Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Soma Buena Vista Redux

Soma Buena Vista 650B
Over a year ago, I wrote about a 650B Soma Buena Vista mixte that a friend built up for his wife. It was a large (58cm) frame that I was able to ride after lowering the saddle. This time I tried another 650B Buena Vista, and the smaller (50cm) frame was built up very differently. The difference between these two bikes makes me appreciate the role that sizing, fit and component selection play in the "personality" of a complete bicycle. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
When velo-celebrity Bekka (aka bikeyface) began pining for a mixte, I suggested the Soma Buena Vista because of its reputation for versatility. B wanted a "non-girly" mixte that was aggressive yet comfortable, upright yet not too upright, classic yet modern, and to top it off, easy on the budget. I believed the Buena Vista could deliver these properties and volunteered to help "curate" the build, which was undertaken by Jim at Harris Cyclery

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The charcoal frame is the same as on the bike I reviewed previously. It is a nice looking gunmetal silver. The decision to go with 650B wheels was made in order to fit wide tires. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The gumwall tires are Panaracer Col de la Vie 650B x 38mm. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The wheels were built up with a dynamo hub in the front, the cables for the lighting routed using this method

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The rear wheel was built around a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. The Buena Vista's horizontal dropouts allow it to be set up either with a derailleur, internally geared hub, or single speed drivetrain. B shares my dislike of many-geared hubs, but did not want a derailleur on a mostly-urban bike that would spend much of its life outdoors. She considered single speed initially, but eventually settled on 3 speeds. I think this was a good choice, considering how she intends to use the bike. In my experience, 3-speed hubs are efficient and keep the weight down, while still offering some gearing versatility.

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The Sturmey Archer pulley is hidden above the bottom bracket and adds a touch of the archaic to the bike.

Soma Buena Vista 650B
B wanted to try the trigger shifter, and I am curious what her verdict will be (I love them, but they are not for everyone). The Rivendell cork grips and the classic lines of the Tektro FL750 levers complete the old-school charm.

Soma Buena Vista 650B
But charming need not mean docile. We set up the North Road handlebars aggressively, upside down and with a 10cm stem. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
The Nitto North Roads have a dramatic drop, so flipping them over makes the bike très vroom-vroom. Not sure what the owner would think of this position, we left enough steerer to move the bars either up or down. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
For fenders, B specifically did not want fancy-looking hammered things. As a more modern and less costly solution, we went with SKS. The ones designed for 700C work fine with 650B wheels. We chose the Longboard version, with mudflaps. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
If I don't say so myself, I think the complete bike came together nicely. It suits the owner's preferences, both functionally and aesthetically. In the near future, she plans to install a rear rack and a small chainguard, but otherwise this is the finished state. Being now in posession of the bike, B really likes it so far. But I will wait some time before reporting her impressions. 

As far as my impressions, the ride exceeded my expectations. Basically: vroom. Super-responsive, quick to accelerate, fast rolling. On flat terrain, the bike moved with me, almost effortlessly. And I'd almost forgotten how much I love upside down North Roads. Mount them low enough and with a long stem, and you can attain a forward lean similar to that of drop bars, but with the gripping style of upright bars. I love this position for riding in the city. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
With the Buena Vista's sporty setup, the 3-speed drivetrain might really be enough for the owner's needs, especially considering that she is great at climbing out of the saddle. The gearing we chose worked well for me, with a significant hill easy to tackle in first gear seated. But it was really educated guesswork on our part, and if B wants to change the rear cog or chainring in future, this can easily be done. 

As far as toe overlap with the 50cm Vista frame, this will depend on your shoe size and on whether you have fenders. I experienced a bit of it, but not much. If you build up the frame as a roadbike, fenderless, and ride in clipless pedals, there is a good chance of no TCO. In any event, the owner is not bothered by it. 

Soma Buena Vista 650B
Depending on whose fit philosophy she follows, a woman of my height could end up on either the 50cm, 54cm, or 58cm Soma Buena Vista. Having tried the extremes of this spectrum, I believe that either size can work, depending on what qualities you are looking for in the bike. When I tried the 58cm Buena Vista last year, its long virtual top tube and high, wide, swept-back handlebars made it feel like a lightweight, faster version of a Dutch bike. By contrast, the 50cm Vista with its low, narrow, upside down North Roads felt like the lovechild or a modern roadbike and a pathracer. Go large for more tame, upright. Go small for more aggressive, roadish. In each case, the bike felt stable and the ride quality was pleasant. At $499 MSRP for the frameset, this fun and versatile machine is a good value. 

59 comments:

  1. Nice job!

    Out of curiosity, what is the gearing you used? And any thoughts of a chainguard? I'm sure it would look tres classy.

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    1. Shoot, I have to look at the bike to remember... 42t chainring for sure, and I *think* a 20t cog. I will check and get back.

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    2. This seems like the time to remind all that Shimano cassette cogs can be filed to fit 3spd hubs, so 11t to 36t are in play. Also, the 19 & 22t SA cogs are dished - install them back to back, add a cheap mech and lever (and a few chainlinks) to create a cheaper if clunky 6spd.

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  2. Nice! And good choice for tires - I have them in 590 on my Phillips (Raleigh) Sports, and they're the best riding tires I've ever had - Paselas don't hold a candle, and those are my go-to tire for 99% of my riding, from club (700X25) to the 3-speed 27" Schwinn LeTour I just built up.

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  3. Very well done. BF will put a lot of happy miles on this.

    If the Col tires prove flat prone, I've had the Soma B lines on my City bike with no flats going on a year now. Certainly not Hetre supple but not gatorskin rigid either.

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  4. I like it that Soma had the triangulation stays go to the rear dropout, where they can feed the forces into a well-supported spot. So many makers connect them to the seatstays, which means that they are only ornamental. Whether it makes a huge difference or not, to my taste, every tube on a bicycle should serve a purpose.

    It would be interesting to compare this older design with the later, but more labor-intensive frame design used by the best French constructeurs, with a single dropped top tube and two extra seat stays. Peter Weigle's machine here uses the later design:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/49353569@N00/799176200/

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    1. How thin is the tubing of the additional stays on this bike I wonder? I've always felt that being so long and triangulated laterally that there might be more scope for changing the character of a frame with this configuration than most other designs.
      It might be interesting to build one with nice whippy stays and contrive a sliding/removable bridge that one could move forward and backward on the stays to investigate the effects of more or less support in this area. If there is a way to isolate and quantify energy storage in a frame this might be a practical method to get a little data.

      Spindizzy

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    2. That design, where the mixte stays extend past the seat tube to join the dropped top tube, might be easy to implement in carbon fiber...

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    3. I had the pleasure of photographing the Weigle mixte, and of test riding a similar (albeit not low trail) design by Brian Chapman. Both are impressive machines. However, I think that both this and the twin stay design have their merits.

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  5. I ran into B as she was picking up the Buena Vista at Harris. When I saw it, I did a double-take. Somehow familiar, but different.

    Very nice build, indeed. Goes to show how versatile this frameset is!

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  6. That's a lot of drop considering her road bike position.

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    1. Oops I see she flipped them now.

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  7. Sure, the frame is a "good value", but the build is probably closer to $2000. I had a similar bike built at Harris for slightly more than that. This is fine if the build provides you with something unavailable in an "off the rack" bike (and it may well)but most would find "good value" a strange descriptor.

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    1. The description is accurate in the context of its category: mixte framesets that can be built up from scratch to the rider's specs. Factoring in the 700C/650B versatility and possibility for wide tires, this is especially so.

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  8. Velouria, I'm concerned by your use of the phrase "Curate the build". This language is offensive to many of your readers and while your placing the verb in quotes indicates some sensitivity to the issue I believe there may have to be some sort of monitoring for this in future. If this post had also mentioned micro-brewed beer, custom roasted coffee or any type of hand crafted headgear described as "Whimsical", we would be taking action as we speak.

    We do this because we love you.

    Spindizzy

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    1. Here come the village folk with their torches and pitchforks now.

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    2. You are right; I crossed a line. But those pitchforks better be artisanal.

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  9. Seriously, what is a velo-celebrity?

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  10. I too like the single tt approach. Somewhere between the Soma and a Weigle in price/value is the Betty Foy, of course, with the single top tube and lugs of the Weigle but priced closer (though still 2x as much) to the Soma.

    Other attributes I look for in a mixte frame are, like all the bikes mentioned here, a rear brake mounted on the extra stays rather than on the seat stays, and, for my fit, a long head tube. I don't worry too much about light tubing, since I only use this style of bike for short in-town trips--great for a rear child carrier set-up.

    I'm putting together a poor man's Yves Gomez, using a powder-blue Schwinn Le Tour.

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    1. It's not just a matter of price, but a matter of handling and functionality. The Betty Foy & Buena Vista are different bikes. The Weigle's mixte is sweet; I have some nice pictures of it I'll try to post.

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    2. Handling and functionality? Curious what the difference is. You describe the BV ride as "stable and the ride quality was pleasant." :

      "Go large for more tame, upright. Go small for more aggressive, roadish. In each case, the bike felt stable and the ride quality was pleasant."

      So a smaller Betty Foy with flipped bars couldn't be hot-rodded? Its ride could not be described as stable and pleasant?

      I know very few people who would use a mixte for anything other than 90% town riding, so not sure how much real difference there would be that would get noticed on these rides with skirts and bagpipes and whatnot.

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  11. With bar so low, why not some nice drops? I used flipped NR bars on various Sportses and Sprites many years ago and they can be effective for a low-back, agressive position but they offer no more upright position as drops do on the ramps and flats.

    Wish they made a close or even medium ratio 3-speed hub -- the 33% increase of high over direct on the AW is just bizarre.

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    1. SA did make close ratio hubs like their 3-spd fix gear, and it's back in production.

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  12. Congratulations to you and Bekka for collaborating on an excellent build. The only way to amp up the hipster vibe would have been to opt for the Sturmey Archer S3x. I'm looking forward to see whether she portrays her new bike in her hilarious blog. It's certainly no Cupcake Bike. The Internet would certainly be a sadder place without Lovely Bicycle! and Bikeyface. Keep up the good work.

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  13. Re the low bars/ why not drop bars comments, couple of things:

    While the bars are low, the dramatic sweep of the North Roads brings the hand position way back. So the forward lean is not as extreme as it would be with drop bars, even fairly high ones. Aside from that, using the upside down NR instead of drops gives the rider an ergonomic "city" gripping position and city brake levers, which many prefer for urban riding. Here's me riding with a similar (but slightly more upright) setup a few years back. A very different feel from drop bars.

    Also: The bike as shown may not be how the owner will end up setting it up. Her saddle will probably be a bit lower. She can then lower the bars to maintain the aggressive position, or keep them where they are if she wants to be slightly more upright.



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    1. It does end up with a very different position vs drop bars. I've got a heavily modified cross check set up with similar bars. Vs my road bike with drop bars, the grips are about 1 inch lower and 2.5 inches less reach. It ends up with a semi-aggressive position, upright enough for city riding, a forward position if you want it and certainly a different feel as far as steering leverage than either drops or non-inverted north roads.

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    2. I have a similar setup, but with VO Porteur bars on an older Raleigh mixte. I absolutely prefer it to drop bars for the city - it's aggressive and fast, but not quite as bent over (therefore easier for shoulder checks, for me at least) and I can have my hands on the brakes at all times.

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    3. I have porteur bars on my city bike, and I agree they are agressive and fast but still allow a semi-upright position. They're my favorite for city bikes.

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    4. spine angle is important....straight? curved? ... this makes a huge difference in comfort and one's ability to be efficient while pedaling. beware of hands too close to body...

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  14. "Go large for more tame, upright. Go small for more aggressive, roadish."

    This may be over-generalizing. In my experience, non-competitive riders tend to be happier with the larger end of their fit continuum rather than the smaller.

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    1. Just to clarify: This statement was specific to the Soma Buena Vista, and that's how I would describe the difference between the bikes I tried.

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  15. The soma buena vista looks nicer all the time, wish I had gotten it instead of the surly lht when I had the chance. My only beef is that while soma's bikes are all tange prestige, the bv is infinity and there's no excuse for that. I for one would love a jp weigle mixte and am always on the hunt for an older mercian mixte.
    As for sturmey archer hubs, I have a 5 speed sturmey archer hub and love the thing. I would highly recommend it if one has plans of going beyond their flattish urban riding. The extra range is surprisingly good. What kind of dynamo hub and lighting does the bike have? How wide are the north roads? As a smaller person, I have found many handlebars to be too wide, and have gotten some vintage children's belleri moustache bars that are perfect. If the upright bars are too wide, I find the front end becomes wobbly,and the ride becomes unstable because my arms are so outstretched.
    It's a great build, and one Bekka can upgrade as budget allows if she needs to change things. Building a bike up like this does end up being expensive, but it's worthwhile because you can chose the parts you want instead of having to replace unwanted parts later on.
    I hope she's enjoying it.

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    1. The Nitto North Roads are 54cm at their widest point. That's narrower than either the Nitto Albatross or the Sunlite North Roads, and the same width as the the Soma Oxford bar.

      The narrowest currently produced North Roads I know of are the Nitto Dove bars (52cm) and the Bella Ciao CS2A bars (49cm).

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    2. 54cm is wide. The albatross bars are insanely wide and had them on a bike for awhile. I had never really thought about handlebar width in the past, but one of those things-as you get older you want the bike to fit better. You want the bars to be as wide as your shoulders or close to where your arms reach out naturally. The albatrosses were impossible, and I even find the north road bars on my raleigh sports a bit too wide. Thanks for the measurements, might look for the bella ciao bar for the sports. My raleigh sprite has a very narrow north roads type bar. I know they function differently, but I prefer the more narrow porteur french style bars. I love the flipped bar look and had success with flipped VO porteur bars on a bike.

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    3. Heather, the main triangle of the BV is indeed Tange Prestige. The fork and possibly the stays are Infinity. At least that's what the stickers on my wife's BV indicate.

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    4. "main triangle of the BV is indeed Tange Prestige. The fork and possibly the stays are Infinity. At least that's what the stickers on my wife's BV indicate."

      Same with this one. FWIW, the bike feels pretty light and the ride quality is good. So whatever combo they used, it works fine here.

      Heather, do you know what width you prefer? I am curious now whether it's possible to find a modern equivalent. With Porteur-style bars, I know you can go as narrow as 43cm (VO Belleville), but I don't know of any North Road styles narrower than 49cm.

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  16. That stem bar connection angle is fugly with that frame, otherwise a nice looking bike.

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    1. I kinda agree. I think a 73d stem fitted above both spacers would give around the same bar height as the current 6d stem fitted between the two spacers, and would look better.

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    2. In all fairness, I think this is a matter of taste. Personally I hate the look of a stack of spacers under a threadless stem. On the other hand, the angle of the stem here matches the slope of the mixte stays and, to my eye, looks "right."

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    3. When I see a bike that has spacers top and bottom like this, I just figure the owner is still dialing in a position, or wants some flexibility for later changes. On this particular bike, the steerer/stem joint looks a bit like a 1930s or 1940s French quill, which works at first glance.
      I agree with V about the stem angle.

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    4. I don't think that the stem/bar setup looks bad at all. It looks uncomfortable, but it looks nice. Dam' sight better than a "7" stem with 10" of quill showing. The only real ugly in the setup is the stem clamp's faceplate.

      Next question: why mixtes? For women wearing skirts -- or men wearing kilts -- I see the use. Otherwise?

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    5. "Next question: why mixtes? For women wearing skirts -- or men wearing kilts -- I see the use"

      Yes (for woman wearing skirts). She wears skirts. She wanted a fairly aggressive handling. But not drop bars.

      "Otherwise?"

      Two other use case scenarios come to mind:
      1. Older or disabled people who have trouble swinging their leg over the back.
      2. Those who routinely have a huge tall crate with stuff attached to the rear rack and want low stepover for added convenience.

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    6. Or short legs and long torsos.

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  17. Chapeau! that's a beauty. I have liked the Buena Vista since it came out, truly a lovely bicycle.

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  18. Nice looking bike that seems to do the business... until you get to the stem and handlebars. WTF? They are ugly.

    The stem bar connection angle looks out of kilter with that frame, and I hate the North bars like that.

    But then, that could just be me.

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  19. Anonymous: "SA did make close ratio hubs like their 3-spd fix gear, and it's back in production."

    The S3X is, alas, not close ratio but has the wide gaps of the AW: from the bottom, + 33%, +33% (or, from the top, -25%, -25%). SA did make medium and close ratio 2, 3 and 4 speed hubs, of which a couple were fixed.

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  20. My BV is currently being built and to the person who asked, "Why mxtes?" - in addition to the reasons already listed, as a mom who totes my son regularly with a bike seat, it's a must for me. It's much easier to hop on and off a bike with a child seat attached without having to swing my leg over a bar.

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  21. This bike is so pretty! I can't stop thinking about it. I would love to see a picture of it when it is fitted with the chainguard. I hope you "curate" more builds and continue your excellent photography.

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  22. What dynamo hub did you chose for the build? If money was no object, which would you have picked?

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    1. The hub is a Shimano Alfine. It's a good all around value; I had the same hub on my formerly owned Rivendell.

      For a long distance or performance bike I prefer the Schmidt SON. It is pricy, but, in my opinion, worth it.

      For a city bike I prefer the Sturmey Archer dynamo hub with drum brake. It is one of the lesser expensive hubs out there, but super useful on a city bike IMO.

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    2. I will be doing longer rides on this hub, which makes me think the SON would be best but I don't think I will be doing enough night riding to make it worth the extra cost. I do have my limits. I'd love to have it for the Dirigo Dynamo next year, assuming it happens, I am able to go, and there is an open invitation. But it will be used mostly for getting up super early for rides before and after the summer solstice.

      BTW what light(s) did you go with? I think the Lumotec LYT looks great for the money, and bright enough for dark roads.

      Thanks!

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  23. I've used the SON 28, the SON 20 or whatever it is -- low drag because meant for 20" wheels (I have one on my 559 Riv Road Custom) -- and three or four of the Shimano DH 3N72s, including the two on my Fargo wheelsets. That on the fat wheelset has seen plenty of off road dust over two years with no problems. I notice less resistance with the SON 20 than the Shimanos, but not hugely less. My take is: for value, there is nothing better than a good Shimano dynohub with the Lumotec Cyo. Not including wheelbuilding costs, you can get the Shimano and Lumotec for ~ $200 compared to almost $600 for the SON deluxe and the Edeluxe.

    But for shorter or occasional use, consider a good sidewall or - even better -- a bb dynamo. I've used both top end and low end sidewalls: the $300 12 volt Dymotec bottle as well as old, garden variety Soubitez, and the old standard Sanyo bb dynamo. Even the cheapies don't cause **that** much drag -- consider it like a slight incline or a slight headwind --and the Sanyo was noticeably less draggy than the bottles. (In order of low drag: SON 20R, SON 28, Shimano DH N72 etc -- they are basically the same under the cover, Dymotec 12, Sanyo bb, Soubitez, Sanyo bottle.) And of course bottles and bb dymanos can be switched to "no contact" when you don't need them.

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    1. Thanks for the advise, which matches that of everyone I talked with (and corresponded with by email).

      I think this website is quite useful when thinking about dynamo hubs.

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  24. Hi, I am curious to know how to size a frame for my wife. She is about 5'4".

    There is nowhere close by to see an actual frame or complete bike, but I note numerous complimentary reviews on build quality and ride.

    I'd like to do a 650 build similar to what you have shown but with an 8-speed internal and double crankset. It appears you've been on several sized frames. Perhaps you might offer your best guesstimate?

    Thanks for all your great reviews.

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  25. "The Betty Foy & Buena Vista are different bikes." Would you elaborate? I am looking to purchase a new bike. I like the simplicity of having one bike. Having been a tomboy and ending up 5'10", I have never had a girlie bike. I have had many bikes but don't want drops anymore as I ride for transportation or casual pleasure and now prefer upright. I am looking for the upright that isn't boring as I do like efficiency and a little bit of speed. I am close enough to be able to ride those bikes before purchase but I value your opinion. I loved catching up on your blog! Really quite, well, lovely!

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  26. Can you please give me the make of you stem adapter. i love the high profile!

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