WO R D S : MIKE BLEWITT IMAGES : CAHN BUTLER AND MIKE BLEWITT
Ridley hail from Belgium, the land that is almost as mad about cycling as it is about football. You might be more familiar with Belgian road cyclists and cyclocross riders than mountain bikers. But Martin Maes probably sounds familiar, especially after his successful cross between the Enduro World Series and Downhill World Cup (and World Championships) this year. Belgians are cycling obsessives, and Ridley make bikes that suit what the nation demands. Ridley’s range of bikes are built with a racing pedigree, and their road and cyclocross bikes have many accolades. And so it suits that their mountain bikes have a similar slant – being built to race elbow to elbow. And that’s exactly what the Ridley Sablo is, a high end dual suspension mountain bike aimed squarely at marathon racers and cross-country racers.
The Sablo was introduced for 2018, and as of July 2018 Ridley’s Australian importer started to import some for Australia, with 3 sample bikes landing on our shores – and this is one of them, which I managed to get my hands on. There will be two models in the shops for 2019, both have exactly the same frame as this one. While the 2019 model will be pretty similar in spec, there will also be an XX1 model at $10599.
Sporting 100mm of travel and remote lock out, the Ridley Sablo is unashamedly a bike designed for cross-country and marathon racing, and therefore equally handy for multi-day events. There’s a swathe of bikes on the market that fit that need right now, including the Sunn Shamann Finest tested in this issue, and of course the Canyon Lux, Santa Cruz Blur, Scott Spark RC, Norco Revolver, Merida Ninety-Six, Trek Top Fuel, Giant Anthem, Specialized Epic... so what exactly will Ridley bring to the party?
True to the heritage of Ridley, the Sablo presents as a well-built race-specific bike. The full carbon fibre frame has sleek lines, from the tapered head tube through to the large sculpted downtube, svelte dropped top tube and forward sitting seat tube. The gloss black and red is both understated and classy in a world of hi-viz colours and overly bold graphics. The main pivot point is nestled into the downtube and seat tube junction, allowing you to run a 2x drivetrain if you want or need to. The frame has internal routing for 2x with a SideSwing front derailleur, and routing for a dropper post as well. It is only the rear brake that is externally routed, something that those who work on bikes a lot will appreciate, along with the threaded bottom bracket shell.
The back end is pretty stout, from the tall chainstays and huge dropout area, the the large size at the top of the seat stays where they join the carbon linkage. All this means that the pivots are a good size and the frame gives a strong base for the suspension to work. With the rear pivot sitting atop the seat stay, this is a linkage driven single pivot bike. The linkage means the designers can customise how the suspension operates, and in conjunction with a custom tuned Fox Factory DPS EVOL rear shock, that’s exactly what Ridley have done. The suspension is supple off the top, before offering good support through the midstroke – it means it can be efficient but still provide the small bump comfort and traction that some bikes miss out on.
Numbers wise, the geometry of the Ridley Sablo could be declared as conservatively modern. The 70 degree head angle and 435mm chainstays are about right for a 100mm bike with racing intentions, and the reach isn’t overly long, matched with a 90mm stem on the large size. However with a little more bottom bracket drop and a taller head tube than some, the Ridley Sablo should really deliver on stability at speed.
The DT Swiss X1700 Spline wheels come taped for tubeless, so it was just a case of whipping out the tubes and putting some sealant and valves in to run tubeless. The stock Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres inflated and popped into place easily. They might not be the best tyres for your local trails, but that’s something you can figure out with your Ridley dealer. If you’re lucky enough to have some loamy soil, these will be great!
ON THE TRAIL
When jumping aboard the Ridley Sablo a few things are immediately noticeable. Firstly, the
suspension is active, in a really good way. And the thing is stiff under power! There is some chain growth in the system, and stomping on the pedals with the suspension fully open does make it move around a bit. But do that on any loose surface and all you really notice is how well the tyres dig in and let you take off, instead of the bike jacking up and skipping around.
The lateral stiffness from the large bearings and solid frame is also really noticeable, and it gives the Sablo a really planted feeling when combined with the suspension. Lock it out, and it feels like a hardtail – one of the major benefits of a dual-remote lock out like the one on the Ridley Sablo is how it lets you move from fullsuspension traction to hardtail-like rigidity in the push of a lever.
The fit of the bike was immediately noticeable too – you do sit low in the bike thanks to the bottom bracket height. And although the suspension is pretty active, it does ramp up nicely in the midstroke which means it doesn’t wallow and sink to the point where you’re smashing pedals when it’s rocky. Instead, your weight sits a little lower, which offsets the 70 degree head angle. There’s more than one way to achieve the right balance of stability and agility after all.
The geometry really lends itself to fast corners and quick changes of direction, where weighted pedals help the bike dig in but it stays ready to change direction with subtle movements. Thanks to the rigid frame, such input is ultra-responsive. Add in supple suspension and it’s easy to let the Ridley go on descents – but it still needs an experienced hand at the wheel. Just like any XC bike, the Ridley Sablo can go very fast – but compared to a slacker and more forgiving trail bike, you need to have the experience to really make it move fast when the terrain gets rougher or steeper. This is standard with just about any XC bike.
When the trail points up and gets pretty rough, the Sablo realy digs in. I enjoyed the suspension for the extra traction when climbing, but it really does pay to have your shock pressure just right. If it’s too soft you might just find the back end moves too much, and you then want to lock it out – missing out on the performance advantages of extra traction for steep and loose climbs. That said, on smoother climbs it is super easy to lock the suspension out and climb.
While the rear shock is a custom tuned Fox Float EVOL DPS shock, the front is a 32 SC Performance, missing out on the extra damping adjustment of the Performance Elite. It’s a subtle difference, and given the fork has a remote lock out, most users will either use the suspension on or off. Still, it would be nice to see the range of compression damping adjustment with the FiT4 damper on a bike that sells for eight grand.
The 34t chain ring on the SRAM Eagle cranks were a perfect match to the 10-50 cassette. It really does show how ideal the 12-speed SRAM Eagle system is for an XC gear range. There’s little to say about the XO Eagle group set except that it worked with minimal fuss or attention for the whole test, along with the Guide TL brakes.
While I had my reservations with the Nobby Nic tyres in the dry and rocky trails in my local area, they did better than I had remembered
for this type of surface. The DT Swiss X1700 wheels on this bike are the model with a 22.5mm internal width. I suspect 2019 models will have the 25mm model, which would be a nice upgrade. If so, these make an ideal wheel for the bike, with a star ratchet hub and rims that set up tubeless so easily. Sure, you could go for a carbon wheel set for added stiffness and potentially less weight (depending on the wheels) but the X1700 are a great quality wheel made from excellent parts.
The stock 90mm stem was pretty good, but I ended up fitting an 80mm stem and for me the bike felt spot on. I’ve tended to use a dropper post on my own cross-country full-suspension bike, and I did miss one on the Sablo. Thankfully the frame is designed around one, so it would be an easy addition if it’s something you like for the ride.
O U R TA K E
One of the best things about the Ridley Sablo is that it offers no surprises. And depending what you are looking for, that could be good or bad. The frame has excellent construction, and has been designed by a company with a long heritage with bike racing. There are small details that will help make the bike a long-term investment. From large bearings, a threaded bottom bracket, solid construction, to using current standards and being adaptable for a number of drivetrain options.
While the Ridley Sable offers no nasty surprises, it doesn’t really push the envelope with ‘new school XC’ geometry or handling. The 70 degree head angle, like that on the Canyon Lux tested in last issue, is pretty moderate. The rest of the geometry works with it though to give a very balanced handling bike, something that is far more evident on the trail than from reading the numbers on a chart. However the Ridley uses industry standard parts throughout, which some modern XC bikes don’t. Although there is a custom shock tune that is something any suspension service centre can achieve on a stock unit. And this is the strength of the Ridley Sablo – it works, and it is a bike that is built tough and built for more than just race season. It can be upgraded in years to come or stripped and rebuilt after a hard season of racing. It’s a great bike for marathon and stage races, and just as useful for plain old cross-country racing too. It would be great to see more frame designs that work around two bottle cages – but I’d take the ride quality of the Sablo over fitting two cages in the frame.
“THE GEOMETRY REALLY LENDS ITSELF TO FAST CORNERS AND QUICK CHANGES OF DIRECTION, WHERE WEIGHTED PEDALS HELP THE BIKE DIG IN BUT IT STAYS READY TO CHANGE DIRECTION WITH SUBTLE MOVEMENTS”