Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Low Trail Madness

Mike Flanigan Tries a Rawland
While I've wished for this to happen, I doubted that it actually would: Low trail, 650B bicycles entering into standard production. But the day has arrived, and it arrived with an email from Soma Fabrications. An e-buddy of mine over there informs me that they will soon release a "Grand Randonneur" model, co-designed with Boulder Bicycles/Rene Herse. "Is this public knowledge?" I asked, wiping the spray of coffee off my keyboard. Not really, was the reply, but I was welcome to make it such. "Just note that it’s still unofficial, and some of the details may change before production." Noted. Oh, and do I want to test-ride the prototype once it's ready? As if they had to ask.

The Soma announcement came on the heels of Rawland's release of the Stag: a model similar to the Nordavinden, only with slightly different specs. The pre-order pricetag is $625 including a free set of Pacenti PL23 rims. I imagine Soma will try to get its pricepoint in the same range. Adding the $500 Velo Orange Polyvalent to the mix, that gives us 3 manufacturers offering standard production low trail 650B framesets, made in Taiwan, for well under $1,000. 

For those who prefer a US-made bike, there are several pre-fab models available in the $1,500 range, including the Box Dog Pelican, the Boulder Randonneur, and most recently the Rambler from Ocean Air Cycles. If you've ever wanted to try a bike like this without the wait, uncertainty and pricetag of going full custom, there are options. 

But speaking of custom, more and more framebuilders are testing the waters with low trail 650B designs and some of the names may surprise you. As I write this, I am eying a fresh-off-the-boat prototype frameset from Mercian Cycles in England that was built to my spec. (For the record, they are skeptical of the low trail design, so if the bike doesn't ride well I take full responsibility.) Equally surprising is that Seven Cycles are willing to give it a go, in titanium of course. Jokingly I asked them about it a little while ago, and the reply was "Let's talk." 

So what's so special about low trail? In a sense, nothing, and that's sort of the point. Some of us simply believe it to be a "normal" geometry just like any other that happens to be useful in some contexts and beneficial for some riders. This does not mean that it's special or better, but only that we feel it ought to exist as a viable option. Personally, I've come to appreciate the feel of low trail on city bikes, as well as on fat tire bikes ridden on dirt; the combination of how responsive and at the same time intuitive these bikes feel intrigues me. But of course not everyone agrees. The husband tolerates low trail on his Brompton, because he finds the bike handy, but dislikes it on roadbikes. And framebuilder Mike Flanigan - tempted to try the Rawland after I raved about its handling - just smiled and shook his head after his ride: "Nope, still don't like low trail" - though he's made a few for customers, and continues to do so. 

Is low trail design a fad that will seem silly in hindsight, or an enduring trend that is here to stay? We'll just have to wait and see. 

141 comments:

  1. Everywhere I look all kinds of riders have decided rear racks suck and only fronts are aesthetically pleasing: faux porteurs, frenchies, italo-roadies afixed with a heavy steel Steco. They're like Macs for the two wheeled set. Oh yeah positively no one carries anything at all in them, it would appear. Perhaps a vegan croissant.

    I'll ask this yet again: I get that it is supposed to be good at carrying light loads but does it preclude adding a rear rack. If not, what is the point in having half a bike to carry stuff with, given that mid trail bikes can also carry a light front load fine with proper rear of axle weighting. Do these things go faster than their counterparts with the same weight. What is the upper weight limit. Are they any good with "normal" trail bikes in a tight group. Allegedly they're good in a cross wind. Have you ridden the 7 with the same bag on the same route. Endless substantive questions.

    Soma has a rep for jumping on/in front of the moving bandwagon. That's fine.

    What I would like to know is aside from re-enactment francophilian aesthetic sensibilities how this low trail stuff compares with everything else on the market laden the same way. The answer to this question would do a lot to clarify this interweb tire size/trail babble which never addresses real world, non-rando, non-racing, commuting/traveling exigencies.

    I think Mercian and Seven in particular have you via Jan et al to thank for the interest in low trail. Boulder is basically Jan's friend and co-developer - re-enactor, Soma is getting a frame from them. It really is a very small world of six five oh influence here.

    BTW Estlund is the batch producer for Pelicans now. Small world indeed.

    BTW+ does low trail necessitate six fiftys? The more I read about this stuff the more inadequate I feel. Conversely the more I don't feel the need for 80 buck Hetres or whatever. Crickey.

    To rant non sequiterally further the loads borne upon these designs generally involve some sort of vo rack, of which there is no specific load recommendation, only vague feel-good transcendental verbiage. How the entire front-load lexicon gets away with lack of regulation is beyond me. It's only steering your bicycle.

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    1. yes, because i'm sure you are well aware that you can't do real work on an apple product (mac or otherwise), and that the only reason to have one is absolutely blind hipsterism...

      that out of the way, there is nothing wrong with having a product that works and that looks good. both of those parts of the equation is highly subjective based on your riding style, etc. sort of like my mac stuff. sure, they are like the modern day rando bike, something that i only ride to the coffee shop where i plop open a glowing hunk of aluminum to show off to my other hipster (and less hipster) friends. i think you can even find faux corinthian leather on the icons on some of the apps. and lots of chrome. then i throw it in my front bag and ride home in street shoes and tight jeans with a rain cape, laughing at the unschooled and uncool massed lugging around plastic boxes of electronics made without a soul in some far away land... oh wait. never mind.


      front rack, bag - while currently i deal with the problem they solve with some bikepacking gear, one main logic point on the whole front rando style bag thing is that you keep moving. you need something out of your gear kit - you can access it. you need food, sunscreen, sunglasses, rain jacket, hat, arm warmers, etc... you reach in, and if you are reasonably skilled you can keep moving. while addressing whatever it was you needed out of your kit.

      i can run a pretty heavy (acorn) bag on a mark's rack on my 'mid' trail indy fab club racer. it was a pleasure to have much of my empire stashed away right in front of me.

      i haven't seen a good way to access panniers and / or a rear bag (although you can reach into a carradice's outer pockets) while rolling. personally i've been down that road - stop, get gear, adjust, ride, stop, adjust, take off gear, ride...


      anyway, ground round jim, you sound like a very grumpy dude in many of these posts. or maybe you are a teenage girl pretending to be a dog pretending to be a cyclist on the internet and just haven't had your kibble yet.

      seriously, its a bike, it solves some people's problems, and more (practical) choices in the bike world is a good thing.


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    2. To your question about tight groups: No, they don't belong there. When riding tight and at the limit the more everybody is the same the better.

      That said steering geometry is far less important than how riders sits on their bikes and far less important than pedalling technique.

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    3. “Everywhere I look all kinds of riders have decided rear racks suck and only fronts are aesthetically pleasing: faux porteurs, frenchies, italo-roadies afixed with a heavy steel Steco. They're like Macs for the two wheeled set. Oh yeah positively no one carries anything at all in them, it would appear. Perhaps a vegan croissant. ”

      Eh. I've got two front-loaders (one porteur, one rando) and if anything I carry too much in them. The porteur carries groceries, rando crap (food,camera,gps,sunscreen,extra gloves,pencil,brevet cards,cuesheets,tools,spare shifter cables, zipties, etc etc etc), extra clothing; the rando carries rando crap, extra clothing, and occasionally groceries.

      Neither of them are low-trail. Neither of them are 650b (I find 650b to be slower than 700c, and don't like the ride of the blingy Grand Bois tires that are legally required on 650b bicycles in the pacific northwest.) But I'm making a low trail fork for the rando just to see if that makes it stable enough to ride no-handed. It will still be 700c.

      The one really good thing that a front-loader gives /me/ is that I can root around in the bag at speed. I'm not all that fast, and if I want to complete 100 km in less than 4 hours not having to stop is pretty important. And if low trail means I can ride no handed and take off/put on layers at speed, it's even better.

      I can't speak for VO racks, because I braze my own. A teeny little rando front bag can't carry more than about 15 pounds anyway, so it's not very likely anyone will overload one of those.

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    4. another advantage to low trail bikes is as they allow one to carry more weight up front changing the overall weight distribution. This allows the use of a lighter weight bike frame and wheels as high trail bikes are rear heavy. The better balanced bikes steers more easily.

      BTW, 700C and low trail work great together, tire diameter does not make a difference. I have used a bike like this for two years and much prefer the way it rides.

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    5. So that's who Estlund was making all those forks for. I wondered. Seven & Mercian... I don't think "thank" is the word they'd use, except maybe ironically!

      IMO GR Jim's questions are ones that need to be asked, and hopefully will be once the bikes become more common.

      Personally, I feel the "front load" thing is over-rated when it comes to the lightweight low trail roadbikes, and I've said so from the start. First, because you can carry a small handlebar bag, properly supported, on many a a mid/high trail bike with no issue (including I am sure my Seven). Second, because said handlebar bag requires a front rack and those on the market today are so bulky and heavy that it feels silly attaching it to a lightweight bike just so a wee handlebar bag with one's jacket and lunch can perch on it. And if we go with more than a "wee" size, as you point out it is questionable to what extent the racks & forks are rated for this. Where I feel the front load feature is actually useful with low trail is on a city/cargo bike where the load is quite heavy, but that is a separate category of bike from these road-to-trail/randonneur designs the whole selling point of which is that they are allegedly light and fast.

      This is all to say that what I like about the low trail handling on, say, the Rawland is not in any way bag related. I just like how the bike rides, especially how it turns and how the fat tires + handling combined seem to hit the spot for me when it comes to riding confidently on dirt roads. That is the extent of my praise. The front bag thing can be done on other bikes too, while the Rawland can also be ridden quite happily with a rear bag only.

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    6. V is correct that most Low Trail bikes built these days are built for speed and thus no more adept carrying loads than any other bike built for speed, have it low, mid or high trail.

      That said, heavy duty low trail bikes do carry loads well. And for carrying racks by the like of Pass Stow (out of SF, btw) Cetma and Even Wald all are excellent alternatives to VO racks which seem more show than go IMO.

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    7. It is funny how different people take my words. V thanks for the response, bmike...what can I say. You addressed none of my questions and called me a little girl. Congrats on your reading comprehension.

      So to explicate I still think one Holy Grail is: light, fast, ability to haul real world stuff. Still looking for it but so far I haven't seen anything as efficient as a backpack/race bike, though I'm sure some small effbuilder is taking on this project...

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    8. I appreciate GRJ's questions. This low trail thing just seem so chic and in now, how wonderful but I feel cautious of the marketing of it. Frankly, I would like to see bikes purpose built for a frame bag instead of a handlebar bag on a front rack, which just seems so old fashioned.

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    9. If the closest we are to the Holy Grail is a back pack, then Sir Lancelot must still be trying to find the Copper Knight.

      Paul - I trust you want a frame bag for a pleasure bike. People use front racks for bulky items because it is natural to put them there.

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    10. How about: light, fast, removable front support? But I don't even know if I mean that. Ultimately I do not see combining a bike like the Seven and the Rawland into one bike, but maybe I am lacking imagination.

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    11. Tim O'Donnell at Shamrock, I think, built a travelly porteur, don't know with what kind of trail, with a QR removeable rack. Or I might have been imagining it.

      Anyway Seven geo-optimized for low trail fork with QR big rack sounds pretty good. But then you are at the point of "I must plan my trips". I'm sure it would ride more harshly than with a carbon fork but hey.

      I've mentioned this before: bike packing. No racks, strap on bags. Handlebar, frame, giant seat. Very light bags, very durable, so reported. Save a ton of weight.

      There, let your imagination run wild.

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    12. P.S. I can't stand riding my race bike with a backpack but it's friggin fast and handling is only affected to the extent I just gained a lot of weight.

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    13. Pamela Blalock has those klik-fix quick release things attached to the stems and seat posts of all her roadbikes. And she's got variously sized Ortlieb bags to go with them. If she wants to ride with a hbar bag and/or seatbag, she just clips on whatever size is appropriate for the distance she is doing. Pamela is not a low-trail believer, and she reports that her standard-trail bikes feel great with the hbar bags. I tried her Redline cross bike with the hbar bag; put my camera in it. Let's just say my impression differed. The bars kept wanting to turn; my camera must be heavier than what she normally carries in those bags. Of course this is not so much a trail issue as a "bag is mounted too high to carry something that bulky" issue. Would be neat if someone came up with a fork crown-mounted QR.

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    14. Here it is. Scroll down to the rack pix. QR is those black knobs: http://www.cycleexif.com/shamrock-cycles-urban-bike

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    15. from a ride comfort and durability perspective, a raw Ti and either steel, Ti or one of those high end CF forks from Seven makes sense.

      yeah it would cost beaucoup. a lot less than most cars my peers drive in the city.

      GRJ - thank you for the links.

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    16. One more reply to GRJ. There are no lowtrail track bikes. There might be some Olde English road/path somewhere with lowtrail. Those were for TT, not Herne Hill. In theory a pure pursuit bike could use lowtrail, it would be very single-purpose and I've never seen one. When shoulder-to-shoulder is literal rather than figurative everyone is on hightrail. A lowtrail would crash out of existence quickly.

      Ive done the Sunday Ride on MTB and I've done it a lot on fixed. We used to have an old Brit ex-pro who mixed it up on his threespeed. Once down in FL I jumped into the Rich Fred ride on Ocean Drive between Palm and Delray on a homemarket Phoenix, a folder with 20inch wheels and all these wack dragon reflectors. Kept up too. All these things are possible. In each case everyone on the ride knew what was going on, it would be hard to miss. If someone joins the ride on a Rawland someone might notice it's steel but otherwise it's just a bike. One that handles different.

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    17. Old farts who ride shiite bikes yet are fast. Where do I sign up?

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    18. V @ 3:53

      Of course they can be combined. Commission a carbon fork with clearance and rake for your Seven. If you can't get at least a 32 between the stays have Seven mash some indents into the tubes. Won't hurt anything at all. The brake bridge height might be a problem or it might not.

      Before you part with the Rawland you should give it a go with 700x34. If not for the fenders the 650 to 700 transformation could be done in ten minutes. A test ride you should not miss.

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    19. GRJ,

      I will have a porteur style rack on my next bike which will break down using hexes(to pack in a bike box for trains, etc.).
      I tried a CETMA on a light bike and loved it (but for fork flex).

      Giant rear saddlebags without support will break saddle rails, I've done it twice and broke a seatpost as well.

      It's also why British tourers made for transverse saddlebags were built with integrated or bolt on bag supports.

      My aim is grocery loads, large volume boxes and cumbersome loads and occasional warm-weather touring.

      Maybe next time I'll try smaller than 700c wheels.

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  2. wow, Soma is jumping in with a low trail bike too. Hopefully they will use standard diameter tubes to make it a smoother ride. Will Surly be next? BTW, you can order a low trail fork with the Singular Osprey as an option.
    This is all good news!

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    1. They already use standard diameter tubing on many of their models. What I am curious about, is whether they will be brave enough to go with thin wall tubing.

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    2. That would be expensive. Some sort of San Marcos low trail at that price point would be popular, I'd think.

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    3. I exchanged e-mail with Soma in August wherein it was mentioned that they were planning a 650b randonneur with low-trail geometry. I e-mail'd them back last night out of lingering curiosity, and not only did they direct me to this blog post (always loved Lovely Bicycle!, but don't check up very often), and they threw in some more-or-less hammered out details, which are as follows: Low trial, 650bx42mm tires with fender clearance, full set of braze-ons (including front rack mounts), 1" threaded steer tube, cantilever brakes, french style randonneering geometry (skinny tubing, shorter chainstays, lower bb ect).

      So, it does seem as though they intend have traditional light tubing.

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  3. I'm waiting for delivery of a low-ish trail mercian with a low-ish bottom bracket and I can't wait! Mercian rightly have strong ideas about the geometry of their bicycles - they were very accommodating of my peculiar desires.

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  4. Isnt low trail primarily to allow the use of a rando style bag or front basket? I think the reason most folks wont or dont understand low trail is the low uptake of this type of bag compared to rear bags and panniers. In the UK there are none of these bags with only a scant amount of imports, even within the audax riders rear rack bags are more prevalent.

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  5. Low trail is cobblestone geometry. You can steer better on jagged, wet cobblestones with it. It's not for proper roads like the British had.

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  6. This seems a conversation for bike geeks and one which misses the point. But I guess there are buyers out there for everything, so best wishes on this endeavor.

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  7. The astute bicycle builder simply chooses a trail figure (amongst many other considerations of course) that suits the demands for the particular bike. A few examples as general rules...
    1. Bikes to be ridden slowly (city bikes, transport bikes...) will ride better with less trail.

    2. Bikes that carry loads on the front need lower trail to minimize destabilizing wheel flop.

    3. Bikes with heavier and/or larger diameter wheels gain stability through greater gyroscopic effect and can thus feel stable at speed with less trail.

    4. Bikes that only go fast and/or don't need to turn (track motorpace bikes as the extreme example) ride securely at speed from super high trail.

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    1. 5. Bikes with wider, lower pressure tires have more pneumatic trail, thus needing less geometric trail.

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    2. Yes absolutely. I forgot to add that one so thanks for the reminder.

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    3. ^ This is the key here that's overlooked in the entire discussion. High trail for 23-28mm tires on 700c wheels helps stabilize the bike, whereas the wider contact patch on 650b tires gains a faster feel from the twitchy fork. Also, toe overlap on the front wheel might just be the Worst Thing Ever.

      The key here is everything works together as an organic system. The rider and load is one with the bike. That said, having spent half my life on 700c racing bikes, there's something delightful about high trail 700c bikes like Rivys. Oh yes, comfort!

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  8. I prefer extra weight on a bike in the rear so that isn't a trail issue for me. I tend to like a stable, straight- moving bicycle on the road. In the city, being able to maneuver more is a bit more important.

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  9. To paraphrase Richard Sachs, The Bike is the Bike.

    Trail is one aspect of the design, and there are many others. Wheel/tire size, chain stay length, tubing spec, the type of brake, and many more go into designing a balanced bike for the intended purpose. If you are looking for the stability, comfort and load toting ability of a touring bike with the nimble handling of a narrow tired road bike, Low trail designs may help you get there. If you like to carry your stuff up front where you can see and or get to it from the front of your bike, low trail can be a tool in the designer's arsenal. While the particular handling differences may be subtle to some, it has been profound in most of the ways I use a bicycle. I ride for fun and transport, generally have between 10 and 40 lbs of stuff on the bike. Having the weight up front for access, stop and go, taking pictures on the go is what I prefer. Same with our 12 lb dog in a basket, I would rather have him in the front. On a longer trail design, generally based off of the older Italian Race bike formulas, the handling will suffer with any load, and to put it on the rear of the bike you need to extend the chain stays and bulk up the tubing spec so that the tail does not wag the dog. The added bulk to the spec often results in a heavy stiff bike for all but loaded conditions. This stiffness is required to keep the rider and load’s effect on handling unified.

    Moving the stiffness to the front of the bike, optimizing the front geometry to minimize the impact of load on the steering forces required from the rider, and balancing the resulting steering stability with the tire size can all get you your cake and let you eat it too. Yes you can load the rear of the bike, but as the total mass is moved rearward the lighter steering will become more pronounced. Keeping the mass forward keeps the handling neutral as you move from a rider only type of load to a rider and stuff. I appreciate that characteristic as I may leave the house with my camera gear and empty bags, run a day’s worth of errands, often picking things up along the way, and sometimes shedding the load as well. Having the load on the fork decouples the rider from the load through the steering axis. This is good in that it allows the rear of the bike to be lighted back up to perform as a sport bike, while maintaining the ability to chase you loads along.

    How stiff you make the front end will bound the load range the bicycle is suited for. This is not something that comes from the fork alone, but the intended rack as well. The lightest of the range being a light weight fork spec and no rack or a small top mount of sorts. The heavy end being a Porteur rack extending from the rack platform, transferring the load to the wheel’s axle through the dropouts. As with other touring bikes, the rigidity of the mount between the fork and rack will play a role in the overall stiffness, and ability to carry a load with grace and ease. A four point mounting system will always be stiffer than three and a well triangulated rack stiffer as well. The problem is that most off the shelf racks currently on the market were designed to be sold and mounted on common three point systems, sacrificing rigidity, and the safety of a redundant top mounting system, for the ability to make the sale.

    These “low trail” bikes, including our Rambler, are just another option in the expanding market place of bicycles that are practical transportation and no just meant to be a sporting good. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but in my experience they usually result in big smile, that ability to carry a load on a lighter bike, that will in turn get used more, because it is just that little bit more fun to ride than a heavy bike.

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    1. Actually older Italian racing bikes (until at least the mid 80's) generally have very low trail figures.

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  10. I would be real interested in a Seven Ti low trail if they could do a set up that would allow me to use a Pass Stow rack carrying up to 20 pounds or so.

    Low trail bikes can accommodate rear rack loads along with front racks. On the Retrotec city bike I usually did a 60/40 front to back up to around 60 pounds. Most low trail bikes with front racks only are meant for long distance competitive riding with the front rack and bag holding food, tools and other gear to support the ride. That does not mean it is impossible to build an LT that can also manage weight in the back.

    Finally, I like the look of front racks (and back racks - see my Clockwork in the Velocipede Salon). For city riding the main point of the front rack is convenience. It is easier for me to conduct multiple stop errand runs with a the big Swift Porteur bag on my Pass Stow rack. Low rack panniers are great for distance stability, but by design do not come on and off as easily as a top of front rack bag secured with velcro straps.

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  11. Not all of the 650B/low trail models you mentioned are available as 650B in all sizes. As far as I know, the Ocean Air Rambler will only be 650B in the smaller sizes.

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    1. You are correct with that, sizes 57 and smaller are 650b while 59 and up are 700c. All sizes have room for tires up to 42mm with fenders, eg, the VO zeppelin fenders will drop right in. As the designer, I opted to go with two different wheel sizes while .balancing the variables Jan touches on below

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  12. I don't really like the talk about "low trail." What it really comes down to is adjusting the front-end geometry to the many factors that influence the handling and stability, most importantly tire width, load and rider position.

    Many bike builders for too long have used the simple equation "more trail = more stable." And once they found a geometry they liked, they applied it across the board, from narrow-tired racing bikes to 650B randonneur bikes.

    Reality is much more complex, because factors like wheel flop, pneumatic trail and the leverage of the trail on the steering all affect how a bike handles. So what we are seeing is more bikes designed based on actual empirical research, rather than simple concepts that have been proven wrong.

    As so often in bicycle history, the impetus doesn't come from the manufacturers, but from riders demanding better bikes.

    Of course, as you point out, there also are personal preferences, and as long as the factors involved are understood, people can arrive at different conclusions based on the handling they prefer.

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  13. Very interesting. Maybe this will make it easier for the masses to to test ride a 650B, low trail bike and form their own opinions. I would very much welcome that (even though I'm afraid they won't produce anything big enough for me anyway). Let's see if BQ will test it.

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  14. I have some of the same questions as GRJ has expressed in his basic rant: how well/ill suited would such a design be for accommodating a rear rack? How would it compare to mid-trail designs in riding characteristics and load carrying? Can you really carry a vegan croissant in a front rack? I'm intrigued but would have to do some extensive test riding of my own before committing $$.

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    1. As Jan, Bob and others say above better than I, depending on the overall bike it is certainly very possible to have a low trail fork on a bike that otherwise handles a rear rack that carries a significant load.

      Most low trail bikes come with small front racks only as these are bikes built for people who use them for long distance fast riding. No different really, from a front or high trail bike that can only accommodate a mid size saddle bag.

      Per HenryinAmsterdam's post above, when I use my low trail bike for commuting, I carry all loads up front. When I have time to do an actual bike camping trip, I put about 60% of the gear up front (sleeping bag, tent, and other bulky things atop the rack, two panniers on the side) then put about 40% in two panniers on the back. It works fine.

      n.b.: I'm not certain anyone makes a bike like this off the shelf. There are certainly very fine custom builders who can make you one though.

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    2. I ran a rear rack on my low-trail Kogswell P/R for years, carrying my kids back there in their child seats. I was often carrying loads in the front, sometimes not. The bike rides better with more weight in front, but doesn't mean you can't carry anything in the back. The more you load in the front the better, though.

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    3. Obviously for true re-enactors croissants must be filled with lots. of. butter.

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    4. I think it was blasedlf who said his rSogn was very happy with a large front load and small rear.

      Just trying to source more anecdata.

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    5. "ran a rear rack on my low-trail Kogswell P/R for years, carrying my kids back there in their child seats"

      I used to live in Vienna on and off, and toward the end of this period I rode a loaner city bike that was just awesome at navigating the city's twisty bike paths and narrow hilly streets. It was also surprisingly fast for its 50lb. This bike came with metal baskets attached to the rear rack and I carried most of my stuff in them, as well as occasionally stuff strapped to the front rack. Later I learned that this was a low trail bike. It was certainly no worse for all the weight I carried in the rear baskets.

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    6. Per Ocean Air's comment the rear is sufficiently over built on that city bike such that the low trail is just a handy addition to carrying stuff. My friend's Kogswell he's described as being more like the Rawland in that it likes predominantly front loads, but remember Kogswell has a lot of iterations out there that have to handle differently.

      Of course riding style is big big factor: standing and caning a lot is very different from sitting and spinning. Violent vs. quiet dynamics.

      Anyway my comments more have to do with faster bikes. You have your proto mixte -- let us know!

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    7. Rick F - I cannot speak for all such bikes, but I've ridden the Rawland on two dirt road brevets with substantial climbing with a heavily loaded saddlebag and nothing on the front. Bike handled fine.

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    8. GRJ

      Speaking of faster bikes if you walk the calendar back to the 70s it was common for race bikes to have 74 head combined with 50mm rake for a trail of about 45mm. Those are early classic Colnago #s. Even earlier there were lots of long rake forks at 60mm and above and some builders just kept making forks the way they made forks as head angles got steeper.

      Racing was different back then. The roads were rougher. The peloton was not so tightly bunched. There are plenty of old films on youtube you can watch where the racers are so spread out it doesn't even look like racing to a modern eye.

      When I ride my old stuff with the fast boys I automatically space an extra foot off the next wheel. In today's pack that's taken as an indication I'm yielding position.

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    9. Yeah plus you look at the boys horsing around their bikes with enormous gears, it requires more space.

      Remember also the new stuff goes and stops better too, so those boys have more arrows in their quiver.

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  15. Horses for courses really.

    I have been riding a low trail bike for randonneuring and commuting for a couple of years. My previous ride was a LHT, not at all suited for those purposes! My Polyvalent makes so much sense as I can load up to 20 pounds in the front bag and the handling of the bike is not adversely affected. This geometry is stable in cross winds - I have experienced severe cross winds and watched 'racing' or 'sport' geometry bikes get blown all over the road, as my friend and I serenely pedaled along chatting comfortably. One longer brevets I have added a rear rack and bag, but still tended to put more weight in the front and the handling was unchanged.
    Recently I built a Boulder Bike for my wife to replace a Tri-Cross as her daily bike. It took me four years to convince her this was a good idea and ONE RIDE for her to agree. The bike is more comfortable, more predictable, more stable and just better all round for daily use, with or without a front bag.
    I have ridden in pace lines and groups on brevets and out with the local club with no issues at all. That kind of riding depends on your skill and not so much on the bike, I find.
    The 650B wheels, run at about 55 psi (for a 190 pound rider) are so comfortable, very grippy and have low rolling resistance. I have found that these types of frames make so much more sense than geometry derived from racing bikes for average daily riding. Others can disagree, which is fine!.

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  16. When Chris at Circle A built my touring bike, there was much discussion on rake and trail. I ended up with 52mm trail and 60mm rake. No toe overlap, too. My tires are 700x35. The performance of this bike is as close to perfect as I can imagine. I also have an Acorn "Boxy Rando" bag up front which is like a little bit of heaven. I have always liked handlebar bag for their obvious convenience (Arkel is fabulous) but having it off the bars and on a rack is the way to go. Now that I know what great steering and handling feels like, I can't understand why this geometry isn't available on every good bike. Will never go back, that's for sure!

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    1. Circle A make great bikes. If I were in the market for a handbuilt steel bike for personal use today, I think I'd go to Brian Chapman. What size top tube on your bike?

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    2. Brian does great work. He built my wheels. I spoke with Brian first but he suggested using Chris since I wanted a Rohloff and Chris has more experience with internal drives.
      The top tube is 1 1/8" (30mm)
      Here's some photos of my bike before the Acorn bag arrived.
      https://picasaweb.google.com/brylorbs/MyNewCircleARoadTouringBike?authkey=Gv1sRgCNKt1JTI4-Gwcg

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  17. Velouria, correct me if I'm wrong, but you're also joining into this "Low Trail Madness." From the posting on the Rawland blog (http://rawlandcycles.blogspot.com/2012/10/autumn-nordavinden-message-from-velouria.html), I thought that you might be bringing a 650B frameset to market. Is that right?

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    1. Not in the mass-produced sense. I plan/hope to offer a custom city bike and maybe a dirt roadbike in collaboration with local builders. It is not clear yet where this project is going, possibly nowhere. But even if it materialises, I expect there will be at most a few ordered per year. It's mostly about trying out some ideas.

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    2. If that city bike is a Seven Ti, I would certainly consider being a test dummy.

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    3. It is not : ) I assure you that you would not go for this city bike, unless you are a fan of the "swoopy mixte."

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    4. Do you ever see yourself as being in competition with Rawland, Soma or Boulder? That would pose a problem for accepting their bikes for review.

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    5. Absolutely not. I would rather help them (all of them) than compete with them. I like to play around with ideas and that is the extent of my bike production ambitions.

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  18. Interesting conversation; this in particular: " As I write this, I am eyeing a fresh-off-the-boat prototype frameset from Mercian Cycles in England that was built to my spec. (For the record, they are skeptical of the low trail design, so if the bike doesn't ride well I take full responsibility.)" Let's hear in detail how the new, skeptically low-trail – and 650B’d? -- Mercian works.

    As for 650B, it is obvious that much of the enthusiasm for front loading (let's not get into the different types of front loading here) is faddish, and it will be interesting to see what shakes out after many of the neo-randonneur bikes have ended up for sale on various bikelists and on Craigslist. Jan Heine is quite clear on the complexities and uses of both, but I read a great deal of breathless enthusiasm that seems to me more "gee whizzish" than practical.

    Personally, having briefly owned a low-budget, 700C Herse and not finding it to excel for my own particular needs, and, more to the point, having found higher trail frames with both small (650CX23-, custom Rivs) and big (700C X 60+, Fargo 1) wheels to handle better to my taste than anything else I’ve used, I am content to observe these trends from a distance.

    Stlll and all, it is refreshing to see a variety in bicycle design that did not at all exist 12 years ago, so thanks to Jan and Grant and others who went out on the limbs of their personal enthusiasms to bring new things to market. So much more refreshing than coke can aluminum frames with CF stays (remember that one?).

    ...Tho' I am very intrigued by the low-trail, 650B'd, Terrafirm fixed gear randonneur showcased in Fall '12 BQ ... Whoohooo!

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    1. Re the Mercian - I have to build it up. Not in the budget for another couple of months.

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    2. Anon said: "An interesting observation: Most of those who have ridden well-designed low-trail bikes seem to like them, whereas most of those who don't like low-trail bikes never have ridden one." And others said, to paraphrase: "Can't understand why everyone doesn't like low trail."

      A friend loaned me a Kogswell Porteur -- he and I ride much the same size and setup -- that I rode for ~50 miles and I immediately disliked the handling. It felt as if the damn' thing didn't want to turn -- limply waited for you to tell it where to go. Next, from the same friend, I bought a '58 Herse 700C (randonneur? tourer? stout tubing!) that felt and fit and rode perfectly except that the handling felt "non-optimum" by my standard (below). I kept and rode it for a year or so, so I got to know it well. The handling on this one was uncontroversial, but what annoyed more and led me to sell it was that as a load carrier the bike was neither flesh nor fowl: it didn't like front loads of more than, let's say 20 lb to be generous, but it also didn't like heavy rear loads. (BTW, let me tell you about wind induced front wheel flop with a big handlebar bag, even on a Herse. NM winds, of course.) Now I never measured the H's trail, but I assume it wasn't the rare high-trail model.

      In contrast -- I assume that they are medium to high trail -- my two remaining Rivs track unerringly both straight and curved; better than anything else I've ridden. The Fargo with 75 mm of trail with effective 33 mm Kojaks and 86 mm with the effective 62 mm Big Apples tracks in a rather mediocre fashion, but it doesn't wander uphill with a rear load as did the 56 Sam Hill it replaced (58 mm trail per the figures I see) that, with 30+ lb in the rear, and sitting twiddling up a steep hill, liked to lurch violently into traffic.

      (Here is a useful tool, jimg's trail calculator:

      http://yojimg.net/bike/web_tools/trailcalc.php.

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    3. Michael_SNovember 14, 2012 10:13 AM "Another advantage to low trail bikes is as they allow one to carry more weight up front changing the overall weight distribution. This allows the use of a lighter weight bike frame and wheels as high trail bikes are rear heavy. The better balanced bikes steers more easily.

      Me: ????!!!!

      GR Jim:
      "... I still think one Holy Grail is: light, fast, ability to haul real world stuff. Still looking for it but so far I haven't seen anything as efficient as a backpack/race bike, though I'm sure some small effbuilder is taking on this project...

      Wull, my erstwhile 1973 Motobecane Gr Rec, tout 531 leger, handled heavy rear grocery loads better than any other bike I've ridden except the short-stayed, all 753 '95 Riv Road custom. The ~1966 Bottechia, tutti Columbus leggero, also handled rear loads (saddlebag) well. Both light and fast, too, as long as someone else was pedaling. And both way cooler than any backpack. Maybe it was because all of them were fixed gears?

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    4. Patrick (Bertin753) It's fairly common knowledge that weight distribution on a bike is like 60% rear 40% front. Frames are designed with this fact in mind. If you add more weight to the rear it exaggerates that relationship requiring stiff tubing to support the planned loads. By changing the design such that the weight is carried up front the bike is more balanced as far was weight distribution and the frame stiffness (and weight) can be reduced.

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    5. Michael: I suppose in all this debate one has to take into account personal preferences and individual body type and bike setup -- both hardly quantifiable into general rules. That said, the two best load carrying bikes I've owned were a '73 Motobecane Gr Rec -- a very light frameset, all 531 -- and a '95 Riv Road custom for 26" wheels built with 753 and with relatively short (42.5 cm) chainstays. I don't think that either of these were built with especially stout tubing in the rear; in fact, both seemed to flex quite a bit at the bb.

      These both handled loads over 30 lb in the rear (both with Tubus Fly racks) better than many other much more stout frames with longer stays. True, when I carried 45 lb on the rear of the Motobecane the load would wag a bit when I started out at a light, say, standing and honking (67" fixed) but it quickly settled down. Loads under 40 lb were fine!

      FWIW, my very brief experience with carrying significant (15 lb at least) front loads in panniers attached to a porteur front rack on a Kogswell Porteur did not further endear the design to me.

      Horses for courses, I suppose.

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  19. I replaced a somewhat higher-trail Trek 560 ('85) with a VO Rando (somewhat lower-trail) after the Trek was shot out from under me. I liked the way the Trek rode, but I like the way the Rando rides even better, especially climbing.

    I do like the fact that it has provision for a front rack (and that I *have* a front rack. I modified a fairly large handlebar bag to fit, and for the first time I feel like I can carry a lot of stuff up front (I have used JANDD and Rixen-Kaul type bags in the past, and loading them up with more than a pound or two makes me nervous).

    FWIW, it also has a rear rack and I've carried panniers on it and it works fine that way. But I like the front bag for access and (honestly) for the map case...

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    1. Interesting... I have an '81 Trek 510 that I use for "fast" riding and an Kogswell P/R for daily commuting. I like the lower trail Kogswell (which I also frontload )a lot more for climbing as well... even though it's heavy. It just tracks very well, it's forgiving, it's stable, etc.

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  20. An interesting observation: Most of those who have ridden well-designed low-trail bikes seem to like them, whereas most of those who don't like low-trail bikes never have ridden one.

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    1. That has not been my observation.

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    2. I've ridden both. The last frame I designed and paid for has an unfashionably huge trail, short top tube, lots of wheel flop, toe overlap, carries a small handlebar bag and large saddlebag very satisfactorily, and I've ridden 20-something brevets on it so far this year very comfortably.

      There's lots of noise and very little signal written on the subject of frame geometry. The bicycle industry rarely bothers with engineering and bicycling bloggers and journalists even less often. It's a fashion, marketing and personality driven culture, so trying to nail down any robust conclusions is probably futile.

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    3. There's been some engineering in the form of the Papadopolous papers on mathematical models of the dynamics of bike frames. But it hasn't been drawn down to addressing questions on trail, other geometry, weight distribution, loading and road/wind disturbances. If better work has gone on in the design office of the bigger bike companies, it's not visible.

      Before buying a low trail bike, I had modded a classic Trek fork for high-trail. The bike was a good rider at faster speeds but still not good on slow uphills, darting left and right as I labored up hills. My classic Italian stage-race frame was much better at that riding task. I tried a front bag on the modded Trek while preparing for an organized tour, which was much harder to steer well in slow uphills.

      I ended up riding a classic English tourer with trail about 49 mm and 700x32s, and it rode well with a 10# front load in that uphill mode. Wish I still had that bike!

      I extended the Trek experiment by having a high rake equal-height fork built for it, bringing the trail down to about 35mm with 700x28s. Unloaded, the bike has a very nice slow but gentle manner (we don't have a good technical vocabulary for this, either) without a front load, and is a bit nervous with 15 # of loaded Carradice on the saddle but not well-stabilized. It does not like a rack trunk, with gentle tail-wagging even on the flats. I'm in the middle of setting up a boxy front bag on this bike, so I don't know how well it handles with a front bag. It climbs with very good stability and is always controllable down the same hills. I have been able to no-hand this bike under all conditions, and low-trail is no exception.

      So far at least my anecdotes say that low-trail rides very pleasantly without a front load, at least in my range of power output, and might not like a rear load. It handles my usually-slow climbing style better than a mid-trail English tourer (well, a Woodrup Giro). I don't know yet how it handles a front load, but I am setting up a 650 bike with a frontbag and am looking forward to decent-enough weather to try it out. I plan to try Berthoud-front + Carradice-rear sometime this summer. I won't be putting a rear rack on her, the frame is not designed for touring loads.

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  21. So here's another question: has anyone ever retrofitted a steel/low trail fork onto a race bike and has it made a world of difference in hauling front loads and did it screw up the magic of the original?

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    1. There is a guy who comments here sometimes. Can't even remember his name to search for it. But I remember he described retrofitting a track bike with a steep HT, with a raked-out touring fork. I believe he ended up with something like 40mm trail. This was all an accident, he knew nothing of trail and just happened to have that fork. Any case, he describes the bike becoming his dream bike as far as handling, including carrying front loads. Later he learned about trail and had an Aha moment. Would be useful to find these comments.

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    2. I had a racing bike with 72.5 head angle and 60mm of fork rake. It must have been a mistake. The front wheel used to 'disappear' in corners. There was no feeling of connection to the road. I replaced it with a 45mm fork and now it's a million percent better. That's with hard skinny tires, though. Small women with skinny arms and thick legs need higher trail I think. A slack head angle makes the front wheel dig into the road more so it feels like a solid connection. Steep angles and lots of fork rake need lots of weight on top of it just to keep the sensation of the front wheel existing. That's what I think.

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    3. Tom Matchak builds what he calls Frame-Neutral Replacement Forks that do just that... convert high/medium trail bikes to a more front load based geometry.He has many happy customers. He's done a number of Rivendells and Surly's. Others have bought Kogswell forks and done their own conversion. So it's not an uncommon change.

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    4. Awesome! http://tommatchakcycles.blogspot.com/

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    5. I saw a couple of Tom Matchak bikes at D2R2 (This one and this one. After I posted the pictures, we corresponded a bit over email; nice guy. The owners seem ecstatic with their bikes. Did not know about the fork thing; very cool.

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    6. I got my sweetie a 70mm rake fork to replace her 48mm fork. The main object was to reduce the 4cm toe overlap to something more manageable. 72 degree head angle, 52cm toptube, 6cm stem. It's been her one and only ride since new in 1975. She's more than familiar with how the bike handles. Happily the fork was done by the original builder. Upgraded from Wagner to Davis crown. Same imperial oval 531 blades.

      The review after installation was she loved the extra clearance. Any difference in handling was just not noticeable. I can tell the difference in how the bike steers even just walking it by the saddle. She can't. YMMV.

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    7. Thanks for the replies, that helps.

      Stumbling around the web searching Tom I was directed...to your flickr stream, of course.

      Seems like the fork adaptations he's done are for the more substantial steel frames vs. a lightweight racer. I suspect not all the weight/stress of carried loads is borne by the fork/axle, that some must be transferred to the ht, tt, dt, in which case I wouldn't want to compromise my frame for an experiment.

      Of course all these inexpensive frames listed look tempting and are probably price competitive with a one-off fork. The build tho...

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    8. Ok here's something relevant:

      IbisToucheApril 8, 2012 1:58 PM
      Is the Sogn a rando light bicycle or a light touring bicycle: how many kg can it take besides the rider?

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      Fred BlasdelApril 8, 2012 6:37 PM
      You can have about 5kg on the rear and 20kg on the front very comfortably with adequate racks. You do not want to load up the rear with panniers, or really at all unless there's already weight on the front — the light tubing lets the tail wag the dog, and the low trail steering goes crazy then unless loaded down.

      The stock Haulin Colin rack that we designed weighs around 400g and only just starts to flex with over 25kg. My prototype has a few extra tubes in it but I've not yet been able to overload it.

      With Tubus lowrider racks you can take another 20kg, but it would start to get pretty unwieldy over 35kg.

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  22. Here's an old response that's relevant to hip vs. hand steering. Given this I'm not sure a fork change is a good ideer for me:

    somervillainSeptember 11, 2010 11:57 AM
    it mostly comes down to the amount of trail... that's the single biggest determinant of how well a bike can handle a front load. and, since trail is determined by the fork design, converting a road bike with high trail to one with low trail for front load carrying ability can sometimes be as easy as swapping out the fork.

    the problem with low trail design is that there is a penalty when not carrying a load: the steering is very light feeling and doesn't respond well to body input. without direct input from the rider's hands, the bike will randomly "drift" from the intended direction. this is why racing bikes have high trail-- the riders can practically steer the bikes with their bodies, and the steering feels very responsive. high trail makes a bike easy to ride with no hands. but if you place any front load on a racing bike, the steering feels heavy.

    some people with steel road bikes who want to have better front load handling without replacing the fork choose to have a frame builder "roll" the fork blades, giving them slightly more forward curvature, which translates into less trail. it's risky and can only be done minimally without danger of compromising the integrity of the fork.

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  23. Matthew J November 14, 2012 12:26 PM
    "... racks by the like of Pass Stow ...Cetma and Even Wald all are excellent alternatives to VO racks which seem more show than go IMO."

    I am neutral about VO products, but their racks of all things have been pretty good in my experience. Their Porteur rack, if installed correctly is extremely strong and useful. It is by no means a decorative rack. The randonneur rack needs the eyelets to be in the right place, but if they are it is great for those who don't want "too much rack." I am curious to try the one with a decalleur attachment next.

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    1. <"... racks by the like of Pass Stow ...Cetma and Even Wald all are excellent alternatives to VO racks which seem more show than go IMO.">

      Seriously? I tried Wald products when I first started using bikes to carry stuff. That didn't last. Wobbled like a wet noodle. Can't speak to the Cetma or Pass & Stow, but the VO rack is a serious rack, independent of its "show". As Veloria mentioned, it has to be installed properly (as does any rack). I think the issue with VO racks is that they are marketed to be as universal as possible, so everyone thinks they can just slap one on their bike and call it good, and at the accessible price point, lots of people are doing so. But it can be a very strong rack, and I use mine routinely to carry boxes that couldn't possible be carried on a rear rack. The size of the front platform is just about perfect for stabilizing small and large boxes alike. I do dislike the rail, however. I consider it restrictive to what I can carry on the rack.

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    2. Wald has improved its quality recently. My understanding this is in part based on input from the cycling community.

      Probably my issue with VO racks now is that I owned at various times a Constructeur rear rack and Porteur rack made by Ahearne Rogers and the Rack Lady in Madison, Wi.

      The original racks were lighter, had better welds, and better plating than the current mass produced versions. The VO racks I see in the LBS anyway now come pre-drilled, which seems to go against the notion of having them custom fit to the bike.

      Matthew Feeney's Pass Stow are a very elegant alternative to the VO. They are lighter, more versatile, and can be customized.

      Matthew F. does not plate the racks but you can get them in raw steel and do it yourself.

      Cetma are not as pretty as the Pass Stow or VO, but are outright super performers. Cetma racks will easily outperform the strongest rider and bike.

      Capricorn Bike also makes quality porteur style racks.

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    3. I guess if money was no object, I would get some stunning Ti rando racks from Bruce Gorgon (like the ones on these bikes) and call it a day.

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  24. I'm going high trail just to be alter-grouch. Did anybody even talk about this stuff ten plus years ago?

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    1. 10+ years ago a lot fewer people in the US were interested in bikes. I like the way it is now better. And I also like high trail.

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  25. I've never ridden a low-trail bike. I will have to see about trading bikes with V for a few miles next time we get out for a ride. But my understanding is they address a problem *I* don't have. For me, a handlebar bag *must* be small and light. The reason for this isn't so much to do with handling or wheel flop, but in how and why *I* use a bar bag. I keep my valuables (wallet, passport, camera, phone) in the bar bag. As such, the bar bag should be quick release, and easy (light) to carry, so I can pop it off to carry it inside when I stop at a cafe, shop or control on a brevet. I may also carry a few items I may want quick access to, like a sandwich or energy bar. If I'm riding in mountains or other conditions where I may be taking off and putting on a vest and arm warmers, these items may end up in the bar bag or my pockets, when not on my body. But that's it, everything else is in the bag on the back. And since the front bag is small and light, there is no adverse affect on handling, or the dreaded wheel flop when I stop. I can ride no-handed and I can lean the bike against a tree at the saddle.

    I am not talented enough to change a tire on the move, so my spare tire and tubes are kept in my seat bag. Ditto with other repairs, so all my tools are back there too. I also keep my rain jacket in the back. Unless I'm touring in Ireland, the rain jacket is not something I put on and take off frequently and repeatedly. So I'm happy enough to stop to retrieve it when needed.

    But this brings me back to the front bag. Part of the reason of having the front bag, is to have stuff at hand that you need quickly, frequently or on the move. If you fill your front bag, inevitably the thing you *need* is now at the bottom and hard to access!

    Finally is the issue of cue sheets. First no one ever uses a big enough font on them! So I need the cue sheet to be somewhat close to my aging eyes. If using a bag that sits on front rack (like these low-trail bikes), I would need a very tall (large) bag to get that cue sheet up where I can read it. Then I'd need to secure the bag so it doesn't flop about, likely making it not so quick release, and as it's large, it will inevitably get filled, and I would end up just pulling out a few items when I go in the shop or control. Then a perfect photo-op would occur and my camera would be outside in the bag! 25 years ago I actually did have one of the small Berthoud bags and front racks, but found I had these issues: Cue sheet too far away to read. It was *either* secure *or* QR. And while it was water resistant, it was not waterproof, like an Ortlieb, so electronics ended up in plastic bags. If it's worth carrying, it is probably worth keeping dry.

    So while I look forward to seeing V's new creation and taking one of her low-trail bikes out for a spin, I'm probably going to stick with the solution that works for me.

    Finally, I'm a point and shoot photographer. My camera is small and light. I take a lot of shots on the move. My camera is clearly much smaller and lighter than V's proper camera. I'm a bit surprised her camera would even fit in the small bar bag that was on the redline she tried. But I am not surprised she had wheel flop or other issues with a heavy payload in the bar bag. The bike is not designed for a heavy bar bag, but I have had no issues using it or any of my other non-low trail bikes with the setup I have described.

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    1. I agree with a lot of what you said, especially the part about the amount of weight your bar bag would have. Mine, if I ever actually put a bag on the bar, carries light weight stuff, food bars, point and shoot camera and such. All the heavy tools, tubes ect go under the seat in a saddlebag. I just really don't get the need to be pulling stuff out of a handlebar bag all the time, especially heavy stuff like a DSLR with a zoom lens on it.

      My touring bike gets a front basket that gets loaded up, with panniers and a rack in the rear. The handling is made for it I suppose, because loaded down like that it travels like a cadillac.

      I just don't see the big deal about getting weight up front like these bikes, seems to be a solution to a problem that only exists if you like stuffing your front bag with a ton of stuff.

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    2. Completely agree. This whole discussion is about a niche within a niche within a niche.

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    3. "niche within a niche within a niche..."

      ...not that there's anything wrong with that.

      I have it on good authority that Fixie Pixie knows that she is talking about.

      However, I can't help but wonder what she will think of a low trail bikes when she tries one. She is already inching (centimetering?) into the whole BQ camp with those 650B Grand Bois Hetres on her tandem after all. Time for a Blayleys Rawland review, methinks!

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    4. While we are using 650B and the Hetre tires on our tandem, it is definitely not low-trail. The cool thing about the 650B size, when built up with disk-brake hubs, is that we could use a *stock* tandem fork, and have room for fat tires and fenders. It's about versatility. I will give credit where due. Thanks to BQ for re-popularizing this size so we can get high quality tires in this size. Back in 1990, long before BQ and Jan started promoting this size, John had considered a custom (George Longstaff) bike with this size, based on Tony Oliver's enthusiasm, but lack of availability of tires help dissuade him.

      John's native Irish roads, as well as our potlumped New England roads, make plush tires a real necessity. And not to try to claim tend-setting status, we were riding dirt roads on our road bikes, well before it became all hip and trendy, which caused us to seek both fat tires and ways to fit them into frames.

      Disk brakes really help matters, since one can use different size wheels, as well as eliminating some of the clearance issues caused by caliper brakes.

      V, let me know when we can get together for that long overdue coffee, courtesy of Jim Duncan, and some bike testing. I would love to take the Rawland out for a good test ride.

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    5. A quick comment on cue sheets and fonts: bifocals. The map case on my bag is an inch or so below the bars, and quite easily readable with appropriate correction!

      On the other hand, if you can get cue sheets in advance, you can adjust the font at printing time!

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    6. Nice mention by Pamela of two of the great british frame builders. Sadly George is no longer with us and Tony has long since given up frame building. V have you got his book, Touring Bikes? Well worth a read.

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  26. I bought a Kogswell several years back while I still owned a Rivendell. I was mainly interested in riding on wider tires at the time, and didn't know anything about front-end geometry. I had just ordered an Ebisu several months prior to the Kogswell purchase though i haven't received the frameset. I didn't specify "low trail" to Hiroshi at Jitensha but did tell him that I would use the bike for brevets and may want to try carrying a bag up front. Part of the reason for getting a Kogswell was that I was really curious about 650b fat tires and couldn't wait a couple more months for the Ebisu to arrive.

    I built the Kogswell up and mounted a M12 rack to carry a lil' loafer by Riv. After riding bikes with different front end geometry for years I was really surprised to feel the difference in handling, and the more I rode the Kogswell the more I prefer it. At the time I thought to myself that the difference between riding the Kogswell and my Rivendell was similar to driving a VW or BMW vs a Toyota Camry or Corolla. The Camry's steering is lighter--the driver doesn't need to put too much input to create a large action in the car, whereas german steering tends to be heavier, requiring more hand input from the driver, but feels more precise and connected to the road. I am sure this is really a personal preference, but I definitely prefer the German steering. Similarly I prefer the handling on my Ebisu and Kogswell because I think it's more precise. A couple of years after moving to 650b entirely (for more than one reasons than just handling that includes comfort) I acquired a Rivendell Bleriot, and riding the same hills on consecutive days on the Bleriot and the Kogswell I can really tell the difference in handling, and I still prefer the latter, as it felt way more stable on descents for me.

    In the last two years I changed the set up on the Kogswell to make it a porteur with a rack Roseland Cycles made specifically for the Kogswell fork. I have a custom-made porteur bag that I use with the rack. Since I do virtually all my errands on my bike I carry lots of stuff in the bag or on the rack all the time. A 30-lb grocery load is typical, and regularly but less frequently I carry the said grocery load together with a 20lbs bag of brown rice. The Kogswell as a porteur handles all sorts of front load, though better heavy than empty, with aplomb. The steering remains steady and precise, and when traveling at speed it goes easily in a straight line without feeling the heavy load upfront is tending to move and change the direction of the bike.

    I have also taken the same set up on short but hilly tours and like it very much also. In short, I think my preference really came after much real life use in all different kinds of situation. I am really happy to see Soma jumping into the fray, as I see bikes with this type of handling adding to the rich diversity of bikes out there.

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  27. When did the cohabitant become husband? Congratulations - either for your wedding or linguistic improvements. Either way, I am glad!

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    1. Oh Gosh, this Co-Habitant vs husband thing is going to be a problem, isn't it. I need to think of a nom de plume for him...

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    2. Mine just calls me "That Man".

      Spindizzy

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    3. I noticed that too. Surely co-habitant is still pertinent regardless of any lingering espousal?

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  28. I have an indirectly related question. I recently purchased the 650b/54 Rawland Nordavinden and was wondering which fenders you are using with them.

    Thanks!
    Brook

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    1. I have the Honjo fluted fenders on that bike, but I actually prefer the (gasp) VO Zeppelins.

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    2. Apart from the very elegant end caps on the Honjos, I think that the more subtle facets of the Electra ribbed fenders are nice than either the VO or the Honjo offerings.

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    3. Yeah, I like the VO Zeppelins but they are out of stock. Thanks for the info!

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  29. I’m just going to chime in about this. I'm really please that so many people are interested in this style of bike. Even if it has become a faction war of sorts, it means that people are thinking about using their bicycles for more than just racing/playing around.

    Low trail yields some particular characteristics. To some if feels squirrely, to others it feels neutral. If you're carrying a small load high up on the front it's easier to steer with no hands. My feeling is that if you ride your bike enough you’ll get used to anything.

    That said we (Soma) make a wide range of bikes from full on cargo bikes to racing bikes. We tend to cater to niche markets because it’s something that we’re able to do. We’re too small to go head to head with the big mainstream bike brands, and who would want to. Yet we need to sell a certain quantity to make it worth the cost of production. So it’s a balancing act. There are a lot of ultra niche markets that we think are awesome, but can’t justify the cost of breaking into (you should see some of the prototypes we've got around the office ;-). We think that this genre (randonneuring/cyclotouring) is growing and we wanted to offer a lower cost option that compares to the quality of some of the more expensive choices available now.

    Believe it or not this project has been in development for two years now. We’ve looked at the other options out there and talked extensively with Mike at Boulder about what people want to see in an entry level randonnuring frame. We figured out early on that low trial was something people were looking for. Of course we make other bikes that you can use with a handlebar bag and they work just fine, but if you are frequently in this situation of taking your hands of the bars while riding and accessing things in your bag the low trail really makes sense. And not just for changing layers on brevets, but also for photographers shooting from the bike, and people carrying delicate cargo. The other factor is keeping a relatively nimble handling without running into toe overlap due to using fat tires with full coverage fenders.

    As for the 650b vs. 700c thing this is my take on it. There is nothing magical about 650b. It’s just a wheel size. It happens to fit on a lot of existing bikes with the benefit of additional clearance. People have been building up Somas with 650b wheels for years, even before we started making anything in that size. If you’re tall enough to fit a bike with 700x40c tires and fenders then more power to you. But the majority of people fall into a size range that is best suited on 650b wheels for this application. Another factor is the fact that in the last few years we’ve seen many really excellent tires in the 38-42mm range in this size. Certainly there are a few good options in 700c as well, but it’s nowhere near the variety of racing tires available in that size. We could conceivably offer this bike in a 700c as well, but only in the larger sizes, and frankly we like the way 650b bikes look. Maybe if we start making some comparable 700c tires it will make more sense to offer another version.

    As for the tubing, we’ve really let Mike take the reins and make the bike he wants. So skinny tubing of the Tange Prestige variety is what we’re using. According to Mike, who has been riding the proto, it rides amazingly. Everybody here is really excited about this bike and I think there will be a lot of people that it will appeal to.

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    1. Ok my whistle is whetted...what's the retail?

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    2. Evan - You guys should give it to GR Jim to demo instead of me, but fly me out to CA so that I can photograph him demoing it (and also visit Bruce Gordon and Rawland and Rivendell while I am at it... oops did I write that out loud?). Just saying.

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    3. I'm in, though you'll probably want to visit Sadoff/Rock Lobster, Frances, Inglis, Sycip, Paul, Potts, ride Mt. Diablo (a real mountain), Repack, Santa Cruz mountains, Annadel, Sierras...

      Might take a lifetime.

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    4. “We figured out early on that low trial was something people were looking for.”

      One thing that would be very nice would be if someone, and I'm pointedly looking at Soma here because you've got a good track record, would just sell a low-trail fork. I've got a speedster that's getting a low-rent low-trail fork (I bought a Soma cross fork and I'm going to be reraking it this weekend) but it would be nicer to be able to just /buy/ one without having to spend $300 for a one-off fork.

      (And, for what it's worth, I've put somewhere over 25,000 miles on my speedster, all of which has been with a front bag. The low-trail fork is an experiment to see if the feel is any different -- my eldest son has a Kogswell P/R, and I can't feel any difference between the low-trail fork on that machine and the high-trail fork on my speedster -- and the result of ongoing frustration with trying to wedge a 40mm fender under the existing fork without having the front brake foul it. It isn't because I've had any trouble taking photos or digging through my rando bag at speed.)

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    5. Sure, rub it in....

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    6. "I'm in, though you'll probably want to visit Sadoff/Rock Lobster, Frances, Inglis, Sycip, Paul, Potts, ride Mt. Diablo (a real mountain), Repack, Santa Cruz mountains, Annadel, Sierras...

      Might take a lifetime."

      I love it when a plan comes together!
      I am in, too....maybe Jim's wisecracking sidekick and dox handler? I know where you can get good coffee...

      I need to look at one of these frames as well. I cut my teeth as a road rider on lower-trail bikes and liked 'em then.

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    7. @orc It's happening. I feel your pain. These thing just take forever ;-)

      Delete
  30. Oh, and we just ordered some handlebar bags from Japan, so tell your bike shop to call our distributor if you're looking for one.

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    1. Don't be sadistic Evan. How can you post such a thing without pictures?

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    2. hopefully they will include a small rack bag. The larger "rando" bags are great for winter rides when more gear is needed. In the summer you just need enough room for lunch,camera,etc.

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    3. An additional problem for those of us who are headtube height challenged, is that most of the standard sized rando bags are too big. Evan has emailed me that the bags are Ostrich, what VO used to carry. They will be getting the smaller size too.

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    4. This is getting too complicated. I'll bet my head tube is shorter than your Nord's, yet I'm to run a porteur rack on something that fits properly with drop bars?! I'll have just enough room for that (non) vegan croissant after all.

      Think I'll just drive my car this month.

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    5. Yes, the "finding a handlebar bag that fits" issue is another dark side of the whole rando thing IMO. See this from Jan Heine. My Rawland's HT is 130mm + slammed threadless stem. The VO bag & smallest Berthoud bags are borderline small enough. The Ostrich I had on my Riv sticks out 2" past the handlebars.

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    6. Aside from the rando thing I'd be looking at this as a up to 40lb. hauling porteur. My ht is 113mm, small spacer under -17 stem...no way that's working.

      Perhaps one is to size up, use a longer tt/short stem, leaving room to stack and introducing yet another handling unknown variable, perhaps one called "sluggish". One could spend a lot of time/money and end up with an unsatisfactory product.



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    7. I have recently posted a bit about adapting available handlebar bags to fit on front racks, in case anyone is interested (the process seemed fairly obvious to me, but it may not be for everyone). See:

      http://lawschoolissoover.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/building-a-near-perfect-beast-hacking-the-real-world/

      Adapting things will often not produce anything nearly as attractive as a Berthoud bag, but you can come up with some reasonable substitutes--and you can adapt bags of the appropriate size, etc.

      Delete
  31. ^^ Just wanted to point out that Evan is the aforementioned buddy at Soma, in case that isn't clear. Thanks Evan!

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  32. What an awesome party post this has turned into! Love the comments on this blog :))))))

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  33. So yesterday I finally put that deposit on the Mercian I've been circling for years, I just went with an Audax with a little less racy geometry than the hardcore steel racebikes I've spent my adult life riding. I specced it with a bunch of braze-ons and room for fenders and figured it would be just the thing for trying some brevettes and long days in the saddle with 8 pounds of gear.

    Now (dammit) I'm all freaked out that my spiffy new bike(First NEW roadbike since 87 except for a throwaway aluminum cross' bike I'm racing a bit this year) is going to suck rocks because as soon as I put a big seat bag and a little handlebar bag on it it's going to buck my ass off like some psycho Shetland pony.

    Thanks alot you buncha crazy poindexters!!!
    (not Velouria, I still like her)

    Spindizzy

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    Replies
    1. Don't worry. It won't. Bicycles are far more tolerant than we like to think.

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  34. I, too, love the comments. All of the talk about short trail makes me want one. All of the comments makes me think I just want a custom bike. I can ask for the ride characteristics that I want and if it means short trail for handing a front load then I could get it. Jan Heine, GR Jim, Fixie Pixie, and Rob from Ocean Air's comments sum it up best for me - it the overall design that dictates how the bike handles and, from Fixie Pixie, get something that works for you.

    Having all of these short trail frames on the market doesn't do much for helping me test ride one. I need to be lucky like Fixie Pixie and ask a riding companion to test out his/her built up short trail bike.

    Mike from VT with the Ti Club Racer - what is the trail on your IF?

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  35. So where (in the Boston area) can one actually test ride a low trail, 650B bike of the sort we're talking about here? I inquired at Harris and was told they don't carry any. Any ideas?

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  36. Maybe I missed it in the all the decorious minutia of bicycle love, but, I, me personally, like carrying my load up front for the simple reason that it is easier to manipulate that extra mass from the handlebars. Imagine a car pops out in front of you, as they so often do. You are forced to hop over a curb or run down a small animal to save your own neck. Its easier to lift your payload over the curb with your arms than it is to lift up the back wheel.

    I am not a smart person, as paper boy I had to bend several wheels before I tried strapping my news bag to the handlebars.

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  37. Assuming the definition of pneumatic trail from Wikipedia is correct, it describes something we work with all the time with sportscars(one of the dynamic forces we lump together when we think about slip angle). I'm curious how people are gathering this data for bicycles and how the other influences(camber or lean, tire aspect ratio,acceleration vs deceleration, temp etc.) are accounted for when generating this number?

    I see the usefulness of thinking about this in the bike context but am wondering if the numbers are theoretical or observed...

    Spindizzy

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  38. Oh, and if this data IS being collected from actual bikes on the road, Who? and How? and all that...

    Spindizzy

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  39. I wish you guys talking about Rawlands would be more specific on which Rawland one is referring to. cSogn, dSogn, rSogn, Nordavinden, Olaf? They aren't all the same, just as there are several iterations of Kogswell. (Speaking as a Rawland cSogn owner)

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  40. Since Soma are reading this could I ask if the Saga is already a low trail bike, since it is characterised as being better with a front load?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not low trail, since you would want significantly more stability and you won't we doing a lot of no hands riding.

      Delete
  41. I have the short head-tube problem with front bag height, where there's only so much room between the tire and the height at which I need my bars to be - I can't have them too high. For this reason, I think 26" tires are better than 650b for shorter folks. I'm planning on using the Compass tires.

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  42. Being 5'6", I have been let down by pretty much every low-trail bike maker. Rawland originally listed a 50cm size with good geo for the Stag, but recently has seemed to have scrapped it. Boooooo!

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  43. "if I could test ride one I might be more interested....". Therein lies the rub. There are only a handful of cities where one can test ride a 650B, in limited sizes. Otherwise, it's just taking it on faith, regardless of how much you respect the words of those with 650B experience.

    650B, despite all of it's said benefits, will never be more than a niche in cycling until the general public can walk in a store and test ride one. And that can happen, look at 29er MTBs!

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  44. Lots of drama over the low trail but no details on this new bike from Soma Fab.

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  45. Mercian are pretty much a company that tend to follow conventional wisdom.

    British audax is usually a road bicycle with room for mudguard and a rear rack, they tend to either carry a saddle bag and/or small panniers, they stick to the conventional wisdom of skinny tyres (23c were still heavily used to the last audax I went to despite the Pro riding on bigger!), they also like their plastic mudguard and lots of reflector, very traditional of the British audax bicycle.

    Mercian et all (like Bob Jackson, Rourke, etc.) stick to the classic British geometry whether the French randonneur tend to go for a complete redesign with bigger tyres, integrated mudguard, handlebar bag with optional rear rack/saddlebag.

    What you were asking of Mercian is to go against what they know, but hopefully they're good enough to learn and understand what you're talking about.

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  46. For those of you whom seem to be not at all with the history of the Randonneur I invite you to google 650b Low Trail Classic Randonneur.

    The geometrical set up is exact so providing a low trail bicycle, with I might add the required pneumatic trail.

    Only a short while has passed since I took delivery but believe me unless you are racing for the line, this bike is superb.

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  47. There is no complex issue regarding handlebar bags and the alleged darkness that I believe Jan Hein referred to in a post somewhere.

    If you have a good builder he waits until the chosen bag arrives and then hand builds the carrier ... no mystic.

    Maybe you may wish to see the carriers .... google 650b Low Trail

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  48. I know I am commenting on an old post, but I really want to know if anyone knows of a place in the greater Boston area where I can test ride a low-trail, 650B, fat-tired rando-style bike. I am in the market for a new bike, and very interested, but having never ridden one, it's hard to say if I'd prefer it to 700C.

    ReplyDelete