I can’t exactly recall the date I decided to get a bicycle, but it was probably somewhere back in summer of 2010 or so.
I have knee problems so walking around on inclines is tough, while steep inclines are downright painful. As a result, just going outdoors for a bit was really very limited, so it seemed a bike would be the perfect solution, with the fond memories I had as a kid.
My bike history having a stab at bikes from various price ranges, I knew that cheaper bikes were okay for a while, but had poor alignment (wheel rubbing! argh!), terrible brakes, didn’t hold up as usable for more than short distances, and usually something broke or became annoying within the first couple years. Also, most were darn heavy. Generally a poor impression upon biking was extracted from them.
As the prices moved up, things got a lot better. Basic parts were more reliable, ran smoother for longer times, and things just felt more solid. Still, issues would crop up–heavy frames, rough derailleurs, and things just wearing out quicker than I would like.
So this time I decided to go straight to the top and avoid all that annoyance, and get something smooth, quiet, reliable, lighter, and better looking.
Funny thing though, I noticed that I had never found a decent road bike at the local shops that wasn’t build for racing, or were other bikes (poorly) adapted for street use (mountain bikes –> urban bikes). On the internet I found there were few choices that were optimized for the road, as a more comfortable, generalist machine. None of those met my criteria for quality and aesthetics.
Then by chance I looked again at this odd bike shop listed in Google called Rivendell Bicycle Works, less than three miles away from where I lived. I was pretty shocked when I visited their website. It was chock full of articles about practical cycling and its fade from the norms as marketing forces from sports funneled bikes into increasingly specialized recreation tools. Rivendell Bicycle Works (RBW) was a holdout from an older era, where bikes were built to last, as durable, efficient, and beautiful machines that could do a bit of everything competently.
This was what I was looking so hard for, and it was literally downhill from the house I was living in.
That I purchased a bike from them should be obvious at this point. But I feel that does it little justice, so I will describe a bit of the care and detail that went into its construction and parts. There is so much that went into its creation, I often marvel about how they can make money off of it. (They don’t make much, really)
I’ll start from the wheels and head up to the frame, handlebar, and other parts I think are worth mentioning.
The wheels are individually hand assembled from quality parts, aligned and tensioned at every spoke to exacting tolerances to stay straight and true, even though rough use. They are size 650b, a specification to use a larger, wider tire for comfort.
The frame is a Japanese hand made item, built from butted, heat treated steel tubes, lugged at nearly every joining connection, all brass fillet-brazed. Created to an expanded geometry, it takes cues from traditional road and touring bicycles to be both light and strong for the long ride.
The handlebars and stem form a classic drop bar, but perched high so you don’t hunch down to reach. They are made by Nitto, a small outfit in Japan that manufactures some of the highest quality bicycle parts available. The bike rack in the back too, is from Nitto, handmade from cromoly steel, and fillet-brazed at the joints with brass, which is then nickel plated to a satin finish.
The seat is a Brooks B17 standard, a suspension leather saddle that provides a balance of support and comfort that I find is difficult to replicate in other seat materials and makes. It’s not meant for upright seating (they have models for that too), but for a balanced position where some of the weight is shared by your feet and hands, in addition to the seat.
That’s just the tip of it.
In any case, it’s tough to find something like this bike in our budget minded times, where we expect everything cheap, no matter the repercussions. I decided not to follow that line of thought.
While this may be a bit of an excessive indulgence, you can find your own balance of hand craftsmanship and mass production parts in your own bicycles, on the parts that matter most to you. I suppose that sort of customization shows personality in the bike. Mine being a little bit of a generalist, but compromising little on the quality, even if it takes time, effort and money to get there. It’s just like me, in those ways for better or worse.
One day I would like to look at the relations between people and their bikes. It should be an interesting collage.