Choosing Your Gospel: Rivendell vs Bicycle Quarterly

For those who are interested in classic touring bicycles that combine speed, maneuverability and comfort, we live in interesting times. Such bicycles have gained in popularity over the past several years, with many custom framebuilders and manufacturers introducing touring models into their line-ups. And while trends like this are not easy to trace, I think it is fair to say that Grant Petersen of Rivendell and Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly deserve a great deal of the credit. Rivendell is a small bicycle manufacturer with a distinct philosophy, which they promote with a tireless output of literature. The Bicycle Quarterly (review here) is a niche cycling magazine, with a focus on classic bicycles in the French randonneur tradition.

To the untrained eye, the type of bicycle promoted by these two camps may seem similar, if not identical: lugged steel frames, wide tires, fenders, racks, classic luggage, leather saddles. But in fact, there are major differences as far as geometry and historical lineage go, and these differences have been inspiring impassioned debates among bicycle connoisseurs for years.

Daniel Rebour_Rene Herse_1948_ Bike only
[image via stronglight]

When it comes to frame geometry, Rivendell's emphasis is on relaxed angles and clearance for wide tires. The resulting bicycles are fast, stable, comfortable, and have excellent off-road capacity. The bicycle championed by Bicycle Quarterly is rather more specific. Jan Heine believes that bicycles made in the French randonneur tradition - which had reached its height in the 1940s and 50s before its recent resurrection - offer an unrivaled combination of speed and comfort. These bicycles are aggressive and maneuverable, yet cushy and easy to control. They are super light, yet designed to carry a great deal of weight.  The main difference from Rivendell structurally, is that such bicycles have what is known as "low trail geometry" while Rivendell bicycles have "mid trail geometry." The difference cannot be easily summed up here, but suffice to say that this factor controls the bicycle's responsiveness, and that mid trail is considered classic whereas low trail is more exotic - not often seen outside the early French tradition. In addition, Jan Heine insists on wide 650B tires, lack of toe overlap, and integrated features such as racks and dynamo lighting. Grant Petersen does not place as much emphasis on 650B tires per se, considers toe overlap to be a non-issue, and does not take lighting into consideration when designing frames.

If these differences seem too subtle for those not familiar with frame design, let me rephrase it like this: The bikes may look similar, but they are built differently and ride differently, and there is some debate about which is "better."

[image via protorio]

As a reader of both Rivendell literature and Bicycle Quarterly, I am equally convinced by Petersen and Heine; both arguments make sense while I'm reading them. But they can't both be right, because some of their views are in direct opposition!

Since I own a Rivendell and have now ridden close to 2,000 miles on it, it would be fantastic to try a classic randonneur with low trail and 650B wheels for comparison. The problem is that these bicycles are extremely rare. To try one, I would need to either find a vintage Rene Herse or Alex Singer in my size to test ride - which is next to impossible, as they are not exactly the kind of bike a neighbour would have lying around in their garage, or commission a new one custom built just for me by the handful of framebuilders who specialise in them, or find someone who has commissioned such a bike, is the same size as me, and would be willing to lend it to me for a test ride. As neither option is realistic, my interest in classic randonneurs seems destined to remain hypothetical. Has anybody out there actually tried both a Rivendell and a traditional randonneur?


  1. Actually, all you'd really need to do the trail experiment is a fork with an appropriate amount of additional rake. This was the entire premise of the Kogswell P/R. And that can be done for ~ $150 by any number of custom builders. Maybe a little more if you specify extra braze-ons for the front rack that you'd obviously want to add. Then it's just a 5 mm allen key and a crown race installation to change forks.

    1. I would be interested to know what the geometric set up of your bike is.

      jeffrey downes

  2. Spiny Norman - It's low trail, plus clearance for 650B x 42mm tires with fenders, plus a number of other factors as well. I don't think replacing the fork alone would replicate the handling of a traditional randonneur.

  3. I have had a Rivendell, a classic low-trail 650B randonneur, and a 700C randonneur. There are distinct differences among the three. Summed up simply, riding the Rivendell was like riding a touring bike (or, put less charitably, like driving a tank) whereas riding a proper randonneur is very similar to the experience on a race bike with a little less speed and a lot more comfort.

    There are lots of difference beyond geometry that contribute to differences, though. Not the least of which is much heavier tubing on the Rivendell and a ridiculously long top tube.

    I liked my Rivendell and it served as a gateway to classic French randonneurs, but really there's no comparison.

    And by the way, there's no requirement for 650B tires for a randonneur. Herse and Singer, among many others, built plenty of bikes with 700C wheels. The 700C bikes are obviously less appropriate for unpaved roads.

  4. Velo-Orange offers two frames - the Polyvalent and the Randonneur. Both have "low trail" when compared to most modern bicycles. The Polyvalent is designed with 650b tires and a porteur rack in mind. The Randonneur, 700c and a handlebar bag. Since Kogswell is no longer producing the P/R, these two offerings from VO are probably the most affordable low-trail machines currently on the North American market.

    I don't work for VO, nor have I tried either of their frames.

  5. There is a more than just trail that distinguishes a Riv from the type of bicycle that Dr. Heine advocates. There is also the issue of tubing diameter. Rivs tend to be produced in "oversize" tubing whereas Jan prefers the smaller diameter tubing of days gone by.

    I believe I was one of the first in line for the Rivendell Saluki. My bike serial number was 0011. I liked the bike a great deal and put a little over 6000 miles on it. It had a couple of flaws, though. At low speeds the bike was not very stable. In a cross-wind, gusts could be very unsettling. Adding any weight to the handlebars made the situation worse. I engaged Jan in a dialog regarding low trail and he was kind enough to provide me with prepublication geometry data. He suggested a fork offset that would cause the Saluki to have a geometry very similar to a Jo Routens that Jan had ridden and thought very good, especially for gravel.

    I asked Grant to make me a low trail fork for the Saluki, which he basically refused to do. That's fine, but it points out the fact that a Riv is not really custom in the sense that Grant is willing to have a collaboration with the buyer. If you like what grant sells, then well and good. If not, there are plenty of builders who will work with you. Eventually, I had a low-trail fork made for the Saluki and was able to go back and forth between the original and the replacement. The problems with cross-winds, slow speed stability and front end loading went away with the low trail fork. The experience of going back and forth between forks validated, for me, what Jan had been saying.

    Eventually I was able to purchase a version 2 Kogswell P/R with the smaller diameter tubes. Again, Jan's point about about the more flexible frames being more efficient was validated for me as I went back and forth between the Kogswell and the Saluki. I quickly began to prefer the Kogswell and last Fall sold the Saluki to help finance a MAP Bicycles 650B Randonneuse.

    I have nothing but admiration and respect for Grant, but I think he is the poet laureate of bicycles. Jan was trained as a scientist and has worked diligently to understand how the construction details of a bicycle contribute to its performance. Are all of the articles in BQ rigorous enough to appears in refereed journals? Perhaps not, but I don't know anyone who has both ridden more varieties of bicycles than Jan or thought harder about the underlying principles of frame design. Jan and Grant have both made huge contributions, but in very different ways.

  6. I may have some experience. A Riv member almost from the beginning and a reader of BQ from the very beginning I have read both with big interest. I have also both kinds of bikes.

    Back in 1982 I bought a Centurion Super Tour frame from Grebart in Copenhagen (I am Swedish and lived in Lund just on the other side of the water) who was THE touring equiper at the time. I road it with pleasure with no thoughts of geometry.1998 a rear drop-out broke and I ordered a custom Riv from Grant, got it and rode it with great pleasure with no thoughts of geometry. Later bought a Heron Touring for camping trips.

    Having read both, as you have, and finding both giving reason I started to think, draw out my old spec sheets for both bikes, but also measured them. Had my old Centurion repaired and installed Trimlines, 38mm wide 650B. To my astonishment I had found that Old C was right there in Jan Heine-land, trail 40mm and flop 11. The Riv had a middle trail of 55mm, but a relatively low flop of 16.

    What is then the experience? That there are more than one way to skin a cat, but that the difference is not to be exaggerated. Grant has designed more from tradition and experience, Jan have made trials. These trials have lead him to fatter tires than traditionally, quite like Grant. He has said that the sweet spot for randonneuring is 38mm for 650B, 32 for 700c, but he has also written about, and liked, french camping and touring bikes with fatter tires and slacker angles, much like Grants bikes for the same use. The difference is that Jan likes to balance the factors that decide steering, that is geometric trail, pneumatic trail, gyroscopic forces, wheel flop and head tube angle so that the bike behaves best with a (slight)front load,like a handlebar bag, whereas Grant have said that he prefers a saddle bag. Jan prefers designs for high speed, Grant designs for more moderate speeds. It all makes sense.

    My own experience? They are both right. Low-trail Old C likes a handlebar bag, has a slight hesitation to go into a turn, but is very easy to control during the turn, just like jan said. The Riv - Ellen by name, my American love - likes a saddlebag and slightly more narrow tires, goes easier into the turn, but is no means difficult inside the turn due to her low flop. Also as said. Both are pleasant to ride, slightly different character, but comfortable. It is a question of knowing what you are doing when taking a load.

    Sorry for the long rant, hope it tells some.

  7. Now here's a topic I find both interesting and entirely unqualified to discuss. I own and love my Rivendell, but it is interesting to hear what others have to say about Riv versus traditional Randonneur (which I can't even spell, much less comment upon).

    Thanks for the interesting topic, V.

  8. I believe the Raleigh One Way is a low-trail design.

  9. In one of the earlier BQs Jan had a long interview with Grant who said that that he did like none-oversize tubes, his choice was a little bit practical and commercial. Still Grant likes his bikes to be able to handle loads wich requires stiffer frames, also in Jans opinion. What regards the Saluki I think Jan may have had a point, the Saluki had a quite low head angle and a short rake, giving a longer trail than most of Grants bikes. Velourias Sam has the same head angle, but somewhat longer rake, it would be interesting to hear her experiences. The Saluki was also a production bike, not custom, it is maybe reasonable that they didn´t want to make extra forks. My own custom Riv has a rather steepish head angle that may help.

  10. Comparing just two brands/styles of bikes and seeing them as meant for two different kinds of riding seems like a false dichotomy.

    I have friends who do both touring and randonneuring, and they use the same bikes for both, generally, which makes sense when you know that they both involve riding long distances. Some of those friends might have two different bikes if they could afford it, but I'm not sure.

    I think that each style is going to be better for different people's bodies and priorities.

    As an amusing side note, I have a mid-1990's Novara Randonee...which is designed to be a touring bike. I guess lots of people get those kinds of riding confused!

  11. @Mike: I like your response - I'd click a like link if it were there! - and your support seems very thorough.

    @Velouria: You might try building up an old PX-10 frame. They are fairly inexpensive if you aren't trying for a museum concourse renovation. The compatibility headaches are legendarily technical (read Sheldon's articles), but less so now with VO and eBay providing compatible replacement parts. And go ahead and thread the deraileur mounting hole and put something other than the simplex deraileurs. Most of the less expensive frames will have this done anyway - which of course demeans the value as they are no longer candidates for full restoration. They won't have the super long chainstays that BQ advocates, but the trail is longer. This idea wouldn't compare with the kind of randonneur bike that MAP or Pereira would produce (or Royal H!), but would be an inexpensive introduction you could ride for while, train on, and get your miles on with. And with those old Nervex lugs they were lovely bicycles in their own right.

  12. I know that there are bicycles out there with low trail geometry, even a couple of modern ones, and that I could also convert an old frame to 650B, rerake the fork and so on. But I guess what I mean is that I would like to try the real deal: either a vintage 650B Rene Herse, or one of the modern equivalents - one that has all, and not some of the features advocated in BQ.

    april - I am definitely not trying to present them as a dichotomy. But they are 2 different types of bicycles, both of which have been influential in the "renaissance" of the classic lugged steel bikes.

  13. Mike Jenkins said...
    "I have nothing but admiration and respect for Grant, but I think he is the poet laureate of bicycles. Jan was trained as a scientist and has worked diligently to understand how the construction details of a bicycle contribute to its performance."

    I think that juxtaposition is extremely unfair to GP, and moreover, misguided. "Scientist" is not a magic word. Over 50% of bicycle enthusiasts I know are scientists, but that does not make them bicycle experts. Heck, I myself am a scientist with a PhD, 10 years of research experience and all that stuff, but that does not make me an expert in everything "scientific" - only in my own field of expertise. From what I remember, JH was trained as a geologist or something similar - not a physicist or engineer. His interest in bicycles began the same as for the rest of us - he rode a great deal and began to notice stuff. Just as my research experience in neuroscience does not qualify me to design experiments outside of my field, neither does JH's background make him more of an expert in bicycles than Grant Petersen.

  14. The new version of the Rawland Sogn will have low-trail and is optimized for 650B wheels and a front handlebar bag. It's very affordable and the designer, Sean Virnig, received a lot of input from his fans and customers via his blog. Here's a short story about him and the bike:

    Sean and his wife attended our Rough Riders Rally last year and his Drakkar model won Best Bike Award (and he now offers an alternate, low-trail fork for that model, too):

  15. sipelgas said...
    "...regards the Saluki I think Jan may have had a point, the Saluki had a quite low head angle and a short rake, giving a longer trail than most of Grants bikes. Velourias Sam has the same head angle, but somewhat longer rake, it would be interesting to hear her experiences."

    I have no complaints about the handling of my Sam Hillborne. I have ridden it in quite hilly areas with 15lb+ in the handlebar bag and it handled no differently than without the weight or than before the hbar bag was installed. It is stable both at slow and at fast speeds. It is stable on descents at 30mph+ and it is stable uphill at 6mph. The 52cm Sam has no toe overlap, but I can't speak for the other sizes. I really can't say enough good things about it. If I had to make one adjustment, it would be a non-sloping top tube. But that is not a functional issue. I have a full review of my bike here.

  16. I have built my own frames and forks
    and tried both types of geometries.
    My own finding with low trail designs
    (especially with flexible frames)
    is that they are much more prone to shimmy.

    After I started to read bicycle quarterly
    I noticed that Jan would repeatedly brush over
    shimmy problems in reviews of low trail bikes
    that he thought handled well. He might not
    think shimmy is an issue, but I certainly
    do. Could this issue also be the reason
    be why most mass produced
    bikes have more trail than Jan advocates?

    Besides the shimmy issue, I personally
    like lowish trail geometries
    for the slowish riding that I do.
    But I also find that the human body
    is wonderfully adaptable, and the small
    differences become unnoticeable after spending
    time on a bike. I just enjoy the ride.

    John I

  17. John - I think you bring up an important point: preferences. I am sure that there are benefits and drawbacks to both Rivendell's design and the design BQ advocates. For me, shimmy is a big deal, and bikes with it make me nervous. For someone else, it might not be a big deal at all. No bike can be perfect for everyone.

  18. Maybe they're both right. Different geometries will suit different people. After reading all this I need to go back and find out what the geometry on my old World Traveler is since that is one of the nicest handling bikes for responsiveness and stability I have.

  19. Here's Grant not saying anything about trail:

    "grant 11 Feb 11
    GOOSENECK ASKED : Where is there a place for low trail geometry (if at all) in your opinion? I don’t want to force you to put anybody down or call someone a liar. I know it’s a tedious and contentious subject, but it’s a topical one that’s been nagging me. I’m sure others have the same question – any light you can shine on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Jan Heine knows a lot about bikes, and is a friend of mine, and you don’t have to worry about putting me in an awkward position, calling anybody a liar—-nothing like that. PETA alert, though: There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there is a wide ranger of handling qualities that one can get used to and even come to prefer. Jan likes less trail than I do, and there’s not much more to it than that. WHen I get on my bike, I pedal it away, swoop around, ride it all over, and think: Do I want it to behave any differently? And if the answer is No, then I leave it alone and don’t worry about the numbers. Trail is not THE determining influence on handling; it is one of many, and most bikes, over the years, have settled into trail figures in the high 50s to low 60s. To make trail an issue and to be suspicious of either low-trail (based on the minority probably being wrong) or norm trail (based on the majority usually being dumb and wrong) misses the point that you adapt to what you got. I find our bikes are easy to control even in conditions that scuttlebutt says should favor low-trail bikes. But maybe that’s just what I’m used to….but what we’re used to becomes our reality. How’s that for a non-answer? G"



  20. Now I'm going to bring my English instructor self to this blog and say "neither option is right or wrong." What matters is what you prefer, which will be based on the kind of riding you do as well as tastes (fetishes?) you may have.

    Now I'm going to say something that greatly pains me to say: My bikes probably come closer to Grant Peterson's than to Jan Heine's ideals. I say that as someone who's put off by the attitudes behind The Rivendell Reader and Grant's preachiness (and self-contradiction that, at times, borders on hypocrisy). The French constructeurs' randonneuses are bikes that clearly have a more specific purpose than what Grant Peterson champions. All I can say is chacun a son gout!

  21. Jim - But at the same time, GP makes it clear, as Mike Jenkins wrote earlier, that he will not make a low trail bike (from the same 37 Signals interview: "I don’t want anybody to feel ashamed for asking us to ...make a bike with low ‘trail,’ but I’m resolved not to do it."). To me, that is a polite way of saying he thinks it's a bad idea.

    I think "There’s more than one way to skin a cat" sums it up just about right though.

    1. You misunderstand. Petersen will not build a bike that does not handle the same as his other bikes because he does not want someone buying it secndhand someday for the "Rivendell" ride and finding that it does not handle as the purchaser expected. He is simply preserving his "brand".

  22. Vintage (especially French) 80's bikes sometimes have low trail geometry. Unloaded, they feel squirrelly, jittery and unstable. With a front load, they handle like mid to high trail bikes feel unloaded.

    My vintage 80's touring bike is much more enjoyable now that I've got a front basket. As long as more weight is carried in front, the bike feels just as fast as unloaded, and I can haul huge amounts of groceries home riding no-handed!

    Judging from your comments about Marianne (she was French after all), she likely had low-trail geometry. Did you ever load the front only?

  23. Trail makes a HUGE issue if you put any weight on the handlebars or use a handlebar bag. If you don't put any weight up there, then yes, anybody can get used to any amount of trail.

    Essentially, bikes without low trail will ride poorly, with shimmy and the inability to ride non-hands, if there is any weight on the handlebars. Even a water bottle mounted on the bars, especially if the stem is about 8cm or longer, will cause a mid- or high-trail bike to shimmy. That's why mid-trail bikes like Rivendells usually have a saddle bag, and not a French-style, low-mounted handlebar bag. Contrarily, that's why the French-style bikes with low-mounted handlebar bags all have low-trail.

    I have never seen Jan Heine suggest that shimmy is not an issue, by the way.

  24. I can't comment on Rivedells, but I know french bikes (duh).
    Most mainstream french makers sold 650B bikes for "cyclotourisme" in the 70's and early 80's. I own a Peugeot from the mid 70's that was, by no means, an expensive bike in its time. In the same league as a PX10, not as a René Herse. Weren't these bikes imported in the US too during the bike boom ?

  25. What a great conversation. I wish I understood what you are talking about :^)
    Trail? Isn't that what you ride on?
    What's the difference between a randonneur and a touring bike?
    Anyway, I love my Sam Hillborne.

  26. Velouria said...
    neither does JH's background make him more of an expert in bicycles than Grant Petersen.

    Yes. You have said that before. I beg to differ. A scientific education, at least when I got mine, was a training in method. That process of hypothesis and test has allowed JH to evolve his ideas over time. It's more about what you do with your observations, than the facts of any particular discipline.

    The interesting thing about bicycles, is they are not well understood. Whoever adds more to that understanding, is more expert.

  27. phillipe - The 650B models are extremely rare in the US. The ones that were imported are mostly lower-mid tier Motobecane and Peugeot bikes with 27" wheels, and the ones I've tried were not for me. I would love to find a lower-end vintage French 650B bike, but have never seen one around these parts.

    Kirsten - My Motobecane Mirage mixte shimmied downhill like mad, felt downright painful over bumps and had considerable toe overlap. I never installed a front rack on her, but once I tried to ride with shopping bags on the handlebars, which was nearly impossible.

    Jim P - The way I understand it, touring and randonneuring are related and overlapping styles of cycling, with touring being more leisurely and involving heavier loads, vs randonneuring being more fast paced.

    Mike - Yes, but "the method" calls for not using the same 2 participants (with similar preferences, and one of whom happens to be the experimenter himself) over and over again in every experiment, to name just one small qualm I have. But never mind, I'll drop it. If you believe that being a scientist makes JH more qualified than a longtime industry man such as GP, that is your right.

  28. Justine Valinotti said...
    "...I say that as someone who's put off by the attitudes behind The Rivendell Reader and Grant's preachiness (and self-contradiction that, at times, borders on hypocrisy). "

    Do you feel comfortable elaborating? My one disappointment with Rivendell, is what I see as the gradual creeping in of details into their frame construction that contradicts their pro-lugwork rhetoric. This is evident in the Betty Foy, and in the new version of the Bombadil model too. I asked about that in the Q&A after the 37Signals interview, but did not receive a reply.

    As far as aesthetics go, I prefer the Bicycle Quarterly stuff, so I want to like it. But I can't just up and order a low trail 650B randonneur on faith alone.

  29. Had my old Centurion repaired and installed Trimlines, 38mm wide 650B. To my astonishment I had found that Old C was right there in Jan Heine-land, trail 40mm and flop 11. The Riv had a middle trail of 55mm, but a relatively low flop of 16.

    Gotta love those 80s Japanese bikes! I'm in the process of converting one to 650B right now...

  30. While it's true that on any given fork, reducing the wheel size would also reduce trail, I'm can't see what other benefits the 650b size has. Quality wider tires can be had in most wheel sizes, and I'm enjoying the benefits of low trail (low 40's) geometry on a 27" wheel.

    If you measured the trail on any interesting (and cheap) vintage bicycles you came across, eventually you would find one with low-ish trail which could be purchased for testing. But that's a bit tedious.

    Alternatively, you could measure any vintage bicycles owned by friends and perhaps borrow one with low trail. The installation of a 650b wheelset (borrowed or purchased) for testing purposes might also be possible. It's certainly less expensive than having a custom randonneur built.

  31. somervillain -are you also altering the front geometry at all in addition to the 650B conversion?

  32. I am presently building up an old Raleigh Triumph 10-speed into a bike for touring using many VO parts. The bike will have a handlebar bag and rear panniers. The front fork has quite a bit of rake so it seemed like an appropriate bike to build up like a randonneur.

    The tires are 26x1 1/4", just a little bigger than 650B but not quite as wide. Does anyone have any experience with early Raleigh bikes from this era (early '60s perhaps)?

    Would love to know how the geometry of these bikes compares with classic French models.

  33. Randonneuring is an organized sport. Rides are listed by a local organization, on specific days. They are usually at least 200k. They're not a race, but you do get recognition for finishing them. There are cue sheets and places where you have to check in and get your sheet signed so they know you didn't take a shortcut anywhere. The general idea is long-distance self-sufficient cycling over specific distances--300k, 400k. Longer rides have overnight stops (at cabins or people's homes among other options) but the idea isn't to be a tourist--the goal is riding that specific distance. You get to your overnight stop, sleep, get up, leave.

    Touring is, well, being a tourist on a bicycle. People stay in everything from campgrounds to people's houses to hotels. There's as much variety among cycle tourists as any other kind of tourist, really. Shawn and I like to go cheaply and camp most of the time, we always carry all of our own stuff and cook most of our food ourselves. Some people carry just their clothes and toiletries and stay in hotels every night and eat out for every meal, or join supported tours where someone else carries your stuff and cooks your food.

    The only thing they have in common is riding your bicycle for long distances. But when you're touring, the idea is to enjoy the journey as much as possible, in addition to biking to specific places where you'd like to go. In randonneuring, the main goal is finishing the mileage of long organized rides.

  34. Randonneur rides happening near you:

  35. I have an old raleigh club racer with the 26 X 1 1/w wheels. I do not know the age of the bike but I guess 60's and the frame has no model name.
    These wheels are a bit bigger than what came on 3 speeds and meant for racers. Lots of fun, but I doubt the british were interested in making a french style bike.
    I would suggest asking Velo Orange about their frames and how they compare to a Singer or Herse.
    I am puzzled by the difference between randonneur and touring bikes which seem to be about the same thing. Someone told me a randonneur is a race that goes on for a long time, so some light bags are needed for supplies and has to be stable, but that doesn't seem right to me. People build up bicycles in the 'randonneur' style or do randonneur races on touring bikes. I guess one would have to try them out. And yes Sheldon Brown did talk about the special ride quality of french bikes-peugeot's being accessable. I have a french bike but no idea if it is low trail or not but it does have a certain ride.
    As for tubing, any rivendells I have seen have had very slim classic tubes compared to most modern steel bikes and comparable to my vintage frames.
    So... for me the most baffling thing is trail.
    What is trail? My touring bike is high trail and supposedly not meant for being front loaded, yet my bike is very unstable and frustrating. I have read that low trail bikes=shimmy, but on the other hand, some people have found that high trail=shimmy. My bike definitely has shimmy.
    I wish I could understand the difference!
    I guess rivendell's advantage is that they have bicycles built to Petersen's vision whereas BQ has quant drawings and reviews-but I haven't looked in awhile.

  36. On one hand, Grant likes to project the image of an iconoclast. But when anyone has questions regarding any of his ideas about frame or bicycle design, he either doesn't (or pretends not to) hear them or dismisses them.

    Also, he says that we should forget about all the nice finishing and polishing work on the old bicycle components because it was done by poorly-paid workers (some of whom were Filipino guest workers in Japan) working under miserable conditions. But then Rivendell sells things from third-world countries that may well be made under sweatshop conditions.

    Finally, for all his talk about fair business practices, he put Frost River out of business over a petty dispute.

  37. Philippe: As someone who started riding during the American "bike boom" of the '70's, I can confirm what Velouria says. Most of the lower-priced French, as well as British, Italian and other European bikes exported to the US at that time had 27 inch wheels. I don't think I saw a bike with 650B wheels until I went to France for the first time in 1980.

    Nick: The bike sounds interesting. I don't know about the geometry. But I'm pretty sure that the 26-inch diameter is the same as the one used on British three-speeds, although the tire (and possibly rim) on your bike is narrower. I know that it's different from the American 26 inch wheels and tires of the time, and from the 26 inch items on today's mountain bikes.

  38. april - But does it have to be? Or can one go "randonneuring" without joining an official brevet? I was pretty sure the latter, but I could be wrong.

  39. V -- it depends on what you're looking for. If you just want to 'do the ride' you can download the cue sheets from the Boston Brevet Series archive and just go at it. It isn't 'randonneuring' per se, since it's all unofficial ... but if you want the 'self-supported, timed endurance challenge' thing, there's nothing stopping you from riding your own ride. For true randonneuring spirit, you should make up a little card with all of the checkpoints and time requirements, have a person sign the card at each stop, and then turn it in to the Co-Habitant when you get home for inclusion in your personal records.

    If you want to meet others and pick brains and geek out on frame geometry, then you should show up for a ride. You also have to join a ride if you want mileage credit for any of the RUSA or ACP awards and if you want to qualify for a 1200k like PBP.

    If you want to get RUSA mileage credits and/or want things to have some level of 'officialness', but don't necessarily want to ride with people, you could also do Permanent, which is basically just riding a pre-designated route that's been designed and maintained by an individual routekeeper. It's got a lot of the logistical hallmarks of a brevet (ie. funny little cards that you have to have signed, timetables, self-support, etc.) but it can be done any time and can certainly be done solo. Permanents don't go towards PBP qualification or ACP awards, but they are recognized by RUSA for things like the R-12 (their Year Round rider challenge)

    If you want to do one of Jan's Cyclos Montagnards challenges, I believe that those are freeform events. You just have to submit some sort of proposal to Jan. The R60/R70/R80 stuff that he has, I believe, requires you to ride an official brevet within the tighter time limits. I don't believe that one would qualify if they rode a brevet route outside of an actual event.

  40. Ha Ha Ha!! I too am a scientist but, to suggest a person with a scientific background knows more about bikes than someone who has designed and built bikes successfully for decades is... well, not very scientific. :^)

  41. There are rides called "permanents" that are specific routes, and if you get the proper proof you rode them, you can still get the medal/ride the next ride that goes up in distance. But to get the medals and etc. from doing the rides you have to join RUSA and/or pay a fee. Most people, I believe, go on the rides that are planned for specific days and have organizers and etc.

    I might do a 200k at some point just to have done it, but the longer rides don't really appeal to me...I like riding partially because of the ride itself, sure, but also so I can get somewhere pleasant! The 300k rides start at five in the morning and end at two am the next thanks.

  42. Velouria, have you thought about getting one of the Velo-Orange frames? They say that they use the traditional French "low trail" design. I know, it's not the same as getting a Rene Herse, but it's at least easily attainable. And maybe you can "test ride" one for awhile!

  43. Justine -Thanks. I am not up on the Riv world intrigue and will look up the Frost River thing. The funny thing is that I actually get occasional questions over email about Rivendell's bags from people who are confused about the continuity of their designs and the origin of "Nigel Smythe" label.

    april & cris - I am fairly familiar with the structure and organisational aspects of randonneuring, but didn't know whether the word is limited to the official sport/activity, or whether it can be used independently from it. For example, I can play tennis with a friend without belonging to a team or a league and it will still be tennis. My efforts will not be recognised and I will get no medal, but I would still consider myself a tennis enthusiast and will go shopping for a tennis racket.

    My problem - or personal preference, depending on how you look at it - is that I dislike group events, but like the style of cycling used in randonneuring events. So for instance, I would much prefer to travel to France in April and do the PBP route on my own while getting no recognition for having done so what so ever, than to go in August and take part in the official ride. Would I be "randonneuring" or not?

  44. Oh! There IS a randonneur right in my house and I totally forgot! My husband has an italian bike from the 60's(?) that came with a rack, gorgeous fenders and a bottle generator. It is absolutely gorgeous-totally chromed with iridescent sky blue paint and chrome lugs etc..
    It was on craigslist! He wanted a road bike so took all the mysterious gear off. I tried to tell him the bike was special in that it was MEANT for randonneuring/light touring. It is incredibly fast and incredibly stable. Maybe too fast and I doubt the fenders would make any difference! He sees fenders and thinks 'commuter bike' and would never take this bike out in the rain, so doesn't want the fenders on. It is italian and not french so there are probably some differences, but it is very much a classic randonneur.
    Also, sifting through BQ, I would not say BQ and Riv are opposed. Grant and Jan are friends and colleagues, have similar visions, but BQ is all about randonneuring and brevets which is a specific niche. Rivendell just wants you biking whether to the store, to work, a long tour or a day long jaunt.

  45. adventure! said...
    "...have you thought about getting one of the Velo-Orange frames? They say that they use the traditional French "low trail" design."

    I've considered it when these frames first came out, but the Poly frame is not lugged, and the Rando frame comes in a colour I dislike, so if I were to buy it there'd be another $200-300 for paint. For that price, I'd rather buy a Riv Simpleone to replace my fixed gear bike, or try a fully custom Mercian. Also, the Rando frame is 700C and does not have a great deal of tire width clearance. It looks like a very nice bike, but getting it won't really answer my question about what it's like to ride specifically the kind of bike JH recommends. It does not need to be a Herse per se, but I'd like for it to have the exact geometry he recommends. Hope that makes sense.

  46. In frank honesty, V, if you did PBP on your own and kept to the time limits and even got the Co-Habitant to certify cards that you printed up yourself and all of that, a part of me would still say that it's a tour and not a randonnee. There's something about the 'officialness' of it all that is indelibly attached to the event. If you don't make it official then why not just tour? And more importantly, why not just get 8 hours of sleep and have a shower and drink a cafe at a civilized time without subjecting yourself to the stress or worry of having to make a time schedule?

    With that said, that's just me. The more objective part of me would say that functionally speaking, if you hit all of the time requirements and do it unsupported, then you can think of it is a brevet and for all intents and purposes of judging one's hardcore ness or endurance, there's no need to niggle over one achievement versus another simply because of officialness. But to avoid one simple for antisocial reasons is, I think, somewhat premature.

    Many brevets can be utterly solitary affairs. Back when I was training to do a 1000k in Vancouver Island in 2009, I figured given the low participation on the ride, I was going to be doing most of it solo, so I did most of brevets in '09 without any company, just as psychological training. It was relatively easy to do. Just give everyone else a 10 minute head start and don't try to catch them. Nobody will wait for you. You can be as conversational or as antisocial as you want to be on these things. Most won't mind.

  47. Velouria--I figured that you'd be opposed to the Polyvalent due to it's non-luggitude, and the Rando due to it's non-650Bitutde. (I also figured you didn't like group rides, but that's neither here nor there.) But that's why I suggested seeing if you could get an extended period to "test ride" the thing (or just buy one and sell it later.) That way, if indeed the VO frames emulate the French rando frames as they claim to, you'd know if you liked that style of bike or not. Then you could move onto the next step of a custom bike!

    With all this interest, are you going to try to do a tour this summer?

  48. cris - I guess the whole point for me is that I don't feel the need for anyone to know or to believe me. It would be an incredible experience to just cycle on my own for days and see how fast I can do it, with not a soul there to confirm it. It's not that I am "antisocial." I have friends and am pretty good at social functions. I just don't like combining it with cycling. Cycling is my alone time, my meditative time, the time when ideas come to me, and that's what I like about it.

    But anyhow: This brings up an interesting point - are bikes described as "randonneuring bikes" limited to being used in official events?... What if I want to go on what you would describe as a "tour" but on a bike that handles like a "randonneuring" bike?

  49. also as far as specifcs on differences between randonneuring and touring bikes: I think that it's true that there is a lot of overlap, and for most of us, it's perfectly fine to use a dedicated touring bike like a Trek 520 for brevets, just as some folks will tour with a Club Racer. However, both types of bikes have different design goals.

    A generic touring bicycle is intended to be ridden for extended periods of time with a rider who will sleep at regular intervals and may expect to bring along camping gear for fully loaded touring. It needs to have the long chainstays to support panniers without incurring heel strike. It should have brazeons for a front rack to support a pair of low-rider panniers.

    A brevet bike is ridden by a rider on a specific time schedule. That schedule will likely trump weight and baggage, so a brevet bike doesn't necessarily need to support panniers. Your typical randonneur will not camp, and will ride through the night, so they also need generator lights, which, frankly, are overkill for most tourists.

    Basically, I tend to frame it in the question of: what does one want to do when it rains. When it rains, a tourist can pull over, engage a kickstand, open their panniers and take out a rain jacket, put it on and then keep going. A randonneur will want to open their front handlebar bag, take the jacket out, and ride no hands while putting it on because they won't want to stop the bike.

    And, with all of that said, randonneuring and touring are big tents. People have shown up at brevets and done perfectly well on Long Haul Truckers. Some of us even stop and take off our rain jackets like normal people :D Conversely, one can still go on a week long tour with a Club Racer and find other ways of hauling cargo if their chainstays are too short for panniers. It's just that specific design ideas will make the ride easier for the rider, but at the end of the day, what makes the ride into a good time is the rider and not necessarily the bike.

  50. FWIW, many of the old 27" bicycles of yore were low to mid trail designs. When tires were puffier and lower pressure the lower trail geometry worked very well. You can find old Fuji's, Peugeot's, Motobecanes, and Gitane's built that way.

    If you're out shopping for used bikes the easiest way to guess the trail of a vintage bike is to look at the fork offset and the curve of the lower fork blades compared to the head tube angle. If the fork has strongly curved blades in the lower region, it's probably a mid to low trail design (assuming the head tube isn't incredibly relaxed).

    If you convert these bikes to 700c and put something like the Grand Bois Cypress on there, you're doing very well for not a lot of cash.

    It can at least give you an ideal of what a purpose built randonneur is like.

    +1 to the mention of MAP Bicycles and Mitch Pryor above, I'd love to own one of his 650b machines.

    I'd not dismiss the VO Polyvalent off hand because it's not lugged, I too prefer some sculpted steel.

    Strangely enough the VO Rano frame is NOT a low trail design despite what their store blurb might say. If you check the geometry it's around ~50mm of trail. 53mm fork offset with a 73deg headtube and 32mm tires. I don't know why they say it is.

  51. Per you're question about touring on a randonneur bike.

    The problem there becomes one of the tube stiffness and weight bearing capacity. Most custom randonneuse bikes are built with lighter gauge tubing. They are essentially race bikes with big low rolling resistance tires.

    Something like a well stuffed handlebar bag and a large saddle bag are well within their capabilities, but stuff them with front and rear panniers and your bike will be a wet noodle.

    'Credit card touring' would be no problem on a bike like that though. Just don't pack it to be alone for 2 weeks without seeing another human.

  52. yeah, I hear where you're coming from. I'm not a big 'joiner' and am fairly introverted. That's one reason why I've never raced and never cared to try. I also like being on the bike to be alone and recharge and mull things over. I will say that being on a brevet does not take away from that time. You're going to be on a bike for 8+ hours -- that's a lot of time to be alone or chatty or everything in between. There are also some points (especially at night) where it's good to have someone around, even if you don't feel like chatting.

    I don't mean to discourage you from doing this on your own if that's your preference. There are enough people on the Internet telling each other "you're doing it wrong" and I don't mean to join that chorus ... I just feel that 'randonneuring' is already a bit of an artificial label for something that a lot of us kind like to do on our own anyway. I call it 'a weekend on my bike' and the only reason why I feel like doing a thing called 'randonneuring' is because it's also nice to do it with other people, where the sole complete limitation of our interaction can quite literally be limited to both of us turning to each other in the middle of an event and saying, "goddamn it's hot today, isn't it? Safe ride."

  53. as far as mixing and matching, I think part of my other comment hits some of that, but also I can talk a bit about what happened when I comissioned building my ANT Club Racer with Mike. Prior to then I was riding a Trek 520, which I took on a couple of short tours and also rode when I did my first brevet series. The bike was never a perfect fit, but the fit imperfections became more apparent when doing brevets; which is what kicked me over into wanting to get a custom frame.

    When I talked to Mike, part of what I said was that I wanted to keep the 520 for tours, but wanted a more nimble, faster bike that could still handle having some gear hanging off of it and could still be my commuter and therefore support the panniers that I used for bring a laptop and clothes with me to work. Now, it's been ... three years since I got the Club Racer, and I've maybe put on a hundred miles on the 520 since then. I really should sell the Trek, but I keep hesitating.

    I do tour on my ANT, though nothing particularly long or heavy -- weekends away, that sort of thing. Due to the fancy light rack, the Club Racer isn't meant to support front panniers so its utility for fully loaded touring is a bit more limited than the 520. Also, due to being built around long-reach sidepull caliper brakes instead of cantilevers (for more responsive braking in pacelines), it's limited in the widths of the tires that I could install on it (especially if I still wanted fenders) ... basically, I could only go as high as 700x28's. I used to have 30mm Gran Bois' under these, but the clearances were tight.

    It's fine for what it is, and for most of the touring\riding\randonneuring that I want to do in the immediate future, it's been a great bike. The Club Racer was built as a brevet bike but not in the constructeur\Alex Singer model with low trail and 650b tires and lugged construction. It was built in the Somerville\Fat City model of clean welds and bombproof durability ;) ... it may not be the bike that I would take if I were ever to quit my job and ride down to Patagonia, but the 520 might not be that either.

  54. Jammy--Re: VO frames:
    Are you saying the Polyvalent is more like a trad. rando bike? If I had the extra cash, I'd like to try it out.

    And if I really had the extra cash, I'd go for the MAP. Mitch is a real nice guy, and makes nice bikes!

  55. cris - randonneur bikes - at least in JH's definition of them - have long chainstays as well, and will most definitely accommodate lowrider racks in rear and front.

    But let's get rid of the touring vs randonneuring terminology and reframe it as "what I'd want to do on this bike." (1) I do not plan to participate in official randonneuring events, but I plan to do similar routes at similar speeds on my own. (2) I like to have a large handlebar bag (like the one on my Rivendell) in the front, and a medium sized saddle back in the rear, and to stuff everything in those. I don't plan to carry tents, dishes or other camping gear. (3) I like wide 650B tires. The 650x40mm Grand Bois Hetres on my Rivendell are my favourite wheels & tire combo thus far. (4) Perhaps most importantly, I want the bike to feel comfortable and stable, while allowing me to go fast. I like the few Italian racing bikes I've tried, and sometimes I wish my Sam Hillborne gave me the same feeling as them while retaining its properties of stability and comfort. Taken all together, to me that sounds like I would like a "randonneuring" bike as described in BQ very much, despite not being a participant in official randonneuring events.

  56. Why am I not surprised to be re-routed back to the most recent Lovely Bicycle post when Googling for more info on touring bikes. As always - wonderful forum of opinion and experience. Thanks.

    (Just wish having more info and more options made the choices easier - not harder!)

  57. @ adventure,

    Yes, the Polyvalent geo is very similar to a traditional custom rando frame. The seat tube is 72deg, sometimes you'll see a rando bike with it closer to 73, but 72 should be close enough. The headtube angle and trail figures are good.

    The chainstays are a bit longer than some more aggressive builds, but that's just preference.

    It's made from a traditional (not oversized) tubing.

    Slap some Hetre's, a narrow rando bar, fenders, and chrome goodies on there and you should be as close as you can get for the money.

  58. Velouria--Are you going to plan on doing any loaded touring with it? (Or in general.) I remember you talking about doing some tours this you mean "randos"?

  59. adventure - loaded to the same extent as last year on Cape Cod: a large handlebar bag with around 15lb in it and a saddlebag with 10lb or so.

    Thanks Emma J : ) Unfortunately, I don't think this post is very helpful as far as intros to touring options go!

  60. Is the Tour Easy not a classic? What about the Gospel of Garder Martin? :)

  61. Dave Wages, formerly of Waterford, is taking a
    rando to NAHBS.

  62. You can get used to any of these bike geometries with no difficulty. It looks like a big difference when you scrutinize the numbers and follow the heated discussions on the Internet.

    I will admit to being a convert and now have 700C and 650B frames with low trail/flop, so I am biased. The real story is that I discovered the joys of a front bag. Before BQ I never had thought to try one, but now I am rarely seen without.

    Shimmy is a problem with mediocre quality wheels and frame prep, but one that can generally be tamed with proper setup (and a needle bearing headset).

    It's too bad that there's no easy way to try before you buy these days. Kogswells were nice (with Surly/Rivendell-stout tubing) while they lasted, but then they tried to chase the lightweight "planing" thing (BQ's other favorite subject) and produced a later generation of bikes best known for shimmy problems. And then they folded.

    Velo Orange sells the Polyvalent for a rationalize-able money, but nobody in Boston stocks them...

  63. "So for instance, I would much prefer to travel to France in April and do the PBP route on my own while getting no recognition for having done so what so ever, than to go in August and take part in the official ride. Would I be "randonneuring" or not?"

    If it's not within the 90 hr. time limit, it's not PBP in the Event sense. You merely did a nice tour.

    With all due respect, first do a metric century, then a century. Then a 200k and so on. PBP comes after you get many many miles in your legs and can manage the lack of sleep/logistics.

    To do the math PBP is 746 miles in 90 hrs., or 8.2 mph whether awake or sleeping.

    At that point it's not even about bike riding but stubborn-headedness.


  64. Velouria--Ah. I guess when I hear "touring" I assume the full-panniers-and-camping route. My bad.

    Out of curiosity, have you considered bike camping/touring route? Or is that not your thing?

  65. I’ve had a Riv Saluki, have a 1st gen Kog P/R with thousands of miles on it, and since November have had a Boulder Bikes (the plain version of the “new Rene Herse”) standard diameter lightweight tubing low trail rando bike (and have been riding it all through the winter, so 2k miles on it) (and also until recently had a custom Bob Jackson, whose geometry was pretty identical to the Hillborne / Hilson). And also my wife has a Riv Glorius which is one of the great Rivs. These bikes have all been owned and ridden by me contemporaneously, ie I’ve been able to compare them by riding them in sequence / winnowing / changing features / moving more towards the (my) ideal.

    In a recent BQ (I think it was BQ?) there was a small article saying it all comes down to tube weight…that identical tubed bikes with identical geometries made by different builders would ride pretty much the same. The Saluki was “overbuilt” for me (I’m 6’ and 175 lbs). It felt a bit dead, except when loaded with 30 lbs of gear…then it felt lively, and biting into turns etc. And, same experience as above re only weight on the front…if I used only a front bag on it…quite the dog. A front bag + panniers was fine. The guy I sold it to, who LOVES it, weighs around 225, so unloaded it’s perfect feeling for him. And that for me is the crux of the recent Rivs…they are built for heavier riders; and the RBW list seems to bear this out. The new Roadeo…maybe not so much; and the Sam also I believe is a bit of a lighter tubed bike as they (Riv) don’t suggest one use S&S couplers with it. So as far as the lively “feel” (planing anyone? Uh, let’s not even mention that) – I think Riv has opted for a more bombproof / weight carrying ride then any of the bikes up through the early 80s.

    Trail – riding a similarly tubed low trail (the Boulder) and and a “standard trail”, the Bob or my old Columbus tubed road bike from the 70s…yeah they handle differently; it’s quite subtle, except at “the limit” ie limits of adhesion, which for me only come up on dirt or gravel, as happily (or unhappily) I don’t get up to such great speed on pavement anymore. The difference? It’s akin to the difference between (of the same vintages) a Porsche 911 and a BMW 3 series…if we look at examples of both from the late 70s / early 80s…HP the same, set up for use as a weekend racecar – the Porsche handles in a way that is different from the BMW and every other car out there…is it faster through turns as a result? NO! But there are a few things you can do with it that you don’t do with the BMW or any of the others. That only makes it different. For me (and I can make the hobbyist racecar / bike comparisions because I have a lot of seat time in / on both) I like the low trail handling because I can get it to slide front and back separately or together; higher trail pretty much just the back slides, when the front begins to go for me on a higher trailed bike, pretty much I’ve lost it and am about to crash. Low trail – I can induce slides front and rear; high trail, only rear. Very noticeable esp lately! in all this snow, or on gravelly roads in the rest of the year (I’m in a rural area, so a lot of dirt roads round here). The BMW vs 911 is about the same diff…the 911 can slide and rotate through turns, the BMW slides with a different and more “normal” bias…the pleasure and difference is up to the enduser.

  66. The Kog P/R is kinda like a low trail Riv in that it has oversized heavier tubes + low trail. Great if you want the handling of a low trail bike; but it doesn’t have the same springiness of the Boulder. I do believe that the rSogn as mentioned above is the best and newest iteration of a lightweight low trail production bike (I convinced 2 friends to buy them, and would have gotten one myself, except I had the Boulder, which is essentially the Waterford version anyway, so not much difference there)

    Re carrying…some of it is just style…a handlebar bag is nice…but if the stuff shakes around in there, even on a low trail bike blessed by Alex Singer and touched by Jan Heine (or the reverse), it’s durn annoying. And, yep, weight only on the front of the Saluki (as I said earlier)…not so great. BUT…with both the high and low trail bikes…if you use panniers on front and back… carry the load as near to the axle as you can – either is quite; it’s just when the load is higher up, ie in a bag, that you get a benefit from low trail. Must you carry everything up high in that cool ostrich bag (which you will remember has had ducks in it, and often eggs now, as we sell eggs and I deliver them)? And the low trail bikes don’t like having more weight in the rear; so front panniers for lots of carrying; and in either case, handlebar bags need to be well packed / or porteur stuff tightly strapped down. But then there IS the slight difference in the feel of the handling regardless. It’s almost like another debate about the angels on heads of pins, or friction vs indexing. Preference.

    And Riv – problematic to deal with sometimes; attitudinally one can’t get bothered by the neurotic / capricious decision making, because it’s balanced by a lot of wonderful benefits and thinking (both of which I’ve experienced first hand)

    650b vs 700c…yes there’s a difference…some more cushiness in the 650b tires, but also more weight…despite what “they” say I do find I like the feel of lighter wheels / lighter tires, and yeah, I ride them hard on gravel / dirt…no difference re flats. So I don’t mind the tradeoff of a little bit harder ride for more quickness. Also if one is small, 650b makes lots of sense; my Saluki was 62 cm, no real benefit to smaller wheels for me / even with the bigger tires.

    Low trail vs “normal”; 650b vs 700c (when not size driven?). Again friction vs indexing? It comes down to what feels best for you.

    I’d agree that the biggest component of what a bike feels like is the tube weight, and while not getting too crazy about it, that’s what I look for first. And yeah, there was a sweet spot, 70s Columbus tubed, Reynolds lightweight tubing, etc, not oversized, seems to be what works best (for me). But that bias could also come from that era of bikes being the first time I had a decent bike, and the physical memory from 35 years ago sticking with me all this time.

  67. Gonna pipe up here and point out that adventure! and I go touring together, doing the camping thing, and it's a ridiculous amount of fun. And unlike randonneuring-style riding, the emphasis is on enjoying the ride and the scenery, stopping whenever you feel like it, and just generally relaxing. Yes, riding 70 miles in a day can be relaxing.

    I think people get the idea that it's hard to ride with panniers full of stuff. Touring-style riding is just not the same thing as getting home from the grocery store. When you're coming home from the store, chances are your bags are heavier than they are on tour (soymilk + fresh veggies weighs an effing ton), and you're traveling through stop-and-go traffic. When you're touring, your load is lighter and you're not stopping nearly as much. Once you get used to the fact that your bike handles a little differently (this will vary depending on your bike), it's not much harder than riding unloaded. A little slower, maybe.

    I guess I'm just not as obsessed with the nitty-gritty details of differing bikes. I toured probably 1500 miles last summer on a 1985 Miyata two-ten with a handlebar bag and mustache bars, two huge panniers in the rear, and tying my therma-rest and sleeping bag on top of my rack. It didn't even occur to me to worry about trail or stiffness. It didn't wobble when it was loaded and I could stand on the pedals without falling, so I figured I was doing pretty good.

    And yeah, I'd love a custom touring bike, but for now I'm happy to have a bike intended for touring (long chainstays, comfy angles, wide gear range) that fits and call it a day. I'm just trying to get the saddle/handlebars/stem combo worked out on my Novara Randonee, which is, ironically, intended more for touring.

    My friends who do some pretty hard-core randonneuring seem to ride mid-to-late 1980's Miyatas. I think one has a 610.

  68. I've just read through this long post - very interesting. I would point out to whoever it was further up the post who said riding hands free was impossible on a mid-trail bike - that's just not so. I've got touring bikes with 700C tyres and 57mm of trail and can quite easily change out of my rain gear whilst peddling, ether with or without a bar bag on front. Easy.

    Trail is just one - ONE - aspect of frame design; it is not the be all and end all. Just one of many things that matter, as does the size and physical characteristics of the rider.

  69. I can do without anybody's gospel.

    Henry Kingman wrote in the RR that he is fastest on the bike that is most comfortable for him. Pamela Blalock wrote somewhere on the web about her suspicion of bike tests, based on the fact that testers always like the bikes that ride most like their own, and so fulfill their expectations. I specified my first custom bike according to an old mass-produced bike with which I was happily acclimated, similar in geometry to a Rivendell Long Low of the time, but different from my builders' recommended geometry in my size. That custom bike rode well for me. Later I acquired a second-hand, off-the-peg frame from my builders, configured to their recommended geometry. After riding both frames a good deal, I discovered that my builders' ideas were a little better for me. I found the custom bike to be a little less stable in comparison to the second-hand bike.

    Ironically, I loaned the older, more stable bike to a friend who lives, eats, breathes, and dresses Rivendell. He rode it for an hour or more and reported, "this thing is squirrelly." You like the bike to which you are accustomed. Jan Heine believes that the bike to which he is accustomed is the best possible bike. Grant Petersen has written many times that it is hard to make a bike that is not good to ride.

    Those who have pointed out the importance of matching trail to a front bag may be right, but many Rivendell owners happily ride long miles with front bags. My favorite bike matches the geometry of Jan Heine's Alex Singer. I liked a number of things about handlebar bags,acquired a TA mini rack,and gave the front bag a trial. It had a dramatic effect on the handling of that bike, and not a good one. I could accustom myself to the handling; it did not ruin any ride. It could be that another person would find it the ideal combination. If it had been important to me to propagate the gospel of the front bag, I certainly could have gotten there, given time - but why accustom myself to less than optimal handling when my saddlebag had no effect whatever on handling? Certainly not to be part of the handlebar bag and low-trail religion.

    Since riding to the ticking of a clock is not part of my idea of recreation, I am happy to stop on the rare occasion that I cannot fish something out of my saddlebag by reaching backward. I can clip a cue sheet to my stem when necessary. I begrudge no one their front bag and low trail, neither do I bear witness for the saddlebag. I have no idea what the trail is on most of my bikes, they vary, and all handle well with or without a saddlebag.
    I admire the workmanship and utility of my friends' Berthoud bags.

    Having published an article in BQ, I can attest that while he is very cordial, and his passion for cycling is admirable, the possibility of ever being wrong about anything seems not to be part of JH's outlook. I am not a Rivendell fan, would never ride a bike with pedal overlap, and think the whole iBOB/Rivendell phenomenon has lapsed into self-parody, but I appreciate this about Grant P. - he always has written that we can be perfectly happy on bikes designed differently than his; there is no one right way, but he will design what he knows works well and believes in. Preachy? No. Stating one's convictions and sticking to them often leads to being labeled preachy or opinionated. These accusations are unfair and baseless.

    While they will build "customs" that have some size variances within their overarching design, Rivendell is not a custom shop. They follow Richard Sachs's model - they build their bike for you. I no sooner would expect to dictate geometry to Rivendell than to Richard Sachs. If one expects not to be disagreed with, there are builders who will construct whatever you want.

    By the way, Frost River is very much in business, making, among many other things, bags to Rivendell's designs, very much like others made for many years by Carradice and Berthoud.

    1. Very well written. As for Riv building something special that doesn't fit with their own preferences,someday that bike will be sold to someone who expects the bike to behave like what he has read about and will be disappointed. No company wants that.

  70. Velouria,

    In light of this discussion, this link might be relevant.

    Keep up the great work!

  71. Marketing matters. Until recently when all these special niches opened up it was a pretty good assumption that any high quality high dollar bike would do service as a race bike or at least get into high speed pacelines. Low trail bikes are at best tricky in a paceline. Retailers don't want to sell potential accidents. No good for trackstands either.
    I remember guys taking rake out of the PX10 and the Motobecanes.
    If you look at older bikes they all have more rake than what you see now. Rake is easy to see. Head angle has to be measured, visual distortions abound if you try to eyeball it. iPhones have angle as a built-in app. Combine generous rake with steepish head angle and that's your low-trail bike. Lots of them around. Some bikes are designed and some bikes just happen.

  72. @ Anonymous,

    I'm not so sure that's true about a low trail bike being tricky in a paceline.

    Low trail has a self centering effect and the bike actually resists wobble and is the opposite of twitchy. You have to turn more with the handlebars, and most low trail designs use narrower handlebars to minimize handlebar leverage, thus creating something stable.

    I'm not sure why so many folks think low trial = unstable or twitchy. My Fuji with 38mm of trail is incredibly stable at low speeds and just as stable as my race bike at higher speeds.

    Now if you're on a poorly setup or executed low trial bike, say one with wide handlebars and you yank them around in a paceline... yes that could be disastourous! :-)

  73. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote Nobel winning literature about the beauty of Columbia and love. Sure he is talented (litotes), but it only takes a few minutes in Columbia to realize that he was pretty much documenting the beauty around him.

    Similarly, Grant gets to play in Marin, and do overnights in some of the most accessible and beautiful terrain in the USA. His Velosophy seems immediately derived from his surroundings and his bikes reflect his needs for versatility, clearance, platform pedals, field repairability, street clothes, and a classic aesthetic. That works for Grant, and I am sucker for it.

    JH on the other hand has built a straw house. If I were a builder I would know exactly what to build so that he would love it - standard tubing size, low trail, 650b w. shaved balloon tires and adequate clearances, integrated lights, a decauleur/rack that wouldn't snap even if he took it offroad with bricks in his Berthoud handlebar bag. Even then, it wouldn't be perfect. Like the elusive baguette, it would come asymptotically close to perfect, but never actually be realized.

    He writes self-referenced "peer reviewed" articles that provide biased support for his own personal tastes through interesting science-fair style testing. As Frank Kotsonis said "The plural of anecdote is not data." I admire his persistence but get irked when he flames a bike that's built for an agenda other than his. Next time you test-ride a bike, make sure to ask yourself the real questions- "does it plane?" and "Is it graceful?"

    Don't get me wrong, these guys are both fighting the good fight for a small fraction of the market that deserves a voice, and probably wouldn't have one without these guys, but I appreciate Grant's tongue in cheek style much more than Jan's elitism.

  74. You could try a Boulder Bicycle, from the current owners of the Rene Herse brand, with classic rando geometry and a modern Waterford build. Jan liked it very much, and it's only about $1,300 frame and fork.

  75. actually JH is right scientifically speaking. less muscle energy is used to support oneself in the RH position than in the GP position IF ONE'S BACK ALLOWS SUCH. A 59mm trial is said to be "neutral". Racing cyclists (who have generally a few km under their belt) generally use a quicker 57mm trail to get out of trouble quickly. On slippery conditions such as wet cobblestones or ice\snow or with a handlebar bag an ever quicker response or less trail is required, my experience supports this theory. For cross country a longer trail and top tube is helpful for stability, and not lurching over the handlebars. There isn't one answer-it depends on your anatomy, physical condition and biking conditions.

  76. Different spokes for deeferent folks! I'm about to spring for a Hilsen or a Herse or a Sam or a MAP - it's deeeriving me nuts!! Somewhere, somehow, I'm finding myself mazed and hazed crutching(!) for a nudge, a push, anything to help me decide. How did I get here? Well, by reading the heck out of this great blog, its excellent comments and reading/poring over other minutiae on a granular level that would wow most (ceptin' ya'll) .... and except my wife ... she's genuinely glad that I take 9/10's of my waking state researching, reading, splitting hairs over this and that, babbling in my sleep, etc. etc. I'd like to thank you all for enriching my life beyond compare (and I mean - compare!). Ok, I have decided to spring for the Hilsen! There, I have done it! I'll keep you posted.

  77. "Post Comments (Atom)" I've tried subscribing a number of times to get posts from your blog, but a huge page of code appears. Please email me if there's a way to subscribe to your blog posts.

  78. I cant subscribe either. all this minutiae about a degree here and there and no one bothers to make sure the site works??

  79. HA HA!
    Talk about a religious war! Jeez!

  80. Good sirs after hearing such responses i too will grow facial hair and ride my low tech french road bike a great distance.

    I will soon have my handle bar bag packed with liberations and rolling hard.

    via sins & sprockets

    klause deathbanger

  81. Hah, after reading the journey of discovery, I finally realized why I couldn't find brakes that would have reached the rims from the canti-bosses on the Peugot frame I built my commuting bike on, or why the clearance for fenders is ridiculously small. It wasn't built for 700C wheels. Until now, I had been cursing the french for not using international standards for anything. For this I apologize.

  82. This article and comments are unnecessarily divisive, under-researched & turd-stirring. GP and JH go way back. Two sides of same coin. JH got start writing articles for Rivendell Reader. It's not right vs. wrong and anyone who gets worked up here needs to "just ride" instead of flaming on the web. Grow up everyone. Put 20 years of riding under your belt before you become an expert in steering design.

    Watch them "battle it out" right here:!topic/rbw-owners-bunch/5i6-DCutIwg

    1. While this post and comments certainly do not help, I disagree that the "stirring" is originated here. In my opinion, each company describes its point of view - in its product descriptions and affiliated literature - in a way that is intentionally polarising.

      Now, this post was written 2.5 years ago. I would not write a similar post today. But I do think this post represents how each brand's message tends to be perceived not just by me circa 2011, but by many new readers/riders.

      And I am aware that GP and JH have known each other for decades. FWIW I am friendly with both, and speak to them on occasion about this and that. This does not contradict any of the above.

    2. Thank you for an amazing discussion, I learned a great deal. I enjoy your content and great photographs, I appreciate the time you put into it. I for one love my Rivendell A. Homer, but I have noticed a big change in handling with weight on the front, not as much on my Atlantis, but it is a tank...
      Do you know if any old catalogs or list of specifications of old randonneur frames exist anywhere online? I have a hard time grasping these concepts without seeing numbers.(Just the way my brain works)
      And here is an example I'd love to see you photograph, hope you see it before the auction ends

      Mark S.
      Loma Mar Ca.


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