Ritchey Break-Away Cross Review
The Ritchey Break-Away Cross is a full-size cyclocross steel rig with a clever trick up its sleeve – it can be split in half and fits into a travel case that is amazingly compact for what it is, with 700c wheels and everything else!
To date, we have traveled with a variety of bikes, from smaller-wheeled folding bikes such as the Birdy and Reach, to full-sized ones such as the Change Bike. In general, we did not have any major problems with air travel, except perhaps the size of the bike luggage itself when we’re trying to get to an airport or to any location after that.
Trying to transport bulky bike luggage between the airport and into cars, vans and trains is challenging to say the least. Size and weight are the two obvious factors that can make handling bulky luggage difficult. Bikes with folding mechanisms will be inherently heavier due to all the additional mechanical parts. And on the other hand, non-folding full-sized bikes will never be able to reach a compact luggage size and will be always be cumbersome to handle. So where does that leave us?
After going back to the drawing board to evaluate our choices for a highly versatile (and packable) all-road bike for traveling, we came across the Ritchey Break-Away Cross after doing lots of research based on our air travel experiences. It splits in half and fits into its own travel case – definitely an all-road companion you can take with you anywhere!
Compact travel luggage size
After seeing the size of Ritchey’s travel case, we knew that this was the perfect size for travel! Measuring at 8.5 inches deep, 26.5 inches tall, and 31 inches wide (21.6cm x 67.3cm x 78.7cm), – the travel case is much more compact than even the Birdy or Reach when packed for air travel. We even managed to load three Ritchey suitcases into the trunk of a Japanese taxi cab. As far as full-size bikes go, the Ritchey Break-Away wins the award for feats of limited space!
The only bike that could tick the compact bike luggage checkbox would be the Brompton, but we needed a bike with much larger wheels and tires that could glide through gravel paths easily – you never know what kind of roads, or “groads” you’ll come across when traveling. Which brings us to the next point.
700c wheels with clearance for larger tires up to 40mm
There have been plenty of times where we’ll come across gravel paths, dirt roads and all kinds of rough stuff during our travels where we thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had wheels to ride through that singletrack shortcut over there.” With the Ritchey Break-Away Steel Cross, we certainly can! Thanks to its bridgeless chainstays, there’s enough clearance in the frame to fit 40mm tires depending on what rims you use. Tires are the most important part of your bicycle as it is the only contact point to the road, and also the key to comfort. Using a larger tire at lower pressures results in improved comfort, and also better handling when you find yourself rolling over rough surfaces.
Long distance comfort and #steelisreal
Brompton owners and other cyclists who ride steel frames can tell you all about the magical properties of this wonderful frame material. When it comes to comfort, the natural properties of a steel frame work like a vibration dampening spring. It removes the sting from all the bumps, dips and cracks along your path and gives you feedback through a nice springy sensation instead of bone jarring impacts. During long days on the saddle over long distances, this translates to reduced fatigue and you don’t feel all battered up like how you’d feel on a stiff alloy or carbon frame. The #steelisreal hashtag is the real deal here, and I’m a believer after having tested so many different frame types.
Hang on, reasonably lightweight with a steel frame? Yes, it is possible and not an oxymoron at all! With a selection of decent components, the overall weight for a steel cross build can be had for under 9kg (19.8lbs) which is quite respectable. It’s obviously not going to be a sprinter or lightweight climber by any means, but as a cyclocross, gravel or touring bike that can take a beating and roll at a consistently brisk pace with comfort that only good steel provides, that’s where the Ritchey really shines.
The Ritchey Break-Away Frame Highlights
The Ritchey Break-Away is more of a “dismantle and pack” rather than a “fold and pack” like the Birdy, Brompton, Tyrell or Change Bike. Other notable bikes that take the frame disassembly approach include any of the Moulton models, and any bike with S&S couplers. Either way, to get a bike to pack down to a certain size, disassembly is required, even for 20-inch folding bikes. As far as dismantling goes, the Ritchey Break-Away approach is a simple and clean design that requires just a set of hex keys with sizes you probably already have – 4mm and 5mm.
The Break-Away joints and cable splitters
There are two areas where the Break-Away splits: The top of the seat tube, and at the bottom of the down tube just in front of the bottom bracket. The top of the seat tube slots inside the end of the top tube and together acts as a seatpost clamp, secured by two bolts. Use a 5mm hex key for these bolts.
At the bottom, the down tube is made of two flanges that are joined near the bottom bracket, held together by a hinged clamp that bolts around the circumference of the tube. Ritchey supplies a 4mm torque key when you buy the frame so you don’t have to worry about over-tightening this clamp.
The placement of these two connecting joints is similar to S&S couplings, but much lighter and does not require a special tool. Ritchey claims that the Break-Away system only adds 100g to the overall weight of the frame.
Cabling on the Ritchey Break-Away frame is external and makes cable maintenance much easier. It also makes it simpler to disconnect cables for packing, which is the primary reason for routing everything externally. The cable splitters are lightweight screw-in connectors that take seconds to undo for packing and reconnect when you’re ready to ride.
Ritchey Break-Away Cross frame geometry
The design of the Ritchey Break-Away Cross frame leans more towards a race-oriented geometry with a reduced head tube length for a lower stack, but it is also to ensure that the split frame is able to fit into a suitcase. Five sizes are available ranging from XS to XL. Below is Ritchey’s complete measurement guide.
My height measures at 1.72m which puts me between a frame size of either S or M. I opted to go with the S frame size as I already planned on using handlebars with a long reach, and it is much easier to increase the stack and reach of a smaller frame if needed rather than going the other way around.
Additional frame details
Front fork: WCS carbon fork
Headset: WCS integrated drop in cross headset
Rack attachment points: Rack eyelets on seat stays
Front derailleur clamp: 28.6mm (max torque of 2.5Nm)
Seat post size: 27.2mm
Bottom bracket: 68mm English threaded
Brake mount points: Cantilever studs
Frame weight with fork: 2.67kg (5.9lbs) for size M
The Ritchey Break-Away Cross Build
There are as many ways to build this bike as there are different ways to make pasta sauce or fried rice. Since I had plans to make this bike be my primary ride, I wanted to put together a build that is versatile and also friendly for packing when it’s time to travel.
Since we are based in Malaysia, we got our frames from Bike Pro which is very close to our local neighborhood around Kuala Lumpur.
Eka’s Steel Cross Build
To me, the perfect bike for travel would be fairly easy to maintain and also to pack and unpack. I decided to put together my build using the SRAM eTap drivetrain for a clean setup without any derailleur cables. Only the rear brake cable is present along the frame and therefore only uses a single cable splitter. I also decided to go with a sub-compact chainring that’s better suited to a larger tire circumference and slightly lower gearing across all cogs in the cassette. It’s going to be an adventure touring bike after all!
Frame size: S (50cm)
Handlebar: 3T Aeronova LTD Stealth 40cm
Stem: 3T Arx II 90mm
Seatpost: Ritchey Superlogic Link 27.2mm
Saddle: Brooks C13 Carved 148mm or S-Works Power
Brakes: Paul Minimoto mini v-brakes with Gevenalle Ti brake pads
Crankset: Praxis Works Zayante Carbon 48/32
Shifters: SRAM Red eTap 2x11
Derailleurs: SRAM Red eTap 11-speed (Standard, not WiFli)
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra R8000 11-30 (Yes, this works!)
Wheels: Campagnolo Bora One 35 or Campagnolo Shamal Mille
Tires: Challenge Strada Bianca 30mm
Pedals: Look X-Track Race Carbon
The total weight of this build including pedals: 8.5kg (18.7lbs) - (8.4kg if using S-Works saddle)
Nadiah’s Steel Cross Build
Nadiah chose to go with a more classic look with silver polished parts from Campagnolo. Her build uses the Campagnolo Potenza mechanical drivetrain, with a really beautiful polished silver crankset that stands out from the green frame. And to be honest, the two derailleur cables are still straightforward to manage along the downtube when it’s time to pack or unpack the bike.
Frame size: XS (48cm)
Handlebar: Ritchey WCS Carbon Streem 40cm
Stem: Ritchey WCS 70mm
Seatpost: Syncros Inline 27.2mm
Saddle: Fizik Luce
Brakes: TRP CX 8.4
Crankset: Campagnolo Potenza 50/34
Shifters: Campagnolo Potenza 2x11
Derailleurs: Campagnolo Potenza 11-speed
Cassette: Campagnolo 11-32
Wheels: Campagnolo Zonda
Tires: Panaracer GravelKing 32mm
Pedals: Shimano XTR M9020
The total weight of this build including pedals: 8.8kg (19.4lbs)
The Ride Quality
If nobody told you that the Ritchey Break-Away frame is actually made of two separate triangles that bind together, you wouldn’t feel the slightest difference when compared to a regular non-separating frame. In fact, Ritchey’s heat treated CrMo butted steel tubing gives a wonderful ride experience that is one of the nicest I’ve tried. That’s what you get from one of the pioneers in the business, and there’s quite a bit of heritage and prestige from Tom Ritchey’s name himself. And the classic British racing green and yellow colors on the frame just look awesome!
The frame of the Ritchey Break-Away has all the characteristics that make a great steel bike: springy, lively, and stiff enough to handle sprints without brake or derailleur rub. When riding the bike over less-than-smooth surfaces, which is pretty much any other road in Malaysia, there’s enough dampening to keep me planted in the saddle without knocking me around like a bag of rattling bones. I’ve gone downhill at high speeds over extra bumpy and gravelly roads, and also riding through long stretches of coastal dirt and gravel paths. In all scenarios, the geometry and vibration dampening of the bike gave no surprises. It performed consistently and comfortably with predictable handling and cornering.
For those looking for a lightweight and super stiff bike for climbing and sprinting, this isn’t that kind of bike. What it is though, is a sublime nod to the classic racing days of steel paired with a healthy dose of freedom to go explore.
You’re not going to be the absolute fastest in the peloton, but you’ll probably be the one having the most fun. When you’re out there exploring, you don’t really want the journey to end quickly. Take those extra turns. Go further down that dirt path in search of new routes. Have a blast!
And as this is a cross frame, the tubing is slightly beefier compared to its road focused counterpart, which means it’ll take all the abuse you can throw it at when you go for an adventure tour through whatever gnarly path you choose. As long as you’ve got the right tires for the job, this beautiful bike will handle just about anything. The attachment points for a rear rack also speak volumes of this bike’s versatility and makes it perfectly suited for touring as well.
It’s the perfect all-road touring bike that is highly versatile and packs into a suitcase. Ride it for racing days. Ride it for training days. Ride it for touring days. Ride it for whatever you feel like! If you’ve got multiple wheelsets with different tire widths and types, you are guaranteed to have tons of fun!
At the time of this post, I have ridden the Ritchey Break-Away Cross for more than 2,300kms ever since it was built up in mid September 2018. That’s five months, and it has been an absolute joy to ride so far without any problems. This frame is built to last and we’ve just barely scratched the surface of where it’ll be traveling to next.
Highs: Awesome ride quality that you’d expect from good steel. Wonderfully comfortable for long distances and long days on the saddle, even with the rough stuff. Can be packed into a suitcase for travel with minimal airport and transport hassles.
Lows: Could be lighter. Slightly heavier compared to other modern steel tubes and frames. But honestly, unless you are a weight weenie, this shouldn’t matter as much because the ride comfort is awesome.
Verdict: Perfect all-road adventure bike that you can bring with you for all your travels, especially if you go to places requiring air travel multiple times a year.