When routines are disrupted, surprising changes take place. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating so much fear, sorrow, and loss, it’s sometimes difficult to focus on what still remains. My own cycling patterns have changed. I’ve had to “bike different” (sorry…Apple) now that human behavior has been altered by the crisis.
Some of the changes are good. I’ve noticed that I now want to ride a bike that can handle a lot of “different” situations, and can give me a relaxed riding position as I go about altering my usual routes. With pedestrians “taking the lane” I needed to find other routes for my usual commute. And, I stopped doing many of my leisure ride jaunts due to crowding on narrow paths. A not so good change is how many aggressive drivers are out on the road, as compared to the previous amount of way too many. All of these shifts have meant that I’ve been riding my Rivendell Appaloosa much more frequently.
I had originally built up the frame with a full complement of vintage SunTour components, including a Cyclone rear derailleur and a Sprint double crank, with a Superbe front derailleur. That system worked perfectly, except for not offering low enough gears for the bike to become a regular grocery hauler and errand bike. I had reserved it only for pleasure rides, it being fairly pleasurable!
So it was time for a triple crank. I wanted to continue using vintage SunTour but couldn’t find a SunTour crankset with the right BCD to allow for smaller rings. Fortunately, this Sugino AT triple fills the bill with its interesting spider and self-extracting crank bolts. After all, Sugino is the actual manufacturer of SunTour cranksets, so its kind of still SunTour anyway. I set it up with 45/38/28 rings, but still had to add 3 spacers to the 127mm bottom bracket spindle to provide enough clearance with the Appaloosa’s wide chain stays. The bike is definitely meant to be used with very small rings, kind of mountain bike style.
I could no longer use the superb Superbe front derailleur, so needed something to handle the triple crank. I decided to “think different” and try out a SunTour BlueLine front derailleur, designed for a double and for larger rings. It works perfectly with this triple crankset. Many times I’ve found that components work as not originally marketed. This BL derailleur is just one example of a vintage component that works outside of its targeted range.
I also replaced the pretty constructeur rear rack I had originally installed with this heftier model taken off a 1980’s touring bike. Because of the Appaloosa’s long chain stays, I added some extra brackets to get the rack stays attached to the frame.
I’ve been using this Brooks Cambium C-19 saddle, which is quite lovely, and the shape is reasonably comfortable. However, the rough pattern in the non-leather cover causes chafing. I’ve been hoping for the saddle to wear smooth over time, but so far that hasn’t happened.
And, part of biking different means alerting walkers and runners to my presence in a more pleasant manner than “on yer left”. So the Riv has a new brass bell, courtesy of Velo-Orange. I’m not sure if its reverberating ring is any less alarming to pedestrians than my vocal warning, but it looks nice.
It’s definitely more challenging to cycle right now. It’s more challenging to do all of the things we normally do. But, by biking different, I think we’ll come out on the other side of this pandemic with a new found respect for non-vehicular modes of transportation.
I’ve been riding my accidentally acquired 1989 Bridgestone MB3, and my newly built up 2018 Rivendell Appaloosa for about the same amount of time, over the same terrain, having put several hundred miles on each bike. That’s enough saddle time to work out kinks as well as develop riding preferences. I put together both bikes earlier this year, using vintage components, with an emphasis on SunTour. The MB3 was a complete bike as purchased, so I re-used the components that I liked such as the Ritchey/Shimano wheelset and the Deore derailleurs, but replaced the cantilever brakes, levers and bar-mount shifters with SunTour components. I also set aside the Deore bio-pace triple crankset and replaced it with a drilled Stronglight 99 double. The Appaloosa was purchased as a frame, along with a new 650b wheelset. The rest of the Appaloosa build consists entirely of vintage SunTour components, with the exception of the porteur bars and brake levers – both supplied by Velo Orange.
Since both bikes shared the lavender anodized Nitto stem (now on the Appaloosa), as well as the creative influence of Grant Peterson, it seems fair to make a comparison between these two machines, separated by three decades. I built up both bikes to serve as daily Pdx commuters on my hilly route, and to be errand bikes and grocery getters. I have also used both bikes for weekend jaunts over mixed terrain.
1989 Bridgestone Frame Geometry Table
1989 Bridgestone Specs
Rivendell Appaloosa frame geometry
It’s nice to have these frame specs for comparison purposes. Rivendell specs do not mention wheelbase length, whereas the Bridgestone specs refer you to a separate table. Wheelbase length is one of the most significant differences between the two bikes – 104 cm vs 112 cm. If you need to haul your bike inside a building or home, the 112 cm wheelbase on the Rivendell makes for a difficult task involving bashing the bike against stair landings and hallways. But, if you live in a Downton Abby mansion with wide staircase landings and huge entryways – the Rivendell is for you!
Brake bridge and stay clearance are not reported. Standover height, the most misused and misunderstood spec of all time is provided by Bridgestone as well as Rivendell, failing to mention that top tube length is the correct way to determine the best bike for your human body. I have also noticed that while early Rivendell frames sported Peterson’s much touted and desirable low BB heights, modern Rivendells have the most negligible BB drop – 66 mm for my 51 cm Appaloosa frame. That is the kind of drop that would qualify a vintage bike for a 650b conversion, except that the Appy is already designed for 650b!
Both bikes use the vintage Suntour cantilevers that I installed. The Appy has the champagne colored version, while the Bridgestone has the XC Pro black model. Both brakes worked well once the intital set-up torture was complete.
SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur on the Appaloosa
Vintage SunTour Sprint Crankset – 48/39 – on the Appaloosa
Stronglight 99 with drilled 42/32 rings – on the Bridgestone Mb3 build
Original Shimano Deore 7 speed cassette and rear derailleur – Bridgestone MB3
I set up the gearing on the Bridgestone to be a little lower than the Rivendell, as I thought I would use it for more serious hauls of goods and groceries. The gear inch range for each is as follows: Bridgestone: 28 – 87 gear inches; Appaloosa: 31 – 104 gear inches. I haven’t used the big gear on the Appy, and that means that it might be better to alter the gearing down a bit. Both gear inch ranges are adequate for the riding I enjoy. So in that way both bikes are comparable.
The ergonomics of both bikes are very similar, with an upright position and easily accessible shifting – SunTour barends on the Rivendell and SunTour bar mount shifters on the Bridgestone.
Both bikes are also similar in weight – with the Rivendell at 29 lbs and the Bridgestone at 28 lbs. While I love riding light weight machines, I know that for commuter bikes it is difficult to achieve weight savings. A bike that is set up to haul stuff can easily weigh 28 – 30 lbs. For me, 29 lbs is the cut off point for enjoyment. So, both bikes are also comparable in the weight categaory.
I love riding both bikes, but the Bridgesonte MB3 edges out the Rivendell. It is a very nice handling machine – more responsive than the Appy, and the shorter wheelbase makes it easier to accomplish the tasks that I require: moving the bike onto Max trains, hauling it up stairwells, and riding it over a variety of terrains. The MB3 is actually slower than the Appy, so that is my caveat: different criteria determine different results. The Rivendell Appaloosa is a strong, relaxed monster of a bike, but it is also a very comfortable and competent machine. The Bridgestone MB3 is a wonderful example of the quality and riding characteristics that were unique to the 1980’s but may still apply to today. Vintage Mountain Bikes make for very nice modern day commuters, and the Bridgestone MB3 is no exception.
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.