Rivendell Appaloosa Build

I first became aware of Rivendell back in 1999.  At that time, I was looking to replace my crashed 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, a bike which was my only bike for 20 plus years, and upon which I had ridden over 40,000 miles. I didn’t know how difficult my quest would be, and maybe that’s a good thing.  That quest led me to question all that the cycling industry offered during those dark times: racing bikes marketed to everyday riders with no clearance for decent width tires and fenders, mass produced aluminum frames, carbon forks of questionable reliability, and throw away parts.  Then, along came Grant Peterson, guru of “normal cycling”.  Back then, there wasn’t a web to browse, so mail order catalogs were how you learned about the latest stuff.  I wish I had saved those old Rivendell Readers, but at the time, who knew?  I now only have one or two in my collection of print material.

I wasn’t sure whether I should spring for one of their bikes given their higher cost, and so chose a Cannondale T2000 instead.  That experience is actually what led me here, 19 years later.  The Cannondale forced me to consider why the Centurion Pro Tour was so good, whereas the Cannondale was so bad.  I had done lots of touring in those days, but getting on the T2000 for anything but a short jaunt would exhaust me.  I ended up replacing every single component on that bike, and then finally realized it was the stiff aluminum frame (made stiffer by its smaller size) that was the culprit.  Since then I have ridden and enjoyed many interesting bicycles from many different eras, and have returned, for the most part, to riding exclusively on lugged steel frames. (uh oh – have I buried the lead?)

While I have many great bikes that I enjoy riding, as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I prefer being in a more upright position.  Much of my cycling is commuting, and being more upright is not only safer, but a bit more comfortable.  While any bike can be converted to a more upright position, many Rivendell frames are dialed in that way.  The Appaloosa features a 112 cm wheelbase (exclamation point!), clearance for 55 mm tires (another exclamation point!), and is made with lugged, butted cro-mo steel.

The lugs, and almost every other feature of this frame, are well executed. I can’t think of any other non-custom frame that is as lovely.  It is almost too beautiful.

For the drive train, I wanted to use my favorite vintage Japanese component maker:  SunTour.  If you haven’t used their friction ratcheting bar end shifters, you are missing out.  For this build I chose a SunTour Superbe front derailleur, a SunTour Sprint cankset and bottom bracket, and a SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur.  You might wonder how these vintage components worked on this new frame.  Perfectly!  I was worried that the Cyclone wouldn’t be able to handle the 8 speed cassette, but with the adjuster screws dialed all the way out, it was able to swing across the full width of the cogs.  I’ve got an 11-30 cassette installed, but have ordered a NOS 12-32 which will be a better match for the 48/39 rings up front.

The SunTour Sprint crankset originally had a 40T small ring, but the frame clearance was questionable with the SunTour Sprint NOS BB I had installed.  So, I swapped in a Sugino 39T ring. You can see that the clearance on the small ring is tight, but acceptable.  The chainline is perfect, and shifting both front and rear is crisp and reliable.

The saddle and seatpost choices were more involved.  I knew I would want a no-set-back seat post, given the Appy’s long top tube.  So, I selected a Thomson, a brand which I had used before.  It’s very easy to micro-adjust the horizontal angle on these seatposts.  What’s a Rivendell without a Brooks leather saddle? But before I opted for a leather saddle,  I decided to try out the Brooks Cambium Saddle, a non-leather option whose color scheme looked perfect for this bike’s paint scheme.  Wow!  While it’s probably not right to use the words comfort and saddle in the same sentence, this Cambium C19 saddle was far more comfortable on its first ride than any other saddle I have tried.

For the braking system, I used SunTour’s XC Pro Cantilevers, with the “champagne” finish.  While the brakes look beautiful, I doubt I would choose them again.  Setting them up, with their internal springs, involves dialing in the spring tension on each brake arm using a 13 mm wrench.  SunTour supplies this tool, but its shape is not optimal for this process.  As a result, me and my 13 mm cone wrench have spent so much time together that I think we are in a relationship.  Sheldon Brown has some excellent advice regarding setting up this type of cantilever, but what I found is that fine tuning the spring tension requires a great deal of trial and error.  For the brake cables, I decided to try Jagwire’s compressionless brake housing (try not to panic!) in an Ice Grey color which integrated well with the color scheme for this bike. The rear hanger was a problem. No hangers were supplied with the frame, as it is assumed that the build will include V-brakes (gasp!).  I used a Surly hanger, but it doesn’t work well with the Rivendell’s seatpost bolt, so I hastily added a wine cork wedge to help align the rear cable. I also routed the front cables “french-style” over the top of the handlebars.  I like it.

The 650b wheelset consists of Velocity Atlas rims laced to Deore XT hubs. This is the wheelset recommended by Rivendell.  I wanted to use 38mm 650b tires in order to make this tall bike a little lower to the ground, and because I had some 48 mm hammered aluminum fenders which would work well with this application.  I hadn’t tried Pancenti’s Pari Moto tires before, so thought I would give them a shot for this build.  They are very light, but difficult to mount.  I haven’t ever had to use my truing stand to mount tires, but for the Pari-Motos this was necessary, as they would not seat evenly into my rims.  That process took hours.  But, out on the road, the tires provided a plush and comfortable ride.

Speaking of being out on the road, I took the bike out today for its maiden voyage.  I knew I would have some issues to deal with regarding the Suntour cantilevers, but I wanted to also make a list of other tweaks, plus get a feel for this unusual bike with its slack angles and long wheel base.  I did a short circuit from my home, which is in a hilly neighborhood.  On the way back, there’s the “easier hill” and then there’s the harder hill which I don’t normally choose unless I’m feeling really robust.  But today, on the Appaloosa, I returned home up the more difficult route.  Even without really low gears, the bike responded well to steep inclines.  Riding the bike felt like driving my Dad’s old Northstar Cadillac – truly a stylish land yacht, but comfortable and offering plenty of performance.

The V-O porteur bars offer several hand positions, which I took advantage of while climbing.

I also used V-O’s Grand Cru levers, which seemed to integrate well with this build.  The levers are really light weight, but do not have a return spring.  Nonetheless, they were easy to set up, and offer a good feel while riding.  I also tried out these inexpensive MKS commuter pedals, which I pumped today with my summer sandals.  They actually worked better than expected.  As with most MKS pedals, you will want to add grease and adjust the bearings.  In my experience, MKS pedals are shipped dry and adjusted too tight.

I was more cautious than usual about taking the bike out on its first test ride.  I think partly because of its lovely frame which seems too beautiful to ride, and partly because of anxiety regarding the SunTour cantilevers.  While the brakes are not in their ideal adjustment, they actually performed very well.  The ergonomics turned out to be almost perfect, with just a few minor tweaks needed. As I got used to this bike, I found its natural cadence.  Every bike has one. The Appaloosa’s is unhurried and strong.

23 thoughts on “Rivendell Appaloosa Build

  1. Great review, Nola and happy new bike day to you! There really is nothing like picturing something in mind’s eye, acquiring, building, testing, then incorporating in with your regular riders. Sounds to me like this was a well paired fit between you and the Appaloosa.

    The SunTour canti’s may have been a pain from the beginning but they look great. I also have a feeling they’ll stop plenty strong once you have them dialed in and the cables have gone through their appropriate stretch.

    Also, that Nitto stem, I’m in love with! Great pick!

    Last, those are some looong chainstays! Any chance you’ve given testing to cornering yet? I hear chainstay length determines nimbleness in that department. Speaking of chainstays, I had a buddy that swore G. Peterson has got some deal with the fender spacer companies, which I thought was a clever, funny and snarky comment.

    • I have ridden the bike a few more times, including a stint involving portaging over railroad tracks and riding over rough gravel past a homeless camp (a typical day in Pdx bike commuting). The long wheelbase is really stable, and cornering feels kind of like a roller coaster ride. I’ve bashed the bike numerous times against door jambs and walls as I’ve hauled it in and out of my house and my office. It will take a while to get used to its tandemish length. The chain is about 124 links – a result of adding extra links from a donor chain of the same make. Maybe I should get into the fender spacer business! I am planning a separate post on the set up of the brakes, to help share some of my insights after trying to get them working well on this bike. I do love the bike’s color scheme – it is so unique, and I love that my lavender Nitto stem came from a vintage Bridgestone.

      • Tandemish length! That’s exactly how I described the feel of riding my Rivendell Atlantis (2019 model similar in design to the Appaloosa) to my husband. I told him it felt like I was riding a tandem! Love your website and love your Rivendell Appaloosa build!

      • Thanks, Cathy. The newer Atlantis is very different in geometry from the original version, with longer wheelbase and top tube. I actually prefer my other bikes for most of my cycling, but still enjoy the Appaloosa when the mood is right.

  2. Nola, Very nice bike. I have not really ever tried a more touring bike as that, but , it looks very comfortable. After reading your comment on the Cambium saddle I will , at some point , give one a try. I have mostly Brooks Pro saddles(1 Ideal) on my vintage racers and sometimes think about the leather as I tell my friends about the benefits of a plant based diet! I guess I can justify it by telling myself that they are all used and made 30+ years ago.Anyway, great that you got to try the “Appy” out and that it went so well. Joe

    • Nice to meet another cyclist who enjoys a plant based diet! The saddle doesn’t seem to need any kind of brake in period. The major downside to the nice beige color is that it will probably darken significantly over time. Brooks recommends a product called Numac to keep the saddle waterproofed, and maybe that will also help with keeping the color from changing.

  3. Lovely build Nola, and +1 on Happy New bike day!! I was nodding in agreement as I read your intro. Upon returning to cycling in my 30s I bought a 98 Cannondale R800, Alum frame/carbon fork, to ride my first STP in 2000 after realizing my cheap MTB with slicks wasn’t going to cut it. It only took me a decade to realize it was too small (a 54 cm, I ride a 58 in vintage steel) and when I rode over my crumbling local roads on a steel frame the first time it was a revelation that I didn’t have to be jack hammered on such rides. Going from 23mm to 35mm tire widths might have helped too lol. Enjoy the Appaloosa.

    • Thank you. We should start a support group for former Cannondale riders…:) For those naysayers out there, a few rides on a lugged steel frame with wide comfy tires is all it will take. Vibration fatigue is real, and is documented in numerous studies.

  4. Excellent build… it is stunning.

    I’m curious about your choice of bottom bracket… I see a lot of vintage restorations using newer sealed bottom brackets instead of vintage cup and cone BB’s.

    Do you prefer cup and cone for serviceability or some other reason? I like cup and cone but seem to be in the minority…

    • Hi John, I have preferred to use cup and cone bottom brackets on my higher end bikes. They usually offer less friction, are generally lighter weight, and can be adjusted to perfection. The seals on cartridge bearing bottom brackets have not been shown to be any better than traditional bottom brackets at keeping out debris from the bearings and bearing surfaces. So, I don’t see them as advantageous, unless you spring for the much higher end products, such as Phil, or certain vintage SunTour cartridge BB’s where you can adjust the chainline, and where the BB may actually be serviceable. To me, cartridge BB’s are just another example of the cycling industry’s throw away mentality.

  5. Hi Nola. How do you like the VO Porteur bars on the Riv? I ask because I have several Rivs, which are high-trail, and I have VO Porteur bars on a low-trail VO Polyvalent, and have always associated Porteur bars with low-trail bikes. I’ve come to love the set-up on the Poly, and have considered converting a drop-bar Riv to one with Porteurs to mix things up and experiment, but didn’t think they’d work well together. I’d appreciate your opinion on the pairing. Thanks.

    • Hi Dave, I don’t see any reason not to use the porteur bars on a bike with higher trail. While originally designed for bikes that carry loads up front, the shape, drop, and width of porteur bars are perfect for a bike with a longer top tube than you would normally ride (or if used with a longer stem.) V-O’s bars are especially nice because they were modeled after French Belleri bars, and are offered in a bar width that can accommodate bar end shifters. I have enjoyed them so much on the Riv that I am thinking of adding them to my winter bike – a high trail 80’s mountain bike.

  6. “As I got used to this bike, I found its natural cadence. Every bike has one.”

    Is this code for “it planes for me”? 😉

    I have two vintage early 80’s MTB’s and they both have the stock bullmoose bars. I hate to replace them but one was cut down and is seriously uncomfortable (that and the frame is slightly too small). I see Rivendell offers a bullmoose bar in a similar flavor to your porteur bars – they really do a nice job promoting “normal cycling!” Your build is inspiring, thanks for sharing!

    • Ha! I’m not sure about “planing” but I won’t rule it out as a possibility. With so many variables making up a specific bike, it makes sense that each one is unique. Even a mass produced bike can have variations involving tire choice, saddles, and accessories. I experience all of these inputs as creating each bike’s “feel” and that includes the cadence of the drive train. I haven’t tried out Riv’s bull moose bars. I say go for it!

  7. Hi, I know this is an old post, but I am building a very similar Appaloosa and have run into a problem. I am using an 8-speed cassette and chain, but the newer Shimano front derailleurs have lots of bumps and indentations. These cause the outside cage of the front derailleur to rub against the chain and/or the crank. I noticed that the Shimano Deerhead derailleur on my 1986 Schwinn Cimarron has a flat, smooth outside cage, so that led me to think about replacing the modern front derailleur on my Joe with a vintage one. Plus, they just look nicer!

    I was wondering if you could give me any advice on selecting a vintage derailleur for the Joe. The Superbe you have looks great. Is the Superbe a double or triple front derailleur, and does it matter with friction shifting (which is what I’m using)?

    I’m using a Silver triple crank from Rivendell and the standard 110 mm bottom bracket, by the way.

    Thanks for any advice you can provide!

    • Hi Jason, I recently dealt with this issue as I swapped out my double crank for a triple. The Superbe cannot handle a triple crank because the cage has a narrow range. https://restoringvintagebicycles.com/2020/05/07/bike-different/
      However, many vintage front derailleurs designed for doubles will also work for a triple. I ended up using a SunTour BL FD which works fine. One way to quickly tell if a FD will work on a triple is to unscrew the limit screws all the way out and then manually move the cage, comparing the movement to your current FD. If the range is similar you are probably good to go, but you still won’t know for sure until you install it and try it out.

  8. Nola, just wanted to let you know that I got an NOS SunTour Cyclone Mark II front derailleur and it works like a champ. Thanks very much for the advice!

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