What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Tests: Orbea’s OPAL

One of the biggest bike makers in the world is not from China, or even the US… but from Spain. You’ve seen their Basque-orange bikes winning Tour and Vuelta stages, and even under the Jelly Belly men and the Webcor-Platinum ladies. Now PEZ rides Orbea’s new-for-06 Opal – it’s stiff, fast, and ready to race.

One of the coolest things I saw at Interbike was not an actual bike or product of any kind, but instead an ordering system that used their website to spec, price, and build up a ‘personalized’ bike right before your eyes. Orbea was launching their “Made To Order’ web-based ordering system, and as the first I’d heard or seen of this type of application, my hat went off to ‘em for using the internet to so easily help them sell bikes.

A sunny spring day in Vancouver makes a decent background to show off the newest Orbea.

It was a natural way to begin this review – by logging on to www.orbea-usa.com and building up my own bike! It took me about 15 minutes to complete the process, but you could do it faster or slower – it all depends on how much you fanagle over each piece of bike, spec, and how much you want to drool over your future Orbea.

The system allows you to choose a bike model – we’d already tested the Orca (remember that ‘world premiere’…?) so I picked the Opal as their newest offering, then built it up on the screen, adding and changing:
• colors
• gruppos (Shimano or Campy)
• crankset (Campy or FSA),
• wheels (Mavic or Rolf),
• stem (Orbea’s private label Zeus or ITM),
• bars (Zeus or ITM)
• seatpost (Zeus Zaga only for now)
• saddle (Selle Italia – 3 choices) from the choices they offer.

Fresh off the internet – and made to my order…

The system also calculates the bike weight and price as you add each component, and then offers you the choice to print, email, or save the build. Although the program was originally designed to allow customer orders direct from Orbea-USA, this feature has since been suspended in favor of direct dealer support, and in fact dealers have reported a lot of new customers arriving at shops with their ideal builds printed out and ready to order.

The system calculated my bike to weigh in at 16.03 lbs (no cages, no pedals), and cost US$5,324.00 – said so right there on the screen.

You might remember that I really liked the Orca, especially the ride comfort, and it remains the bike of choice for a number of the Euskaltel-Euskadi pros – the guy who are logging big hours in the saddle in ProTour and Grand Tour races all year long. The Opal has been introduced as a stiffer bike, designed for heavier riders and anyone who wants a really stiff and responsive ride.

Sure enough, I found the ride of the two bikes to be quite different, so how did they change the Opal – ?

A tour around the Orbea factory comes complete with drool bib – to protect the bikes.

The Geometry is identical to the Orca – every angle and measurement is the same – including the 73.5 seat tube and 72.3 degree head angle on the 51cm frame. This caught me by surprise as I felt the Opal was a ‘quicker’ handling bike than I remembered, and assumed it was a steeper set-up. Not so. I even thought the Opal looked shorter… so much for memory… now where was I?

The difference is the frame material – the Opal is frame is made of high-modulus carbon 100%, while the Orca has a 50/50 combo of high/medium modulus carbon that gives a more comfortable ride. It was a decent weight too – mine was 16.2 lbs without pedals or bottles.

The Euskaltel-Euskadi team bikes await assembly.

The Opal frame itself is slightly lighter than the Orca, due to materials and shaping of the carbon at the joints, but the fork is slightly heavier to stiffen the front end.

The frame is essentially assembled in two parts – the front triangle is mated to a replaceable rear triangle. This leads to another of Orbea’s cool features – broken or damaged stays, drop-outs or derailleur hangers can be replaced – often under warranty – which is something not all makers offer. They even offer a lifetime warranty on certain aspects of the frame.

• The Rolf Prima Vigor wheels did a great job – light, plenty stiff for my 138lb ‘climber’s build’, and darn sexy with the low spoke counts (16 rear, 14 front) and semi-deep section shape.

• The front end has been beefed up with a stronger, slightly heavier fork that should appeal to larger riders and hammerheads alike, just don’t expect it to be overly ‘comforting’.

The Opal is painted by hand, and the finish was superb. There’s something about that human touch that really adds personality to a frame…

Orbea paints many of their frames by hand in Spain, including the Opal.

• The Bottom Bracket is not the beefiest we’ve seen (but it ain’t wimpy either), but I found it plenty stiff – both climbing and sprinting.

The lines on the frame are some of the sexist out there (if you like things curvy) … not surprising from company with so much hot latin blood in their veins. The rear triangle swoops and curves in a most appealing manner… although the curved stays help define the ride characteristics, they do less than the material choice and carbon layup do… No matter – this frame looks great.

The chain stays are curved, round and by no means skinny – offering resistance against directional forces from all angles. Any similarity with Basque-personalities is purely coincidental.

Everything at the back end of the frame is replaceable – seat stays, chain stays, the carbon dropouts and aluminum derailleur hangar.

The carbon seat tube is reinforced with a thin aluminum sleeve about 4 inches long to prevent cracks in the frame, and allows for the single bolt seat clamp.

• The bars and stem I spec’d were ITM: the aluminum stem and carbon bar. Both functioned adequately, although riders who prefer a shorter reach to the drops may want to consider a different bar – I really had to stretch to hook into these drops.

I spec’d FSA’s SLK Compact cranks – 50/34 – a must for most riding in these parts. It was great to see a couple of compact options available from Orbea.

I found the ride quite different from the Orca I tested a couple years back, which either means it’s really different or my memory’s shot. So different in fact, that I was surprised to learn the geometry and frame sizes are identical between the two models.

My first impressions of the Orca were: stiff and fast. I liked that I felt fast on this bike – partly because I set up in a more aggressive position than normal as a result of not wanting to stack 3cm of spacers atop the headset. I think anything more than a 2cm spacer under your stem starts to noticeably weaken the front front-end feel, and just plain looks goofy.

One of the orange Opals at the factory in Spain. – And proof of location is on that guy’s feet – you don’t see stylin’ dogs like that on the bike-guys here at home….

Handling was sharp and precise, quick for sure. That stiffer fork really lived up to its claim, and the front end was very stiff – but that’s the intention – make a stiff race bike. A lot of that ‘fast feel’ came from the response of the bike while sprinting – be sure you know where you’re pointed because that’s where you’ll go…

The bike felt good climbing too – again due to the stiffness of the frame and geometry. Standing or sitting I found going uphill felt pretty good on this bike and I had a definite sense that my energy was transferring straight through the drivetrain to forward motion. Descending was again sharp, if not a tad skittish in corners, not as stable as I like, but should feel more ‘grounded’ under heavier riders.

We now have way more choice in how stiff our bikes frames are, and the old mantra of ‘stiffer is better’ has become… old. Everything is relative – and as I once explained to my Italian father-in-law when he asked why I don’t wear sandals: “I’m me and you’re you.” I think this bike will be well received by guys who like a really stiff frame, and especially big guys. If you want a bit more comfort in the ride, then go with the Orca. Either way, the Orbeas are worth checking out as a solid choice for most types of riders.

Price as tested: $US 5,324.00

Get more info and build one up for yourself at: Orbea-USA.com

Canadian Dealers should contact a Podium Imports (250-493-1144), Orbea’s Canadian distributor .

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