Capped off a fine birthday week by joining about a 100 new and old
randonneurs on the 2013 SF Randonneurs Fall Populaire. Starting in San
Fransisco’s Crissy Field, we headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge,
hopped over a hill or two and looped out around China Camp Village
before heading westward (back into a mild headwind and increasing fog)
to the most distant control at Nicasio. Then headed back through the
San Geronimo Valley to Fairfax and the obscure but direct route back to
San Francisco. Course was about 70 miles, punctuated by appropriate
stops for controls and caloric intake.
Had spent a too-long
chunk of Friday running down some technical anomalies on the Quickbeam.
The chain was too worn to trust for the course and after removing it, I
realized what a thought was a bent guard ring proved to be a more
ingrained issue. I’m still not completely sure of the cause, but the
whole arm/spider has a bit of a wobble to it. The working theory had
been a bent BB spindle, found that the same arm wiggled no matter which
bicycle it was mounted on (had stripped off the cranks from the
Hilsen, assuming I’d be swapping the BB over). Cursed and pondered and
decided to clean up the Hilsen and swap over the saddle from the QB.
And the Hilsen ended up in a nicely stripped down mode - with the
recently cleaned and rewaxed Baggins Banana Bag attached, it would hold
my ritual two-tubes-two-patch-kits offering for any brevet ride, as well
as appropriate gear for a mild, mid-September ride. So, all that
remained was getting up, getting the dogs walked and fed, and
hightailing it into the city for the ride.
Which pretty much is
where I started - sipping strong coffee from a thermos cup as riders
gathered in the fog on the generally unpopulated East Beach at Crissy
Field. I’d arrived past some significant parking infrastructure -
mobile gates and grates and cones and hi-viz folks with flags and
flashlights. No, the Populaire does not typically generate that much
traffic, but they’ve been racing these sail-driven projectiles within
yards of the shore over the past couple weeks, and in another few hours,
parking would become absolutely nonexistent.
Signed in and got
my card. Realized I had absoutely nothing to write with - DOH! - so I
would be relying on the kindness of others to supply a pen at the
Nicasio Info Control. After returning the coffee rental, I saw that a
larger pack had amassed, and RBA (Regional Brevet Administrator) Rob
Hawks welcomed the new riders (about half the group) and led us in our
pledge “not to do anything stupid” before sending us out on the course.
Just about that time, I darned near stepped on ride buddy JimG
(yojimg.net) and we greeted one another warmly. He was anticpating the
inaugural ride on his Box Dog Bikes Pelican.
Of course, we
immediately got separated as everyone picked up their bikes and wove
their way to the road. I had decided to under-do things for the first
bits, as I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. For some reason, the switch from
fixed-gear (the Quickbeam) to a many-geared-coastable setup can mean a
very clunky first ride, as I overdo it in the big gears and feel a loss
of momentum when climbing. And I also realized it was probably my
longest ride of the year so far. At least I’d managed a couple of 50+
rides on the QB, even though some of the steeper climbs were prone to
cussing and stopping.
Rolled up to the bridge with a variety of
SF Jerseyed folks and well-appointed rigs. Counted at least 3 or 4
Hilsens without even looking for them. Coughed and woke up and worked
my way over the span and down into Sausalito with a minimum of extra
Seemed to just make every yellow light on Bridgeway, which put
me alone along the Mill Valley Bike Path to the base of the first hill.
But as the light turned green JimG and a gang of folks joined me. The
Camino Alto hill kind of worked out the kinks, and I found some comfort
climbing seated, which is not generally an option afforded by riding
fixed. Then buzzed down the descent while thanking the density of my
bones. Caught up to the JimG group and promptly lost them on the climb
to San Rafael, but by then I was feeling pretty good on the bike, almost
like someone had flipped a switch. As we headed around China Camp to
the first control, I managed to tack onto a triplet-led (y’know, like a
tandem but built for three) train and boogied along happily. Fell back
in with JimG and we found a mutually compatible pace, so we rolled to
the first control, had RBA Rob sign/timestamp our cards and headed
As we pressed slightly uphill and upwind in Lucas
Valley, JimG admitted he hadn’t eaten anything for a while (turned out
to be dinner or breakfast, so… yeah.) We deli-stopped and stretched
out, chatted with a rider (whose name I forgot) on a custom ~75 cm frame
and watched a few pods of riders work their way up the valley. The
chairs were in the warm sun, blocked from the cool wind by the building,
and it was tempting just to enjoy the warm offerings of the morning.
But, we figured the miles wouldn’t ride themselves, and remounted after a
15 minute break for food and drink.
Climbed to Big Rock Ridge
and collected a couple of other riders, then spread out once again on
the long steady down valley run to Nicasio. At the store, the
randonneurs had arrived, ordering sandwiches, buying drinks and seeking
the answer to the Information Control question. Yes. I did have to
borrow a pen.
Since the weather was still overcast and windily
cool, we set off again. JimG still seemed at a bit of caloric deficit
but we plugged along, picking up a few riders and benefitting from the
energy as our group swelled and other riders joined us from behind. The
climb out of Nicasio to the San Geronimo valley spread us out again,
but we swelled back up to 8-10 riders as we enjoyed the now-tailwind
towards the White’s Hill descent to Fairfax.
The sun greeted us
in town, and JimG and I peeled off to honor the siren song of Java
Hut. Strong coffee and gooey pastries awaited. But, even better, they
had broadened their offerings of late to include breakfast burritos.
Mmmmmm. Potato, egg, black beans for me and the simple cheese/egg
muffin for JimG. Such caloric density perked him up (as did the iced
coffee) and we hummed our way back to the start. Got to help with a
small roadside repair (rattling fender) for another SFR member. Met a
few new randonneurs on the final miles to the last climb up from
Sausalito and then went by everyone in the world who seemed to have
shoehorned themselves to a vantage point to watch the sailboat race.
Dodging a few errant pedestrians and the expected rental bike
erraticness, we dropped to the final control, were greeted with cheers
and had always-smiling Carlos D. log in our return and verify our
Done, we found plates of food and fine camaraderie! And I was happy to feel much better than I thought I would.
My photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyclofiend/sets/72157635540840952/
More photos of pretty much everyone on course - courtesy of Deb Ford - http://goo.gl/H8UBBL
Rough Route Map - http://ridewithgps.com/routes/1798411
Got out last Saturday for a nice loop in ridiculously fine October weather. As you may have divined by a lack of ride reports and images, this has been a reasonably low mileage year. Which happens. And this year, some of why it’s happening is for good reasons - big change in work situation, trying to make things go - and some bad - family member health issues.
But, the ride heals. The ride is always the key. The ride sets things right. Doesn’t always directly fix them, but resets things in a way which few other things seem to be able.
Last month was a bit tough because I just didn’t really want to get on the bike. Yeah, I had an excuse. As I mentioned to a few people already, I took a tumble when trying to guide another rider through the maze of local streets. He had nipped ahead of me, then thought he was supposed to turn left when he wasn’t. From my perspective, I thought he was just slowing for some steel construction plates. A perspective that was shown to be incorrect, when I suddenly realized that I was looking a full side image of his bike. So, hands on brakes too late. Nose wheelie and evasive techniques while the reptilian brain invoked all my tight race-pack-learned skills. I missed him cleanly but felt myself separating from the bike. Had a long look at it below me as it vectored away.
Released, relaxed and rolled. Thought about the survival rates of cats. But, I do generally fall well.
Came up on my feet, and looked for the bike, which is always a good indicator of lack of serious injury. Got it off the road as the horrified other rider caught up and tried to offer help.
Then I felt it. Ribs. A bit hard to get a deep breath. Probed a bit against my jersey, but nothing stuck out or felt obviously ickyk. Poked a little bit and found the spot, back to the side, on line between the armpit and the hip, which disliked being prodded. Crud.
Sent the other rider on his way after he made sure I knew where we were and what day it was. Sat for a bit. Realized I’d nicked one knuckle, but otherwise had no serious abrasions. Thanks to adrenalin, brain-released injury-opiates and a certain inherent bullheadedness, I rode to my next two errands and got home. Even went to yoga that night.
Those of you who have thumped their rib cage know what happens. Endorphins subside and things tighten up. Ribs are all about waiting, and there was really no comfortable position to be found for the next couple weeks. Any vibration from riding was not in the cards, certainly, and September joined The Ranks of This Year’s Low Mileage Months. In a low mileage year.
Things have perked up a bit, and when Tuuli jumped on my chest one recent afternoon when we were wrestling, it was pretty obvious that most of the tenderness is brain-based. Which more or less brings us back to last Saturday.
Out in multi-geared coastable mode on the Hilsen. Vectored onto the lower trails at China Camp and enjoyed the challenge. Found no turkeys but did go nose to nose with a well-fatted deer.
Bumped back to the roads at the far end, and came upon a rider enjoying the lateral stiffness and vertical compliance of curvy aluminum seatstays. And a big honkin’ downtube. I could see him vibrating above the rig.
Nevertheless, he seemed pleasant, and we chatted briefly and then I eased past. A bit of a downhill and I was pedaling along easily in a moderate gear. Then I heard the breathing.
He’d probably punched it on the descent and was rolling up on me. I eased up and looked back obviously, as I edged a bit out from the curb.
“That’s really a nice retro rig you’ve got” said he.
It was unclear exactly where he was going with all of that. If he had only asked what year it had been made, so I could use the “Aught Eight” ploy. But, thwarted with my ready comeback I muttered something about it being pretty new when I bought it.
“You roll pretty good on those big tires!” he observed. “And they look like they’re on normal rims. “
Now, it’s hard to know how to address this. Decided to use it as a teachable moment. But, didn’t want to dis his choice of ride. Tricky balance.
“They’re amazing - of course, you need to have the frame clearance to run them. But, they are smooth. Just got tired of getting beaten up by the narrow tires.”
“Yeah - I just get rattled on these rough roads.”
Now, I would just like to say that these roads, while having some patches which weren’t pristine, were not something I would describe under any circumstances as “rough”. This was an opening. I nattered on for a bit about no loss in speed when you use higher quality, larger volume tires. Let him get a good look at the frame clearance. We hit a patch of road with a little bit of surface wear. He dropped back like he’d tossed out an anchor.
When he caught back up, I talked about 33’s (which I wasn’t sure would fit) at reasonable pressure. Mentioned how hard tires deflected off obstacles. That sort of thing. I could see the wheels turning a bit.
“I’m going to take a look at that for my next set….”
My job here was done.
Finally had a good excuse to wander over to the RBWHQ&L* on Saturday. In this case, I was picking up the new rear wheel for the Quickbeam, efficiently crafted by Rich L. The original rim had failed reasonably impressively, and since the hub was acting more than tired, I went through the couch and found enough spare change to upgrade to a Phil Wood setup. With all the bicycles I’ve had over the years, it seems hard to believe that none have ever had a Phil hub (or bottom bracket), but there ya go. In the time between ordering and readiness, the real Phil Wood passed away, and it seemed appropriate that it worked out that way.
Besides, my cycling wrenching sensei handed me a wheel once. It was, he said, the first wheel he’d ever built. He rode it across the country, had seen countless miles, and still rolled out on a styling “lunch run” bike that he let me use. The hub rolled flawlessly after all those years. That made an impression on me.
Arriving at Riv, I got a chance to chat with Grant a bit, and he showed off the just-back-from-the-painter Hunqapillar frame - this time rendered in grey with orange contrasts. Like the grey with kidney bean version (seen here on the Bombadil back in December), it’s a head-cocker - one of those combinations is hard to believe works if someone just told you the colors, but does work when you see them. I’ve chatted about the Orange on the RBW group already, and there’s a more comprehensive pdf from Grant which can be found here. Suffice to say, both look great. Especially on the grey/burgundy, the lug edge lining really helps the dark/dark combination to pop. I’m not sure it would work as well without the lining.
But frames and color schemes have little to do with bike riding.
Maybe I need to get a bit of preamble out of the way. In recording some
impressions about these bicycles, my underlying belief is that Grant
designs a bike that fits me well and is comfortable, stable,
controllable and well-behaved. When I descend on my Hilsen or Quickbeam,
anytime I exit a corner, its always with the feeling that I was well
within the margin of safety. They are ridiculously confidence
building. That, to me, is the essence of the Rivendell design -
stability at speed under all manner of wacky conditions and simple
comfort while on the roads and trails. The following bikes gave no surprises on those counts. They all have that in their core.
When Grant is anywhere around, one thing that tends to happen very quickly when you arrive at RBWHQ&L is that a bicycle is eased your general direction and the saddle and bars get adjusted to fit. And before you know it, you’re rolling along on one of the Rivendell models. Which brings us to…
Sam Hillborne - rbw page
I did ride one of the early prototypes of the Hillborne, back at the end of 2008, but hadn’t really ventured too far away from the loop around the building. This time, I got a chance to spend a little more time with the bicycle, and must say that it has been done right.
Over the past year, there’s been a bit of chatter on the various lists about the idea of Rivendell’s “expanded” frame designs. Certainly, there’s a benefit in having to order and stock a smaller number of sizes. But, the real question is whether it rides right.
First off, the six degree upslope doesn’t quite hit you as hard in person as when you stare
at side view images online or in the catalogs. If you are standing near the bike, looking down, it’s even less noticeable. Yeah, there’s an upslope
to the top tube, but a Giant TCR (or any number of new bikes) it ain’t.
Then, when you climb aboard, you don’t really notice it. Obviously, you are looking forward anyway. But, unlike those compact frame designs I’ve ridden, it just seems and feels “normal”, but with a tad more standover height. (One of the reasons that I don’t like riding my geared soft-nosed mountain bike is that when a “S”ertain company repla”S”ed the original frame under warranty, they had dropped the top tube (already angled significantly) another couple inches or so. When you look down, the first thing you think is “there’s one helluvalotta seat post sticking out…” I have also bruised my shins against the top tube in technical conditions.)
The Hillborne rode very nicely - might even feel a
touch more nimble than my Hilsen, but there were a lot of other
variables as far as bar height, saddle setup, lack of bags and racks,
etc., and for some reason, a bicycle you don’t own always feels a little snappier…
The bottom line is just that it rides like a Riv. And that is great
thing in my book. Solid at speed, corners like a demon and perfectly
balanced at slow speeds. It would be interesting to take one onto the
trails or up the mountain (i.e. treat it the way I do my Hilsen), but it definitely gets my thumbs up.
SOMA San Marcos / Amos - rbw page?
This collaboration between Grant and the folks at SOMA popped out of the bag back in January (a blog post here, though it appears the “Amos” page is no longer on the RBW site.) This was the first prototype frame which had been photog’d back then, all built up with an orange fork. As of the end of March, they are anticipating delivery of a second prototype with pump peg and some other minor tweaks. But, this one is quite rideable.
Because this bicycle is SOMA-branded, it will be distributed more widely to shops. I envision this retail scenario playing out:
“Hey, how was that test ride?”
“Great! I thought you said this bike was made of steel.”
“uh, yeah. It’s a steel fr..”
“Noooo….not this bike!”
“What do you mean?”
“Steel’s heavy. Carbon is light. Even aluminum is light. But, steel is heavy. All the magazines and websites agree on that!”
“Well…it is actually steel.”
“Look, I’m going to buy the danged thing. Just tell me what it really is made of…”
In other words, this bike is going to cause some recalibration among those who were unaware of the properties of a well-designed sporty steel frame. For folks who understand what steel can be, it’s bound to cause sweaty palms of anticipation.
This may be one size small for me, but I had a goodly little jaunt on it. Slow speed agility tests. Big-ringed my way down and around the block a few times. Hammered it through a rough, downhill corner with some seriously sketchy pavement. During the little pauses here and there to catch my breath, I kept thinking, “Dang… this one’s done right.” Snappy and very responsive. I think they are going to sell a few of these.
Betty Foy - rbw page
The black with cream accents Betty Foy is a joy to look at. I think GP may have once stated he wouldn’t make a black frame, and I am really, really glad he reconsidered. I thought they said this bicycle was also the 61 (which I actually don’t see listed on the site, so I may be incorrect), but the saddle dropped low enough for me (riding a 58/59 in the Riv sizing “old money” - not “expanded” frames) to be plenty comfortable. It was set up with Albatross Bars, angled slightly downward for a perfect wrist angle.
Since I had just come off a few high-paced loops with the San Marcos, I was a bit revved up, and flew through the first couple of corners with a good bit of speed. Nary a squawk from Betty. It had the high volume cush from the 650B tires, but the did exactly what would be expected of a Riv. It would be fun to commute on this bike, and steam past folks on their repurposed open-wheeled racers. I would expect an extreme diversity in setups on this bicycle as well, as it lends itself to all manner of racks and bags, bars and saddles. My personal choice would be to run the setup just as seen here - there’s plenty of leverage with the Albatross bars for the hills on my commute route. I’ve run Col de la Vie tires on my Zeus 650B conversion, which sees commute duty, and they have never wanted for speed and comfort. With the even wider array of 650B/584 tires which have come out since, I don’t doubt you could tune for a variety of riding conditions.
Of particular note was the gearing - with an XD2 with guard affixed on the outermost side,
like a Quickbeam. But, then the small ring was a 24T (large was 40T),
which when paired with the wide range gearing in back (34?) let you
easily go from walking speed to fast-as-ya-need-to-go. Really a slick
I didn’t really know that I needed one of these, but after riding it…
well, you know. While it wouldn’t be the only bike I owned (at least for a couple decades), it would fit well into the lineup. The black finish was gorgeous, and I really liked the
gearing setup. Grant kind of chuckled when I brought it back. “Everyone needs a mixte,” he said.
Rivendell Roadeo - rbw page
Riding this bike was a monumentally bad idea.
I had been safe back in December, as they only had a couple of 55cm prototypes hanging around the showroom. Y’know - too small, nothing to get all worked up about. But, this visit, the 59 was there, on the rack, calling out to me with its siren song.
To get at how this bicycle rides, I’ll use an obscure musical reference. Brian Eno was being interviewed once upon a time, and he was asked what his ideal band would be like - he answered that it would be a combination of Kraftwerk and Parliment. Now, arguably, he achieved that in the “Remain in Light” period of work with David Byrne and Talking Heads. But, it gets at the crux of the issue with this bicycle - a fast, quick, snappy bicycle that really loves to roll along on 33 1/3 mm Jack Brown tires. A Lamborghini with a Range Rover undercarriage.
The Hilsen is about clearance. I find myself daydreaming about finding the most massive tire that would fit, and rolling that bike over the nastiest, rockiest bits of trails in my region. With the Roadeo, the idea seemed to be to tighten things up the other way, to suck up the clearances until they did precisely what was necessary and no more. If the Hilsen is about “possibilities”, the Roadeo is more about “specificity.”
And, holy moley, pass the salt, it does that very well.
It hurtled through the sketchy corners, loved to climb into the big gear and in general was snappy and responsive as could be. The Roadeo rides as advertised.
This is definitely a bicycle I’m lusting for. Really a beautiful ride.
If you take a step back from the offerings, there is really a stunning array of designs being offered - huge kudos to Grant and the gang for bringing this range of models to fruition.
*Rivendell Bicycle Works Headquarters & La-ir, as always, said in your best Dr. Evil voice…