Sunday, September 5, 2010

Strange Magic! And a Saddle Conundrum

How on Earth can one bicycle handle like a stately city bike one moment, and like a fast touring bike the next? I have no idea, but I have just experienced it.

At slow speeds, the Royal H. mixte rides like a vintage 3-speed: stable, easy, upright. So nicely it performed as a city bike, that I was almost reluctant to take it on a "real ride" - having gotten used to doing those kinds of rides on road bikes with drop bars. But once out of the city, the bicycle was magically transformed into... I don't even know what, because I haven't ridden a bike quite like it before!

This beauty handled the 40 mile ride through the hills of Concord and Lexington as if it were a casual cruise to the beach. We rode fast, but I didn't feel the speed. We climbed hills, but I didn't feel the strain of the climb.

When wrapped as I have them, the Porteur handlebars offer 3 distinct positions: upright when held at the edges, slightly leaned forward when held further down, and more aggressively leaned forward when held at the corners. And the bicycle responds to changes in hand positions very nicely. The Silver shifters installed onto Paul's Thumbies (more about this ordeal later!) are as easy to use as Sturmey Archer trigger shifters. And my positioning on the bike is so utterly perfect that I feel no pressure on my hands whether I am upright or leaned forward. The ride quality - namely its versatility - is strangely magical. I have never met a bicycle that can go from stately to aggressive at the drop of a hat before.

The mixte is not 100% finished yet, though pretty darn close: We still need to install the lights, and the front rack in these pictures is not the one that will ultimately be on it. But most importantly, I am not sure what to do about the saddle: Because my position alternates between upright and leaned over, it's hard to decide whether a more narrow saddle would be appropriate or a wider one, and whether springs or no springs. In the pictures, that is a Brooks B17 S borrowed from one of my roadbikes - but I am not certain that it feels right on this bike. What saddle do you have on your mixte, and how do you like it?

41 comments:

  1. Your mixte is beautiful.
    As for saddles, I still have the original Brooks vinyl saddle that my mixte came with. It's comfy enough. I mainly ride more upright, short distances, but it tends to be still comfortable after a 20 mile ride. I plan on updating it someday, but it's good enough right now.

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  2. Oh, man. Talk about a plan coming together!
    Looks like there will be a stiff fight over who *really* is the Queen Of The Stable.

    This might be one of the flat-out prettiest Mixtes I have yet seen. Jewel-like seems an appropriate term.

    The reverse brake levers and bar-ends-turned-thumb-shifter combo is brilliant looking on this bicycle; even better than on the example you posted from one of your sponsors.

    As for saddles, I would think you can get by riding a comfortable, narrow saddle upright more easily than you can ride a plush, springy wide saddle when in a semi-dropped position. Since you feel the B-17 isn't quite the thing for this application, perhaps splitting the difference with a Flyer would be a good idea.

    How is high-speed handling on this one? Somewhere in between the two other mixtes? I bet it's a more responsive frame, in any case.

    Congratulations!

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  3. that thing is pretty darned pretty... I really like how you've built it up (I'd still go with drop bars... but you know that's my preference ;)

    oh, and a post late in replying but, I had a similar situation in Central Sq a few months back (riding straight when someone decided to pull into a parallel parking space... w/OUT signaling) and since I did not get hurt and my bike did not get damaged I decided to let it be... THAT driver was, however, robustly apologetic and quite eager to make amends as long as the police were not involved. I recall saying to him that "I'm just all fired up from being hit, but ok, I am not hurt and my bike is ok, so I am going to let it go but PLEASE be more careful for everyone's sake!"

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  4. What kind of water bottle is that? I love it.

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  5. Thank you : )

    Corey - The Flyer is actually the exact same width as the B17. It's the exact same saddle in fact, only with springs. Re the thumbies + silver shifters installation - it wasn't easy and involved drilling! I think the Renaissance Bicycles version actually looks better, because there is only one shifter. But since my mixte is a 2x8, there was no way around having two.

    The high speed handling seems great so far; extremely stable. I am looking forward to trying some longer rides with more downhills to really put it through its paces!

    kookooktchoo - It is a Klean Kanteen, which we twined and shellacked. We have several of these in different sizes and with different lids.

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  6. Gorgeous!

    I have the B17S saddle on my mixte. At first I wished I had a sprung saddle, but I'm so used to the B17S after 1.5 years now, I'm not sure if I would prefer something different. Maybe if I were starting over, I'd go with springs, but I don't feel strongly enough about it to spend more money.

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  7. Wow. Wow. Wow.

    Royal H is a real stunner. I love how versatile it is. And that it suits all your many forms of riding! It really is a bike built just for you. I especially like those handlebars. It gets a girl thinking about all the possibilities for her own mixte.

    I have a B17S on my Betty Foy too. It works well for me, but I really have not had extensive experience on many different types of saddles.

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  8. Wow... that bike is simply gorgeous! I do like the handlebar/brake/gear lever setup.

    Given that it's so versatile and you will undoubtedly be doing longer rides in a more aggressive seating position the B17 or Flyer sounds ideal. I've got a B66 on my mixte, but then my handlebars are a few inches higher than my saddle, and I tend to ride in a more upright position. Probably not a recommendation for your lovely Royal H as your saddle and bars look pretty well level.

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  9. I'd go for a narrower B17 or similar saddle for the simple reason that you'll still be okay for shorter trips whilst upright and on longer rides in an aggressive posture you will benefit from the lack of chaffing from the side of the saddle when compared to a wider one.

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  10. BEAUTIFUL BIKE!!!

    I think that flyer can be a good compromise.

    weight?

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  11. Wow, that's possibly the most beautiful bike I've ever seen! Love the colours, sounds like a dream to ride, all the little touches like that golden bell...gorgeous. Is it more for short hops or is it going to be for your long rides?

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  12. What about the regular B17? You would get the extra length for riding more aggressively, but still have some width at the back for a more upright position. I do find the length does change the feel of the saddle and allows more room to move around, but maybe that is just me and my bones. Your bike is stunning! Beautiful build!

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  13. What a stunner! I am currently waiting for the Porteur handlebars to come back into stock for my new mixte. I did not hesitate with many of the parts I wanted for the build, except the grips. I have the shifters on the stem and inverse brake levers as you do with the Royal H. Yet cloth tape and proper cork grips have been in a grudge match for months! You have certainly tipped the scales in favor of tape. Thanks!

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  14. It would be nice to see this bike side by side with the Betty Foy, which it resembles to my eye. Differences? how about a head to head comparison?

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  15. I love the yellow cable housing and clean silver inverse levers. Beautiful choices!!

    Silver shifters installed onto Paul's Thumbies?! Holy cow! I'm curious about the story there.

    I tried a B17 standard on my mixte and didn't like it. I think I have the same conundrum as you with my ever changing riding position. How about the B67S - too wide?

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  16. Absolutely stunning! I really like what you did with the handlebar wrap. I need to do something with the handlebars on my mixte. They've still got the black Schwinn branded nasty rubber grips that don't even fit on all the way. The previous owner put them there. :/

    I have a B72 on my mixte, and am not happy with it at all. I have tried every possible angle and position I can and it's uncomfortable no matter what. I LOVE the B66 that is on the 3 Speed, but when I move it to the mixte, it makes the bike too tall for me (actually, she's too tall to begin with, but with a short enough saddle I can make it work). I'm considering a B17s or a Flyer S.

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  17. Can I ask what kind of drilling was involved in installation of the Paul Thumbies? I'm always interested in technical details, and I've thought about using them on one of my bikes.

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  18. Nicole - That's not tape actually; those are Elkhide leather grips! A bit of a pain to install (you have to sew them up), but worth it!

    Re the thumbies - I am going to write a post about this with more detail, but the bottom line is: do not get them for Porteur bars unless you own a dremmel and are willing to drill them out. The thumbies come in 2 sizes and the larger one is too big for these bars (even with a shim), but the smaller one is just a tad too small. So we got the smaller ones and drilled out the insides a bit to make them fit. An entirely separate issue, is that the thumbies are incompatible with the Silver shifters, so fitting these involves inserting a special washer (we had to modify a washer in order for it to work). In other words, don't try this at home unless all of that actually sounds like "fun" to you.

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  19. Your bike is splendid! Majestic, even!!! I am inspired to start dreaming about the dream bike-to-be. Anyway, I have a bike that is semi-upright, semi-road and so I can switch hand positions depending how and where I am riding. I have a Flyer Special S on it and really love it because I can sit back on it if I am riding upright-ly, but I can lean forward on it to really get going road-bike style. It was really tough to break in, but I followed the Sheldon Brown method and it is fabulous now....I LOVE the elkhide grips and inverse levers.....wonderful!

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  20. p.s. did you get the elkhide bar covers or the city grips? Yours look nice and long....

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  21. Anon 8:36 - It resembles the Betty Foy only in the fact that they are both mixtes (although different types), and in that the paint is in a similar colour family. Otherwise, they are very different bikes. The glaring differences are basic construction (my Royal H has straight, twin lateral stays - whereas the Betty Foy has a single top tube) and proportions (the Betty Foy's wheels are smaller in proportion to the frame than on the Royal H).

    Open these two links in different browser windows and see if this makes sense:

    Rivendell Betty Foy
    Royal H. mixte

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  22. Your bike is one of the most beautiful I've seen.

    From the way you've described it, and from what I'm seeing in the photos, it seems that the bike has a fairly relaxed geometry toward the front but relatively short chainstays (at least for a touring bike.) The latter would account for the responsiveness on longer rides, while the former gives the bike stability and makes it more comfortable.

    It may just be that you can do a longer ride with ease because you're comfortable on the bike. When you're comfortable, you're confident and can ride more easily.

    As for saddles: I couldn't advise you on them. The B 17 was too wide for me. However, from what you're saying, I think you might want to try a Brooks Flyer (as others have recommended) or Conquest (http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/saddles/brooks-conquest.html).

    The Conquest is a bit narrower than the Flyer, which is the same width as the B17. However, it's discontinued, so you would probably have to look to eBay or some other source for it. That also means it might be very expensive.

    Conquests were made with traditional black or chrome springs. They were also available with springs in various colors--including yellow. The Conquest was intended as a mountain biking saddle, but I guess the suspension bikes used by most mountain bikers rendered saddle springs redundant. Plus, mountain bikers (I speak as a former member of that fraternity.) tend not to go for anything that is or seems "retro."

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  23. Absolutely stunning bike, Velouria. It has really come together nicely (although, like another commenter, I would have done drop bars with a rando bend).

    If the problem with the B.17S is that it's a tad wide, you might look for a Idéale No 92D. It's ~7mm narrower than the 17S. You can find a pretty comprehensive rundown of the Idéale models here.

    Like Justine's suggestion for the Conquest, finding an Idéale saddle means haunting eBay and I know you don't like that. Consider that it's French and will enhance the overall Gallic aesthetic of the bike. ;-)

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  24. That looks like a real nice bike. Can you say how much of a fitting/planning process went into it before they started actually building the frame? I'm quite tempted to have Royal H make me a frame (it would take a little saving!) and am curious as to how the sizing/geometry was worked out.

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  25. What a lovely bicycle indeed! Velouria, I am wondering if you attribute the "strange magic" to the handlebar setup or to the geometry of the bike. If the latter, could you give us a little spec rundown? I'm sure Im not the only one who is intrigued. Oh, and a little side note on the color: I have a very similar stormy grey/green in my house, and my painter, who is something of a student of colors, told me that the military used to use that color for the interior of hospitals and submarines and the like, because the human eye never tires of it. I haven't verified that little bit of trivia, but I can say that after 5+ years, I do still love it!

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  26. What's the head angle, fork offset, and what tubing is the frame built with?

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  27. Thanks for the nice comments everyone.

    Re drop bars: I like drop bars on a bike that is meant exclusively for long distance rides. But I already have the perfect long-distance touring bike with drop bars, which is the Sam Hillborne. The Royal H was meant to be an all-arounder sort of bike, an "I want to wear a skirt, carry a camera around my neck (which requires being upright) and still go on a long ride with hills involved" bike. Having said that, my plan is to eventually turn it into a "convertible" where I have an extra drop bar set-up (on a separate stem), that I can switch out if I want to go on a long tour. But I will have to save up for that, as it will need its own stem, bars, brake levers and shifters!

    Re the specs - I will have a long post eventually with all the angles and other specs of the build. The tubing is Vitus.

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  28. Wow, that really is a beautiful
    bike. A silver Schmidt Edelux light
    would go really well with all the other silver parts.

    With regards to the saddle, I would bias it
    for longer distances, where saddle comfort
    makes the most difference.

    John I

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  29. Quick question on the Elkhide grips: Did you use cloth tape underneath as I have seen suggested? If not, do you think it would make a significant difference?

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  30. i don't have a mixte but i do have a brooks 68 on my road bar and am very comfortable on it even in the drops. i don't find the width to ever be a problem.

    i agree with johni though for short distances mild discomfort is not such an issue go with the saddle that feels best on long rides.

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  31. Velouria will eventually describe the Silver shifters/thumbies, but, in short:

    The Silver shifters require a nylock nut & washer on the other side in order to not unscrew--that's the easy part.

    The hard part is that the Silver shifter has an oblong inner cavity and does not sit on the round bolt of the thumbies. Not at all. It slides and twists and if you tighten it then it no longer shifts.

    The only solution is to cut a certain length of oblong tubing which came with Silver bar end pods. The tubing is part of the receiver of the bar end pods and is not otherwise useful in the thumbies installation. You have to cut off the caps, then cut a small 5mm or so slice (measure the inner dimension of the Silver ratchet). That goes inside the Silver shifter and fills the void around the thumbie bolt. Once the oblong cavity is filled with the native oblong-shaped slice, the Silver shifters can be tightened just a bit and still function properly without sliding.

    So it's a fairly involved process.

    Regarding sizing: thumbies come in (mtn) 22.2mm and (road) 26mm. The Porteur bars are something like 23.8 or 24mm. So, bummer, have to drill out the mountain-sized thumbies (spreading them could crack the metal).

    Ours were also anodized black so I had extra fun time with the dremel "silverizing" them... What a fun project that was with lots of small angled surfaces. Maybe you could find non-anodized versions somewhere.

    Yeah, the Silver shifters and thumbies marriage requires lots of work.

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  32. MDI,

    Lye-based oven cleaner (e.g. Easy-Off) will remove anodization on alloy parts. Ray Dobbins has a nice tutorial on that and general polishing here.

    I've done it with a Dremel and with oven cleaner. Oven cleaner is easier.

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  33. Thanks everyone for the saddle recommendations. My big butt does not seem to want the B17 S on the mixte! After my 40 mile ride on it yesterday it hurts so much I can hardly sit down - and this is after the B17 has already been broken in on my roadbike! I've just tried the B72 (which needs a "seat sandwich" in order to work with a modern seat post) and it seems to be just the thing. Unlike on the B68 (same as the B66 & B67, but without springs) I tried earlier, the sides on the B72 do not rub the backs of my legs when I lean forward. I have not test-ridden it extensively yet, but so far so good.

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  34. Phil: Yeah, I was debating on chemical vs dremel approach. In the end, I was going to dremel the Tekro levers to get rid of their modern-looking sand-blasted finish and black lettering so decided to dremel the thumbies to match. It would've been so much easier to dump them in solution and walk away...

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  35. I love it!!! What a pretty bicycle!
    I have the Brooks B17S and I really like it.

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  36. Your royal H is STUNNING! Oh I would love a bike that rides and looks like that. Sounds like such a fun ride! You've been very lucky with the bike faeries. I have a beaten up gitane mixte that I have to repair so haven't really tried it out yet. I have brooks finesse women's saddles on both of my bikes. The finesse is the women's team professional and has copper rivets and titanium rails. I think it is the only women's saddle brooks put any of the good stuff into. One is green and is the ONLY women's brooks saddle in green. It's on my surly right now which is olive so it looks nice. My raleigh sprite has the honey finesse. The finesse is actually more a racing/road model which is the wrong saddle for these bikes but I got them because they were pretty and small. They are fairly narrow and short which I like but I would like to have the nice embossed lady saddle. I tried a b67 sprung model and I HATED it so much because it was too big, too lumpy and the springs went wrrr,, wrrr, back and forth and it was so painful. I am afraid to try a flyer which is probably the better saddle for my bikes.
    I would love to get my hands on a 92 ideale. I missed out on one last year because I didn't know what it was.
    My husband got a special edition champion flyer because he thought he needed an extra narrow saddle and found it too narrow and torture to ride. So it can be challenging to find the right Brooks.
    Bravo, votre bicyclette est tres belle!
    Heather

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  37. most of my road bikes have brooks pro saddles (narrower than the B17), and when i converted my shogun touring bike to an upright city bike, i compared the brooks B17 and B67 (wider than B17 and sprung). i thought that with a more upright position, the B67 would be the better fit, but to my surprise, the B17 won out. the B67 felt too wide. i also considered the flyer (same as B17 but sprung) but the ride is already soft enough with the 32mm paselas that i didn't feel i needed the sprung brooks.

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  38. hi Velouria... ace bike indeed. i have an old jack taylor cycle with some original fiamme porteur bars, and quite fancy trying the reverse brake levers on it. the ones on your bike look like old french ones...are they, or are they new ones from tektro or similar, nick in london

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  39. This bike is gorgeous. How does it compare to the Rivendell?

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  40. I so concur with the other commenters - this bike is beautiful to look at. And if it rides as well as you say. That is the danger of reading your site - always another to bike to yearn for.

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  41. The bike is very nice; congrats. One question: Why the big-block cassette and SGS rear derailer? Surely, a 12/28 cassette and a SS would suffice for Mass, and (to my eye) match the rest of your ride more appropriately.

    Also,I understand that the shellac set still fears 9+ speed cassettes. I'm a bit of a luddite myself, but i've never had issues with my 9- and 10-speed systems when coupled with bar-cons and/or thumbies. Well, no issues that didn't appear on 8-speed set-ups, anyway.

    -rob

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