21 February, 2017

ALMA, For the fastest

Alma is for the the quickest lap times and the steepest climbs. Alma is for the strongest accelerations and highest altitudes. Alma is for the biggest stages, the loudest fans and the toughest riders. Alma is for the fiercest competitors, the athletes who accept nothing less than superlatives.

To many, the cross country hardtail is the purest expression of the mountain bike – A minimalist frame, maybe a suspension fork, just enough comfort and control to carry a rider between points A and B at maximum speed. Even with increasingly demanding World Cup XC courses, the carbon hardtail is still the ubiquitous symbol of racing. It’s a bike that offers everything you need to win and nothing you don’t.

Alma and Orbea are no strangers to this vision and have experienced unusual success from the start – Three generations of Alma have won World Cups, World Championships and even Olympic gold. When Alma first took the stage in 2006, doubters of the uncommon 29” wheel scratched their heads when we launched the first mass-production carbon monocoque 29er alongside Alma 26. We cautiously offered the frame in only one size, but it firmly established Alma’s mantra of looking forward to see where time could be saved and races could be decided.

Years later as 29ers came to dominate the world of XC, Alma seized a growing opportunity with 27.5 wheels to create the Big Wheels Concept. BWC offers SM and MD Alma frames with 27.5 wheels to help shorter racers achieve the low handlebar position and aggressive fit they need but can’t manage with 29. Alma has never been “one size fits all.” Whether leading trends or leading the pack, Alma has put racing efficiency at the forefront and has become synonymous with ten years of evolution in XC Racing.

All of this brings us to the fourth generation of Alma. The huge advances have been made some time ago. XC frames have become so light, stiff and comfortable that it’s difficult to imagine racing on the frames that were available in 2010. Advances in carbon technology allow many companies to offer exceptional frames, so what makes the 2017 Alma a standout among thoroughbreds? It’s simple. Alma is about refining what was already excellent and looking ahead to offer more speed. Alma isn’t just a frame or a wheelsize. Alma is an XC Racing philosophy that can pull back seconds or even minutes on any terrain.

When a few fleeting seconds separate fast from faster, Alma is for the fastest.

Alma blends weight, stiffness and comfort because an efficient bike is the fastest bike

They say it’s the rider and not the bike. While this pearl of wisdom is true to an extent, it denies the fact that not all cross country race bikes are created equally. The best bike is not only light, stiff, or comfortable. We believe it’s a combination of all of those things. Among competitive riders with similar fitness, choosing a bike that sacrifices or ignores any of these three aspects can mean the difference between winning and losing.

This balancing act was the primary design focus of the new Alma. We decided early on that the biggest performance gains would come from increasing torsional stiffness and frame toughness. By changing carbon manufacturing techniques and carbon layups, we realized a small weight improvement while significantly reducing torsional flex. Alma’s weight loss of 30g or so is reasonable by itself but when paired with a 20% stiffer front end, the increased precision and improved tracking is noticeable on the trail. Our own testing protocols (there are over two dozen tests we perform in our factory beyond those required for certification) revealed that the changes resulted in a stronger frame as well. Orbea offers a lifetime warranty regardless, but knowing a mountain bike that will be subject to unpredictable impacts and stresses is tougher and more resilient brings peace of mind to you and to us.

Stiffness is important but as stated earlier, it’s nothing without comfort. How did we improve Alma’s impressive ride quality? We have named this concept of a rigid-yet-compliant frame Dynamic Structure and divided the frame into top and bottom halves. With regards to stiffness, we evaluate the lower “spine” of the Alma – the way the head tube flows into the downtube, the form of the bottom bracket and sections of the chainstays are the key factors. By giving this spine larger cross sections and directional shaping we can tune how rigid Alma is. For improved compliance, we turn to the upper half of the frame. The seat stays of the new Almaare thinner, the cross sections and diameters reduced to provide graceful support for the seat tube and nothing more. The top tube has been flattened to increase the effectiveness of the 4×4 bend near the seat tube. The natural flex patterns of these lighter and flatter shapes deliver a dynamic, smooth ride that feels like floating over rough terrain.

The aforementioned bend in the top tube is key – 4×4 is much more than aesthetic. To take further advantage of the Dynamic Structure principle and improve compliance in the top of the frame, Alma adds a 4th point to the front triangle right in front of the seat tube. This deceptively simple technology dramatically increases the smoothness of the structure under load. Creating a natural flex point in the top tube by adding a fourth bend allows the top tube to “extend” ever so slightly. While it’s not something that can be seen normally, the engineering principle is backed up by real-world testing when we apply force to the seat post and observe how much the post deflects in the new Alma compared to the last generation or to the frames of our competitors. The new Alma is stiffer laterally, a few grams lighter and an appreciable 10% more compliant than the previous model.

Pleasing All the Riders, All the Time

Suspension forks are the preference of most cross country racers. But the fact remains there are many folks out there who love the low weight, simplicity and precision of a rigid fork. For those riders we proudly introduce Spirt.

Spirit may seem esoteric – we’re sure that the number crunchers will tell us it’s a risk. But for us, the philosophies of Spirit and Alma go hand in hand. For the riders who love the idea of an 8kg mountain bike that is perfect for smoother tracks, a carbon fork tuned specifically for Alma isn’t just “nice,” it becomes essential.

The first drawings of Spirit looked very much like the final product but at some point in the design process we became obsessed with making Spirit much, much more than a beautiful fork for Alma. What about riders who might be interested in an aftermarket Spirit for their own bikes? Alma, like all our mountain range, takes advantage of 110mm Boost spacing for the stiffness it offers. Boost-only would limit the number of riders who could use the fork with their older wheel sets. And was there a way to fit a wide tire without compromise? The final version of Spirit has clearance for substantial 2.8” tires and makes use of a clever brake adapter kit to offer compatibility with Boost or traditional 15x100mm spacing. In keeping with our BWC geometry, Spirit is available in both 27.5 and 29 sizes. And at 575g including brake mounting parts, Spirit gives up nothing to the competition.

So even though Spirit was designed for Alma, Spirit is compatible with just about any tapered headtube hardtail and is available through the MyO custom graphics program… pick any of a dozen colors in hundreds of combinations to match your trusty rig. It’s a little bit of Alma for every bike.

What is the best geometry for converting sweat into watts?

Alma’s World Cup Geometry is born from years of designing world-class XC bikes. The position is aggressive, comfortable and fast. Unlike trail geometry that sacrifices some precision for endurance, XC geometry is aimed at maximum power transfer. Angles and dimensions are considered carefully across a range of sizes, maximizing wattage by increasing efficiency.

The new Alma has shorter chainstays, lower stack heights and and a slightly lower bottom bracket to tackle the demands of steeper XC courses. Head angles are tuned for wheel size (27.5 or 29) but are generally getting slacker and slacker as drops, rocks and rooted chutes become more and more common in race track design.

Increasing rear axle spacing to Boost 148mm over the 142mm standard moves the chainline outboard by 3mm, increasing the space available at the bottom bracket. Tire clearance is increased and there is more room for larger chainrings and a front derailleur. The new Alma can fit 2.4 tires with adequate clearance, which is a boon in sloppy conditions and gives an added level of flexibility. An integrated chain retention device called Chain Security comes in 1x and 2x configurations to reduce the risk of chain suck or losing a chain on single ring setups. Additionally, the switch to Boost brings through-axles front and rear for the absolute best tracking and braking characteristics.

All of it means Alma is the fastest XC bike we’ve ever created.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Alma is the choice of elite racers and riders who demand the most refined bike with the best erformance – athletes who are looking for leading technology and style and appreciate a bike that stands out. Alma is the racing bicycle of Team Luna Chix and anyone else who wants to be the fastest.