Friday, September 20, 2013

A Brief History of Rawland Bikes

Last week, someone on the Rawland Cycles Owner's Group email list asked for information on past Rawland models. Since I've had a number of Rawlands, and need ideas to fill blog space now that my quest is done, I'll take a shot at it here.

Rawland was started back (I'm not sure when) by Sean and Anna Virnig. Sean was inspired by the all around usefulness of the later steel Bridgestone models. For a while, they used the tagline, "Choose Your Own Adventure":

which I guess indicates that Sean and I are both children of the late 70s.

The Past Models
Early on, there were three models. I don't have any direct experience of owning (or even seeing in real life) any of these, but from what I understand these were mid trail, crossy type bikes similar in construction to my Surly Cross Check. That is, TIG welded, single OS tubed steel frames with decent tire clearance. The Olaf was a single speed model (via track ends), made for 650B wheels and rim brakes:

The Olaf's geared counterpart was the Sogn, with disc brakes:

(photo brazenly stolen from John Speare's blog)

I found the geo for these bikes thanks to Alex Wetmore's page:

Later, and I'm also not sure when this happened, the Sogn morphed into the cSogn, a canti version, and the dSogn, the disc version. Rawland promoted the dSogn as being able to fit both 700c and 650b sized wheels, a poor idea that was to reoccur repeatedly for Rawland.

The next model in the lineup was the Drakkar. This was another steel all-rounder that was designed for 650B, but could also fit small 29er sized tires. I owned one of these for a brief spell earlier this year:

Unfortunately, the Drakkar's dropout combo of track ends + gears + disc brakes made it very difficult to remove and reinstall the rear wheel:

Combined with the ungainly extended head tube, the tippy feeling from the too-high bottom bracket with 700c wheels, and the rather dead feeling frame (overbuilt to meet the European market touring bike spec), I never really warmed up to my Drakkar and sold it later that year.

The Drakkar geo is here:

The Drakkar also marks the point where Rawland started publicly experimenting with low trail. Sean began re-raking customers' forks to decrease the trail. My Drakkar was one of these, and I did like the way it handled, both on and off road.

Following the Drakkar was the Sogn (called the rSogn during development, but later just the Sogn--some have mentioned that the cSogn and dSogn were also just labelled "Sogn," but I'm sticking with this naming for now). The Sogn featured 650b (only) wheels, enough tire clearance to mount knobbies with room for mud, a low trail front end, and relatively flexible tubing (25.4mm OD 9/6/9 top tube). It also had many useful braze ons, and dropouts for geared only riding.

I had one of these, too:

For me, the Sogn was the high point of the frames that Rawland has offered. Fun to ride, useful, nice looking. There were a few small teething problems on this first run (for instance, the pump peg position wasn't exactly correct), but it was mostly just right and really deserved another production run.

So why did I sell mine? I mostly blame the 650b aspect. I didn't like the tires I had on there (the Col de Vies aren't as nice as my 700c Paselas), and the Velocity Synergy rims were truly bad--almost impossible to get a tire to mount on them and run true. Ideally, it would be 700c, have forward facing horizontal dropouts, and not be light blue. Still, as I write this, I kind of regret selling this one. Anyone have an XL for sale?

The Sogn was also the first bike where Rawland solicited the public's input on the geo. This is where it ended up after a rather tortuous process:

The Current Models
One of the two currently available Rawland framesets is the Nordavinden. It differs from the previous frames in that it's much more road focused: 700c wheels, road brakes with limited tire clearance, light, flexible tubing (25.4mm with 7/4/7 top tube). I had one of these which I've mentioned previously in my blog (here and here)

I really didn't care for the brakes I had on my Nord. Either due to the calipers, or the levers, or my setup, the braking action was extremely weak. Combined with the limited tire and fender clearance, I don't really miss this one much.

Nordavinden specs:
Tubing, All Sizes
-  Rawland Staal double butted CrMo
-  25.4 7/4/7 heat-treated top tube
-  28.6 8/5/8 non-treated down tube
-  28.6 non-treated seat tube
Frame Features
-  68mm English thread bottom bracket
-  27.2mm seatpost diameter
-  28.6mm front dérailleur clamp 
-  130mm rear spacing
-  55mm brake reach
-  Stainless steel dropouts
-  Fender eyelets and mounts
-  Double water bottle mounts
-  Star reinforcements
-  Head tube reinforcements
-  Down tube shifter bosses
-  Split brake cable stops at 7 o'clock
-  Head tube frame pump peg
-  Seat stay chain hanger
Fork Features
-  Pacenti Artisan II crown
-  1-1/8" steerer
-  55mm brake reach
-  Mid-point rack mounts
-  Fender eyelets
-  Stainless steel dropouts
-  Low and graceful bend
-  Ice Blue color
-  High-quality packaging
-  Metal Rawland head tube badge applied
-  Rawland seat post clamp installed
-  Cable guide installed
-  Rawland chain stay protector applied
-  Five stainless steel mount bolts installed
-  Tire clearance for up to 42mm (SM); 35c (MD, LG and XL)

The other current Rawland frame is the Stag. Conceptually, it's a 650b version of the Nord: same light tubing, similar rando geo, but with effective cantilever brakes and better tire clearance:

(thanks to Andy Squirell for this picture of his Stag--nice bike, Andy!)

• 8/5/8 Down Tube: All sizes
• 7/4/7 Top Tube: Sizes SM-MD-LG
• 8/5/8 Top Tube: Sizes XL
• Heat-treated top tube
• Pacenti PBP crown
• Fender clearance for 42mm
• French Classic low-trail geometry
• Cantilever bosses
• 68mm bottom bracket shell width
• 1” threadless steerer
• Stainless steel cast dropouts
• Head tube reinforcing rings
• Equidistance fender mounts facing the wheels
• Split brake cable stops
• Stainless steel chain hanger
• Down tube shifter mounts
• 132.5mm rear spacing for use with either 130mm or 135mm hub
• 27.2mm seat post diameter

The Might Have Beens
Rawland has a sometimes frustrating practice of announcing details on new models, which then are never heard from again.

The Snekka was the original version of the Nordavinden, but with cantilever brakes. Shoulda kept them!

The Halvmaane was another 650b/700c optional bike, with caliper brakes and forward facing horizontal dropouts.

The Ti Sogn existed briefly in a prototype form:

Then there was the Fjord, a 650b mountain frame. I've heard it was supposed to be like the MB-1, but 650B and with discs.

The Drakkar II was a full-on 29er adaptation of the Drakkar. Or maybe it was a Snekka with discs. It changed some and then went quietly into the night.

The Askeladden was a kid's or at least a small wheel mountain bike.

The Ravn was a 26" or 650b, disc only, level top tubed model, kind of a small wheeled version of the Drakkar. It also never made it past the prototype stage. When I see that head tube, I'm kind of thankful for this:

Taken all together, Rawland has produced some interesting frames that are thankfully not in line with the mainstream of the bike market. I hope in the future they can continue to refine existing designs (like the Sogn!) and keep these in stock.


  1. "Sean began re-raking customers' forks to increase the trail" should be "decrease"?

    1. Thanks--you are correct, I've fixed the error.

  2. Hi Seatboy - great write up! I love everything about Rawlands - the bike designs, the Viking vibe, Sean's personal story. One of these days I'll have to buy one. (Hmm, I don't have your gift for prolific bike turnover.) I *almost* pulled the trigger on a cSogn when he was discounting them for, well, a song (like $300 or something). Should'a done it.

    For the record, the Olaf has the all time coolest track ends ever, or any rear dropout for that matter. The ones on the Drakkar were okay, but the Olaf ones were much better. I hope Sean has plans to do a new single speed with those dragonhead track ends some time.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I agree, the Olaf's dropout is very cool looking, but I really hate dealing with track ends (although they're not so bad with a rim brake single speed)

      To me, the Olaf's and Drakkar's dropouts look the same?

  3. the raven was a prototype at the same time as the drakkar. level top tube, 26in/650b tires. never made it to production.

  4. Excellent summary. Please correct me if I'm wrong (I know this went back and forth for a while), but regarding tube thicknesses for the rSogn, I read somewhere that the MD and ML frame sizes had 8/5/8, while the LG and XL sizes had 9/6/9.

    1. Hi Bob,

      I'm pretty sure that's correct, but I haven't been able to find the specs page for the Sogn yet (similar to what's there for the Nordavinden)


  5. Hi Eric,
    Great job on this!
    May I request that you give credit (and link to my flickr) to my Stag photo you used in your blog post? I'd really appreciate it.
    Andrew Squirrel

    1. No problem Andy! I was searching through images to find a good picture of a Stag, and it's cool to find out who it belongs to.

    2. While your at it -- credit my photo plz.


    3. Taken care of--I put in a link to your blog next to the picture.

  6. Great information. I had never heard of Rawland until last night when someone mentioned he was selling a Drakkar frame set here in Australia. Unfortunately, it's probably going to be just too big for me and he lives in a different city or I might have considered it based on all the reviews I've read online.

  7. Thank you! A friend jumped with the Drakkar but he fell out of love with it. I caught the Rawland bug though and am getting close to buying a Stag for a rando/graveler/commuter. My question is about weights: how come frame specs never include frame weights?

    Thanks again for the info. Chris.

    1. I think makers are worried about everyone cheating more than they do when they report weight: if they weigh without a seat collar, the next guy will weigh it without the sliding dropouts, then no paint, then sample 20 and pick the lightest, then use that wonky scale that "reads low," etc.

      I also wonder if if's because most bike makers have been around long enough to know that a pound or two of frame weight makes no difference--even if they'll never admit it.

    2. "...even if they'll never admit it." You said it.

      You're right, but my last Surly CC was just heavy by the time it was built. Great, durable, nice for longish rides, but not "quick" or whatever euphemism for zippier. I have been trying to figure out what a Stag build with big tires would feel like. Weight is an imperfect proxy, but all I really could look at. The qualitative feedback has been great (Stag v. CC). The next question is Stag or Nordavinden. I'm leaning Stag just to give the 650b thing a real go.

      Thanks for the feedback and great bit of history. Chris.

    3. Chris,

      I think you would find either the Nord or the Stag to be a bit zippier than the CC, due to the lighter gauge tubing. Not because it's lighter, per se, but because it's flexier (see:

      I would lean towards the Stag, because I'm pretty anti-caliper brake these days. I want fat tires and lots of clearance!

      All that being said, I had a Nord come and go from my collection, but kept my CC, so take all this with a grain of salt.

    4. Stag it is. I was hoping you'd say that. I don't like the color as much, but I do want to give the 650b a full try. I also love your observation about the CC. This notion that there's a perfect bike out there seems to be an obsession in the larger bike community...and one I fall prey to every couple of years. Now, time to build it out and just ride.

      Again, thanks. Chris.

    5. The dSogn was ahead of it's time, wish I had kept mine. It cleared 700x45s and fenders! 29x2.0 with no fenders. Look at the monstercross/gravel grinder/adventure touring bikes just starting to gain traction.

      I can appreciate Rawlands 650b Roots, but man, the market for disc brakes + big tires exploded. Bikes that came out AFTER the dSogn: Surly LHT disc, Salsa Fargo, Salsa Vaya, Surly Straggler. Those are just the big-name steel players. Hell people had been asking for a disc CrossCheck for YEARS and Rawland basically delivered one, then killed it too soon.

      And of course it still worked fine with 650b.

      couple a pics:

    6. That's a good point--it's too bad Rawland has basically abandoned that market, now with only two rando type bikes in their range. As a small company, I expect it's really difficult to keep too many projects going at once.

  8. Eric - do you know anything more about the Fjord?

    1. Sorry no. I'll try to update my picture as well.

  9. Hey Eric,
    Great write-up. Appreciate it.
    I'm about to purchase (or not purchase) a Drakkar. Im looking for a Commuter/Gravel/MTN bike. Its a very niche market, I know. It being 2017, you are seeing those bikes that can interchange wheels a lot more now. I would be taking it on Gravel and dirt trails. IT has Salsa Woodchipper drops on it which I'm excited about. I could get it for around 1100. Do you think this is a deal? Should I look for something more updated? They said it's 5-6 years old. Bike technology has changed a lot since then. What are your thoughts?

    1. I think $1100 is very steep for a Drakkar. When they (infrequently) show up, frames seem to go for about $400, give or take. So adding $700 for a bunch of used parts doesn't seem like a good deal. And, with the profusion of disc gravel bikes out now, there are a lot more (and probably better) choices out there. I found the Drakkar not particularly fun to ride, and track ends with gears and discs is always a pain in the butt.

  10. Hi, I believe that Fjord frameset is the one i ended up with!


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