Ritchey Outback, Ornot.
When Tom Ritchey asks you to ride an unreleased bike you say yes... actually, you say hell yes! And when he offers it up for Grinduro, the mixed terrain smashfest in Quincy, Ca you instantly get excited for an all day gravel adventure party. The Outback claims to be an all-around steel crusher capable of fire roads, single track, and pavement. It's perfectly fitting that Grinduro boasts all three.
Last year I brought my Speedvagen CX cantilever race bike to this event and while I had a great time on the first 2 thirds of the race once we hit the last section of singletrack it became instantly un-fun. “Ouch,” I think my hands are still asleep from grabbing those brakes. I was running 32mm tires and carbon rims. Probably not the best choice, but gives you a little backstory into why I was excited to shred this new Outback with wide tires and disc brakes.
When I first picked up the bike from Ritchey I have to admit I was a little nervous at the overall weight. This XL clocked in at 22lbs. That coupled with a high gear ratio of 34 – 32 made we sweat the thought of the post lunch 20% grade we were about to climb for the next 5 miles. Setting in at the bottom of the climb the bike felt easy to propel uphill. The Tom Ritchey inspired gravel geo of a lower bottom bracket and longer wheelbase provided a terrific platform to get into a nice rhythm and glide uphill. I think sometimes riders get too caught up in overall weight and lose track of what is actually import – the way a bike rides and handles. This is especially important over rough terrain and can make or break the experience. This steel beast was silky.
I’ll be the first to admit that single track is not my specialty. I do however love it and wish one day to be able to shred it like I do in my dreams. Until then, I need a bike that inspires confidence and this Outback stepped up my game. Upon dropping in for the final segment of the race I felt light and confident as the bike had a nice flow in and out of the twisting maze. Big drops were handled with ease by shifting my weight back and applying minimal pressure to the brakes. The bike never felt out of control or sluggish through the turns as the long and low geo resulted in a smooth flow throughout.
You may be thinking “damn that’s a lot of seat post.” And you are right it is. This bike is an XL and barely big enough for me. My saddle height is a monstrous 855mm so I grabbed an extra long 27.2mm post to jam in for the ride. It took a few miles to get used to the drop but eventually, I was right at home. Descending Mt. Hough on the single track, littered with quick drops and uneven terrain, I was able to keep the rubber side down. This litmus test placed a ton of stress on the front end of the bike and in particular the Ritchey disc fork. I'm happy to report it performed beautifully, with zero chatter, and even breaking, keeping me from hurling over the bars. Add in the stability that comes from the 12mm front and rear thru axles and I was ready to shred.
Tire choice was difficult for an event as diverse as Grinduro. The Outback states it can easily clear 40mm tires. With that knowledge, I settled on the Speedmax 40mm from Ritchey. Once mounted on the WCS Zeta Disc wheels I took a caliper measurement and the tires registered a healthy 41mm with room to spare on both the front and back. The tires were light enough to excel on the pavement but tough enough to get punished on the fire roads. While in the lead group of the paved segment I had zero problems keeping up with the pack. In the end, I completed the race with no flats, a testament to the durability of this rubber, because there were a ton of people plagued with flats.
Wrap it Up
Remaining true to the Ritchey standards, the steel Outback is a workhorse, doing damn near everything I asked of it. Versatile enough to have two sets of wheels, one road, one off-road, it could easily be the “do anything” bike your quiver has been requesting. Get more details from Ritchey when they release this bike in near future, Ornot.