it may sacrifice a few watts, I was thankful to be able to attach a front light and Garmin mount and customise the bar angle to my heart’s content. Ridley’s in-house component brand, 4ZA, has clearly employed some of its Belgian racing heritage in the design of its saddles, bars and stems, which are ergonomically pleasing and agreeably stiff.
With the combination of rigid build, aerodynamic advantage, light finishing kit and low frame weight, the Noah SL makes for an excellent climbing bike – coming in at a healthy 6.93kg (size 56cm). On shallow or short climbs I was consistently quicker than expected. The stiffness of the SL plays a big part in that, as it seems to have sacrificed nothing to the Noah Fast. German sprinter André Greipel claimed the Noah Fast allowed him to hit his highest-ever recorded wattage and, while I can’t hope to match his 1,900 watts, I can confirm that the Noah SL is a match for the Noah Fast in terms of power delivery. Ridley also does a consistently good job when it comes to handling, and the Noah SL descends and corners with confidence, accuracy and predictability.
Ridley has struck an excellent balance in terms of what an all-purpose race bike needs to offer, and the Noah SL feels like a true racer from the first pedal revolution. Committed speed-merchants might still side with the Noah Fast and accept the comfort issues that come with it, but for someone who wants to mix Strava bashing with mountainous sportives, the Noah SL is one of the most practical and versatile bikes on the market.
The trend with aerodynamic frames has been to conceal the brakes behind the bottom bracket, but Ridley has always resisted this because of issues with rubbing when the frame and wheels flex during powerful efforts. On its Noah Fast, Ridley integrated the brakes into the seatstays to improve aerodynamics, but this made maintenance more fiddly. The Noah SL has standard-calliper brakes in the usual place at the top of the seatstays, although Ridley has still shielded them from the wind by making the stays join the seat tube lower down. The shorter seatstays have the added advantage of improving ride quality as impacts are not transferred as directly to the saddle.
Ridley Noah SL frameset: $3,999
Groupset: SRAM Red 22
Wheels: Zipp 404 Firecrest
Finishing kit: 4ZA Cirrus Pro bars, stem and saddle, Noah SL aero seatpost
Weight: 6.93kg (size 56cm, as tested)