Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Best Looking Bike Ever

Being an engineer, most of my bike buys are actually rather carefully planned and thought through. This geometry, that tubing, those features... this usually ensures I have competent bikes, but sometimes they're missing that little spark. There are frames out there that have caught my eye, but I've always demurred because of cost, or practicality, or overlap with the fleet. And then sometimes, there are exceptions.

Last weekend, after I got home from a ride on my Twin Six with some friends at Chestnut Ridge, I was idly flipping through my usual bike sites. I surfed over to Wiggle.com to check out their prices on some hydro brakes, and as I usually do when I come to bike shopping sites, I checked their "frames" section. Turns out, they had a frame that I've always admired, half off, available in only 15" and 21" sizes. Once again, it's nice to be tall. I hemmed for a bit, hawed for a moment, and then ordered it like I knew I would. Ordered on Sunday, delivered from England to Ohio on Wednesday. Most US shippers aren't that fast.

Can you guess what it is?

Yes, that was pretty easy. How many bikes have a welded on seat bolt these days?

It's the Ritchey P-29er:

For mountain bikers of a certain age, that red, white and blue paint wrapped around those slender steel tubes... well, Jennifer Lawrence in a sports bra might be more appealing, but it would be a close thing.

The headtube even has that hourglass figure:

Dropped in bearings don't make a lot of sense to me, but aesthetically it's a much nicer match for the steel frame than the typical oversized beer can head tubes most frames feature these days.

Designed by Tom:

but built in Taiwan, red, white, and blue color scheme notwithstanding. Ironically, I sold my very plain but made in the US Twin Six to fund this flash newcomer.

The frame features sliding dropouts, the same IRD/Tange units that worked well on my Soma Juice:

Alas, Wiggle dropped the ball here, and forgot to include the mounting bolts and set screws for these. I just happened to have 4 M6 bolts handy (I had ordered spares from Paragon Machine Works when I ordered the spare dropout for the Twin Six), and while Wiggle checks the couch cushions for my bolts, I'll stop by the hardware store to pick up the M5 set screws. Interestingly, the white ring on the adjuster track is a roughed in surface, to make the slider grip better. I never had a slipping issue with my Juice, but it's a nice touch here.

I built it up with parts pulled from the Twin Six:

The Thomson post fits this frame quite well, snug but not too tight:

Tire clearance is good, if not Knard worthy. This is a Maxxis Ikon 2.35 (2.3" actual) on a Blunt 35mm rim:

Irony #2 was the Shimano hydro brakes I ordered with the frame came set up up pre-bled, but Euro style: rear brake left/front brake right, opposite of the normal US way I run my brakes. I hate-hate-hate bleeding brakes, so I threw on my old Shimano mechanicals for the near term riding:

I'll get to the brake lever swapping this winter. The other build issue I encountered was on my chain length setup. There aren't many issues possible in setting up a single speed, but this is one. Of course, being an mtbr.com reading punter, I tried to get the shortest chainstay length possible, but with the sliders full forward, the chain was just barely too short to work with my 32x20 gear combination. I slapped on a half link, only realizing when I tried to turn the cranks that a half link doesn't work with a narrow-wide chainring. Of course. So I had to add a full link, and now have a trend defying 460mm chainstay length. On my first ride at P2 on Sunday, it didn't seem to make much difference: I could still loft the front wheel as well as I ever could.

The frame itself was light, springy, and lovely, everything I want in a steel frame, but something few actually deliver. Must be that triple butted Logic:

Unfortunately, the lack of dropout set screws led to the sliders coming loose several times, so I ended riding a single, slowish lap. I'm looking forward to many, many more miles on this one.

It just might be a keeper.


  1. Thanks! I'd be out riding now, if we hadn't had just gotten over an inch or rain today :(

  2. I have to agree - skinny, steel tubes are much purdier than all the hydroformed aluminum and carbon out there. Congratulations on the new frame!

    1. Yeah, every time I try to convince myself that aluminum is just as good as steel, I come back. Aluminum may ride OK, but steel just looks right.


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