The place to learn about triathlon.

Orbea: An Authentic Brand.


By Tom Demerly.
Orbea is cycling history: As one of the oldest brands in the sport Orbea has evolved from the turn of the century to remain a leader in competitive cycling, from Ironman Hawaii to the Tour de France.

1847. That was 164 years ago. The Orbea brothers from the Basque region of Spain began a tubing fabrication company that serviced, among others, the arms industry. That same year Samuel Colt sold the first revolver pistol to the U.S. government. A city in California named Yerba Buena is renamed “San Francisco” and the Mexican-American war is raging. It is also the year the United States issued its first postage stamps.

 When you consider the historic benchmarks of 1847 you begin to understand how significant Orbea is. It is that history, that experience, which helps establish Orbea as an authentic brand. It’s something that Trek, Specialized, Giant and the other companies can’t claim for another century.

“Trek, Specialized and Giant can’t claim the authenticity of Orbea.”

Few regions could have supported a racing bicycle company in 1930, when Orbea began using their advanced metal tubesets to build bicycles. But the Basque region of Spain is different. Basque cyclists are individuals, often on the fringe of society. It’s likely the Basques and the founders of Orbea began the current cycling ethos of fierce independence and the bicycle epitomized that. One person, one bike against the mountains and elements of Basque Pyrenees. That is the origin of Orbea. A society where cyclists are revered alongside saints, and cycling a metaphor for life’s struggles.

Orbea's early manufacturing facility in the Basque Pyrenees showed a high degree of sophistication even in the early 1900's.

While Orbea’s history is remarkable the more remarkable thing is that they have prospered. Today Orbea is a part of the largest collective on earth, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation. This organization is owned by its employees- in equal shares from CEO’s to sanitation workers. Mondragon controls enterprises in retail, banking, automotive, defense and education. The direction and decision making within the collective rely on the input of the workers. It seems like an odd paradox: a culture that reveres independence but embraces a level of cooperation unprecedented anywhere in global business.

Orbea is a natural brand for because of the company’s alignment with our own core values. They are almost precisely congruent: Social and environmental responsibility and a reverence for innovation and performance. Orbea, like TriSports, is headquartered in an area deeply immersed in cycling and endurance sports. The Basque region is home to 1500 cycling clubs and over 150 top professional cyclists. The top triathlete, Eneko Llanos, is a Basque sponsored by another Basque bike company, BH Bicycles. The top professional cycling team, Euskaltel-Euskadi is from the Basque region and rides Orbea.

The competitive success of Orbea sponsored teams like the top level Euskaltel-Euskadi Team with Haimar Zubeldia (center) have established the brand as a technology and competitive leader in Europe.

Historical legacy and competitive success aside Orbea makes valid bikes. Orbea models are developed and tested for up to two year before release, with competitive models used by their professional cycling teams and top pro triathletes.

Like all brands it has not always been smooth sailing. A recent sponsorship change with Ford Ironman World Champion and 70.3 Champion Craig Alexander raised eyebrows. Alexander won the Ford Ironman World Championships in 2009 on an Orbea, but then switched brands for his 2011 win. Alexander’s position changed conspicuously on his new bike after Orbea, an acknowledgement that Orbea’s primary legacy- and allegiance- is with the road cyclist. 

Orbea's success in time trials transfered to triathlon until steeper seat tube angles began to provide an alternative. Orbea sponsored Craig Alexander in his early Ironman World Championship victories.

Orbea has alluded to the introduction of a new triathlon specific model for 2012 or 13 rumored to have a steeper, more run-transition friendly geometry. Orbea’s previous models are strong choices for riders with long femur bones who like to sit at relaxed seat tube angles. Other triathlon specific brands like Quintana Roo favor a steeper seat tube angle bike that goes above 80 degrees effective seat tube angle. With a 27cm saddle an Orbea Ordu can be ridden at about 80 degrees, slightly steeper with a longer saddle. Head tube heights track roughly with low front end bikes like Cervelo’s P3 and P4. This trend belies Orbea’s cycling and time trial legacy. Over a century of success isn’t re-done in three decades.

Orbea does show an impressive selection of road configurations spearheaded by their Orca road frame. Our own build with the new Ultegra Di2 is an example.

Orbea's Orca road model with new Shimano Ultegra Di2 integrate the history behind Orbea's success with the innovation of Shimano's new Ultegra Di2.

In addition to the technical features of Orbea’s latest models the company provides owner support after the sale with their OLT Lifetime Warranty and Support that even includes a provision for theft recovery with a registered serial number.

As Orbea moves forward in the U.S. market the features of their long history and the strength of the Mondragon Cooperative along with a host of competitive innovations provide benefits unique to the brand.