Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Custom Rivendell Roadbike

Rivendell Custom Road
Some time ago I got the chance to try a custom Rivendell, built for local cyclist and bicycle mechanic Jim A. I had been eying this beautiful bicycle in Jim's corner at Harris Cyclery for a couple of years now and did not have the nerve to ride it. But as my curiosity grew and my bike handling skills improved, the stars finally aligned and it all culminated in a test ride.

Rivendell Custom Road
As far as Rivendells go, this one is both iconic and unique. The lugwork and color scheme look quintessentially Rivendellian, but the frame was built by Roland Della Santa in 2000, whereas today their custom frames are usually built by Mark Nobilette. Of course being custom it was also built according to Jim's proportions and specifications, in particular to accommodate his long legs and a short torso.

Rivendell Custom Road
As far as lugwork, there are some special touches such as the double-plated fork crown,

Rivendell Custom Road
the elegant seat cluster,

Rivendell Custom Road
and the filigreed lugs framing the contrasting head tube panel. Of course I love the sage green and cream color scheme. If I were to get a custom Rivendell this is pretty much what it would look like.

Rivendell Custom Road
Jim has this bicycle set up with Nitto Noodle handlebars, bar-end shifters, a compact drivetrain, Panaracer Pasela 28mm tires, and a green Brooks B17 saddle. The frame was built for short reach brakes, and will fit a 28mm tire with fender.

Rivendell Custom Road
The frame size is 54cm x 53.5cm. With its standard diameter tubing, level top tube, and road geometry, this bicycle resembles a classic roadbike more so than Rivendell's currently produced models - which was one reason I was interested in trying it.

Rivendell Custom Road
I rode the bicycle for a 5-8 mile loop through the suburbs with some hills. While I did not put the bike "through the paces" (I was still pretty nervous about marring its pristine condition), I did get a basic sense for its handling and speed. And... my main impression was that it handled similarly to my Mercian -  to a freewheel, geared version of it, that is. The acceleration, the turning, and just the general feel of the Rivendell felt so similar that it was as if I was riding a different version of my own bike. With the handlebars set up for Jim but the saddle lowered for me, I was more upright than I wanted to be, and also there was some toe overlap with the front wheel, so on my own bike the specs would be a little different. But otherwise it felt comfortable, while also being lighter and more responsive than the stock Rivendell Sam Hillborne I own.  

Rivendell Custom Road
It is hard to believe that 2000 was 12 years ago, but time does fly. Since they opened shop in 1994, Rivendell's philosophy has been shifting consistently in the direction of wider tires, hardier tubing, upright handlebars, greater off-road capacity, and reinforced frames (double top tubes, diagonal tubes, etc.). But in the past they did offer more roadish models that were essentially classic lugged steel road-to-trail bikes with decent tire clearances - nothing fancier or more eccentric than that. Trying a custom bicycle from this period was a treat, and has helped me understand the company's history. Many thanks to Jim A. for allowing me to ride his bike and to share these pictures. 

37 comments:

  1. Nice! Looks very similar to my 2001 custom All Rounder except mine has cantis.

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  2. Very pretty! Do you know what tubing Rivendell uses by any chance? I can never find it listed, but have to assume it is good quality. I drool over rivendells, but I do not like the current oversized tubing and worry it would not work for me if I were to buy one. Any I have seen in the real world have been beautiful though.

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  3. My Rivendell custom is from 2001, and I think it might have been among the last built by Joe Starck. I have often wondered why I spent so much for a bicycle when the $15 Miyata from Goodwill rolled just as well. For a while, because of Bicycle Quarterly, I was trying to transform it into a Renee Herse -- mostly with stuff from Velo Orange. I finally returned it to the American touring bike it's supposed to be. I'm glad I have it, in spite of the initial extravagance. It allows me to be carefree and stylish. My Goodwill bikes leave me looking like I should be carrying a 6-pack of Miller on the top tube.

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    1. 2001 was getting near the end of Joe's builds. My Rivendell was a 2002 and Joe emailed me to find out if it was his last frameset (wasn't).

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  4. Pretty bike. It does look English to me - but I wonder if thats me with an English bias..?

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    1. maybe it's the green and pleasant colour?

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    2. Nice turn of phrase.

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    3. I read that as "pheasant" colour and thought "why yes, a dark green with iridescent burgundy might look lovely" <_<

      More coffee needed.

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  5. It's a fabulous bike and a nice review. There are a couple of incorrect facts about the bike and Rivendell, however. Jim's bike has Grant's road geometry design, not the All-Rounder which had cantilever brakes, slacker angels, and more clearance. The All-Rounder design was similar to, and preceeded, the Atlantis. Current Rivendell Custom frames are built by Mark Nobilette, not Waterford. Waterford makes some of the production models. Jim's handlebars are Nitto Dream bars, not Noodles.

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  6. Unless I'm mistaken the custom Rivendells are now made by Mark Nobilette not Waterford. Waterford makes some of their production frames but not the customs.

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    1. Mark Nobilette makes all their customs at this point (AFAIK). Waterford, Toyo and a Taiwanese builder (name?) make their production bikes (AHH, Bombadil, Sam H, etc).

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  7. Level top tube, short cage derailleur,double chainrings - this gives it very nice look. Love Sam Hillborne though I do, the long head tube and sloping, long top tube do give it ungainly proportions.

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  8. Gorgeous bike. That green has always been a favorite.

    In the Rivendell timeline, this must have been just before they settled on Stark and Goodrich as builders. Previously it was all through Waterford, then a short transition period with several builders like match, Della Santa, and Richard Sachs. Then match (Tim Isaac) for a bit as well (not sure on that part). Then Joe Stark left, Mark Nobilette came on board, Goodrich left, and now it's just Nobilette.

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    1. Thanks. I remember associating all these names with Riv frames, but not the order or the specifics. I keep meaning but forgetting to ask who makes the custom mixtes.

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    2. If it's a true custom, it's Nobilette. I don't know if the production mixtes are Taiwan or Japan built, but I think they are now Taiwan.

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  9. My first thought when I saw the bike is, whoa, short top tube! AWESOME.

    Which proves it can be done. Anybody know of an off-the-shelf touring bike that has a short top tube on a 50cm frame?

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  10. Yes, as others have pointed out, that can't be an all-rounder because of the short reach brakes and skinny tires, not to mention 700c tires (my AR has 26" wheels). Also, to be clear on some of the manufacturing history, the first Rivendells (which were all custom, effectively) were made by Waterford. This includes my All-Rounder, which is the first one ever made for a customer, for sale (e.g. not counting the prototypes). I have a ton of photos of its original build-up, plus really excellent shots of it with its recent Joe Bell repaint, here:

    http://www.adventurecorps.com/chronicles/bikes/rivendell/index.html

    It's for sale, by the way, as a frame, fork, and headset and has never been built up since the 2008 repaint.

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  11. My impression was that the term "all-arounder" loosely described a bike that was comfy enough for an all-day ride, and capable of going on and off road, as opposed to any specific configuration. You mean to tell me that "all-arounder" has a rigid and specific definition?

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  12. The "All-Rounder" (not the caps and spelling) was a specific model offered by Rivendell in its early years: It was the Rivendell bike closest to the XO-1 of the Bridgestone era which immediately preceded the founding of Rivendell, so it had 26" wheels on a "roadie" frame. In the next day or two, I will scan and post the flyers and descriptions that Rivendell used in their early years.

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    1. Ooh, you're kidding! Would love to see those scans, thanks.

      Definitely did not know that, as I've heard the term used for bikes that are not Rivendells. Looks like I need to change the title of this post.

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    2. Scan of Riv catalog for AR.

      http://www.cyclofiend.com/Images/rbw/gen1/rivcat05_allrounder.jpg

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  13. Velouria, I'd be interested in hearing your take on double top tubes. I was at Rivendell over the summer as part of a bike tour down the coast, and while I loved almost all their bikes (I spent the afternoon testing them all) I was really disappointed to see that they've standardized the double top tube for the Sam, which was essentially the only bike I saw myself as ever being able to afford. I know there are arguments in favor of it from an engineering point of view, but isn't modern steel already strong enough for most riders?

    -duran

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    1. Well, my take on it is really not very meaningful, as I am no expert on bike design. Nonetheless I do of course have a take on it. The double TT thing is not new. It has been used on large Dutch bike and English roadster frames since forever, as well as on some variations of work bikes. This was done for strength, because those frames need extra support. Does a 56cm Sam Hillborne frame need that extra support? I don't see how, unless the cyclist intends to use the bike to haul bricks on a daily basis. Keeping in mind that the way the Sam Hillborne was originally described was as a versatile bike suitable for long rides, club rides, and light touring, the change to 2TT is particularly perplexing to me.

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    2. The extra top tube is ostensibly for better triangulation, which will make a frame stiffer as well as stronger. I suspect that, in regards to the touring bikes, Grant was hoping to keep the larger framed bikes better triangulated to better handle heavy loads and possibly heavy riders. I also suspect that, like much of Riv's designs, the twin top-tube provides an aesthetic "benefit", depending on who you ask. I've read a lot more negative responses to the look than positive, but they wouldn't persist in offering them if someone wasn't buying them.

      The Klunkerz connection mentioned above makes some sense to me, as the Bombadil always resembled (to my eye) a lugged, 650B update of the Breezer Series 1. Joe Breeze figured that, when building the first purpose-built mtb frames, twin lateral stays, in conjunction with the conventional top-tube of a diamond frame, would do a lot to keep the frame stiff. Breezer Series 2 bikes lack the stays, so I guess he found out that whatever stiffness benefits were offered, the weight penalty negated them. For a s'posed offroad touring bike, the stays might make sense, except that 90% of the off-road tour guys I know use one-wheeled trailers, and the other 10% use paniers but complain that they bounce off whenever you hit serious off-road bumps.

      I agree that Riv's attempts to build versatile bikes is commendable and appealing. I think the main mistake being made is that there are is too much overlap among the models. Seems as though he's got the nice, domestic versions (HH, Bombadil) to go with the slightly more affordable taiwan versions of the same thing (SH, Hunqa). Renaming the mixte depending on color scheme is a weird marketing move, too, imo.

      -rob

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  14. I have a 2000 Curt Goodrich-built A-R. At the time, A-R was a specific model with a certain style similar to an Atlantis, but was custom built for the purchaser (whereas an Atlantis is "off the rack").

    It was a bit of a splurge, but I had received an insurance settlement after an accident & decided to treat myself. I'm so glad I did.

    The tubing/geometry was selected/designed by Curt and Grant, based on my size, riding style, etc., while keeping within the A-R "design". I had input, but the final design was theirs. They told me that the tubing could be a mix of tubes, depending on the need. I don't remember if they told me what they actually used - I'd have to dig out the bill.

    Because I'm fairly short, I wound up with a 46cm frame. Grant told me mine was the first one that they built so small. I specified 26" hoops, canti brakes and no toe overlap. And it's built up with a mix of vintage Mavic & Campy. I put their lugged stem on it with Noodles. Just wish I could get my butt used to a Brooks.

    Yep, it's what most people would call heavy. But it fits like my favorite jeans and rides beautifully. Faster than you would think and very comfortable. Definitely an all-day ride. Like an earlier reader, I can't believe it's 12 years old now.

    I also have steel, lugged Bianchi & Colnago and a Bridgestone XO-1, but I ride my A-R the most. And the Joe Bell paint is gorgeous - mine is a soft sea-foam green with just a hint of blue mixed in.

    Yes, there are things about Riv that rub some people the wrong way. And I don't agree with everything they do, either. In fact, I think they've drifted a bit from their original vision lately with the non-custom bikes. But the custom lugged steel bikes? That they do - and do well.

    Just my opinion - YMMV.

    Maryk
    Philly, PA

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    1. PS Let me know if you want an image. You can post it on the blog, if you want.

      Maryk

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    2. Thanks, would love to see some pictures! filigreevelo[at]yahoo[dot]com

      Did they succeed at making a 46cm frame with no TCO? How long is the TT? and what size tires on the 26" wheels?

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    3. No TCO - TT is 51. Tires are Schwalbe Marathon 1.5s. Pics to follow later today (just gotta download them out of the camera)

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  15. Can't afford one now, but when I eventually (hopefully get to) retire, I'd like to get a Hunqapillar. Looks like just the thing for my rides which include mixes of asphalt, gravel, and dirt.

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  16. If you are ever in the Atlanta area, you are always welcome to test ride my Belle!

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    1. Thank you! Though I hope I don't crush the tiny frame : )

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    2. It's not that tiny... 54.5 cm. I'm 5'7". I think you'd fit just fine...

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    3. Oh I have it all wrong! For some reason I remembered you as being 5'1" and the frame 49cm. Must have gotten confused.

      On a separate topic, do you know who made your frame?

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    4. Ah, no worries! I have a tiny MB-3 mixte in my custody--maybe that's why.

      Mark Nobilette built my frame and Joe Bell painted it.

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    5. Thanks for the info. Would love to see your bike in person some day!

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  17. Personally, the reason I would never own a Rivendell is simple: I would spend more time looking at the beautiful frame than I would riding the bike. Rather like having a Bugotti in the garage. Velouria's nervousness on her test ride would be a constant state of mind for me. I do own a solid red lugged Bridgestone mountain bike and a forest green RBT touring model. No such worries about those two! Not that I would ever part with them, as they are well made, useful and practical bikes. I have always admired Grant's approach to bicycles, leather baseball gloves, beeswax et al.

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    1. Oh I would not hesitate to ride it if it were my own bike, I am only afraid of messing up somebody else's!

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