Sunday, September 20, 2015

So I Bought a Rivendell

I've been a Rivendell fan for a long time. I had the classic Bridgestone catalogs that I picked up (new) in college, and found out about Rivendell back around the time of Rivendell Reader #3. I've watched Rivendell develop from a purveyor of NOS parts and classic bike aesthetics to where they are now, with their own line of Silver components and and some rather unique frames.

Despite this interest, I've only ever had one Riv frame, a Romulus that I never really meshed with. Until last Sunday, that is, when I came across a frame of interest on the rivbike mailing list. I slept on it, decided I still wanted it on Monday, and I finally made the purchase from the seller as I was boarding a flight to Atlanta on Monday afternoon. Smart phones are cool. He was super quick about shipping it, so when I came home from my business trip Thursday evening, there it was in the hall. Along with my lovely wife and three super kids, AND the new issue of Bicycle Quarterly... it made for a nice homecoming.

While the kids had their bedtime snack, I got to unpacking:

I didn't do much Thursday night. Mostly, I unpacked the new frame and stripped parts off it from my Camargue:

(more on the Camargue later) I finished up building my new Cheviot in time for a ride Saturday morning before soccer, and Sam and I went out again on Saturday afternoon:

You see lots of Rivendells that are built up along similar lines: lots of gleaming Nitto parts, heavy German tractor tires, and bars wrapped with organic hemp twine, all offset by an ironically cheap rear derailer.

This is not one of those builds.

For instance, my handlebar is a Surly Open Bar, with a threadless stem adapter (sorry, stems without removable face plates are just stupid), and electrical tape artlessly finishing off my synthetic bar tape:

My saddle is plastic, and my bag couldn't hold even a medium sized watermelon:

But these parts work fine, and do their duty well. One part the didn't work well right off the bat were the brakes. The Cheviut uses long reach sidepull brakes:

Normally, I set up my brake levers to engage about half way through the lever travel. With these brakes, I quickly used up the remaining half of my lever travel on caliper flex. The brakes were so bad that I couldn't even skid the rear tire. However, when I dialed in the pads closer to the rim, so that the lever engages after maybe a quarter of its travel, braking become acceptable. Not as good as V brakes, but on a level with cantilevers. I also normally set up my brake pads to hit the middle of the rim as a matter of good practice. When set up this way, I noticed that during a hard stop, the front brake would flex enough that the pad would ride up an buzz the tire. Perhaps I'm just spoiled by my hydro discs these days.

Speaking of tires, I ordered some new ones for this build. After paying for the frame and brakes, I couldn't bring myself to spend another $150 on the dreamy Compass Barlow Pass tires, so I cheaped out and got these Resist Nomads for less than a third of that price. Labelled as 700x45, the measure more like 41mm on my rims, just about where I wanted them to be. So far, I like them a lot. They feel like the 35mm (non tourguard) Paselas that I ran for a long time, a tire that I rank above the Compass 26x1.75 tire, but below the Loup Loup pass 650B tires. Not bad for $23/tire.

Sam and I continued on our ride, taking a small side trail:

down to a pond, where we stopped to throw rocks in the water:

Kids, rocks, and water, can't go wrong there.

One of the reasons I was interested in the Cheviot was because of the mixte frame design (and that massive head tube):

On rides with the kids, I'm often starting and stopping a lot, or trying to throw my leg over the trail-a-bike behind my bike. With the dropped top tube of the Cheviut, I can just step across the frame. Initially, I find myself still swinging a leg over. Habits are hard to break!

Leaving the pond, we continued out to the Metro Park. I had my initial shakedown ride through here earlier that morning, and the Cheviot responded well. When I pedaled hard, it snapped up to speed quickly, and I was able to confidently carve through turns. It looks like a pretty laid back frame, but for fast riding, I think it's at least as good as my Camargue, though some of this may be due to the tires.

With Sam, however, we were moving (much) slower, so I slid my hands back on the Open Bars and sat upright to take in the scenery. We stopped on the boardwalk to check out this tiny frog:

No bigger than Sam's thumbnail, this little guy could jump ten inches at a time. Proportionally, that's huge.

After the boardwalk, we climbed the tower to peer through the scopes:

Not much to see today except grass and powerlines. I think we were too late in the day for spotting many animals (though on a ride this afternoon with Henry, we did spot a great blue heron in the process of swallowing a large fish. That's something worth seeing). Powering my Cheviut is my usual eight speed drivetrain:

A fun thing with the Cheviot is that you need about 1.3 chains to make it work, even with my small front ring. I can't say yet what these 530mm long chainstays do for me: the bike does arc through turns gracefully, and heel clearance with panniers certainly won't be an issue. One issue with my particular frame is that the drive side mid stay (brakestay?) is welded a bit too far inboard, meaning the clearance is too tight on the smallest cog. I just set my derailer to avoid that cog, so my eight speeds became seven. Not a big deal:

Also, even with a 127mm bottom bracket axle, the small ring on my Suntour just barely clears the chainstay:

Actually, one of my favorite things about this bike so far is the kickstand:

So civilized the leave the bike upright, and the kickstand mounting plate will keep it from rotating on the frame.

Saying the kickstand is one the high points of the bikes seems like very faint praise. There's a lot I do like about the Cheviut: it corners well, rides smoothly and comfortably, and has fancy lugs that are interesting to ogle... though the little hearts are a bit much for me:

Still, when I was building it up Friday night, I was thinking about turning my Camargue into either a fixed gear, or a drop bar 29er... or both. But with some time and a Sam Adams Oktoberfest in the shop today, I found I ended up with this:

Yes, a steel framed, fat tired, upright kind of city/utility bike. It will be interesting to see which one emerges the winner.


  1. I found your post looking for pics of the Camargue. I'm also obsessed with Riv so was stoked to see the Chev. Very cool. I'm in Westerville and have twice seen a guy cruise by on an Atlantis--wish I ever would've stopped him to get some pics and talk about his ride. I just tweaked a 1986 Diamondback Ascent into an Albatross'ed riv-style cruiser with a front Wald basket, but I still wish it were a legit Riv. In fact, I was downright disappointed the Clem Smith Jr presale sold out before I could come up with the funds. I've got 3 kids under 5 years old, which has me even more intrigued by your blog. Cheers! - David

    1. Hey David,
      Don't worry about getting a "legit" Riv, your Diamondback sounds like a great bike! There's a lot to be said about "cheap and cheerful" bikes (as I get ready to go look at another Craigslist bike this weekend)


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