When it comes to cyclo-cross, few do it better than the Belgians. And with riders like Kevin Pauwels and Klaas Vantornout sitting among their sponsored riders, it's not surprising that Belgian bike manufacturer Ridley has produced a pretty serious 'cross bike in the form of its X-Bow 10. Although it's on the heavy side, we've enjoyed some success in local cross league races, but it does look a little expensive compared with the competition.
The X-Bow is Ridley's entry-level cyclo-cross platform, and there are just two models in the range, the 10 and 20. Both have an aluminium frame and a fork that combines carbon legs with an alloy steerer. The X-Bow 10 comes with Shimano's 105 groupset, TRP Spyre C brakes and Fulcrum Racing Sport DB wheels, while the £150-cheaper 20 has Tiagra gears, Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes and 4ZA wheels.
The frame is 7005-T6 aluminium alloy, and when combined with the alloy-steerer fork the overall package is certainly on the heavier side. All this alloy also leads to a frame that's plenty stiff. Depending on what you're looking to use the bike for, this can be a plus or minus.
If the X-Bow is going to spend most of its days shod with slicks and mudguards (it has the necessary eyelets to do so), then that stiffness could translate into quite a harsh and uncomfortable ride. On the other hand, if you're going to be primarily razzing around a 'cross race for 50 minutes plus a lap, then the stiffness will be a bonus. I used the X-Bow for the latter almost exclusively, and so chose to see it as a benefit.
The heft of the frame does mean it's not the snappiest bike out there, but it's not world ending by any stretch of the imagination.
With a stack/reach of 560mm and 379mm respectively (the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube), the medium X-Bow's geometry is a very close match to most 'cross bikes these days. It's about 1cm shorter in both reach and stack compared with my own Giant TCX SLR in medium/large size, a bike that is great for racing and bridleway grinding alike.
Having used this bike at three or four local CX rounds now, with results varying from the dizzy heights of top 10 finishes to the crushing lows of being outside the top 20 (entirely down to the rider and his rather haphazard approach to fitness), I would say it's designed predominantly for racing. The 'Done in 60 Minutes' decal is a clue before you even get on the bike, but it's actually riding and racing it that gives it away.
Of course I'd much rather have had all my results in the single digits, but my scattered performances have given me a chance to see not only how the bike feels when you're going well, but also on a bad day.
The responsive nature of the steering and stiffness of the frame mean the X-Bow is great in lower speed, techy stuff, and also pretty good in proper CX bog races too. I'd say that when the pace picks up on drier courses more akin to grass crits, the Ridley performs less well. The handling borders on over-responsive, and the 10.3kg heft of the bike is tiring when you're putting in hard, stabby, red-zone efforts chasing the guy or gal on the carbon canti bike in front of you.
Shouldering the bike wasn't too much of an issue; I clanged my elbow on the seat tube when taking it off my shoulder a couple of times when riding or racing hard, but this was more to do with the fact that I was trying to breathe out of my ears and my coordination was diminished somewhat as a result.
Using the bike on the road backs up much of the opinion I formed when riding off-road: it's a touch stiffer and therefore harsher than I'd like for spending long days in the saddle. Then again, if you're looking for that kind of all-day bike, you're probably not looking at an X-Bow to start with.
The wheels supplied with the X-Bow 10 are Fulcrum Racing Sport DBs. Around the grand mark I've noticed that many bikes have wheels that aren't quite up to the level the frameset deserves, and it's nice to see a name brand included on the Ridley.
The Fulcrums look good and are 'cross-specific, though unsurprisingly at this price, they are on the heavy side. More importantly for 'cross racers, they aren't tubeless ready. I'm well aware that many non-tubeless-ready rims can be converted, but it often involves more faffing about than a specialised rim. Again it depends what you're going to use the bike for, but I find tubeless setups a godsend during off-road riding, and it would be good to have wheels that accommodated this.
Tyres are another area brands often skimp on, so I'm glad to see Ridley hasn't followed this route. The X-Bow 10 comes with Challenge Grifo tyres, an excellent choice for 'do it all' riding off-road. I use Challenge tyres a lot, and swapped to the slightly more mud-biased Limus Opens as the weather worsened (or improved, depending on how good you are at drifting), but only because I had them going spare. I don't doubt I could have got away with the Grifos if I'd needed to.
TRP's Spyre C mechanical disc brakes are pretty good in the world of cable actuated brakes. I've reviewed the very similar Spyre SLC brakes and came to similar conclusions. The only thing that's changed between that review and my experience with the X-Bow is that I've been rather spoiled with hydraulic disc brakes on other bikes. Once you've ridden them it's hard to see mechanical brakes the same way.
Hydros aren't available at this price point at the moment, though, and so I've put my experiences to one side as best I can. The Spyres are certainly the best bang you can get for your buck without spending a lot of bucks, and when set up and maintained well they provide more than enough power and modulation for your deceleration needs.
One gripe I did have was that the rear rotor is 140mm diameter, while the front is 160mm. I think CX bikes warrant 160mm rotors front and rear, especially when using mechanical brakes. It's not only an issue of power, but also compatibility. All the other disc brake wheels I own (it's not *that* many, I promise...) are 160mm rotors front and rear, and being able to bang in wheels in a hurry is a big plus to me. Having to undo and redo six lots of bolts on two wheels significantly slows down the process. If you don't have the luxury of multiple pairs of wheels then this is pretty irrelevant. Don't mind me and my wheels.
The X-Bow uses Shimano's excellent 11-speed 105 groupset for all drivetrain parts except the chainset, which is an FSA Gossamer MegaExo in standard CX 46/36 setup. We've done a full review of 105, which you can read here.
It's a fantastic groupset and shifting has been flawless in even the boggiest of bogs. I really hope Shimano brings out a cyclo-cross chainset to match soon – while FSA's offering is good, it's quite heavy and not as stiff as I've come to expect from Shimano.
Bar, stem and seatpost are all provided by Belgian brand 4ZA (imagine writing the word Forza in text speak), and I had no quibble with any of it.
Of course you could go lighter with all-carbon everything, or even just with alloy from more premium brands, but I didn't see any real need to. Plus, if you're racing a lot of 'cross or riding off-road a lot, alloy bits provide a lot more peace of mind in the event of a crash.
I've compared this X-Bow to the Giant TCX a couple of times already, and it's worth mentioning that the TCX is 200 quid cheaper. The Ridley trumps the Giant with its wheels and marginally better chainset, but I'm not sure that's enough of a differentiator for me to part with an extra £200.
It's a similar tale for the offerings from quite a few other manufacturers – Cannondale's CAADX 105 for example – and, crucially, for many buyers it misses out on the classic cycle to work £1000 budget.
I see the Ridley X-Bow 10 as a good entry-level cyclo-cross racer that could easily be used to commute Monday-Friday. It's not the lightest bike in the world, and when I needed two bikes at a 'cross race I tended to use the Ridley as my spare. But there's absolutely no reason it couldn't work as your only race bike, I just had the luxury of two.
The bike's major downside is its weight. If it were my own bike I would probably change the wheels to something a bit lighter and more tubeless-friendly, with a rear 160 rotor to boot.
Overall I've enjoyed riding and racing on the X-Bow. If I could give half points, it would have scored a 7.5, and with a lower price or a lower weight it would easily become an 8 or higher.
Solid 'cross racer with decent versatility on the other side of the tape, but with a high weight and price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Ridley X-Bow 10 Disc
Size tested: M/56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: X-Bow Disc, 7005-T6 alloy
Fork: Zornyc Disc, Alloy steerer
Wheels: Fulcrum Racing Sport DB
Tyres: Challenge Grifo Plus 700x32c
Groupset: 105 11sp throughout, with FSA Gossamer MegaExo, 46/36 chainset
Brakes: TRP Spyre C mechanical disc, 160mm rotor front 140mm rotor rear
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Ridley is a pretty racy CX bike in my opinion. It would be well suited to winter commuting, but I see the bike primarily as a racer.
Ridley says: "The X-Bow is the working horse in Ridley's stable. Ideal for first cyclocross or cycling experience, while the fender and carrier mounts make it the perfect companion for commuting."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Solid performers but on the heavy side.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Alloy frame, and a fork with a mixture of carbon legs with alloy steerer.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
My personal 2014 Giant TCX is the reference I use for most other CX race bikes I ride, and the Ridley is pretty similar. To be honest, at just over 6ft tall my proportions would have suited the large size better (the numbers for the large X-Bow are basically identical to my Giant), but I raced this bike for nearly two months and it performed pretty flawlessly regardless.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
As you would expect, a predominantly aluminium alloy bike is always going to be pretty stiff, and so wouldn't be ideal for pure long distance road riding. But for the mixture of fast hour-long commuting and CX racing that I used it for, that stiffness translates into a responsive ride that I saw as a benefit.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It felt about right for me.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The stiffness of the frame felt efficient, but on the downside the considerable heft of the bike meant this edge was blunted somewhat.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
I only noticed it once when turning around on a narrow bridleway. No real problems with it.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The 72-degree head and 73-degree seat angles led to a ride that was responsive, and bordering on too responsive at higher speed. Every time I changed between bikes it was noticeable, but only for the first couple of turns of a ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I really like the feel of 105 levers, and the wide bar gave a feeling of confidence on more technical off-road trails.
Shimano really needs to get its act together and make a 105 11-speed CX chainset.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I'm a fan of Shimano cranksets so it's annoying that there's no 105 offering as yet for cyclo-cross ratios. The FSA variant used here works fine but isn't as light or stiff as those from Japan.
Wheels and tyres
Wheels are on the heavier side, but shod with great tyres from Challenge. I would have liked to try tubeless conversion on them but didn't have time.
On the heavy side certainly.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Definitely
Would you consider buying the bike? It's just a touch too expensive for what it is.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 23 Height: 182cm Weight: 75kg
I usually ride: Kinesis Pro6 My best bike is: The first steel bike I made
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking