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.

A Velo-Orange Shipment

I order components from a variety of sources, but one of my favorite suppliers is Velo-Orange.  Even though its founder, Chris Kulcaycki, sold the company earlier this year to two of his long time employees, I haven’t noted any negative impacts on the quality and variety of products offered.  I think the company is well positioned amongst its competitors, namely Compass Bicycles – Boulder Bicycle – Rene Herse (all owned by Compass Bicycles/Jan Heine), Rivendell (Grant Peterson), and Harris Cyclery (Sheldon Brown’s shop), as a purveyor and innovator of bicycle frames and components for cycling enthusiasts, and especially for those who appreciate the quality and reliability of steel frames, comfortable, wide tires, and retro-inspired components.

My haul today included some of the parts needed to complete the 650b/city bike conversion for the early 1980’s Meral Randonneur bike I recently purchased.  In my box of goodies was a full length chain guard, Velox rim strips (more on that later), V-O thumb shifter mounts (competing with Pauls’ Thumbies), Tektro brake levers, and a new KMC 8 speed chain.

I also ordered an extra 8 speed chain (you can never have enough chains), as well as my favorite brake pads:  V-O’s non-squeal smooth post pads, which work really well with Mafac long reach brakes.

I also use these bake pads on any bike with cantilevers – they really are almost 100% squeal proof and provide excellent stopping power.

But what prompted this order was the extraordinarily bizarre experience I had attempting to mount a set of Grand Bois 32 mm 650b tires to the Velocity A23 650b wheelset I had purchased from Harris Cyclery for $289.  Yes, that was the price for both wheels, which feature Shimano Tiagra hubs.  Well, you get what you pay for.  I purchased these wheels as a placeholder to see if a 650b conversion would really work for this bike, so that is why I went with the cheapest offering out there.  The downside was discovering the the holes drilled in this narrow rim end up partially on the upper edge inside the rim where the tire’s beads need to mount.  Installing the necessary narrow rim strip meant not covering these very sharp edged holes completely, which I knew would lead to flats and blow-outs later on.  I tried installing a wider strip, but that interfered with the Grand Bois tires’ beads.  Many swear words ensued at this point.  Finally I took to the internet to see who else had experienced this problem.  Turns out – everyone.  The best advice I read was to use three narrow rims strips on each rim, carefully positioned to cover the holes without interfering with tire mounting.  We will see how that goes (subsequent blog post forthcoming!).

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to setting up the other components, such as these very elegant Tektro brake levers.  Using 32 mm tires means that I will be able to re-install the lovely custom stainless steel Meral fenders.  It will also be interesting to try out the full length chain guard for this build which I envision with a single chain ring up front, as well as to experiment with V-O’s version of Paul’s thumbies.  Stay tuned.

Cycling Bags & Panniers

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Carradice Long Flap saddlebag

I have used quite a few cycling bags over the years.  But, bags and panniers can be tricky.  How well they work depends not only on the mounting system designed for the bag, but also on what kind of rack system you have, or whether you have racks at all.  And, for saddlebags, the question of whether they will work for you depends a great deal upon your bike’s rear triangle geometry, as well as whether or not your are using fenders. In order to use front bags and panniers you need not only to have a front rack, fork braze-ons, and handlebar or stem mounting system, but the success of carrying a front load also hinges on whether your bike has the right front end geometry to carry a load there.

I have always had a special obsession with bike bags, which started back in my touring days when I would load up my 1976 Centurion Pro Tour and head out to explore my surroundings.

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I was happy that my handlebar bag and rear panniers were purchased from REI – a consumer cooperative being somewhat radical back then (even though REI was founded decades earlier).  The handlebar bag mounted with a removable rack which rested on the handlebars and stem.  The lower part of the front bag was secured to the front dropouts via a stretchy cord, which as you can see in the above photo, got overstretched so that I had to tie a knot in the cord to keep tension on the bag while underway.

I liked the rear panniers, but didn’t like the front bag so much.  It interfered with the beam of my battery powered head light. And, probably the Pro-Tour’s geometry was not ideal for carrying a front load.  However, one nice feature was the map case on the top of the bag.  In those pre-iPhone days, having my maps at the ready proved invaluable, although I will say that often my maps were totally wrong!

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Velo Orange Handlebar Bag

Eventually I stopped using front bags altogether until I began building up my 1980 Meral as a 650b Randonneur, a few years ago.  Even so, I am not all that thrilled with front bags, finding them fidgety, noisy, and irritatingly intrusive on my hands.  Perhaps a decaleur could solve these problems.  But, for now, I only occasionally use this really nice Velo Orange front bag.  I have not used low rider front panniers, but have occasionally used small panniers mounted to the front racks of various bicycles I have ridden.  Mastering a front load requires a bit of saddle time.

Below is a list of some of the many cycling bags I have used over the years, as well as my comments on their utility.  If you have been searching for the right bag for your bike, perhaps this highly personal list will be of use:

Jandd

IMHO, Jandd is the gorilla manufacturer of cycling bags.  Their bags last forever.  They never wear out.  They are intelligently designed and reasonably priced, given their longevity.  They are not particularly pretty, but offer the best in bike bag value and utility.

Here are the Jandd bags that I have used over the last 35 years:

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Grocery panniers – large, securely mounts to most racks, holds an actual grocery bag, unlike other competitors which are much smaller and less robust.  I have a set of Jandd grocery bags that I purchased in the early 90’s and they are still in use.

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Hurricane panniers – These are the grocery panniers on steroids.  Excellent mounting, total weather protection, tons of visibility.  But, there are also very heavy weighing about 2 lbs each, unladen.  I use these on my Panasonic winter/errand bike.  A perfect utility bag.

Jandd Trunk rack bags – I used a Jandd trunk bag for many years.  It never wore out, and I finally gave it to a friend, as I don’t use trunk bags any more.

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Jandd Throw-over small panniers – I am using these “small” panniers on my 1980 Meral.  They are deceptive in nomenclature and appearance – I have managed to jam all kinds of stuff into these bags.  Lightweight, fits any rack.

Brooks

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Brooks Roll Up Panniers – who can say anything bad about a Brooks bag?  These are beautiful bags, with appropriately lovely packaging.  They are NOT waterproof, and they do not have any attachment at the base of the bag.  I am using these on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, which is perfect for what they are designed for.

Ortlieb

Terry Symmetry in Ashland

Various “roller” models – Ortlieb bags are the perfect Portland commuter bag, being totally waterproof, easy to mount on any rack, and with a lot of visibility.  Newer models have internal organizing pockets.  These are my commuting bags of choice.  I have these smaller panniers, pictured above, as well as an older set of larger panniers.  The smaller model is actually able to carry quite a bit of stuff, and I have successfully loaded these panniers with way more than I would have anticipated, so I use the smaller bags pretty much all the time.

Electra Ticino

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Electra Ticino Large Canvass Panniers – I hate these bags and have them sitting in my shop – awaiting some kind of disposition that I haven’t thought of yet.  The bags are narrow, heavy, and feature the worst mounting system I have ever seen.  After having these bags pop off the rack while riding at speed, and thankfully not crashing as a result, these bags are on my s$#t list.

Detours

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Detours seatpost mount quick release bags – I own three of these bags.  These are excellent bags for bikes which cannot take rear racks.  However, based on a recent search it looks like these bags are no longer offered by the company.  That’s too bad as I find these bags quite useful.  They are not as big I would like, but can still hold enough stuff for a day’s adventure.

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Sackville Bags from Rivendell   For awhile I used these Sackville front and rear rack bags, which I purchased from Rivendell.  The color scheme went well with my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist.  However, these bags have no internal pockets, are not expandable, and so are of very limited utility.  They do have visibility, as you can see from the above photo.  Because of their limitations, they are sitting in my shop now awaiting some purpose in their lives which I haven’t thought of yet.

Other Bags I Have Used:

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While too numerous to list here I have tried out many different kinds of cycling bags.  Trunk bags, which I used for a time, put the weight up high and also make it difficult to throw a leg over (depending on how tall your rack is).  I no longer use trunk bags at all.  Saddlebags often interfere with your thighs while pedaling, and can also swing from side to side while you are climbing.  Mostly, I only use saddlebags on bikes that I will not ride vigorously, and where I can position the bag to sit far enough away from my legs – mostly this would be on larger bicycle frames.

For most riders, carrying weight on the rear of the bike will feel the most stable and natural, but it is is a good idea to think about your bike’s geometry and purpose before embarking on a new bag/rack experience.  You can measure your bike’s angles by using an angle finder, and you can take a rudimentary trail measurement of the front fork rake by following instructions which are readily available on the internet.