Build: Ritchey Break-Away Outback x SRAM Force AXS

Welcome to the first edition of our bike build series. In this feature we will get the latest goods and/or fruitiest parts, then build up a unique frameset.

It generally takes some persuasion (and long meetings over several coffees) to get the brands involved, but in the end we get there. We’ll will aim to highlight the build process right through to the ride. Trust me: this is for you - we have to return (most) of the parts and bikes after the project! So, without further ado, here’s the first one:

We wanted to build a gravel bike that could travel anywhere; not only be ridden around local roads or chucked on your roof rack, but a bike that could be thrown under an airplane too - you know, without those pesky airline charges or having to haul a cardboard bike box around an airport. Yes, there are some good travel bike cases out there, but the airlines (especially abroad) will hit your credit card whenever they can. Last year, in America, I got charged with extra baggage fees a number of times.

Ritchey have, for a long time, offered a range of production travel framesets with the patented Break-Away design. Break-Away frames split at the top tube and seat tube junction, and again at the bottom of the down tube, near the bottom bracket. The down tube sections have tapered male and female ends to aid in alignment, and are held together with a simple metal clamp. Up top, the built-in seatpost collar serves double-duty as it also clamps the upper seat tube stub in place inside the end of the top tube. As you can tell, these framesets were made with the traveller in mind. The bike folds down into a case that looks similar to a large piece of luggage, rather than a bike bag. As we were searching for rugged adventure, we opted to build the Carbon Outback version.

SRAM’s new eTap AXS caught our eye recently. This groupset is wireless, which makes life super simple when building a custom bike. We opted for the Force eTap AXS - not only is it a little more affordable, it’s also cheaper than SRAM’s top-end RED eTap AXS for replacement parts (which matters when riding rough). The new Force eTap AXS groupset shares the same motors as RED, as well as the faster signal transfer and a new, more powerful chipset. However, it has been stripped back in other areas, such as the crank arms: RED features SRAM’s latest Exogram technology for superlight, hollow carbon arms, while Force uses a more modest (though still light) solid carbon construction.

We chose the 1x crankset system up front to make the shifting as efficient as possible when exploring heavily rutted backroads. SRAM’s X-Range gearing is designed to minimize the teeth between jumps while shifting. Next, we moved onto the the rear cage, which is a combination of a metal back plate and LFRT (long fibre-reinforced thermoplastic). To help with the larger shifting, the clever dudes at SRAM developed a smart Orbit system, which means you don’t need a clutch for chain retention. Keeping the chain taut is a must when it comes to riding on gravel, and the new Orbit system is said to reduce chain bounce. Speaking of the chain, it’s rather unique; it has a flat-topped profile and is made of ultra-bright Hard Chrome. This flat-top chain allows a wider gear range and gives it extra strength and durability. Again, ideal for our gravel bike build! Still at the rear, Force’s 12-speed cassette uses the pin-dome technology that was developed for SRAM’s 1x mountain bike cassettes. If you want a bigger range, you can use a mountain bike cassette and/or derailleur, as SRAM have developed a new AXS eTap range for mountain bikes too. This means you can now mix between the road and mountain groupsets.

SRAM’s Force eTap AXS HRD Shift-Brake system is responsible for stopping this rig. I like the fact that this system helps riders set their preferred finger position for engaging the brakes. You’ll also get SRAM’s CenterLine XR rotors, which have rounded edges to meet UCI compliance. Not that we need UCI sign off for our adventure rides!! We do, however, need ultimate stopping power and complete control when doing these adventure rides, and this is when hydraulic brakes with 160mm rotors come into their own.

Zipp’s SL components were employed for stem, handlebar and seatpost duties. The SL lineup is comprised of Zipp’s carbon components and are geared towards the road, cross, and ever-growing gravel segment. As the bars, stem and seatpost take a lot of impact on the rougher roads, you need the components to be reliable, robust, stiff and lightweight. So, on paper, these were well suited for our gravel bike build.

Onto the wheels and rubber: we used the Zipp 30 Course disc-brake wheelset as they are tough and affordable. Being tubeless was also key when putting together the build. Tubeless tyres offer lower tyre pressure and remove the risk of pinch flats. For the rubber, we laced Ritchey Speedmax Tyres to the Zipp 30 wheels. We knew the bike would be taken out on the harshest terrain we could throw at it, so we decided to fit 40c tyres, which just snuck into the frame.

The Build (notes from our mechanic – Cameron Mackenzie)

A lot of thought went into building up the Outback Breakaway. This was the first travel-specific bike I’d put together, so things like cable routing, cable lengths and working out how the brake line could be separated, all had to have more thought applied than usual.

Firstly, it was apparent that the frame was built for cable accentuated disc brakes and traditional gears. The box contained clever thread-together cable splitters, and lugs and drillings that were only suitable for an inner-outer cable combo. Thankfully, the wireless derailleur and shifters made the gear changing side of the equation a non-issue. As for the brakes, it was a case of making do with what we had. I don't think any of us had given much thought to the fact that hydro brakes weren’t suitable for this frame, due to the breakaway functionality.

SRAM’s connectamajig was the solution for splitting the brake line for travelling. The de-coupler style device needed to be positioned perfectly, as we didn’t want to have excess brake hose built into the system. Thankfully, we were able to switch the line around so it fitted flush to the lower frame clamp, rather than sitting up under the stem. We also had to drill the lugs under the frame so we could run the hose through them, rather than having to use additional clamps.

Aside from those thought provoking things, the rest of the build was perfectly straight forward. Zipp’s contact points went together seamlessly, (aside from the annoying T25 bolts). SRAM’s new 12-speed components and DUB bottom bracket system went together perfectly but the rolling changes, with ‘standards’ and new tool fittings, made life a little challenging when it came to cutting the flat-top 12-speed force chain and tightening up the DUB bottom bracket cups.

As a first time AXS user, syncing the derailleur with the shifters seemed illogical, and no amount of YouTube or Googling seemed to help. It was a mixture of pushing all the buttons and shifter paddles that made it jump to life. Thereafter, it worked well and was simple to tune, much like any other analogue s