Friday, January 20, 2012

Van Nicholas: 'Dutch Bike' Redefined

Van Nicholas Amazon Rohloff, Lexington MA
Over the winter holidays I hosted a rather unusual guest from overseas - a titanium Dutch bike. Van Nicholas is a small Netherlands-based manufacturer of titanium road, touring, mountain and cyclocross bicycles. A reader suggested I try a Van Nicholas after I reported enjoying other Ti bikes, and thanks to him a test ride was soon arranged. What made Van Nicholas particularly noteworthy, I was told, is that one of their models - the Amazon - made for a uniquely comfortable transportation bicycle, combining aspects of the workhorse utility bikes Holland is known for with the special properties of titanium. Add to that a couple of fancy features afforded by modern technology (a 14-speed Rohloff hub and a belt drive), and the Van Nicholas Amazon seemed very interesting indeed.

Based on my understanding of the sizing, I asked for a 54cm bike. The bikes are customizable, and so I also asked for it to be fitted with swept back handlebars, a leather saddle and flat pedals. The American distributor (EU Cycling Imports) sent the demo model to the Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington MA, and they put the bicycle together for me. I took it home to test ride and brought it back two weeks later, after which the bike was returned to the distributor. It should be noted that the Ride Studio Cafe carries a certain local brand of titanium bicycles, which is technically a competitor of Van Nicholas. But this did not seem to bother anyone and the RSC displayed the Van Nicholas right on the sales floor along with the Seven bikes for customers to admire. It was a treat to see two different titanium brands side by side.

Van Nicholas Headbadge
Van Nicholas came into existence 12 years ago and was founded as a brand in 2006. The frames are designed in Numansdorp, Netherlands, built in the Far East (I was not told which country), then finished, assembled and tested back in the Netherlands. The titanium tubing differs in thickness and composition based on the frame model and size. The Amazon is made with stout tubing, designed for touring and for supporting heavy loads. The frame is unpainted, with a brushed matte finish. The headbadge is chemically etched into the frame. Components that come standard with the build are high quality. The stem, seatpost and seat collar are also titanium, branded with Van Nicholas insignia.

Van Nicholas Ti Bell
The tiny titanium bell is pretty impressive. I forgot to ask whether they sell some of these Ti parts separately, because I certainly would not mind a titanium seatpost and bell.

Van Nicholas Amazon
The many braze-ons for cable routing keep the cables very neat, which is a good thing because there are lots of them thanks to the Rohloff hub. There are also braze-ons for racks, water bottle cage bosses, and everything else one would expect from a touring frame. 

Van Nicholas Amazon, Carbon Fiber Fork with Canti Mounts
The fork that comes with the bike is carbon fiber, labeled "VNT Elements" - a house brand I think. There are cantilever/v-brake bosses on it, which sort of horrifies me even though I know this is not uncommon nowadays (but how does the carbon fork withstand the force of the mighty v-brake?..).

Van Nicholas Amazon Rohloff, Gates Belt Drive
Special dropouts that can be split apart for the belt drive and also accommodate the massive Rohloff hub, with a built-in mount for the "belt keeper" that prevents the belt from slipping in snowy and muddy conditions.

Van Nicholas Amazon
Brooks Swallow saddle with titanium rails, FSA Metropolis handlebars, Rohloff twist shifter and Brooks leather washer grips. The brown leather accessories warmed up the titanium frame and I found the combination appealing. The handlebars are a modern take on the classic upside down North Roads and this added a touch of an almost vintage look to the whole thing.

Van Nicholas Amazon Rohloff, Lexington MA
When I first saw the bike, more than anything I was overwhelmed by all its bells and whistles. A titanium frame, a carbon fork with canti mounts, a Rohloff hub and a belt drive all on the same bike? It was a lot to wrap my head around. I am glad that at this point I'd ridden several other titanium bikes, and also another bike with a belt drive - so that at least all of these elements were not simultaneously new to me.

Van Nicholas Amazon Rohloff
The Rohloff hub was the one feature I had not tried before. On first impression I immediately disliked it, because it made the bicycle ridiculously rear-heavy. On a lightweight titanium frame this was especially noticeable: I'd pick up the bike by the top tube, and the rear wheel would pull it backward like a ball and chain. I am not a fan of multi-geared hubs, and anything beyond a 3-speed I usually find annoyingly inefficient. I could already anticipate the same happening with the Rohloff: At such a monstrous weight, surely the 14 speeds with the alleged 526% gear range were a gimmick that in practice would not live up to the numbers' promise.

Taking the bike on its maiden test ride, I headed straight for the hills of Lexington MA to test this hypothesis. And my hypothesis proved to be incorrect. I approached a long, unpleasant hill and was able to climb it at a leisurely pace by utilizing the 3rd and 2nd gears. I did not feel the bike's rear-heaviness whilst in motion and spun without getting out of breath or even especially exerting myself. If I lived in a seriously hilly area, I could travel to work like this in ordinary clothing without getting sweaty. Later I rode the bike to my art studio, which is also on top of a steep hill, and in 4th gear I did not feel this hill at all. The Rohloff hub is heavy and that has its drawbacks, but I found the range of gearing it provided to be very satisfactory and on par with my derailleur-geared bikes. I am wondering now to what extent the performance of the hub in this case had to do with its interaction with the titanium frame. On a heavier frame, would it still get me up the same hills? This question remains open, so please keep in mind that my experience with the Rohloff so far is limited to this specific bike.

Rohloff 14 Speed Shifter
The Rohloff shifter took some getting used to, because if you are accustomed to standard twist shifters this one functions in reverse: For a lower gear you twist toward you and for a higher gear you twist away from you. I did not manage to get used to this during my two weeks with the bike and would occasionally shift in the opposite direction than I meant to. I was very glad however that I did not have to constantly switch gears just to ride at the pace I wanted to in the city. The 9th gear was my standard gear, and unless I ventured into hilly terrain I pretty much stayed in it. The bicycle responded very well to my pedaling efforts both uphill and on flats.

It's been explained to me how Rohloff hubs work, and apparently it is like having an internal derailleur with a double crankset. So if I understand this correctly, there is a gear at which point the mechanism automatically switches not just between the internal rear cogs, but also from one internal chainring to another. A couple of owners of older model Rohloff hubs tell me that whatever gear this happens on can be problematic - either sticking or misfiring when one attempts to switch in or out of it. I tried to figure out which gear this was, and judging by the extra grunting/clicking I was hearing, it appeared to be the 6th gear - a gear I only used when going uphill. I made a point to switch in and out of it a few times and did not experience any problems in the course of my test rides. In general, neither the Rohloff hub nor the Gates belt drive gave me any trouble over the 55 miles I spent riding this bike through the hilly countryside and stop-and-go city traffic. The drivetrain was very quiet and sort of faded into the background.

Test Riding Van Nicholas Amazon
While the Amazon comes with braze-ons for racks, the demo model was sent to me without any and initially I fitted the bike with a medium sized saddle bag. There were also no provisions for dynamo lighting, and I used my own battery lights.

Van Nicholas, Art Supplies
Later we installed a Freeload rack on the bike, so that I could transport packages and my laptop pannier. Aside from one ride done for the sole purpose of testing the bike on hills and over longer distances, I mostly rode the Van Nicholas for transportation, since that was the context in which I was testing it. Its proportions work well for this purpose. The long (456mm) chainstays allow for optimal pannier clearance; the relaxed head tube angle and long top tube prevent toe overlap with the front wheel. I wore my chunkiest winter boots to test ride the bike and there was not even a chance of toe overlap, which was great.

Van Nicholas Test Ride
The handlebars, despite being somewhat swept back, are set very low and you can see that my position on the bike is rather aggressively leaned over. Ideally I would prefer handlebars that are not necessarily higher but more swept back. In other ways the bicycle fit me very well and at 5'7" I was happy with the 54cm frame size. The handling felt familiar and predictable. Not like a classic Dutch bike exactly, but like something I've ridden in the past. Maybe like a Ti version of my Rivendell, were it set up as an upright bike. For transportation cycling I like this type of handling very much.   

Van Nicholas Test Ride
But my favourite part of the Van Nicholas ride quality was how it felt over rough roads. If you look at the lower righthand corner of the picture above, you will notice there is a ditch in my line of travel. Unfortunately, many roads in the area where we live look like this, and often I end up riding right over those ditches and potholes, because to avoid them would be to zig-zag incessantly. The Van Nicholas was fine with this type of road surface, despite being fitted with tires only 32mm wide (the frame's maximum tire clearance is 2.35", so it is possible to fit much wider tires). I could ride through a ditch like the one you see here and feel only a distant echo without the bone-shaking feeling. As I've written before, I've noticed this same detached "echo" feeling with several titanium bikes so far, so I don't think it would be out of line to speculate that the titanium plays a role here.

Van Nicholas Test Ride
On a critical note, the v-brakes were insanely strong and difficult to modulate. I was not brave enough to demonstrate this, but here the Co-Habitant shows what happens when squeezing the front brake with moderate force. We would have to mess with the brake to adjust it in a way that would prevent this, but decided to leave it alone and instead I simply used the rear brake only.

Van Nicholas Test Ride
Test riding the bike briefly, the Co-Habitant also noted that he was unable to comfortably ride it hands-free (I would not know, as I do not normally ride hands-free anyhow). The frame was a couple of sizes too small for him, but I doubt this played a role. It could be that the weight of the Rohloff hub and the saddlebag made the front end too light for hands-off riding.

Van Nicholas, Art Supplies
Me, I was very pleased with the handling and the ride quality of the Van Nicholas Amazon and would have been tempted to covet it for my own if it were not for the diamond frame. Try as I might, I am just not comfortable riding diamond frames for transportation in my everyday clothing. Yes I can do it, but I prefer not to. My long coat or skirt inevitably get caught on something as I swing my leg over to mount or dismount the bike, and I am too clumsy to handle this on a regular basis. So despite the great ride quality, the amazingly versatile Rohloffhub gearing, and the silent and maintenance-free belt drive, I ultimately feel more comfortable on my own bike. I should note that Van Nicholas does make a ladies version of the Amazon, but I find the MTB step-through frame design unbearably ugly. Looks are not everything, but the welded titanium and the carbon fork already stretch the limits of my open-mindedness and I am only human. If they managed to make a more attractive step-through or mixte option however (like this please!), I would be in trouble and would desire this bicycle very badly. Offering a dynamo lighting package would also be a huge plus on a bicycle like this - whether it is used for touring or transportation.

Test Riding Van Nicholas Amazon
The Van Nicholas Amazon is a unique bicycle in that it is durable enough for year-round, all-weather transportation and comfortable on bad roads, while also being sufficiently light and versatile to handle serious hill grades over long distances. Something like this cannot be achieved without the Rohloff hub and the lightweight Ti frame, which makes its high cost inevitable. But for those who can afford it and for whom the diamond frame is not an issue, the Amazon is worth looking into.

Van Nicholas bicycles are available with both stock and custom options, and the full specs, geometry and other details of the Amazon are available here. More of my pictures can be viewed here. Many thanks to Van Nicholas and EU Cycling Imports for the opportunity to try this bicycle.

78 comments:

  1. We would be interested in your opinion of the Ladies version of the Van Nicholas Amazon. Any plans for a follow on test?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I intentionally chose to try this version and do not plan to ride the ladies. But I understand the handling is more or less identical (see later comment from an owner whose wife has the ladies version).

      Delete
  2. Speaking as someone who tries to ride every bike he sits on no-hands, I don't think it is the weight of the hub that makes it difficult. Tire size, tire pressure (low pressure in fat tires can be bad), fork rake, fork angle all matter more.

    What you are accustomed to also matters. A bike that I used to be able to ride no-hands, I cannot now. I don't know if it is me, or the wheel conversion. I changed from 27" to 700c wheels, moving the bike all of 4mm closer to the ground. On the other hand, I perceive no difference in riding a Big Dummy no-hands and a friend's Spectrum no-hands; those bikes are mighty different in many ways.

    I'm about to convert the Dummy to hands-on-only -- snow tires are death on no-hands (at least for me).

    One thing you might practice is a leg-over-the top bar dismount. I started doing this on the Big bike because I didn't like getting my legs tangled in the stoker bars or cargo (very, very graceless). I do it now on most of my bikes, though it can be a little tough with winter boots on. I've started looking into an over-the-leg mount, and I'm getting better. The Rohloff and the upright bars+brakes help -- I whiz the bike into a higher gear while standing, put left foot on left pedal, and just step up against the resistance of the hub. Over the bar, and I downshift. If I undershoot on the mounting gear, I can pop the brakes for a little resistance. I probably need to make a video of this; no doubt it resembles a dancing elephant.

    On the Rohloff -- gears 1-7 are low-range and noisy, 8-14 are high-range and quiet. 11 is the 1:1 gear and most efficient. If you ride it in the cold like this, you will surely notice some drag from the oil in the hub if you try to coast (the pedals will turn themselves).

    There's also no doubt on a cargo bike that you need all those gears. I tried an SRAM 9, which was almost good enough (till I borked it), then an Alfine 8, which had me all the way out to the ends of the range on a daily basis (and wanting more on the high end). With the Rohloff, I don't usually use 1-3 or 14, but they're there when I need them, which happens sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seems like a perfect commuter bike in many ways, except you'd want it securely locked up. With a front disc brake and generator hub it'd have pretty much everything for year round commuting (v-brake works as well, disc is better in wet conditions).

    ReplyDelete
  4. What is the retail price of this model ?

    ReplyDelete
  5. You will have to ask the US distributor about the $ pricing and I suspect it is subject to change. The EU pricing is 1399 € for the frame, 3360 € for complete bike (both including VAT), and this info is listed on the Van Nicholas website I linked to.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Rohloff hub, titanium frame AND belt drive... that's one EXPENSIVE bike!
    Do you have any thoughts on whether titanium is marked up as a "premium" product? Or do you think it is priced fairly as a thing that does actually cost a lot to produce?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ti can't be mass produced like carbon can. Because of the specific requirements of ti, It has to be hand welded by highly skilled welders. The tubes themselves are much more expensive than steel or carbon. So yes, it's pretty much a boutique product out of necessity, and at $3000+ for a handbuilt frame there isn't even that much of a markup.

      Delete
  7. Like it a lot! I like the "ladies" version you linked to even more. I bet the functionality of it would have won you over :-) It would be great if they could tone down the industrial/mountain bikey style a bit on it though. I'm presuming the step-through isn't a big seller, although I could happily be proven wrong on that. Here's a Moots that is a little more swoopy: flickr.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seven can also make a swoopy top tube I am told. However their bikes handle very differently from this Van Nicholas, so it is not a matter of the frame design alone.

      Maybe you ought to get the ladies' Amazon? : )

      Delete
    2. I think I would go with the Moots... :-)

      Delete
  8. Their specs list the bike/frame as able to fit 60-559 (aka 26 x 2.35) tires, but in both their pictures and your pictures it looks like it as ISO 622 (aka 700c) wheels. What size wheels and tires did yours have, and what size tires do you think would fit. Ie, would 50mm (or even 60mm) big apples fit?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm that can't be right. I don't have the bike anymore, but I am sure those were 700C wheels. Will ask Van Nicholas to clarify.

      Delete
  9. Looks like one fantastic bike -- elegance and utility!

    This bike must have had a special bottom bracket in order to adjust for chain slack? Sometimes I hear that particular design is problematic.

    ReplyDelete
  10. V, just to add a few points to your comprehensive and thoughtful review, based on owning two Van Nicholas Ti Amazons and a Pioneer for the past 18 months......

    I find the Amazons easy to ride with no hands--I'm guessing that with a bit more familiarity, your husband would as well.

    The weight of the Rohloff hub becomes less noticeable with greater familiarity. One can feel it a bit when picking up the bike, but not when riding. For me, the Rohloff has noticeably less internal drag than Shimano and SRAM IGHs, and combined with the tight gear ratios, it may not be an over-extravagance even in flat urban locales.

    Amazons can be ordered with a SON dynohub--all three of our Van Nicholas bikes came like that.

    Re the frame design of the Amazon Ladies version, I would guess that the top and down tubes are angular (rather than curved) to improve performance. The only ladies frame bicycle I've ever ridden that handled as well and performed as well as the men's version is the Amazon Ladies--so what the frame loses in aesthetics it seems to make up in handling/performance.

    We use V brakes on all of our Van Nicholas bikes--Paul Motolites and Shimano XTR. Both work exceptionally well--perfect modulation, strong braking with little hand force etc. We can't say the same with a bunch of other V brake designs.

    We've found that the Gates belt drive lives up to the hype--simple, durable, lightweight, doesn't need a chain guard, responds quicker than a chain, is quiet and almost zero maintenance. More or less ideal on a city bike.

    Totally agree with you on how well the Amazon handles--it's predictable, neutral, precise, but still lively. Overall, I find the Amazon to handle as well as any road bike I've ever ridden (apologies for the hyperbole, but just being honest). One wonders why this basic geometry isn't being used by Surly, Salsa etc.

    We've also found the design, material and build quality of Van Nicolas bikes to be equal to or better than that of a range of other Ti road bikes I've owned. Weld quality is perfect, frame attachments are all welded-on titanium rather than riveted, etc.

    All in all, a single bicycle that can do everything has always been elusive, but something like the Amazon Rohloff belt drive may come close, at least for me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Nice concept, but the country of origin is relevant these days.

    Agree about not feeling the weight unbalancing effect of the Rohloff until you pick it up. It'd be irritating to jump it but you'd get used to it.

    I don't think I've seen a US-produced canti-bossed carbon fork before, so the Euros are ahead of us there. It's CEN standard, so no worries. Way stronger than carbon forks of 5 years ago.

    Making your dream swan framed bike would be hard in Ti, as you'd need larger diameter tubing for strength (bends are built-in flex points), ruining any gossamer look.

    For some reason I thought you still liked 7+ speed IGH hubs.

    IMO these type of bars are too wide for long term comfort.

    If this is your normal leg extension on your road bike I can see how you'd have probs getting a water bottle.

    You get used to the v's stopping power and adjust accordingly on slightly heavier bikes, but I don't think it's the right application for this bike as is. The strength of the fork makes them even stronger. Some crappy pads should do the trick.

    "The Van Nicholas Amazon is a unique bicycle in that it is durable enough for year-round, all-weather transportation (Ti frame, internally geared hub) and comfortable on bad roads, while also being sufficiently light and versatile to handle serious hill grades over long distances. Something like this cannot be achieved without the Rohloff hub and the lightweight Ti frame"

    Sure it can!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never liked 7+ speed IGH bikes. I got one on my first bike, because I was told it was a good idea, but didn't like it. Here's a post about hubs from a little while back.

      "I don't think I've seen a US-produced canti-bossed carbon fork before"

      Really? I thought this was popular on cyclocross bikes. Trying to think now where I saw it.

      Delete
    2. oops here is a link to the multi-geared hub post

      Delete
  12. In mountainbike (mtb) and mechanical circles the Rohloff is a creature of legend. Like the infamous white whale, everybody knows about it and its mythical qualities of gear range, the robust build quality, and the knockout pricetag, but nobody has ever actually seen one in the wild or personally worked on one. You folk should count yourselves lucky.
    -m.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting. Maybe New England is weird, but I've seen half a dozen Rohloff bikes in the wild.

      Delete
    2. i'm exaggerating a bit of course... and the discussion hasn't really come up lately (i.e. a couple of years) since everyone down in the michaux jumped on the single-speed-29er mtb bandwaggon.

      Delete
  13. This is making me drool. My be everything bike is almost done and will have a Rohloff. Without exception, folks I've talked with who use one say they will never go back to derailleurs. I'm ready!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Consider me exceptional.

      I had a custom tour bike built around a Rolhoff a few years back. After one tour I knew it was not right for me.

      Hub worked fine, no quality issues. Something about the ride. Could never warm to it.

      After selling the Rohloff tourer (at a loss - natch!) I had a new one built up using Maxi Car hubs with a Suntour Freewheel and a Shimano rear derailer. Could not be happier with the ride.

      Delete
  14. Whoo, that bike's a beauty!

    Slightly tangential question: What's the etiquette on getting a local bike shop to order a bike they don't carry for a test ride? Do you have to have a special relationship with them or can you simply just ask? There are so many bikes I'd like to try out that just aren't sold in the tri-state area. I don't want to be that obnoxious customer who orders a bike they might not end up buying... but I certainly wouldn't buy a bike I have never ridden.

    When you are an avid bike collector this problem must come up. What do you do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good question and based on my experience this is bike shop-specific. Some will order a bike for you just to test ride, others will only order a bike if you commit to buying it and give them a deposit! It also depends on the bike. If it's the kind of bike they normally carry anyway but just don't have on the floor at the moment, it should be no problem. But if it's something unusual, they may not want to risk ordering it and then no one buying it. In short there is no way to know unless you ask the bike shop.

      When I test ride most bicycles I write about here, the test ride is arranged with the manufacturer directly for the purpose of this blog and I have no intention of buying the bike, so unfortunately this is an entirely different scenario from what you are asking.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  15. Very nice bike. I don't like the handlebars though...

    Regarding "how does the carbon fork withstand the force of the mighty v-brake?" the answer would be: technically, better than steel. But this depends on design. No worries. My cross bike also has a carbon fork with canti bosses. I don't see any problems with braking (with powerful cantilevers).

    Maybe you can better tell us how an average Joe can test ride a bike like this? Can anyone request a 2-week demo like you did or do you have to be named Velouria?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think there is a name requirement, but I am guessing you have to have a publication of some sort that specialises in reviews. Also (since I know you are local) it is possible that the RSC still has the bike, I am not 100% sure it's been mailed off to the distributor yet. Ring them up?

      Delete
  16. Thanks for providing information on yet another worthy candidate for a Titanium frame! Did you happen to get a weight on this particular build?

    My dude is considering a new titanium bike, and we were contemplating Seven, Moots, Lynskey, (which would be more 'local'), and Merlin (are they still in business?).

    Also, the photo of the women's version reminds me of the Bridgestone MB-3 in my posession. Yeah, it is a bit of an eyesore, now that I think about it... And the carbon fork, on this one, doesn't help either :/

    Who makes the loop framed titanium variety that you linked to?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Ti Oma framebuilder is Mr Scholten in the Netherlands. I've been in touch with him and might convince him to send a prototype to the US : )

      Delete
    2. Nice! I am hoping to visit Lynskey this weekend (uninvited/without appointment). Maybe I'll show Mr. Lynskey and see if it's doable in the states. Hmm... thinking about Ti loop frames, a Titanium ANT would be money!

      Delete
  17. I just remember discussing w/someone about igh inefficiencies.

    Ack that fork thing. Of course they're on cx bikes. The v brakes threw me off. That and digging a 4 foot trench with a friggin spoon and V century level of kcals in, speaking of mud. Bonktown.

    I need to get a hamb...I mean a celery root salad with a piquant vinaigrette.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Peppy (I thought I can has reading comprehension)January 20, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    ^ Does anyone even understand that word salad? :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Chicken and tuna salad are also types of salad. I think they even have celery root in them. And words.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anon 1-20-12 01:18:
    The Ladies Amazon performs identically to the men's---which is surprising, at least to me.

    Mark:
    There isn't a Van Nicholas Amazon designed for 26 inch wheels. They are all 700C, with a maximum tire width of 35mm without fenders, 32mm with fenders.

    GR Jim:
    Re carbon forks with canti mounts.....I had a carbon fork with canti brake mounts on a Santana Ti tandem (an American brand) more than five years ago, so I don't think it's particularly cutting edge these days. Re V brakes, some work extraordinarily well on lightweight bikes, so the issue here may be set up, or possibly the wrong set of cantis.

    Prima:
    My wife's Amazon Rohloff weighs 28 lbs. in size 52cm with a Son hub, Edelux headlight, Dinotte taillight, fenders, Brooks Finesse saddle, Tubus Ti rear rack, kickstand, computer, water bottle cage, pedals etc.

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Velouria
    I asked since I was mostly curious how you are able to test all these awesome bikes for more time than just a single ride. I understand that since your blog is very popular, manufacturers are willing to have their bikes tested since this gives them more advertisement (Smart strategy. Unless the review is very unfavorable).

    Regarding the bike. I am not looking for a new one now, but if I had that kind of money I would be happy to own a titanium cross/touring bicycle. I find them most pleasing. More than lugged steel ;) I think this comes from the "exotic" nature of titanium as frame material and... its color.

    (BTW: "Reply" button doesn't work in Safari nor in Firefox for Mac)

    ReplyDelete
  22. That's like saying Yorkshire pudding is a kind of lettuce.

    msrw - I recanted! 5 years, 5 minutes, it's all the same at this level of deprivation. Anyhoo race forks are def better. I don't know what you crazy two-people-on-ONE-bicycle do.

    ReplyDelete
  23. bostonbybike -The Reply button works for me sometimes, then stops, then works again (various browsers in Mac). You can guess which one it is now. I am so frustrated with Blogger I don't even know what to do; it's like they do this stuff on purpose.

    Manufacturers are all different in terms of whether they consider a review "good advertisement." There have been instances where manufacturers were upset by what I considered a positive review because of some minor critical comments. On the other hand, at least on one occasion a manufacturer wrote to thank me for a blatantly negative review.

    Funny that you like the way Ti looks; I do not. Something cold and clinical about it. But the ride quality seems to really work for me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I've got to say that most Rohloff owners I've talk to have a story similar to Matthew J, especially if they've got the hub in a tandem or a heavy duty touring bike. That is what made me think that perhaps it works better with some frames than with others. I'd be nervous to order up a frame with the Rohloff without having tried it beforehand.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I think the issue with Rohloffs can occur when the hub is integrated into a bike design by a builder who isn't sufficiently familiar with the hub, and all the specifics with the frame that need to be designed accordingly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The builder for mine built and raced a Rohloff for two years before building mine. We are about the same weight and height as well.

      I've ridden other people's Rohloff's since. Pretty much the same. Appreciate the quality and ingenuity. Just don't like the ride.

      Further to Veluria's point, I can be an impulsive buyer at times. The idea of the Rohloff really appeals to me. For whatever reason the ride does not.

      Lucky for me I had MaxiCar hubs around. The hubs and I mix like Kool Aid in water.

      Delete
    2. What about non-Rohloff internally geared hubs? Shimano 8-speeds for example, do you like them any better?

      Delete
    3. After my first Retrotec commuter was run over by a truck (I was not on it at the time) I had Curtis Inglis build me a second one using an Alfine a few years back. The bike did nothing for me but my nephew who was going off to college loved it so I gave it to him.

      Might not have been a fair test however. The bike is a 26er as I wanted to use Schwalbe Big Apples. This was right before I discovered how perfect a fit I was for bikes built for 650B and Hetres. It could well be my problems with that bike was more the small wheel size than the Alfine.

      Delete
  26. There's nothing wrong with the brakes. The Van Nicholas is safe. Bicycles are safe.

    Bicycles are adaptable and flexible. You can do all sorts of things with them. As long as bikes are built so that you can easily tailor them to your purposes it will also be possible to attempt things that just shouldn't be done. Things that are not safe.

    No machinery should be operated before the operator understands how the safety systems work. No vehicle should enter the public way if the operator does not have command of the primary braking system.

    Making a decision not to use the primary braking system means that when braking is needed - it will be needed - the rider will likely hesitate at the worst possible moment and will be surprised by whatever happens next. This is simply dangerous.

    Whitt and Wilson calculate the rear wheel of a cycle may lift at a decelerative force of 0.56g. That is equivalent to a full automotive panic stop. Most ordinary cars can be tested to perform to 0.8g but that is only achieved with a prepped car, a skidpad, a professional driver. In the real world 0.56 g is a serious panic stop. That kind of force may not even be possible with the traction available to bicycle tires. That kind of force does not occur at low to moderate speeds.

    To make that calculation Whitt and Wilson have to have an assumption about center of gravity. It's a reasonable assumption by engineer/cyclists with plenty of saddle experience. They also assume the rider does nothing active, that he's a crash test dummy without any riding skills.

    If the back wheel is lifting for minor normal deceleration it's not the brakes. It's operator error.
    If the back wheel is lifting at moderate speeds on flat ground you are in danger every time the bike points downhill. You will be in imminent peril on a swift descent of a steep grade.

    Millions of riders do operate bicycles safely at speed on steep descents.

    From what can be seen in a few small pictures MDI sits far forward and Velouria sits very very high. I will happily be wrong about that. I don't care if I'm wrong about that. What you describe is a dangerous situation. Figure out what you need to do to apply the brakes full and hard. They are supposed to work when you squeeze them hard. Normal when you grab the brakes hard is you stop. Normal is not you go over the bars. Please be safe. Please do not be hurt,

    JCW

    ReplyDelete
  27. Tho I much prefer the aesthetics of rim brakes, the last three days commuting through a nice-n-slushy seattle winter storm have convinced me that were I to spend $3k on a commuter, it would have disc brakes.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Man, everyone I've talked with had the opposite story of Matthew J. Sorry to hear it didn't work out for him. I've only known three people, but they said their never going back to derailleurs.

    ReplyDelete
  29. JCW, I can not count the number of ways in which you are wrong, but at least you sound like a NHTSA bulletin.

    ReplyDelete
  30. JCW a regular bicycle tire has more than enough traction on dry pavement to flip a bike forward. It's silly to suggest otherwise. And to suggest that a bicycle needs to travel at great speed for this to happen shows a misunderstanding of the physics involved.

    It's true that hanging behind the saddle if one anticipates front braking helps reduce wheel lift, but plenty of people went over their handlebars braking too hard unexpectedly, and I am pretty sure none of them wanted to.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I really like my Rohloff,
    but it is on a heavy touring bike.

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/southamericaminitour

    My hub has been trouble free for 9 years
    now, with over 2 years of that touring with full camping gear. In this application I think it works well.

    John I

    ReplyDelete
  32. @GRJ (assuming reply borked), regarding year-round, grade-friendly transportation, I think it depends. In the snow+salt+sand, derailer systems get chewed up pretty badly, though they work. If you go IGH instead, you have to get an IGH that works reliably. A 3-speed is reliable, but not high range. I borked an SRAM 9, and was on my way to borking an Alfine 8. Rohloff, so far, so good. IGH is a lot of fun in stop-start traffic, too. But I am larger than the norm, and last time I measured (which was high school) had ridiculously strong legs, well out of proportion to my size. One nickname was "Mongo". For most normal people, an Alfine 8 ought to do just fine, and if not an 8, then an 11.

    Seeing as how my hub is on the back-end of an often-loaded long-tail, jumping the bike is a distant memory. Merely hopping a curb is good upper-body exercise. And given that my bike rides no-hands with 50 extra pounds of wiggly stuff loaded in back, I don't think a few pounds of hub weight really make much of a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Will we get a review of that Freeload rack at some point in the future?

    -Matt

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I will be posting a review of the Freeload rack soon! I quite like it.

      Delete
  34. I wonder if you asked the bike directly where it was made, if it would tell you? Or would it respond like the iPhone and tell you it's not allowed to?

    ReplyDelete
  35. SV, Even Woz likes Droid better.

    Chase, Longtails jump low amplitudes fine.

    ReplyDelete
  36. MDI @9:19

    Let me say first that I don't care about winning an argument or scoring a point. I'm an old man. That stuff is meaningless to me. I am concerned that you and your readers not get hurt.

    Of course it's possible to set up a bike so you can flip it. We know that. How could it possibly be desirable to have a bike that worked that way?

    If the bike is flipping easily, or threatening to flip easily on flat ground and at slow speeds you aren't going to be able to apply much brake at all when going downhill. It will be a frightening experience to apply the brake at speed. When you need the brake most applying the brake at all is going to be scary and tricky.

    When a traffic emergency happens the first thing you do is grab both brake levers and pull. Hard. If the bike is not safe in that situation the bike is not safe. Any bike with v-brakes can be set up so that the rider can pull hard on both brakes. It does not require acrobatics or heroic rider skills. Pulling hard on both brakes is normal operation. Being in control and being able to stop the bike is normal and is a prerequisite for safety.

    A bike that flips easily in ordinary and foreseeable circumstances is a bike that is dangerous. That is not an inherent danger of cycling. That is bad setup. That is riders who have not experienced the normal safety of properly functioning bicycles and who have decided that their unfortunate experience is somehow normative.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Rohloff gears certainly divide opinion. I have ridden Rohloff bikes for six years and have used them for touring, day rides and commuting and I just love them. However, the frame and set up must be right for this type of hub and not to consider one if your priority is speed and a light frame.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not anymore than steel -v- carbon, threaded -v- unthreaded, etc. though.

      Underscores one of the wonderful things about bikes: simple as they are, relatively slight variations have a big impact on user reaction.

      I know the guy who bought my custom Rohloff. He loves it. The fact that it was not right for me does not make it bad. Now people who prefer white over red wine ...

      Delete
    2. I'm not trying to start a war; you are entitled to dismiss my opinion as such.
      But the threaded/threadless debate is settled. Winner: threadless.
      -m.

      Delete
  38. Paul, what kind of frame and set-up do you have for your Rohloff? I'm especially curious about the commuting version. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Just a note of caution if anyone is thinking of taking Velouria's experiences and applying them to other Van Nichols bikes. The geometry of their bikes varies enormously between models. A similar sized Mistral (I think that's what it was) has considerable toe overlap for a size 8 (UK) foot. The more relaxed audax style model, can't remember the name, had none with no mudguards, but I think would have been pretty close with. Nice bikes though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, that goes without saying. The Mistral is a classic roadbike and has completely different geometry than the Amazon all around. The Yukon s a roadish alternative that might not have TCO judging by the geometry chart. At least Van Nicholas provides the front-center measurements.

      Delete
  40. Hmm, I find the sloping top tube distracting, and also dislike the 'ladies' mountain bike slope tube. Why is it it that it comes with a carbon fork? Why do most titanium bikes come with carbon forks? The nearest bike shop is very pro carbon fiber and my husband was trying to argue the merits of steel or titanium the other day. We went home and looked at the busted carbon site again.....eeeks! If I had a titanium bike, it would definitely have a steel fork. Is there something about titanium that makes it unsuitable for forks?
    I do think the country of origin is relevant if only for the health and safety of the manufacturers in mind. Is the frame made in a country with strong environmental and safety standards, or is the bike being made in a country with lax laws to make it cheaper to build? Are the materials toxic or made in a dirty way? I deal with organic grains,nuts, seeds, dried fruits from China all the time, but if all the soil and water in China is polluted, then all the organic certification and practices in the world do not make it better. And the customers wouldn't buy it if they knew it was from China, so my boss won't label it as such.
    If a bicycle brand touts itself as being dutch or american, shouldn't it be built there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. China is a large country, and all the soil and water is not polluted. Sure there are scary-toxic places there, but there are also areas where organic practices are very much possible.

      But regarding the bikes, perhaps Van Nicholas will chime in here re where exactly the frames are manufactured.

      Delete
  41. Heather, I think you mostly answered your own question re: titanium forks. Yes, for some reason titanium forks never caught on. And maybe too flexible, or maybe the weight savings don't justify the expense. So, since nobody wants to put a good old steel fork on a space-age frame, most Ti bikes end up with carbon forks. But it certainly doesn't have to be that way, and you usually have a choice to order a steel fork, if you feel that a carbon fork is undesirable.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I've trusted my life to carbon fiber quite many times(not that the gliders I fly are quite as exotic as an ASH-25):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-ivFAO54GE

    The only fork I've ever had fail was of lugged and brazed steel construction.

    ReplyDelete
  43. As an option Van Nicholson produce the Van Dyke with speach technology.

    It says "Mary Poppins" in a dodgy cockney accent

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn you! I was drinking tea when I read that and almost did a spit take all over my computer! :)

      Delete
  44. V, Heather & Anonymous 01-21-12 03:14,

    I would not presume to speak for Van Nicholas, but here's my take on the issues you've mentioned....

    Re the frame design, Van Nicholas is clearly trying to optimize function in their tube shapes and other frame characteristics, rather than meet any particular aesthetic. Personally, I notice and care a great deal about the look and overall elegance of bicycles; but not to the exclusion of function, and the Amazon frame performs superbly as a versatile road bike that can carry things but still mix it up well in aggressive group rides. That level of versatility is unusual and has a lot to do with the frame design, in my opinion.

    Country of manufacture. Van Nicholas frames are designed in the Netherlands, manufactured in China, and shipped to the Netherlands, where the bicycles are assembled and shipped to dealers. The rationale is simply to make Ti bikes more affordable--The Amazon Rohloff/belt that was reviewed here is about half the cost of a Moots Co-mooter, a comparable bike which is manufactured in Colorado.

    High quality, durable Ti forks do exist--I happen to have one on my Van Nicholas Amazon rando bike--it's made in Colorado by Black Sheep. It's the best long distance road fork I've ever owned, and even though it was built custom, the cost was about the same as a custom steel fork, or an off the shelf carbon fork--roughly $450.

    ReplyDelete
  45. On a bit of a tangent, any thoughts on that Freeload rack?

    ReplyDelete
  46. You tested this bike for 55 miles. The aggressive stance from the static hand grip and bent position must have been more than annoying. What can you say about aches and pains? How long Miles/Minutes did could you ride before first hint of pain? The cockpit on a bike seems like a deal breaker. I would not want to spend $4500 and have to change a thing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The bikes are customisable, so you could get different handlebars if you want. Or get just the frameset and get everything built up just as you like from scratch.

      Aside from being too leaned over I did not find my hand position uncomfortable for <20 miles.

      Delete
  47. Didn't see it mentioned -- Van Nicholas does sell the parts individually, including the bell and the seat tube (as well as some other interesting things like eating utensils and a hip flask), on their web site: http://www.vannicholas.com/0/components/accessories.aspx.
    Also, I noticed you quoted a price including VAT -- you wouldn't pay this ordering from them here. This makes a big difference in the price, BTW, easily covering shipping etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right, this is why I did not actually quote pricing in the post. Unfortunately I have no idea how much the US distributor will be charging for these bikes, but I invited him to list pricing in the comments.

      Delete
    2. Regarding the lack of modulation of the front v-brake, I remember when the first v-brake came out and I put one on the front of my mountain bike. Unknowningly to me, they required a compatible brake lever with more cable pull. I experienced the same performance and lack of modulation that you described. It was downright scary to put on the front brake, as the rear wheel would lift even with moderate lever pressure. Once I changed to levers that were v-brake compatible, braking was not an issue anymore.

      Delete
    3. We are now setting up dealers in the US. Edgartown in MA are coming on board....you can also buy directly through me so save on the customs hassles. I can also get you the bells and hip flasks etc.... Niall n_mcara@eucycleimports.com

      Delete
  48. Hi Everyone
    Our site is undergoing maintenance at the moment. Please email me directly at n_mcara@eucycleimports.com There were a lot of options and extras on the bike that was tested. $4999 is direct retail from us for that standard model.(one of our most expensive) There has been concern about proper sizing.........we are looking for dealers in the US. They will be be able to do a a proper fit and from there we can supply the proper size stem, bars etc...
    The bikes are made in Taiwan. Van Nicholas make Ti bikes for quite a few other companies. A lot of the "American Made" ti bikes are made in China or source cheaply sourced Chinese Titanium. Van nicholas use aircraft grade Ti only. VN have to pass the rigorous CEN testing which a lot US compoanies do not
    Regards
    Niall (Neil) McAra
    EU Cycle Imports
    724-940-9341

    ReplyDelete
  49. FYI, the Metropolis handlebar can be flipped over. Results in a more relaxed riding position, but perhaps making the bike less photogenic.....

    ReplyDelete