What I want in a bike, I’ve always thought, is quite simple. I want the bike to feel alive. I want the bike to feel like it punches through the air with the dexterity of a boxer at the height of competition. And if I’m totally honest? I really want my bike to feel a little bit angry.
Those aren't unique requests, nor are they so hard to answer – but I find a lot of women’s bikes are lacking. They’re light and fast up the hills but that snap I’m looking for often isn’t there. Not so with the Ridley Jane SL - despite her demure name, she's got smashy ride quality (not sure that's the technical term) in abundance.
With a frame that’s identical to the unisex Ridley Noah SL, the Jane SL is the aero road bike that’s ridden by Lotto Soudal, Lotto Soudal ladies – and I imagine will be the machine of choice for WM3 Pro Cycling and indeed Marianne Vos.
For a bike I can’t help but regard as ‘a little bit Colgate’ in colour scheme, with a name that kind of reminds me of a long lost aunt, I’ve fallen in love with the Ridley Jane SL rather a lot. That’s not to say it’s the perfect bike for everybody, but man is it a stunning ride for me. If you like a bike that punches as hard as you tell it to, and won’t dampen out the feel of the road one little bit for your derriere, then the Jane might be for you.
Ride Quality of the Ridley Jane SL
If, judging by my introduction, you’re anticipating paragraphs of praise here you’d be right. The Jane SL felt fast from the moment I got on it. And just to sweep aside any confusion: you don't have to be fast to want to feel fast. Fast is relative; you don't need to be achieving Gold Standard average speeds to justify wanting a bike like this.
Aero bikes sometimes have a bad rep for being heavy, but with a claimed frame weight under a kilo (made from a of 60T-40T-30T unidirectional carbon blend) the Jane SL is hardly burly and she felt great on the climbs to me. Accelerations were exactly how I want them to be, and the bike responded instantly when I jumped out the saddle. The only thing ever holding me back was my legs.
I've started riding with a new cycling club recently, and quite frankly they're a lot faster than me. I'm just about clinging on. As a result, I spent a lot of time riding this bike in a bunch at a speed that was slightly over my comfort level for the distances in mind. However, corners were smooth and fast and I was never worried that I’d pushed too hard into a bend. In fact, I felt extremely in control and aware of the positive effect tiny shifts in body weight had upon the handling.
If you’re after a comfortable ride, the Ridley Jane SL is probably not for you. You’ll feel the road, the lumps and the bumps and the gravely sections. Ridges in the surface of the tarmac were jarring - there's no doubt about it. However, for me this is all part of the joy of the ride and I could easily rack up over 80 miles without feeling that dampening the fatigue created by bumpy UK rides was worth sacrificing stiffness over.
Stand out features of the Ridley Jane SL
Wind resistance is the greatest enemy to a rider who wants to go fast – and the Jane SL is dripping with features designed to reduce drag. Number one – and the element that was most picked up on by my riding buddies, is the F-Splitfork. A long standing Ridley party trick, the double blades are designed to move air away from the wheel as it turns – therefore creating a vacuum and in theory reducing air resistance, apparently by 8 per cent.
Sticking with the ‘F’ (fast?) theme, all of the Jane SL models can boast ‘F-Surface+’ technology. Textured channels have been moulded into the frame, to further 'trip' airflow and push it around the tube shape to allow for faster movement. Again, it’s promised this can reduce drag by 7 per cent.
The seat tube curves to mirror the shape of the rear wheel and reduce the gap between the two, as you’d expect from an aero frame – though this still leaves room for the 25mm tyres the Jane SL comes specced with. The brakes are hidden from airflow, though still mounted on the seatstays and not hidden on the chainstays as per traditional aero bikes. The seatpost is an aero shape and zero offset. Whilst the zero offset can offer a more time trial specific position if required, the shape does make micro adjustments a little more difficult for someone who is just never happy with their saddle height. The seat stays are low, also promising greater aero gains, and the fork crown is integrated into the frame, to reduce drag at the front.
All of these aero features are great, but though ‘every little helps’, I question their actual relevance for most riders who could make greater improvements by adjusting their position.
Though 70 to 90 per cent of overall resistance felt by a rider on a flat road comes from wind resistance, about 80 per cent of the drag created by a bike and rider duo comes from the rider. Narrower handlebars, riding low, dipping your head into what’s called the ‘turtle position’ and keeping your elbows in are all things you can do for free, potentially having a pretty huge effect on overall drag and thus speed. For all of those reasons, though the aero features are ‘interesting’ I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy an aero road bike, nor would I buy a bike because it was aero. I’d buy this bike because it’s stiff and fun to ride.
All of this said, there are exceptions to the above. If time trials are on your 'to do' list and you can't justify furnishing your collection with a time trial bike as well, the features of the Jane SL could account for valuable seconds which could well move you further up the results list. And the same applies if you're a road racer keen to break away, or a sprinter for whom the differance between winning and losing is a hairs width. Just make sure you tuck your head and elbows in, too.
Geometry of the Ridley Jane SL
The frame on offer here is no different to that ridden by the top World Tour teams that Ridley sponsor: Lotto Soudal, Lotto Soudal Ladies and as of this year WM3 Pro Cycling.
In terms of what sets Ms Jane apart from Mr Noah, you'll find narrower handlebars, a women's saddle, plus a shorter stem. My XSmall came with an 80mm, which I swapped for the test to allow for a position that offered better handling. I do find claiming that women don't need anything different in a frame, and don't require a shorter reach, then fitting a shorter stem to be quite a contradiction. However, in creating a full women's offering it's good to see the Belgium brand are well aware of the growing women's market and keen to cater for her.
When I reviewed the Ridley Liz SL, I was surprised to note the geometry on the slightly more endurance focused model didn’t differ too greatly from the Jane – with a similar stack and reach (Jane SL in XS Stack: 527 / Reach: 374, Liz SL in XS Stack: 524 / Reach: 375). I wondered how different the two bikes could really be – but you only have to look at them together to understand. The Liz is characterised by chunky aero tubing – the downtube is wide and flat – and it becomes fatter as it descends to the PressFit-30 Bottom Bracket, promising stiffness in abundance.
The head tube length of the Jane SL is actually a couple millimetres longer than the Ridley Liz SL, whilst the angle is the same. As per all of the bikes in the range, there’s a lot of adjustability so you can drop the handlebars to a low and racey position if you want to. I certainly didn't feel the need to slam the stem all the way to find a position that felt aggressive. A fairly short wheelbase, created largely by shorter chainstays, adds to the nippiness of the ride.
Specification on the Ridley Jane SL
- Jane SL SRAM Red eTap - £5,999.99
- Jane SL SRAM Red - £4,599.99
- Jane SL Dura-Ace - £4,399.99
- Jane SL Ultegra Di2 - £4,199.99
- Jane SL Ultegra 6800 - £3,399.99
The Ridley Jane SL starts at £3,399 for the Ultegra 6800 model which I rode. However, there’s also a selection of Ridley Jane (non SL) models that start at £2,499.99, sharing the same geometry minus a couple of design features.
Shimano Ultegra is Shimano Ultegra – of course it works beautifully, shifting is smooth and Ridley haven’t skimped on the brakes which match the groupset – though the cassette is Shimano 105 and chain is KMC X11.
In terms of gearing, Ridley have opted for a mid compact 52/36 paired with an 11-28 cassette. The Ridley’s are the first women’s bikes I’ve tested without a compact (50/34) – that means you get a slightly bigger gear when you want to churn but your smallest gear isn’t quite as easy to spin up the hills. Personally, I had no problem on Caterham’s 20 per cent slopes and barely noticed the difference, though I’d be more cautious swapping the cassette to an 11-25 as I would on any compact equipped bike come summer.
I do have a couple of minor criticisms. Firstly, Ridley's own brand 4ZA Stratos handlebars are quite straight in the drop - they don’t curve so nicely under the shifters. Initially, I had genuine issues braking on descents, until I wound the shifters in to bring them closer to the bars so that my 'little lady hands' could actually reach.
Secondly – the Continental Ultrasport 25mm tyres that sit upon the Fulcrum Racing Aero wheelset: I’m not a fan. They’re pretty cheap tyres, and though I’m sure they’d be fine on the sunny days this bike is probably designed for, I nearly lost it on two greasy days when I dared to use my back brake – no more aggressively than I would normally.
On a completely aesthetic level - I'm really not a fan of the mint green, and less so the baby pink on offer. The stand out model in my mind is the Ridely Jane Ultrgra Di2 - a superficial part of me would part with the extra cash just to enjoy that stealthy black paint job with its subtle purple hints.
Verdict on the Ridley Jane SL
This is probably not a bike for everybody. However, if you've got a love of speed and want a bike that feels quick beneath you, then it's well worth putting any misconceptions you might have about the name 'Jane' behind you and taking this bike for a spin. Scathing as I may have been about the aerodynamic features, if you intend to enter the odd 'race of truth' and don't have the budget for a time trial bike as well as a road bike, you could genuinely find valuable seconds in the aero features, too.
Interested? Check out the range here.