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…