Previous model ranges have tended to be more towards the road bike end of the hybrid market, with the emphasis on low weight and high speed. The 09 range still promises high performance but the mix of gear is a little sturdier, with the introduction of disc brakes and, on the Flight 04, the eight speed Alfine hub gear. At £899 this is not a cheap bike, and you get some very nice kit for your money.
For a start, you get the top-of-the-range triple butted ALX9 Aluminium frame from the range-topping Flight 05. It's exactly the same frame, so there's no horizontal dropouts, and the Alfine hub gear runs with its matching chain tensioner. Purists won't like this much but save for the risk that you'll bend it around town it doesn't reallly make any difference, and indeed it makes the rear wheel easier to remove and set up.
The hub gear is laced with stainless spokes into an Alex XD-Lite rim, and the wheelset is good-looking and very strong. Obviously the Alfine rear hub adds to the weight of the wheelset but they're not overbuilt as so many wheels are on bikes of this ilk. The wheels come shod with the excellent Continental DuraSkin 28c tyres. Shifting is taken care of by a TapFire reversed trigger shifter (thumbshift to a higher gear) and stopping by Shimano's SLX MTB discs.
This isn't the first Alfine-equipped bike I've ridden and if there's one main criticism I have of the system it's that the take-up can be a little vague. It seems to work much more smoothly if you ease off from a standstill rather than jump on the pedals, which is fine most of the time, but not ideal for sprinting away from the lights. Sometimes it feels like the hub gear is struggling to transfer the power that the excellent frame can obviously cope with. Other than that I found the Alfine unit very well behaved. The spread of gears is good, the Flight is geared reasonably low but I'd rather be missing the big gears than the little ones on a bike such as this. It's fine for anything up to fast cruising, only spinning out on dowhnill sections or on the flat if you're pushing.
Hub gears are generally lambasted for being less efficient than derailleurs but on a town bike they make a lot of sense: They're low maintenance, your chain will last longer and you can change gear at a standstill. Anyway, the Flight wasn't measurably slower on my 2.5 mile commute than my usual geared hybrid, which weighs about the same. I really don't think efficiency is a big issue, at least not unless your commute is a long one. There is a tipping point, where the extra bulk in the rear wheel and the slight efficiency loss mean you'd be noticeably slower than on a derailleur bike; for me it's probably between 10 and 15 miles. If your commute is that long, though, you'd probably want something lighter and more aggressive than the Flight anyway.
The ride, position and handling of the Ridgeback were spot on for a short commute. The long stem gives plenty of cockpit room without the bike feeling too racy, and the steering is precise – the fork feels nice and stiff – and fairly neutral. The Conti tyres are superb, giving masses of grip and surviving various encounters with broken bottles. Another highlight is the brakes: Shimano's SLX units are among the best I've tested. They're incredibly powerful but they don't grab, the modulation is just right and they really inspire confidence.
I didn't like the saddle, I found it very unforgiving and it would have been nice to find a carbon 'post underneath it. This is a bike that costs £900 and most people that'll be buying it will be putting their own pedals on; I'd have rather seen the money spent on the cheap alloy caged pedals put into a decent carbon seatpost to take a bit of sting out the ride. That's not to say the ride is bad; when I swapped the saddle for a favourite perch I was perfectly happy. The frame is lively, the wheels good and the tyres excellent.
If you want to add 'guards and a rack for the full all-weather experience then it's a pretty straightforward job though it's a good idea to go for a disc-specific rack as the callipers can foul the bottom of a standard one.
Overall the Flight 04 is a very likeable bike well suited to urban journeys and fine for some longer rides too. It's not without its foibles but as an overall package it's well specced and good to ride, and the low-maintenance transmission will appeal to many commuters.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Ridgeback Flight 04
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: ALX9 Triple Butted Aluminium
Fork: Carbon disc
Shifters: Shimano Alfine TapFire
Chainset: Shimano Alfine 45T
Bottom Bracket: Shimano External
Hubs: Shimano Alfine 8spd
Rims: Alex XD-LITE 32h disc
Spokes: Stainless steel black
Tyres: Continental Duraskin+ K 700 x 28c
Brakes: Shimano SLX
Handlebar: 6061 Aluminium 540mm
Stem: Alloy Ahead SL
Grips: Dual Density
Saddle: Ozone SLX
Seat Post: SL Aluminium 27.2mm
Pedals: Road w/clips & straps
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 Flight 04 is the hub-geared incarnation of the popular Flight series of urban hybrids from Ridgeback. It's aimed at riders who want a low-maintenance commuter
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame has a fairly tough black finish and looks to be nicely put together, the welds and finishing are neat and tidy.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The triple butted ALX frame is the same as the more expensive Flight 05 model, this is the top of the range Flight frame (until they make the Ti one... if they ever do)
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
our 60cm (XL) model has a 59.5cm effective top tube, which with the fairly long (120mm) stem gives plenty of cockpit space. The 1059mm wheelbase is neither long nor short for a bike this size.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The bike felt comfortable and the position was about right for a shorter distance commuter, not too agressive.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The ride quality of the bike as a whole is very good, although I found the saddle very hard. The frame feels responsive and the tyres add plenty of feel.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too felxible?
The bike felt plenty stiff under power. With discs and a single chainring there's not much to rub anyway.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The Alfine hub sometimes feels a little vague on the take-up but in normal riding it's fine
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's a very well-behaved bike, it doesn't really have any idiosyncracies
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Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Possibly
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, depending on their needs
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 105kg
I usually ride: Schwinn Moab, urbanised with 700cs My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with upgrades
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling
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