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.
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.
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.
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.