The brand new Orbea Orca Aero M20Team is a fast and great handling aerodynamic road bike with a surprising talent for smoothing out all but the roughest roads. But it is speed, not comfort, that is at the top of the list of requirements for an aero road bike, and that's an area where the Orca Aero feels very competent.
- Pros: Fast, great handling, surprisingly smooth, takes 28mm tyres, MyO customisation option
- Cons: Spec let down by wheels and tyres
True, road.cc has no wind tunnel in which to validate the claims given for any aerodynamic product, but seat-of-the-pants testing is enough to assure me this is one exceedingly quick bike. It's right up there with the Trek Madone, Cervelo S3 and Canyon Aeroad, as super-quick aero race bikes.
The handling is a highlight, and helps to set it apart from some aero bikes that can be exceedingly quick but a little lacking when it comes to the way they ride and translate your inputs into actions. The Orca Aero is fun and engaging, putting a smile on your face when you're descending or chasing a friend along an undulating ridge road.
The Orca Aero feels planted at high speeds yet is nimble when you want to have some fun, whether that's sprinting after your buddies or weaving a fun line through a bendy country lane. On the descents, it feels surefooted and very easy to manoeuvre at high speed.
Steering balance is good, reasonably quick when you turn in through a corner or change direction, giving you good control at a range of speeds. The short wheelbase, typical of a race bike, gives the ride a lively feel, while the oversized bottom bracket, down tube and chainstays provide impressive responsiveness when you dish out some watts.
It used to be a given that an aero road bike – a bike that fuses the aerodynamically shaped tube profiles of a time trial bike with the weight and handling of a regular road bike – would be harsh because of the big tube shapes compromising the frame's ability to soak up the vibrations. Great on a buttery smooth purpose-built cycle race track, rubbish on regular roads and lanes.
That really wasn't the case with the Orca Aero, and shows just how refined the latest breed of aero bikes have become. The 25mm tyres fitted as standard help, but thanks to direct mount brakes there's space for 28mm tyres. About halfway through the testing I swapped to wider tyres and found that the bike lost none of its speed or agility, but comfort was ramped up considerably. Wide tyres are where it's at, even on an aero race bike.
I rode the Orca Aero daily and everywhere from short rides with punchy sprints to more relaxed rides taking in the views – where you'd think an endurance bike might be the better choice – and it felt right at home both in its capacity as a speed demon but also a bump-soaking long-distance cruiser.
If you can handle the position, which is typical of an aero race bike, then it is comfortable for the longer rides you might want to use it for when not slinging it around a race circuit. I like that.
The fact that the bike is so quick is down to the cutting-edge aerodynamic frame and fork design.
It's no surprise that aero bikes are beginning to look very similar; there are only so many ways to reduce drag on a bicycle frame while being constrained by the UCI's strict rules.
But one of the key UCI rules, the 3:1 ratio that governed the overall size of the tubes, has been relaxed for 2018, and the Orca Aero is the first bike I've tested to embrace this change.
The differences are found in the deeper profiles of the down tube, seat tube and fork blades. But don't worry if you can't spot the difference, it's very slight when comparing to other aero road bikes.
The deep aero-shaped down tube also has two options for bottle cage position, one lower for use with a single bottle and optimum aero performance, the other higher to allow a seatpost bottle cage to be used.
Orbea has used the BB386 Evo bottom bracket standard, which provides compatibility with all the different cranksets on the market. It was introduced by FSA back in 2011 and relies on an 86.5mm bottom bracket shell width and 30mm axle, for maximum frame stiffness on account of the larger bearings being spaced further apart.
Setting the Orca Aero apart from some other aero bikes is a simple approach to key features like the brakes, cable routing and seat clamp: regular direct mount brakes, rather than custom bespoke units as on the Trek Madone, and a seat clamp that is easy to access just like a traditional clamp. No awkwardly hidden teeny tiny bolts here. It's just a shame the clamp isn't colour matched to the frame, so it could blend in and not stand out as it does.
The internal cable routing is sensible and works well, with the increasingly common down tube port providing compatibility with all groupsets, and can be used to conceal the junction box on a Di2-equipped bike.
It's also an extremely good looking bike, and the Basque company's customiser, called MyO, allows a plethora of paint options at no extra cost.
The Orca Aero range includes six models, priced from £2,599 to £6,799. The M20Team on test is £2,799 in standard guise, but ours has a few upgrades and costs £3,632. You can also buy the top of the range frameset for £2,499.
The beauty of the MyO website is that, along with changing the colour of the frame to suit your tastes or race jersey, you can choose all the components. That includes obvious stuff like wheels, tyres and handlebar as well as the smaller items.
A Shimano Ultegra R8000 mechanical groupset is a very fine thing, slick of shifting and solid of braking, and looks great too with the Dura-Ace-inspired crankset and rear mech.
DT Swiss has been producing some really good wheelsets of late and these PR 1600 Spline 32s, while not as flash as deep-section carbon wheels, are stiff and precise and, thanks to the aluminium brake track, good stoppers in the winter grime.
I like that they're tubeless-ready but you might not like the 1,723g weight. Make no mistake, these are solid wheels, but they're not a patch on a deep-section carbon wheelset which is a better match for an aero bike, and what you might expect at this price.
Vittoria's long-running Rubino tyre, a more affordable offering in its range, has been given the graphene treatment this year, and the result is good, if not mind-blowing, performance.
They feel fast on the road and deliver a good level of grip both in the dry and wet, and puncture resistance proved to be good, too, though I could have just been lucky, of course.
They don't have that supple feeling of Vittoria's more expensive tyres because of the beefed-up casing, but as a training or winter tyre, they are good. Fit some better rubber for summer racing would be my recommendation.
One notable upgrade on this bike is the carbon fibre Vision Metron 5D one-piece handlebar and stem. It is intended to dramatically reduce the frontal surface area compared with a regular setup.
It's certainly a bold looking handlebar, and the drops are a nice short reach, while riding on the hoods reveals no particular increase in vibration passing through the wheel and fork and into the hands.
My only bugbear is that they're not really suited to riding on the tops, because of the large shape, curvature and lack of bar tape. For racing, they're perfect; for non-racing applications I might lean towards a conventional handlebar and stem combo.
There are obviously a lot of bikes to choose from in the aero race category. Initially, the Orbea looks like a good bike, but the choice of wheels make it lag behind the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0, which shares the same Ultegra mechanical groupset and one-piece carbon aero handlebar but has far better Reynolds Strike SLG carbon wheels, with Continental Grand Prix Attack and Force tyres.
Trek will sell you its Madone 9.0 for £3,500 with the same Ultegra groupset, Bontrager Aeolus Comp tubeless wheels and a regular handlebar and stem setup. The Madone is one of the best aero bikes on the market, with the IsoSpeed decoupler providing a smoother ride, but the custom integrated brakes aren't to everyone's tastes.
There's a lot to like with the new Orbea Orca Aero, and for the company's first attempt at an aero road bike it's deeply impressive. I love the way this bike rides: it's fast – there's no doubt about that – but it's also agile and nimble and fun to ride. And the smoothness is impressive too.
Another bike to consider is actually from Orbea. Take the same base M20Team I tested, but through MyO upgrade to Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon wheels and Vittoria Open Corsa tyres, and instead of the £439 Vision Metron 5D handlebar upgrade, stick with a regular bar and stem.
A fast aero bike with great handling and decent smoothness
road.cc test report
Make and model: Orbea Orca Aero M20Team
Size tested: 55cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME Orbea Aero carbon OMR
FORK Orbea Aero OMR
CRANKSET Shimano Ultegra R8000 34x50t
HEADSET FSA 1-1/8 - 1-1/2" Integrated Carbon Cup ACB Bearings
HANDLEBAR Vision Metron 5D
STEM Vision Metron 5D
SHIFTERS Shimano Ultegra R8000
BRAKES Shimano Ultegra R8010
CASSETTE Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-28t 11-Speed
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Ultegra R8000 SS
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Ultegra R8000
CHAIN KMC X11-EL-1
WHEELS DT Swiss R32 Spline wheels
TYRES Vittoria Rubino Foldable 700x25 60TPI G+
SEATPOST Orbea Aero OMR
SADDLE Prologo Scratch RS STN size 143mm
HANDLEBAR PLUGS Black Anti-Slippery/Shock Proof Bar Tape
REAR BRAKE Shimano Ultegra R8010-RS
Sizes: 47cm, 49cm, 51cm, 53cm, 55cm, 57cm, 60cm
Colours: Orange, Black
Tell us what the bike is for
Orbea says, "Get the racing advantage with the Orbea Orca Aero M20 Team aero race bike. Its OMR carbon frame has been designed to slip through the air, gaining you those precious seconds advantage when racing."
Orbea Aero carbon OMR frame is lightweight and built to defy the air
Orbea Aero OMR carbon fork works with the frame for aero efficiency
Shimano Ultegra 2x11 speed drivetrain delivers smooth and crisp shifts
DT PR 1600 Spline 32 wheels are quick rolling
Vittoria Rubino G+ 25c tyres are grippy and fast
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very high level of finish.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon frame and fork. Orbea calls it OMR.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It's on the racy side but it's well balanced and easy to get on with.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
It was good.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's no endurance bike, but for a bike designed primarily to be aero and fast, it's impressive.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Plenty of stiffness evident in the frame when sprinting.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes it felt efficient.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Reasonably fast.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Very engaging and fun to ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The handlebar is designed for racing and won't be for everyone, I don't think; it's not as easy to adjust the reach, for example, and riding on the tops isn't as good as some.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The wheels and tyres are on the heavy side; the bike would benefit from lighter or more aero wheels.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Nothing that really needs changing other than for personal requirements.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Orbea has done a great job with the Orca Aero frame and for the most part it's reasonably good value for money, but the wheels and tyres, while they offer faultless performance, might be considered out of place on an aero bike of this price.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.