By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
As the largest employee owned collective in the world, the Mondragon Corporation wields tremendous resources in manufacturing and logistics. That is worth knowing in any discussion of Orbea since Orbea is a member of the Mondragon community of employee owned companies. Because of their vast capabilities in sourcing and logistics via their Mondragon parent Orbea can do some things other smaller companies can’t do quite as well. The Orbea Orca Silver may be a good example.
Orbea arrived at the Orca through testing and development with some of the top cycling teams in the world. You’ve seen Orbea bikes for decades in the Tour de France, Giro de Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. The Orca frame design is proven from use in the professional peloton and from the thousands of Orbea Orcas owned by club cyclists and enthusiasts around the world. It is this “trickle down” design philosophy that makes the Orbea Orca Silver a strong value.
There are predominantly two methods of construction for the Orbea Orca framesets; The “Gold” frameset with high modulus carbon fiber and the “Silver” frameset with unidirectional carbon fiber lay-up. If you spend time riding both versions its difficult to tell the difference in ride quality, especially through even slightly different tires and wheels. It’s easy to pick up some difference on the scale though, since the gold is lighter than the silver. In larger frame sizes a difference in stiffness may be noticeable. What remains is that the Silver version of the Orbea Orca at $2599.99 is exactly $1000 less than the gold version at $3599.99. That is a 33% difference in price. Is there a 33% difference in ride quality? I’ll leave that to you, with the nudge to remember the economic law of diminishing returns when chasing the final 5% of almost anything.
From Front to Back on Orbea’s Orca Silver.
Orbea started out the spec on our review bike with two solid brands: Mavic and Vittoria. The bike came out fo the box with Mavic’s popular OEM Ksyrium Equipe. This 1690 gram advertised weight clincher alloy wheelset uses Mavic’s proven Isopulse construction that distributes wheel loads more evenly over all spokes and rims unions. The result is an exceptionally durable wheel with 20 bladed spokes both front and rear and a 24mm deep truncated “V” section rim. Front wheel uses radial lacing while the rear uses the Isopulse pattern for improved lateral stiffness. This wheel is so robust it is a common choice of cyclocross riders.
We rode Orbea’s stock cockpit on our test bike, an Orbea logoed carbon finish stem with 4 bolt front plate and an anatomic bend alloy handlebar. It’s hard to find criticism with such a reliable set-up. A bonus for riders who may want to install a bolt-on aerobar is the wide clamping area on the handlebars.
Controls on our bike are the Shimano Ultegra Di2 ST 6770 dual control lever. All the strengths of Shimano’s revolutionary Di2 apply to this control. Actuation is quick and robotic, feel of the lever is very good. I do maintain the one criticism of current Di2 actuation buttons; they are small and closely placed. New riders may have initial confusion with upshift and downshift buttons. TriSports.com Founder Seton Claggett, a long time Di2 rider, dismisses any concern over the proximity of the controls though, mentioning that you quickly learn the controls and once you do you’ll never want to go back to mechanical.
A challenge that has faced every frame designer with Shimano’s Di2 groups is where to put the wiring and battery. With updates for the Di2 Wiring harness, junction box and battery on the horizon manufacturers may have done well not to modify molds to specifically suit the current set up. As a result Orbea has left all the hardware on the Orca Silver frameset for routing conventional cables while the cable guides and battery mount for the Di2 wiring harness are attached to the outside of the frame using mostly Shimano supplied solutions to Di2 installation. Orbea does make a fully Di2 integrated frameset in their Gold line with elegant integration of wiring harness and battery.
A look at the Di2 front and rear derailleur shifting over the compact Ultegra hollow-forged crankset show that the Ultegra Di2 is a little bulkier than Dura-Ace Di2 but uses the more compact wiring that goes over to both groups in the new 11-speed versions for 2013. The finish on the Ultegra compact crank is beautiful, a dark pewter that matches the rear derailleur and looks good on almost any frame. This is a nice drivetrain ideally geared for the mountains to the north of Tucson, Arizona where most of our test rides wind up.
Seatpost on the Orbea Silver frameset is a aero-styled, diamond cross section post with a two bolt adjuster head. I liked the Selle Italia saddle that came with this parts kit because of its flat profile and high sides that grant access to the angular adjustment bolt on the seatpost head. The rearward bolt uses a standard wrench, the forward bolt a knurled wheel. On some saddles with lower sides its a bit fumbly trying to reach this adjuster.
The binder collar and binder bolt on the Orca Silver is another example of trickle down from the higher end Gold frameset. The bolt adjusts from the top with a Torx head wrench. A stylish, almost “art deco” inspired alloy binder collar secures the seatpost with the binder bolt. We’ve never had an Orbea Orca seatpost slip with this design.
When you look under the hood on the Orbea Orca Silver with Ultegra Di2 you find good use of Shimano’s hardware to mount the wiring harness at the bottom bracket. While the wiring isn’t built into the frame it is secure and well concealed under the bike. The good news is full accessibility if your wiring harness ever needed servicing.
Bottom bracket is the now familiar BB30 format with FSA cups adapting to our Shimano Ultegra compact crank. The system is maintenance free and provides great bottom bracket stiffness.
While “proven” is a cliche in good design it describes the Orca well. The Silver version of the Orbea Orca is a good example of a proven high end frame design trickled down to more popular price points. It is a natural match with Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 for a great road bike with super-bike developed frame and component themes trickled down to lower price points.