If you're in the market for a good bike that's had a fair dollop of R&D money spent on its development Orbea's Onix may not be the first machine you would think of, but maybe it should be.
Baby brother to Orbea's range-topping Orca model the Onix benefits from the same SSN (Size Specific Nerve) technology – basically what that means is that each frame size has been tuned in terms of wall thickness, tube profile, and geometry to deliver a standard ride ride across the range.
Orbea aren't alone in doing this – Storck frames are put together on similar lines and the latest Trek Madones feature ControlCore a size-specific seat lug/top tube section that gets larger in diameter and stiffness as frame size increases again with the intention of tuning the ride characteristics to that different sized riders expeience the same sort of ride. Where Orbea score is that they were one of the first companies to start building their bikes like this, that they optimise the entire mainframe in this way, and that they offer this technology further down their range than simply the flagship model.
No arguments that the Onix Tour delivers a fine riding experience, the only real strikes against it are that it isn't the lightest and that once you've spent the money on some new wheels – to get the weight down, the frame itself is hardly lardy (the frameset: frame, fork headset, seat clamp weighs in at approx 1.2kg depending on frame size, says Orbea), you might be in the same ball park as a Trek Madone 5.2 – okay, built up with Shimano 105, but then also a sub-17lb bike with offer of more weight to drop; or a Giant TCR Advanced, or indeed a very lovely Orbea Orca Evo…
One other area where the Onix may suffer is that like almost every other bike on the market – it's price just went up, in its case by nearly £500 which means us consumers will have to re-calibrate what we expect from a bike costing a penny short of £2,000.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? yes
Would you consider buying the bike? yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? yes
Overall verdict: Well thought out, well put together bike that needs better wheels to realise its full potential
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Make and model: Orbea Onix
Size tested: 54cm
Weight: 74kg (ish)
I usually ride: Ridgeback Genesis Day 03
My best bike is: Whatever I'm testing at the moment
I've been riding for: Over 20 years
I ride: Every day
I would class myself as a: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, sportives
Frame material: Carbon Fibre
Frame construction: Monococue
Fork Material: Carbon Fibre
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
According to Orbea the Onix is aimed at the performance rider who wants a bike with the core attributes of their flagship Orca, but who maybe can't afford the price tag. At heart it's a race-capable machine, but it's also suitable for sportives or simply fast leisure or fitness riding.
I'd say that is just about spot-on - it is a race bike (although I'm guessing the keen racer would probably swap out the wheels) but it's most likely to be bought by someone who wants a good bike (and by that I mean a properly thought out machine that's the result of a fair heft of R&D rather than another 'me too' carbon clone), who doesn't need (or can't afford) to go ultra high end, but nonetheless wants a bike that will hold its own and be a good performer in something like a sportif a longer club run, or just a big day ride… and that could do the same in a race if needs be.
Tell us some more about the frame and fork. Any other comments on build, materials, geometry, finish?
From a performance point of view the least important thing about it is that it is easy on the eye… but it can't hurt can it? More importantly perhaps, its a carbon monocoque made from T700 carbon fibre, T700 is pretty good stuff the 'T' stands for Toracya one of the world's top composite produces, T700 sits at about the mid-point of their range (the Orca is made from Toray's top end M40J and high-modulus M30S), but it's more than good enough for Orbea to feel conifident in giving the Onix frame a lifetime warranty.
The other really big deal about the frame is that like its big brother, the Orca, it benefits from Orbea's SSN Technology (that's Size Specific Nerve) and essentially it means that the tube profiles and geometry of every frame are tailored to give the optimum balance of stiffness and comfort - so that a 60cm Onix rides the same as a 48cm. While they might all look the same on the outside cut an Onix in half and you would see marked differences in tube thickness and profile between the sizes. In effect each size Onix is almost a separate design in it's own right.
So, does all this SSN tech work you ask? In all honesty I don't know, I only rode the 54cm and to be able to give you a definitive answer I'd have had to ride some of the other sizes and shrunk or grown myself to fit… something that is currently beyond my abilities …
What I can tell you that that was a sweet machine and that Orbea's chief desinger Miriam Bengoetxea really knows her stuff - her work certainly seems to have influenced other bike manufacturers… to my eyes the latest Madone has a bit of the Orca about it.
Other touches the Onix shares with the Orca are the very nifty headbadge, cum cable guide and a pair of light weight dropouts. The fork is a straight bladed affair with enough meat and stiffness to track consistently over most road surfaces and in all but the most extreme conditions while doing a more than reasonable job of filtering out road buzz.
Tell us about the bike spec. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: ORBEA ONIX
Fork: ORBEA ZICCS AC
Crankset: SHIMANO ULTEGRA 34x50
Headset: 1 1/8 INTEGRATED
Handlebar: ZEUS CAT-II
Stem: ZEUS CAT-II
Levers: SHIMANO ULTEGRA
Brakes: SHIMANO ULTEGRA
Rear Derailleur: SHIMANO ULTEGRA
Front Derailleur: SHIMANO ULTEGRA
Wheels: SHIMANO RS20
Cassete: SHIMANO 105 12-25 10S
Tyres: VITTORIA RUBINO 700x23
Seat Post: ORBEA CARBON
Saddle: SELLE SLK SPECIAL EDIT
Pedal: LOOK KEO EASY
Sizing and fit: how was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did you find it, and why did you think that was?
As good as it gets for me. I'm an awkward shape for most off the peg bikes - long torso short legs. The problem I usually have with bikes is that if they are the right height they are too short in the top tube, but if they are the right length they are too high, but the Onix did the trick, if I'd had more time on it I might have been tempted to experiment with a shorter stem and play about with the stack height of the spacers because at first it just felt a few millimetres too long. If I'd been buying an Onix, the shop would probably have swapped the stem for a shorter one without any problem. The position is fairly stretched definitely at the racier end of the spectrum but I didn't find it at all uncomfortable on longer rides.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel?: Yeah a bit
If there was, was it a problem?
Only in certain circumstances such as turning out from a junction in icy weather with my lead foot unclipped and sitting a touch further forward on the pedal, not a problem once I remembered to keep my foot back, but then also just the situation where you don't want your foot interfering with the wheel.
Comfort and efficiency: was the bike stiff? Was it comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride.
Stiff in the right places, but comfortable where it counted. I did two long rides on the Onix and came back from both feeling as fresh as I had a right too. It was also pleasingly responsive for a bike weighing 19lb the frame transferring all of the legendary Farrelly kick to the back wheel instantly, an especially fuss-free climber too.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive?: Neutral
Tell us some more about the ride and handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well (or badly)?
What I liked most about the Orbea is that it's a bike that is not going to throw you any surprises in the handling stakes - a good thing in the best of conditions but a lifesaver when you're testing a bike on ice covered roads.
It's not twitchy, it is dependable: a bike who's limits you'd feel comfortable exploring. In my case I reckon my nerve would give out before the Onix did. If I had to level one criticism of the Onix it's that out of the box performance perhaps lacks a little excitment, although for a bike that weighs 19lb it does have an unexpected kick on the hills which hints at the promise of a livelier ride with a different wheelset.
How would different component choices have altered the ride and handling? Tell us if you would have changed anything to improve
See above, a lighter set of wheels and better tyres would I think add some extra zip (pardon the pun) the to the Onix's performance combine those upgrades with the efficiency of the frame's power transfer and its innate handling capabilities and the Onix would start to look pretty much the complete package.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I'm a big fan of Ultregra SL, in terms of bang per buck I don't think you can beat it, the brakes and shifters work superbly and the only thing that I'd envy about Dura Ace is the shape of the new 7900 hoods.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels
I've given the wheels a six for performance - they are okay, and they certainly didn't let me or the bike down during the test period. However, for the Onix to achieve its full potential it needs a better wheelset. If I was buying I would keep these as my training wheels and upgrade immediately to something like the Shimano RS80s which would set you back another £389.
No doubt about it though the wheels are durable - which is why I'd save them for training and Winter! Unlike Test Pilot 1 I don't have a major gripe with the Vittoria Rubino tyres - I've ridden far worse, but I am slightly surprised to see them on a bike that costs nearly two grand - it may be a factor of the current problems with exchange rates and the like but I would normally expect to see these tyres as standard on bikes costing between £1,000 and £1300.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smalle
Crisp, powerful controllable braking - not as light as Dura Ace, but not that much heavier either. Shifting was fuss free even under pressure and it all worked straight from the box with no fettling and none needed during the test period either. The handlbars were comfortable and offered a good variety of handholds and I certainly didn't feel cramped up when down on the drops.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Comfortable saddle. Stiff stem.
ONIX FRAME £1,099
ONIX BIRA £1,499
ONIX GIRO CT £1,799
ONIX TOUR £1,999
ONIX CENTAUR £2,399
ONIX DURA ACE £3,199
ONIX DAMA TOUR £2,149
ONIX D. TOUR 46 £2,309
ONIX DAMA BIRA £1,689
ONIX D.BIRA 46 £1,689
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.