The Orbea Alma 29er S30
Two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Champion Julien
Absalon has been racing for Orbea since 2005. When he’s not winning races or
training, Absalon spends time with the engineers at Orbea, bouncing around
ideas and testing prototypes to further develop fast race bikes. Arguably, the
Alma 29er owes a great deal of its racing heritage to Absalon. We decided it
was time to get this race-bred 29er into the hands of the wrecking crew to see
how it measured up.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Alma’s aggressive lines and frame geometry make it apparent that
this bike is intended for the cross-country racer type. Riders interested in
plushness or an added level of forgiveness need to look at Orbea’s dual-suspension
models. This is a no-frills bike for going fast.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Alma is a carbon monocoque frame crafted out of Orbea’s Silver
high-modulus carbon fiber. Orbea claims their Silver high-modulus carbon fiber
provides great stiffness while still absorbing vibrations. The Alma features
unique and beautiful lines, most noticeably the cut-away shape on the downtube.
The Alma also has a tapered head tube and corresponding steerer tube for
increased front-end rigidity.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Sometimes it’s the small details that stand out the most. This is the
case with Gore RideOn derailleur cables. This sealed cable system paired with
Orbea’s DCR (direct cable routing) system provides amazingly smooth and
consistent shifting while keeping contaminants away from the derailleur cables.
We are also impressed with the wheel spec. We have been longtime proponents of
Shimano wheelsets, so we were excited to see their 29er-specific wheelset
spec’ed on the Alma. The product managers at Orbea made a wise call by spec’ing
the bike with a complete Shimano XT group versus bits and pieces from several
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ergonomics: As soon as we jumped on the Alma, it was apparent that this bike has an
aggressive, European feel to it. For the American rider, the Alma’s aggressive
feel has some quirks. The handlebars are incredibly narrow, posing two
problems. First off, we couldn’t get our brake and shift levers situated
inboard due to the oversize taper of the handlebar. Second, the narrow bars
gave the illusion that the front end was much taller than it actually was. For
a 20-inch frame, the top tube felt quite short, something we attribute to the
Climbing: Moving out on the Alma, it didn’t take long for us to notice the stiff,
snappy nature of the frame. Both in and out of the saddle, the Alma is a great
climber. We never once touched the 24-tooth chainring on this bike. The
aggressive geometry enabled us to maneuver the bike up technical terrain with
ease and precision. The narrow handlebar made navigating tight singletrack a
breeze; however, the leverage advantage from a wider bar would be nice for
out-of-the- saddle efforts. The frame’s stiffness was great from a power
transfer perspective, but the large-diameter triangular seat stays offered
little or no vertical compliance. In the long run, the Alma provided quite the
harsh ride, transferring the hit from every bump and rut in the trail.
Cornering: It is essential for a race bike to be quick through the corners. True to
its racing heritage, the Alma is very responsive. The steep head tube angle
allows the bike to change direction quickly and effectively. The Alma has a
stiff rear end that the front end can’t quite match. This becomes more apparent
under hard cornering when the front end becomes nervous and requires the
rider’s constant attention to stay on line.
Descending: It’s no surprise that the Alma requires a skilled rider to navigate the
descents. In the hands of a novice, the steep geometry would be unnerving, to
say the least, but an experienced cross-country racer will easily take to the
Alma’s descending characteristics. The 29-inch wheels provide the bike with a
great deal of stability, and they roll over rocks, roots and ruts with ease.
The 3.9- inch-travel RockShox Reba RLT fork always had a bit left in the tank,
giving us added confidence over rocky terrain. The Hutchinson Python tires roll
quite fast and provide good traction over hardpack terrain. For loose terrain,
we would prefer a different tire or would plan on running drastically lower
Braking: The Shimano XT brakes worked flawlessly, and the 7-inch front rotor spec
provided a nice boost of stopping power. The Hutchinson Pythons offered average
braking performance for a cross-country race tire.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The Alma has a lot of potential as a no-nonsense cross-country race
bike; however, several component specs keep this bike from being a podium
contender. First things first: put a wider bar and appropriately sized stem on
this bike. This quick fix will improve the Alma in nearly all performance-based
categories, including climbing, cornering and descending. The bike comes
equipped with a tubeless wheelset and tubeless-ready tires; utilize that
technology and run a lower tire pressure. That will help to combat the Alma’s
harsh ride and improve its descending capabilities. This bike should have been
spec’ed with a 2x10 drivetrain; it just makes sense in this category. The 2x10
ratios on a 29er at this weight are plenty, and they would improve the bike’s
climbing abilities. The Alma came spec’ed with Gore RideOn cables, which do a
great job of smooth shifting. The downside is that you can only run these
cables on the Alma because of the unique cable routing system.
Orbea delivers a lightweight, carbon fiber, hardtail race bike at a very
attractive price. To hit the weight and price goals, compromises were made with
regards to frame compliance and ride resilience. There is no hiding the fact
that the Alma’s ride requires the rider to be fit. This is not a bike for the
masses looking for the 29er experience. It is only for the serious racer who
wants the advantage of a lightweight frame but can’t shell out $6000 for the
privilege and is willing to take a little extra abuse.
Reprinted from our November 2011 issue. Like us on Facebook