Sunday, November 1, 2015

New Albion Privateer

Sometimes my bike builds are occasioned by my parts bin. In this case, I have had a somewhat rare Soma Champs Elysees low trail fork sitting above my work bench for some months. These forks are rare because Soma has (so far) only made one batch of them, which turned out a bit longer than spec (about 10mm off, from what I've read). I've had my VO for sale for some time, and I've been looking for a replacement. I ended up getting a 60cm New Albion Privateer, a somewhat budgetish frame from one of Soma's sister brands. It arrived last week, and I got it built up and some miles down this weekend:

It's my typical crossy kind of road bike frame. Like my old Crosscheck, it has long horizontal dropouts for running single speed, but in this case I have it set up for eight:

Two rings in front, I can manually shift from the 38t to the 32t if I'm going to be pulling the trailer. I still don't like front derailers.

I think the graphics and font used on the NAP are quite attractive and classy looking:

But note the cable end stops are cheaper cylinder style, not the smoother bullet shaped items used on pricier frames:

There's that Soma CE fork:

When I ordered the frame, I also picked up this $9 XLC handlebar. It has a nice 54 degree backsweep with some rise, but is only 610mm wide. That's proving too narrow for me:

I set up the bars like this mostly because I wanted to try out this cheapie friction shifter. It has a nice power-ratchey type action, but it only works as an over bar shifter--the big clamp blocks that area as a hand location when I tried to mount it upside down. Shimano shifters work better upside down, but no power ratchet.

Tire clearance is pretty good. These are my new favorite tires, 700x45c (actual 40.5mm) Resist Nomads:

However, clearance is still tight enough that I have to jam the tire past the brake shoes to get the wheel in. Not a big deal, but more clearance never hurt anyone.

I was a little disappointed in my first big ride on the Privateer. From the little I've read online about it, I was expecting a somewhat lively ride. It was OK, but it was not noticeably "wow." Coming from the somewhat stiffer VO Camargue, I was hoping for more. Also, the handlebar felt too narrow, and made the overall cockpit feel pretty cramped up. After less than an hour of riding, my left pinkie was already starting to tingle.

I haven't ridden a really low trail bike in a while, and it does have a different flavor than my VO or Raleigh. The front end is more responsive, maybe a bit too much for my tastes. I think the Camargue has a better compromise between stability and agility. Perhaps a front bag would settle down the quickness of the front end.

Maybe I had unreasonably high expectation for this frame, but I was a little disappointed in my first experience with it. Enough so that Saturday night found me taking the VO Camargue off the for sale hook and building it back up, so I could do some comparo riding. It's never a good sign for a new bike when an old bike rises from the ashes of the for sale area to challenge it... but I was curious to see how they would compare, and it was a good excuse to enjoy a warm evening in the garage.

This morning, I took each bike on a five mile lap to compare them:

Same gearing, same wheels and tires:

The big difference in the build proved to be the handlebar. The Camargue had my trusty Surly Open Bar, recently lifted off the (now sold) Cheviot:

Even with the same 130mm stem and same effective top tube length, the Open Bar gave me enough room to move around that the Camargue was comfy where the Privateer was cramped. I also liked the handling a bit better, and it has better tire clearance. So all was well for the VO... until I turned around to come home against a head wind. Here, I could feel the extra stiffness of the Camargue not working with me. Where the Privateer moved along relatively well, the Camargue just took that extra bit of effort to keep rolling forward.

By the studies of Bicycle Quarterly, a smaller diameter, thinner top should give a livelier ride. The crazy part of me has contacted my semi-local frame builder to see if it's possible to replace a top tube on a TIG'd bike. Turns out, for $150, it is possible. My original intent in ordering the Privateer was to perform this surgery. With the dorky extended head tube of the Privateer, I could slope my new top tube up to meet it, and kill two birds with one stone. But now, after realizing the attributes I like better about the Camargue (tire clearance, handling, longer chainstays), I'm thinking about doing this same operation on it. Something to chew on this winter, unless the VO sells.

To give myself one more thing to think about, I thought about all the things I want in this kind of frame: good clearance, strong brakes, a lively ride, decent standover clearance... and I realized another bike in my fleet could check those boxes. Twenty minutes of work later, and my Ritchey was transformed into this:

Road tires on a spare set of wheels, and a zip tied on nine speed drivetrain:

Don't worry! The clean lines of the Ritchey shall never be sullied by such practicalities as racks and fenders. This is just a trial to see how this type of bike would work. I have my eye on a Soma Juice to potentially do this job. In the event, that might become my path forward: the Ritchey did most everything I wanted: rode at least as well as the New Albion, with perhaps a bit more zest. Disc brakes are nice, and even with the 40mm Nomad tires, I'll have clearance for days. The handling wasn't as refined as the VO, but I'm used to the way mountain bikes handle and can get along with it. With this idea, the NAP could become a fat tire/fixed gear/Albastache bike. Everyone needs one of those.

This will give me something else to experiment with before the cold sets in.


  1. DO you think there was enough room to get a fender under those nomads on the new albion?

    1. Hi Martin,

      I think it would be tight, but doable. I just mounted a Resist Nomad to measure clearance (anything for my readers!). I had 15mm from the tire to the seatstay bridge, and about 40mm to the chainstay bridge. But two catches:

      1) especially at the seatstay, there is less clearance at the sides of the tire, so you fender couldn't wrap and hug your tire here

      2) getting the fully inflated tire was tight going past the chainstay bridge. Add a fender here, and you would have to deflate the tire to get it past.


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