Ritchey Outback test: The second version of the Ritchey gravel bike is an old friend, although refreshed with a new paint job and the first mechanical 1×12 groupset from SRAM. Garnished with the brand's components, the result is a classic-looking, yet ultra-modern off-road racer that is as suitable for bikepacking as it is sporty.
Tom Ritchey has been in the business as a frame builder for half a century. During this time he remained largely true to the material of his early years; with a few exceptions, only steel frames bear his logo. And even though Ritchey is now primarily known as a supplier of add-on parts, it's worth taking a look at its range from time to time, especially from a gravel perspective, which of course only changes slowly.
Take the Ritchey Outback: presented as the brand's first gravel bike at the end of 2017, it was too sporty for some bikepackers at the time. The geometry was very much based on the crosser, and mounting options were in short supply. Around two years later, the new version came onto the market and nothing has changed to this day - apart from the fact that Ritchey launched a special paint job in spring 2023 to mark the company's 50th anniversary. A good opportunity to see the outback again!
Ritchey Outback – steel gravel bike with many mounting points
The new version of the steel gravel bike has received numerous mounting points, so that you can now mount fork mounts, mudguards and a luggage rack. And the geometry has changed so much from the first to the second generation of models that you can almost call it a new frame. The seat and steering angles have become flatter, the wheelbase has grown by around 30 mm, half of which is due to the now whopping 453 mm long chainstays. On most gravel bikes they are 2 to 3 cm shorter. The tire clearance is stated as 48/51 mm (28/27,5 inches). The bottom bracket height is tailored to 650B tires (27,5 inches), which is a few millimeters larger than most other frames. This means that the bottom bracket is high enough above the ground even with a smaller wheel diameter.
All of these data speak for a smooth-running touring bike for bikepacking use. In fact, the Outback rolls extremely stable in a straight line, especially at high speeds, and does not allow itself to be thrown off course by longitudinal grooves on poor surfaces. But that's only one side. The Ritchey is at the same time extremely handy, responds readily to steering commands and also feels extremely quick when accelerating. Circling around boulders on the path at slow speeds is no problem; On the hill at pedestrian speed, the bike drives straight ahead without having to take corrective action.
Very climbable thanks to long chainstays
The long wheelbase also comes in handy on steep sections, as it ensures that you sit “in” the bike rather than on it. Thanks to the long chainstays, the rider's center of gravity is a little further forward - so with double-digit inclines and strong pedaling, the front wheel is less likely to lose contact with the ground than with shorter frames.
The Ritchey responds to powerful accelerations with solid propulsion, although of course the bike cannot be accelerated quite as smoothly as a light, super-stiff carbon model. The Outback is definitely stiff enough for a gravel bike. Last but not least, the brand's steel frames are still used today in cyclocross, where people constantly compete at full strength.
The other side is the Outback's high level of driving comfort. The bike feels extremely smooth and seems to noticeably dampen vibrations. It goes without saying that a slim steel frame is less hard than an aluminum model with large tubes; The extended carbon seat post also contributes to the comfortable character.
Ritchey components and new SRAM Apex 12
Like pretty much all components on the Outback, the support bears the Ritchey logo. What's interesting is the not-too-wide handlebar, which, with less deep, slightly angled handlebar arches ("flare") and slightly outwardly curved handlebar ends, is very comfortable to grip on the lower handlebars over longer distances. Ritchey also supplies the wheelset. The WCS Zeta GX Disc comes with wide rims tailored to typical gravel tires (25 mm inner width) and is built by hand with classic cranked round spokes - aerodynamics are not a big issue here. One of the good things about the wheelset is a toothed disc freewheel; In combination with tubeless, fast Schwalbe tires, the weight is also okay.
Since Ritchey only offers frame sets, each complete bike is an example of the many possibilities that the structure offers. The Velomotion model is equipped with the new SRAM Apex 12 in the mechanical version, which definitely suits the old-school character of the steel racer. With a modernized lever shape, even smoother gear changes and better braking performance, the inexpensive groupset is a very good choice; 11-44 cassette and 40 chainring result in a large gear range. SRAM also releases the gearshift for the 10-36 cassette of the 2×12 groupset for racing bikes and gravel bikes, thus closing the gap between mechanical and electronic gearshifting.
Including the bottom bracket, the new component group weighs just under three kilos, which is of course not exactly light. The Ritchey frame weighs a good 2,2 kilos, the fork around 450 grams, and the wheelset weighs around 2.900 grams without the cassette and brake discs. Without pedals, the complete bike weighs just under 9,8 kilos - a good kilo more than comparably equipped carbon ones -Graveller. In view of the excellent driving characteristics, this aspect takes a back seat; In addition, the bike could of course be built with lighter components.
However, electronic gearshift groups don't really fit the Outback, which brings us to the only point of criticism - the relocation of the gearshift cable. Running this openly on the top tube and then along the seat stay is a relic from cross-country sports, but it makes no sense at all on a gravel bike.
Unfavorable routing of the shift cable
The assembly of a top tube bag is made more difficult; Due to the unfavorable position of the front counter-holder on the top tube, the gear cable either has to be routed in a tight curve or it constantly rubs against the top tube. And it doesn't look nice how the cable runs along the slim rear strut. So there are good reasons for running the shifter cable parallel to the brake line on the down tube, and the front brake line could have been routed through the fork leg instead of outside.
Luckily, anyone sitting on the Ritchey Outback doesn't notice much of this, but can concentrate on the route and enjoy the harmonious character of the steel Graveller. The investment required? The frame set costs just under 1.600 euros; The complete bike tested costs around 3.500 euros. Of course, it's also cheaper with other components and wheels - a nice bike will definitely be created based on the Ritchey Outback.