Tom Ritchey builds good bikes. Seriously. The Ritchey Ultra is however beyond good. It should be, as Tom has building mountain bikes since the dawn of mountain biking. The Ultra is the newest distillation of Ritchey’s more than 40 years of experience. Between geometry and tubing selection, the Ultra serves up a bike that handles well, has an incredibly compliant feel that's never too stiff nor too soft.
I chose the Ritchey Ultra based on several factors:
I was looking for a bike that was lighter than my BMC Speedfox. It's a nice bike, but heavy. I also wanted a bike that handled more instinctively.
Versatile - capable of anything from cross country racing to bike packing, tackling tight single track to fire trails, and gravel roads. I also wanted a bike that could switch between 29" wheels for racing and 27.5"+ for general trail riding.
Have impeccable handling - Being a former track and criterium racer, I've always appreciated good handling bikes. Many of the trails I ride are rooted and rocky single track through dense forest - a nimble bike is an asset and just fun to ride.
One of my intentions in building this bike was to be a "forever" bike. I didn't want to compromise the durability, versatility, and ride quality. The bike also needed to be capable of switching between wheelsets as well as gearing depending on what I had planned for my next ride. Ritchey’s craftsmanship with steel won out over other brands and materials as well as design limitations. The Ritchey Ultra is ultra-capable.
Since bike packing is a consideration, I decided upon a Shimano XTR 2 x 11 drivetrain for maximum gear range. I also specified XTR Trail Brakes. These are four piston models with more braking power and improved modulation compared to the two-piston race version. Brake levers and shifters are separates rather than I-spec integrated. This allows for greater flexibility in adjusting their position on the bar as compared to the I-spec. The small weight penalty for these luxuries seemed worth it.
The Ritchey Ultra uses a proprietary blend of Ritchey Logic tubing that has been developed with rider feedback as well as years of lab testing.
Ritchey is well known for his craftsmanship with steel. The welds all appear smooth and consistent. The forged head tube features a tapered integrated headset. The seat tube has an external collar clamp. Ritchey uses a more compliant 27.2mm seat post.
The bottom bracket is a standard 68mm threaded design - no squeaky press fit nonsense for Ritchey. Cable routing is smooth without any harsh angles. The front derailleur is a clamp-on, direct pull design.
The Ultra uses Boost 148mm rear axle spacing as well as Boost chain line spacing for either single or double chain rings.
The frame is designed to accommodate a dropper seat post. It has a port for routing the cable should you elect to use one. Personally, I've never cared for dropper posts. Most of my riding is done in Michigan and our downhills are not that long to merit the need. I may however consider one for bike packing, to allow easier mounting and dismounts with a laden bike.
The Ultra frame weighs in at 2427 grams (19” frame size). This is about one pound heavier than aluminum or carbon fiber frames. For the few races that I do, a one-pound handicap, especially at my age, is meaningless.
Total weight with the race wheels and tires tips the scales at just under 25 lbs. or more precisely, 11339 grams.
Wheels. Three Sets
Hand built DT Swiss XR391 rims, DT Competition 2.0/1.8 spokes, and DT 350 28-hole hubs for the race wheels. The slightly wider rim allows for 2.35 tires - remember, we have a lot of sand here in Michigan.
Stan's Baron wheelset in 27.5" running 2.8" Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires. The Rockshox Reba RL fork has room for a 3" front option. These were chosen for everyday single-track riding.
The XT/SLX DT Swiss 29" wheels were intended as training wheels with 2.25" or for touring/gravel running 1.5" or 43mm slicks.
Ride and Handling
I'm blown away by how well the Ultra rides. Ride quality is phenomenal. This is the best combination of stiffness and resilience I've ever experienced in a mountain bike. I've been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1984.
Handling is precise. A slight amount of under steer is detectable If you push the bike hard in loose corners but it corrects easily. On hard pack I've not had any concerns as the bike tracks intuitively. So far, the Ultra and Reba seem well matched. Of course, tires can have a profound influence as well, but so far, each set has performed well.
|Ritchey Ultra||19" Frame|
|Fork||RS Reba RL Solo Air A8|
|Seatpost||Thompson Masterpiece 350mm|
|Saddle||WTB SL8 Team 142 Saddle|
|Rear Deraileur||XTR GS Medium cage M9000|
|Bottom Bracket||Shimano sSM-BB93|
|Crankset||XTR 9000 Trail 24-34 175|
|Brakes||XTR M9020 Trail 4 piston|
|Rear Disc with lockring||Shimano SMrt99 160mm|
|Disc with lockring||Shimano SMrt99 180mm|
|Handlebar||Ritchey WCS Carbon Rizer Mountain Handlebar: 740mm, 15mm Rise, 31.8, Black|
|Stem||Ritchey WCS 70mm +--6|
|Shifters||XTR 11spd Right SL-M9000|
|XTR 2/3spd Left SL-M9000|
|Cassette||HG 800 11-34|
|Headset||Ritchey Upper Drop in|
|Ritchey Lower Drop in|
|Wheels||DT Custom, XR 391 29" 28h, DT 350 hubs, DT Competition 2.0/1.8 spokes 3x|
|Front skewer||Robert Axle Project Lightning Bolt-On Front Axle|
|Tires||Maxxis Aspen DC TR 29" x 2.25|
|Sealent||Orange Seal Endurance|
|Stem spacers||Ritchey WCS Carbon 5MM (stack of 4)|
|Water Bottle cages||Elite Custom Race|
Note: I have not received any compensation for this review. All products mentions or shown were purchased with the author's own money.
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