Stainless Steel Rainbow Bike

Here's something to brighten up your weekend: Rainbow bike!

Back in November, reader Jim P. was trying to choose a colour scheme for the stainless steel Royal H. bicycle he had ordered and somehow I ended up helping. Jim mentioned turqouise and possibly violet. I suggested multi-coloured bands. The painter's interpretation was unexpected, but delightful: Rainbow Bike was born.

Just as the wildflowers of Somerville started to blossom, so did Rainbow Bike emerge, fully built up, out of the Royal H. workshop.

Bryan Hollingsworth makes diverse bicycles, and this one is a combination of classic and modern: A lugged steel frame with contemporary colourwork, an 8-speed hub, upright handlebars, dynamo lighting, drum brakes, and deep V wheels with 700Cx32mm tires.

Decidedly sexy fork ends.

Massive Shimano 8-speed hub with cooling fan to prevent overheating during prolonged braking.

Sturmey Archer dynamo hub.

 Italian Porteur-ish handlebars from Bella Ciao.

Twist shifter with built in brake lever.

Sugino crankset.

Velo Orange city pedals.

Brooks B72 saddle.

And zippy Continental tires with sleek modern fenders (I believe these are Planet Bike, but not sure).

(Have mudflaps ever been used with deep V wheels before?..)

And lest I forget - the lugwork.

More lugwork!

Rainbow lugwork...

Looking at this bicycle is making me feel hyperactive!

One nice thing about Bryan, is that he and I are roughly the same height, as are some of his clients... which means I can test ride the bikes! With permission, of course.

Ever-curious to try new bikes, I could not resist taking it on a test ride.

At first I was nervous, since I was riding somebody else's bicycle. But Rainbow Bike was so much fun, that I soon got over it and began to enjoy it. I rode through Somerville and Cambridge, stopping for photos along the way.

Designed to be light, zippy, but comfortable, that is exactly how Rainbow Bike handled. The ride quality felt similar to my mixte in its stability and responsiveness, but slightly less aggressive. It's possible that this might just be the result of my bike's handlebars being set lower, but it could also be something in the geometry, not sure. I also did not feel as much flex in the fork on this bike as I feel on my mixte, and Bryan confirmed that he made the fork on this one stiffer, because of the drum brake.

All in all, I was surpsised at how quickly I felt at home on this bicycle. If it were my bike, I would have set it up somewhat differently - choosing classic components and wider tires. But it's not my bike, and experiencing something that I would not myself order was part of the fun. I was almost disappointed that the deep V rim wheels did not feel any different to ride than standard wheels. Bryan says that he prefers them, because they are stronger. I think that they fit in well with the overall theme of this bicycle. The 8-speed Shimano hub was 5 speeds too many for me, but it performed absolutely fine and had a very comfortable 6th gear that I stayed in for most of the time. I loved the Velo Orange city pedals, which I'd never tried before. Everything functioned smoothly, and the bike seems ready for its new owner - though first it will be heading to the New Amsterdam Bike Show in New York City to prance and show off a bit.

Thank you to Bryan and Jim for letting me test ride the bicycle. Rainbow Bike wishes you all a sunny and beautiful weekend!


  1. I love the colors. Where did you find all those wildflowers blossoming?

  2. These grow on woodsy patches and front lawns in our neighbourhood, very briefly in April.

    The patch in the pictures is smaller and sparser than it looks; I had to crouch and angle the camera just so to make it look like a vast field of flowers : )

    I would love to have a front lawn covered with these.

  3. It's pouring with rain here today - but reading about Rainbow Bike and looking at that delicate and detailed paint job has made the day feel sunny and cheerful. Go Rainbow Bike!

  4. I like the colours, but the tubes should have been polished better, I can see the grinding marks from the centerless grinder on them still. Lenghtwise polishing marks make the tubes look sleeker. Otherwise the paintjob is super, and the spec is just what I´d order for my perfect winterbike that I dream of!

  5. When I first saw the article I looked at the photos and thought 'what an interesting production bike'. Then I started reading and realized it was custom. No wonder it was such a unique bike.

  6. A lovely bicycle, indeed! It looks fun.
    I love the look of those big Shimano hubs, my commuter bicycle has one and it's just kind of cool. I think they also have the advantage of making the wheel a little tougher by shortening the spokes, which is good for pothole-hopping.

  7. Bike looks great, I too can't wait to test ride it! He he he!

  8. Oh, cool. That's really fun. I look forward to seeing it in person at the show.

  9. Now that is too cool! And such drop dead gorgeous craftsmanship. I love the shiny steel and splashes of color.

  10. Wow, that's a lovely bike- fantastic color scheme and a very nice build out!

  11. It is a gorgeous bicycle... a Lovely Bicycle for sure!!
    I will be nervous riding for the first time too. The final product far exceeds my expectations. I am a lucky and a very happy guy!

  12. I don't think those are actually Planet Bike fenders, though the mudflaps are very similar. The rainbow theme is delightful.

  13. Great looking bike and pictures.
    Looks like something to jump on and ride!
    If I had a SS bike, I wouldn't add any color, just raw shine.

  14. I never saw the point of a lawn. If I owned a house and some land, I, too, would want it to be carpeted with flowers like those--and to have a garden where I'd grow herbs, strawberries and a few other goodies.

  15. Nice bike!

    That is an interesting way to
    attach the torque arm of the
    front hub to the forks.
    I have only ever seen a square-section
    slot, never a rack boss used like that.

    I have also found that you need
    a stiffer fork when using a drum
    brake, compared to when using a rim brake.

    John I

  16. That's some exceptional finish work. The seat stay bridge makes me hot.

    Good job Brian.

  17. Axel - On which pictures can you see this? In person the finishing looks flawless, including compared to other custom frames I've examined. Also, the stainless tubes were meant to have a matte, not a high-polish finish.

  18. Sweeeeeet bike!! :^))

  19. "I was almost disappointed that the deep V rim wheels did not feel any different to ride than standard wheels. Bryan says that he prefers them, because they are stronger."

    They are definitely stronger than standard profile "normal" rims, stronger than my Velocity Aeroheads, no doubt. When you pick up the unbuilt, raw rim and try to flex it it just doesn't want to move.

    You might not be able to feel the difference because of the usual other variable factors, but otherwise spoke tension can tune the ride to be rock hard or plush. Various theories of how tense a spoke should be are out there and they're all somewhat right.

  20. I'm not sure what I was expecting from your previous descriptions of this bike, but the end result is very different from the picture in my mind's eye.
    It looks like a fun bike! The parti-colored rings give it a modern, fast feel, akin to an airliner livery.

    I wasn't aware that Bella Ciao offered their handlebars for sale- good to know.

    All in all, A very nicely done modern town bike.

    Corey K

  21. Re the deep Vs:

    But the idea of them being stronger is rooted in racing culture, is it not? I mean, they are made to hold up heavier riders on 28 spoke wheels. You would not use a 28 spoke wheel on a touring bike, or on an upright city bike. You would not use a 28 spoke wheel with wide tires. I feel the concept is mis-applied when it comes to non-racing bikes.


    on that one for example ;)

    I have trained eyes for such things, polished way to many gun barrels!

  23. See, I like the cross-pollination of bike subcultures. The various advances of bike tech on the racing level trickle down and make everyday bikes better.

    Sure, aesthetically it isn't integrated in the classical sense but getting used to a look takes time.

    You could argue a lightweight stainless frameset should only be built as a road bike, not a townie, but in this age of amazing tubeset availability, the customer's wish is the builder's command.

    If you want to build a Giant Killer put my race wheels on your Royal H. Take off the ugly stickers and it looks stealth. It will look slightly less nice than it did, but once you stomp on the pedals all is forgiven.

  24. Corey - Yup. Their handlebar models are shown here, though these pictures don't do them justice. The bars on Jim's bike are CS2A and the bars on the Superba are CS1A. The bars shown here are CS5A. All are alloy, made in Italy, and beautifully finished. Compared to the VO Porteur bars on my mixte, the Bella Ciao bars on Jim's bike have zero flex, which I prefer.

  25. GR Jim - I agree about the "cross-polination of bike subcultures" (nice terminologies). Moreover, I think the wheels actually look good on this particular bicycle.

    If I had a collection of 20+ custom bikes, one of them would look just like this one.

    But if I were getting just one "fast transport" bicycle from Royal H for my own personal use, I would want wider tires and classic wheels (as well as classic fenders, a rack, and a rear light). If I were getting a stainless single speed road bike on the other hand, I could go for these wheels for sure.

    Lightweight framesets... I think everyone has their own ideas regarding how a "town bike" should handle, and lightweight frames have their place in the spectrum of these preferences. I would love to build a 650Bx42mm mixte with "swoopy" stays made of light tubing and see how it handles. It will have the low step-over of a loop frame, the cushy tires of a transport bike, and the tubing and geometry of a fast randonneuse. Could be the best of all worlds, or could feel weird as heck. But finding out would be my dream project.

  26. Justine - if you ever have a lawn, you can plant crocuses in your lawn. The bloom and finish before the lawn needs care. I've got about 50 in my lawn this year and I'm going to add another Costco sized bag next year.

  27. "But if I were getting just one "fast transport" bicycle from Royal H for my own personal use..."
    Ha - that's your bike already :)

    How would this dream project differ from your Royal? I've said before I think your Royal, based upon the review, would theoretically make an excellent randonneuse. Aside from 650Bs. It'd be interesting to see how optimizing your Royal for rando use would change its personality.

    Of course designing a frame for its own sake is just plain fun.

  28. Hi Rainbow Bike! Wanna' go for a ride?

    Mudhole Bike

  29. GR Jim - My mixte has slight toe overlap, short chainstays, mid-trail geometry, and a fairly high stepover (as all straight-stay mixtes will). It will not fit 650Bx42mm tires (though could theoretically be converted to 650Bx38mm - but that's not the same). None of this is a flaw, it's just a different kind of bike design. I would like to try the alternative mixte and compare - not for myself, just out of interest.

  30. ^Also, mine was not designed as a transportation bike, but for light touring. I actually never planned to ride it in the city at all.

  31. Cool. Looking forward to the summer ride reports.

  32. That hits lovely on the head! hmm...sometimes mixed metaphors don't work out. :p

    Thanks for the follow up. I was wondering how that turned out. It's not at all like I was imagining.

    Favorite line from the post: "Decidedly sexy fork ends." Long winter, huh? :D

  33. This bike would have been a complete mess without Velouria. Truth is I ordered a custom bike before I knew what I was doing.About half way through I realized I was in trouble. I started e-mailing Velouria and she came to the rescue. She started by sending me a list of questions followed by another and another about what I wanted and how I was going to use the bike. She then communicated directly with Bryan and got the project back on the right track. The color scheme is Velourias as well.
    I love the bike and will forever be thankful to Velouria for her help.

  34. What exactly is the purpose of the cooling fan? Is it for the brakes or the gears? I've never heard of such a thing.

  35. JimP- Nah. The bike was fine without me, there was just some minor confusion. I would describe the colour scheme as being the painter's, though based on my concept : )

    The funny and interesting thing about custom bikes, is that there is always that element of interpretation. You can't assume that the framebuilder or the painter is imagining the same thing you are when you describe something with any subjective element to it. This applies to both ride quality and component choice, as well as colours. So... if you want something specific, you need to send photos of concrete examples.

    Having said that, some prefer to be surprised and explicitly want the framebuilder to use their own interpretation, which can be fun, too. I would say that this was 90% the case here. With my own mixte, it was maybe 20%.

    Ira - Yeah, that phrase doesn't even seem all that odd to me : )

  36. I feel like you need to be wearing leg warmers and a aerobic uni-suit to match those awesome colors! 80's throwback!

  37. Lauren - Hub brakes can heat up when braking downhill over a prolonged period of time, so the cooling fan is to prevent this from happening. I believe this hub is the Shimano Nexus Deluxe Rear Roller Brake BR-IM70-R model, "with large cooling fins" - so you can look that up for more info.

  38. As a heavier rider, I love Deep-Vs and similar wheels. Laced 32 or 36-spoke three-cross, they're just about the perfect "Clydesdale Hoops."
    As for a light and zippy city bike, that's exactly how I picture my dream commuter: something comfortable and stable for easy cruising to work or the store, but able to take off when pushed, maybe to beat that yellow light or spin up a bit of hill.

  39. ^ It is def all of that. Bike felt fast uphill and did fine over potholes. I think Bryan has a special touch when it comes to fast, but comfortable frames.

  40. Can I ask how people with those "sexy fork ends" plus mudguards handle getting the wheel out to repair punctures. On my Pompino I have to undo the mudguard stay bolts. Anyone got a cleverer idea?

  41. hmm ... I've always thought that the main appeal of Deep V's is how the deep sidewall can be used to show off a range of powdercoated colors, so that you can have a nice black bike with red bartape, red saddle and red rims. It also explains why a lot of Deep V builds that one sees on places like Velospace are for brakeless fixes or bikes with drum or disc brakes, since rim brakes would mar the finish. It's roots aren't in racing culture but in the world of urban fixed gears which, of course, makes them quite appropriate for de facto city bikes ;)

    with regards to being surprised by a builder, I remember originally going to Mike with my idea of my Club Racer having its Schmidt lights mounted halfway up the fork. He wrote back to me as he was building the bike with the idea of building a small rack to hold the lights and protect them if the bike ever fell. That light rack has probably become the most distinctive feature of the Club Racer and is the one that gets the most comments from various folks.

  42. I've just started following your blog and I'm so happy your showcasing Bryan's amazing and diverse talent! He's a good friend of mine who is mostly responsible for inspiring me to start riding again after so many years. Yay Bryan!

  43. Deep dish wheels as canvas:

  44. Tim B said:

    >Can I ask how people with those
    >"sexy fork ends" plus mudguards
    >handle getting the wheel out

    I have always preferred the more
    traditional fork ends that slope
    forward for this reason.

    Another solution is to use
    an eccentric bottom bracket:

    With these you
    can have a perfect fenderline
    and you don't have to adjust
    the chain slack when reinstalling
    the wheel. The downsides are that
    they are harder to build, and
    your riding position changes slightly
    when you adjust the chain.

    John I

  45. Just following up on my previous
    comment on the
    rear facing fork ends:

    Another solution to the problem
    of getting the wheel out without
    fouling the fender or having to
    wrestle with the chain is to use
    sliding dropouts:

    If you attach the fender stays
    to the sliding bits, then you
    always maintain fender clearance.

    The problems with these (there are always
    problems!) is that they can reduce heel
    clearance and they look ugly (to me).
    I prefer a bike to have the seat stays
    and chain stays to intersect at the
    axle (for both aesthetic and mechanical
    reasons), and sliding dropouts are a long
    way from that ideal.

    I think about these things too much...

    John I

  46. If you have a decent amount of mudguard clearance, having a fat 32mm tyre helps, too. If you don't usually ride with the wheel all the way forward, so in fact it's normally half-way through the forkends and you flat, you might be able to squeeze the rubber against the fender and pop the wheel out.

  47. JW - Bryan is a nice person as well as a talented, versatile framebuilder. So glad to have the opportunity to document his work!

  48. "Deep dish wheels as canvas:"

    But where are the rhinestones? : (

  49. Evidently you're not a fan of needless bike ornamentation. Just tell that to the "art collector philanthropists" who purchased these. They will tell you what art is.

    Meanwhile, I found your rhinestones:

  50. I'm curious about the bolts on the seat stays. Recessed rack eyelets or mounting points for lights at the stay? I was going to guess rack eyelet, but the lack of separate braze-ons for racks seemed to dispel that guess.

    oh ... and looking at the full back fender again, my guess for the make would be SKS instead of Planet Bike.

  51. Most definitely NOT a vacuum cleaner. And they say one can't prove a negative. : )

  52. A word on the bike's effect on people: the photo of you (V) with Rainbow Bike might be the first all-out grin I've ever seen on you in one of your photos. I suspect that might have something to do with only using film photography, but it seems with RB you couldn't help yourself. Yippee!

  53. Deep-v rims definitely pre-date the urban fixie "movement" as they've been around longer than half the crop of current hipsters. They were originally designed for their aerodynamic properties, back before carbon became ubiquitous, but their weight and harsh ride limited their potential for racing. Strength, at least over-the-top strength, was a by-product of the design, rather than an explicit goal. If the product designers had had the technology to build a lighter, but tolerably weaker rim out of aluminum, they would have. The design somehow stuck around as a cheap aero/heavy rider rim, until they became a fashion statement a couple of years ago.

  54. kiwigem: I think it was years of saying-cheese conditioning whilst being photographed by a different person. But what do I know. :)

  55. ^ Smiling can be a sign of embarrassment (in Japan this is especially so). One could argue that when you photograph me I am relaxed, whereas when others photograph me I get embarrassed and produce a compulsive grin.

  56. Just now reading some of the comments from the weekend... Not sure about the bolt/braze-on questions, but will direct Bryan to this and he may be able to answer.

  57. re: bolt. If referring to the one in the seat cluster lug I'm thinking it's a seat post binder bolt.

  58. ^ Oh, of course. I thought they meant something else that I wan't getting.

    This bike has lots of little touches that are mysterious to me; I did not participate in its construction & planning so don't feel confident commenting.

  59. John I, unfortunately eccentrics and sliding drop outs are not an easy retrofit.

    MDI, I run 28mm tyres and can just about squeeze a flat tyre out. I will try to move the mudguard out further. One thing I did think about was to use the SKS break away fitting from a front mudguard. I might then be able to just pull the stays out and push them back in afterwards. Anyone tried this?

  60. "But the idea of them being stronger is rooted in racing culture, is it not? I mean, they are made to hold up heavier riders on 28 spoke wheels. You would not use a 28 spoke wheel on a touring bike, or on an upright city bike. You would not use a 28 spoke wheel with wide tires. I feel the concept is mis-applied when it comes to non-racing bikes."

    Didn't pick up on this the first time, regarding intended purpose.

    What Erik said about lineage, but looks like Velocity is marketing them differently than a few years ago:

    "This rim is the jack-of-all-trades. The deep section creates strength, aerodynamics and durability. Use it for training, racing, commuting, touring, track bikes or anything else you can think of. If you want one rim that can do it all, this is the one."

    Given their inherent strength and drillings able to accept up to 48 spokes, that's a valid claim.

  61. What about the harsh ride quality Erik mentioned?.. Why would someone intentionally want that on a commuting bike?

    The Rainbow Bike was pretty good on potholes, but not as good as my mixte with classic handbuilt wheels and 35mm tires.

  62. Depends on the desired goal. That's always the trouble w/customs - the customer has to know exactly what he wants, because everything is controllable.

    Since the builder is only as good as the info he gets and if he gets incomplete (to him) info he has to speculate as to what a person might need or want. So Jim P loves his bike. Bryan did right. Does Jim P have new bike love? No doubt. Will he feel the same way years from now? No way to tell.

    If Jim P had wanted a bike to "feel fast" one way to do that is to increase the amount of vibration/tactile feedback with more rigid wheels.

    The dif btwn Jim's and yours is the amount of info Bryan had: you knew exactly what you wanted and got it.

  63. Well, leaving aside the fact that "feels fast" is not the same as "is fast"...

    As I said, conceptually and visually, I think that the wheels actually fit in with the rest of the bike perfectly. I look at it and I get it. I guess we'll have to hear from Jim P. once he gets the bike after the New Amsterdam Show.

    And that's so true about "new bike love." That's why I feel that I need at least several months to do a true review of any bicycle I own. Maybe a topic for a post...

  64. Feel vs. Is - another possible post topic.

    I get this bike too, tho at first I didn't. It makes sense visually: the shortish wheelbase w/Deep Vs give a kind of a fixie "quote". The color lightens it, as well as the upright posture.

  65. WANT!

    I see there's a whole in depth discussion above about the components and design and stuff, but that's Greek to me and all I know is that Rainbow Bike is beautiful and would look very nice in my garage. :)

  66. The flowers are scilla (also squill).
    They are small bulbs and like shade, but the leaves fall before midsummer and leave the ground bare, so it wouldn't work as a lawn but might mix well with other low groundcover or shade-tolerant grasses.

  67. What a stunningly beautiful bike in a beautiful setting. Great work by all parties involved. I do have to wonder how the combo of Shimano and Sturmey-archer drum brakes feels. I work for a bike share that uses Shimano (Nexus, not alfine) rollerbrakes which in my experience feel much mushier than the Sturmey X-FDD on my bike (and it looks to be the model shown here). The Shimano might be more powerful though but certainly feels cheaper and less smooth. Maybe this issue is less apparent in the Alfine model. You can clearly feel when the pads contact the drum in the Sturmey-archer, which I do prefer.


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