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“This is the Basque Country!” That was the response when I asked an Orbea engineer how the economy was doing in Spain these days. The economy in Spain he assured me was struggling, the Basque country, on the other hand, was doing very well. When thinking back to the morning’s Orbea presentation – a new Orca and Avant – we realized the word ‘Spain’ had not been said. Orbea is Basque and proud of it. Might have been the wrong launch to break out our retro Spanish National Team kit.
This heritage – an inherent ‘Basque-ness if you will – informs everything Orbea does. Orbea reminded us the Basque country has just 2 million inhabitants. It is frequently lumped in with the big brands like Giant and Trek and it is proud that its product competes with them, but they are small and fiercely proud of what they have achieved. Giant makes about 6 million bikes a year, Orbea just 200,000.
The Basque are a very competitive people and Orbea took us to a rowing club in the city of Orio for the launch as an example. The Basque people fished for whales in row boats in the 19th century and the Basque cities have sent their best rowers to do battle against each other ever since.
It’s this competitive streak Orbea needed to tap with the new Orca, its flagship road racer and the bike we saw spy shots of at Le Tour and that Cofidis recently campaigned at La Vuelta. It’s aimed squarely at the Tarmacs, TCR’s and Emonda’s of the world.
The nutshell take away from the Orca launch was ‘racier’, as in, this bike is much racier than the 2015 Orca. Orbea thought in simple terms, it takes over 6 watts p/kg to excel on the World Tour so let’s make the most of them. The new Orca frame is significantly lighter, 795 grams vs 875 grams for the 2015 model. There is a disc version and even that frame is lighter than the old rim frame – 840 grams. Orbea claims it could have gone significantly lighter, but instead they wanted more stiffness and they got it with a 94nm global number for torsional stiffness, vs just 80nm for the 2015 Orca. It has also done a better job of hitting that number across all seven sizes.
Orbea reached these numbers in the traditional way, more attention to lay-up, better materials and molding techniques that create thin walls and good compaction. Nothing revolutionary, just good design and production, but the result is a stiffness-to-weight ratio that blows the old bike away. Orbea increased fork stiffness considerably as well at the request of its pro athletes by shortening the fork blades 5mm.
The next part of this ‘racier’ equation you’ll notice the moment you hop on the bike. Its angles are steeper, its fit is lower and longer. Overall, it’s much more aggressive in the saddle. Where the old Orca was almost an endurance racer, the 2017 Orca is pure, aggressive race. Mated to these aggressive angles and fit is a lower bottom bracket to help it all feel planted in the corners.
So the whole enchilada is much stiffer, but stiff is no good if it’s too harsh, so in addition to sliver thin seat stays, Orbea sloped the top tube more aggressively to expose more of the 27.2 seat post, the easiest and most reliable way to increase comfort in the saddle. It also gets a clean new seat post binder, tucked under the top tube.
There is lots more to get excited about as well. Tire clearance has gone up to 28mm and to our eye, a 30mm would likely do fine. The fork blades have been designed with what Orbea calls ‘Free flow’. The blades are moved away from the wheel to remove air pressure build up. It doesn’t add up to much – 4 watts – but we’ll take it. The cable routing is internal, it has a chain catcher, the disc version has flat mounts and 12 mm through axles.
An important note is the Orca now comes in three different versions, and the numbers here are for the top of the line OMR carbon frame. The geometry numbers and fit are essentially identical for the OMP version, while the OME is based off the 2015 Orca and its more relaxed-race fit.
As with any first ride report from a launch location the realities of riding new roads in an unfamiliar peloton considerably get lagged need to be considered. Okay, that’s our due-diligence disclaimer. Now here’s what we thought – the 2017 Orbea Orca is a flat out scorcher. It’s much more aggressive and reactive than the 2015 model with stunning acceleration and beautifully planted, precise, quick handling. At the end of a three hour, rolling ride, the cameras came out, so the engine was revved a bit harder, the corners attacked a bit more recklessly and the new Orca responded beautifully. First impressions? It is a stunning grand tour style race bike the caliber of a Specialized Tarmac or BMC SLR 01 and there are perhaps only two or three other bikes in that same category. It is a short list.
There we go, comparing Orbea to the big brands again, but the bike begs the comparison. The 2017 Orbea Orca may be born of Basque pride and a desire to remain apart from the global brands, but it is so good, they may just sell more Orca’s than ever before.
For more info on the 2017 Orbea Orca go to orbea.com. You can also check out Orbea’s MyO program for semi-custom paint and build options available in four weeks with no up-charge on most models.
2017 Orca prices range from $9000 for a disc braking Orca M10i LTD-D 17 with Shimano’s new Dura-Ace 9100 and the OMR frame down to $1900 for an Orca M30 17 with 105 and the OME frame. An OMR frame set alone is $3300.