First ride review: Spirited away to Sea Otter on the Ritte Esprit

First ride review: Spirited away to Sea Otter on the Ritte Esprit

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If I had to choose between two words — race or endurance — to describe how I ride, the answer would unequivocally be endurance.

If I had to choose between those two words to describe the kind of drop-bar bike I like to ride, the answer would unequivocally be race.

Turns out that these are not mutually exclusive categories anymore.

Read also: The Ride to Sea Otter

After spending three days riding to Sea Otter from Sonoma County last month, it became very clear that the new Ritte Esprit is a bike that suits someone like me — loves long days in the saddle, sometimes in succession, and prefers a bike that is light and aerodynamic, fairly stiff, both stable and responsive, and — get this, comfortable, too.

The Evolution of the Spirit

Ritte Bikes, founded in 2009 in Los Angeles, has been refining its vision of a carbon race road bike for over 12 years now.

Long gone are the brand’s early days of impersonating a Belgian pro cycling team with hand-painted no-name carbon frames. And, it’s been nearly a decade since Ritte debuted the Ace, its third-generation carbon race road bike.

According to Ritte’s brand director Elijah Grundel, the evolution doesn’t just mirror the changes in technology, “the type of riding we do has changed a lot, too.”

“To me, this is the bike that embodies everything that I want a road bike to be. We like race geometry, we’re not into relaxed geometries. A lot of road bikes that we’ve seen that are really cool and take big tires always have these geometries that are a little slower, a little less nimble, and that’s not our niche. This is the do it all, big clearance, road race bike.”

Day one, Petaluma to Half Moon Bay (Photo: Betsy Welch)

If you’re re-reading that paragraph in search of the words ‘all road,’ read on because you won’t find it. According to Grundel, the ‘all road’ style has slid down a slippery slope into the gravel category, and the Esprit, he said, “is not a gravel bike.”

“It’s not supposed to be a gravel bike,” he continued. “For us, it’s what the modern race bike is, and racing has changed.”

This basically means it would be fine for certain gravel races 😜

With endless geometry combinations to choose from, Ritte has gone with what they like to ride — “modern race.”

What does this mean?

“Bikes that are a bit longer,” Grundel said. In the Esprit, this manifests in a longer wheelbase, front center, and a generous amount of trail. 58mm might seem long for a race bike, but this helps alleviate twitch and instability on a long descent.

The Esprit frame weighs a scant 790g (medium), and 35mm of tire clearance is ample for most people’s backyard dirt. The most aero and aesthetic-minded will appreciate the integrated cable setup, but for those who prefer ease and adjustability, the bike can also be set up analog with any standard 1 1/8 stem/bar combo.

Furthermore, the Esprit comes with a threaded T47 bottom bracket and a round 27.2mm seatpost for further adjustability.

Esprit’ing to Sea Otter

Before the ride to Sea Otter, Grundel worked with me to establish the correct size and fit of my test bike. I sent him measurements and pictures of my current road bike, and when the Esprit arrived in Petaluma, it was basically grab-and-go.

I did have the tiniest bit of trouble locating the spacers for the headset in the bag of bits he sent — not because they weren’t there, but because they looked like little plastic jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I was looking for traditional spacers. Again — the bike can be ordered either with a standard bar/stem combo or, as mine was, fully integrated (with jigsaw puzzle piece spacers).

It took me a minute, but I figured it out (Photo: Betsy Welch)

Other notable features of my level one build ($7,900) included SRAM Force AXS 2x shifting and OTHR R40 carbon wheels (more on those later). This build level comes with the option of a SRAM or Shimano Ultegra R8100 Di2 groupset. A power meter can be added for $400.

A few funny things happened with this bike and with this bike ride that turned out to be fortuitous.

Yuri Hauswald, my friend and a man of many talents and roles within the cycling world, had billed the ride “Yuri’s Kinda Sorta Dirt Ride to Sea Otter.” We knew we’d be riding a ton of pavement, but exciting dirt detours were also on the menu. I therefore thought I had requested a 34c tire, but when the bike arrived, no, those were definitely 28’s.

Everyone teased me then, but I was the one laughing when we had to skip a lot of the dirt due to road/trail closures.

Highly recommend this zone, on any type of bike! (Photo: Betsy Welch)

That said, on day two, we did get to do some climbing on a loamy trail through the redwood trees in Purisima Creek. Other than sliding out on a few particularly steep and greasy pitches, I was able to climb with the best of them. This is where that race geo comes in handy, and I imagine that with a 34mm tire or even something narrower with a bit of knob, I would have been totally fine.

The bike also handled well on the dirt descents (thank you long trail).

On the road, the Esprit hugged the roads — going both up and down — like a glove. While I don’t have any road racing background, and I tend to mostly mountain bike or ride gravel, I have developed a deep appreciation for road riding when the roads are good — and northern California has some of the best.

On day two, we climbed out of Half Moon Bay on Higgins Canyon, a dream of a road. Although my legs took a minute to wake up, the bike was lively under me. When we descended La Honda, it felt stable — both at speed and while navigating the twists and turns of the iconic road.

playing in the sand (Photo: Betsy Welch)

Whether surfing through sections of coastal road where sand had blown across the pavement or noodling on little paths through the ice plant on the beach, the Esprit could be a chameleon when it needed to.

On day three, we met up with some other bike industry people and tagged along on their route, which included some gravel farm tracks through the artichoke and strawberry fields. Only here did I feel the need to slow down a little, partially to navigate the washboard bumps and partially because those people were fast AF.

The OTHR thing + Esprit builds

You’ll notice the OTHR branding on my cockpit and wheels. This is Ritte’s answer to the tricky question of how to sell a complete bike at a reasonable cost with high-end components.

Grundel said that the concept was born when the company was trying to figure out how not to lessen the value of a complete bike with “wheel offerings that weren’t really worth the price.”

“It just felt like the wheel offerings we see on a lot of mid-tier bikes, we weren’t stoked on offering,” he said. “They were slightly heavier, narrower. And they were expensive.”

An OTHR alternative to high-end wheels

So too were high-end wheels like ENVE and Zipp. So, Ritte dove into the process of designing its own wheels (and bar, stem, seatpost), trying to get as close in spec and feel to the wheels that the team liked to ride.

“We thought there should be another option, but there wasn’t, so we made it,” Grundel said. “It took a lot of time to get here, but this is a wheel that’s finally good enough to be on an $8,000 bike.”

The OTHR R40 carbon wheels that come with the level one Esprit build are deep (40mm), wide (32mm), and light (1360g). They’re tubeless tire compatible and can accommodate up to a 35c tire. Furthermore, serviceability was built into the design: the OTHR wheels are built around a DT freehub driver with Enduro bearings and boast bladed spokes and brass nipples.

Ritte Esprit complete build packages

• OTHR Integrale one-piece carbon cockpit and seat post
(in rider-specific sizes)
• Ritte premium stainless headset + bottom bracket
• Race Level 28mm tubeless tires
• Fizik R3 saddles

LEVEL ONE – $7,900
• OTHR R40 carbon wheels (40mm depth, 32mm width, 1360g)
• SRAM Force AXS or Shimano Ultegra R8100 Di2 groupset
• Add power meter: $400

LEVEL TWO – $11,900
• Enve SES 3.4 or SES 4.5 Wheelset
• SRAM Red AXS or Shimano Dura Ace R9200 Di2 groupset
• Add power meter: $495

Ritte Esprit frameset packages

• Ritte premium stainless headset
• Seatpost wedge hardware
• Lightweight Thru Axles and derailleur hangers
• All stainless steel assembly hardware

FRAME SET – $3,950
• Esprit Frame + Fork

• Esprit frame and fork
• OTHR Integrale 1 Piece carbon cockpit and seatpost (in rider-specific sizes)

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