If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I’ve been essentially riding with the goal of being a faster cyclist most of the time, I don’t race, I ride a light aluminum racing frame with a somewhat aggresively low position, have special shoes to ride in, ride 23 mm tires and have 20 indexed gears to shift; that puts me square in the sights of Rivendell Bike Works targets as wrong about everything.
OK, quick primer, Grant Peterson worked for Bridgestone Mountain bikes in the 80s until they went out of buisness then he started his own company, Rivendell Bicycle Works, which focuses on recreational touring type bikes and gear. He doesn’t actually build frames, he gets them built by builders in Japan, Taiwan, and Waterford in Wisconsin, which is no different from just about every other bicycle company. What sets Rivendell apart is their philosphy on bicycles, gear and riding, which could best be summed up as everything you think you know about cycling is wrong, we’re right.
On the Rivendell homepage you’ll find a series of articles that explain the Rivendell philosphy and deride the direction that cycling has taken in the last 30 years. The basic thesis is this, bicycle riding has become dominated by the racing aspect of the sport, it has corrupted the design of bicycles, gear, clothing and in turn made bicycling into a uncomfortable, dangerous, sport, instead of a healthy recreational pastime. In a great many ways Grant is right even if some of his statements are over the top, but that doesn’t change the number one reason I’ll never own a Rivendell, but first lets look at some of his arguments.
“Weight has been overemphasized by the media, and manufacturers have responded with frames and components that live on the brink of failure.”
OK I’ll agree with the weight part but I have to take exception on the brink of failure part. Rivendell believes the best choice for a frame material is steel, and makes a pretty good argument. At one time I was a true believer in steel, I owned 3 steel bikes and while I don’t currently own one I think that steel is an excellent material and probably makes the strongest most durable bike. I also don’t think that aluminum and carbon bikes are living on the brink of failure. It’s true that aluminum bikes will eventually break, probably much sooner then a steel frame, you’re not gambling with your life when you ride aluminum or carbon bikes and components.
Friction shifting is shifting without indexing. In indexed shifting, there are notches in the shift lever that regulate the movement, and when everything is in harmony, a skill-less person shifts perfectly.
Rivendell drivetrain philosphy expouses gearing is too high, you don’t need all those gears and friction shifting is better then indexed. I agree with the gearing is too high and I’m not the only one judging by the popularity of compact cranks, I never thought there would be advantage to 10 rear cogs until I started riding it, you can tell the gears are more closesly spaced and I think that is nice. As far as friction shifting goes, if you’re just tooling around or touring then I guess friction shifting would be fine, but I would never run a bike without indexed shifting again. When I got my first bike with STI, (shifting on the break levers) it was like a revelation.
The list could go on:
Bike shoes and clipless pedals, worthless
Skinny tires, all tires should be 32mm or larger
Saddles? they better be Brooks
Clothing, if its not wool don’t wear it
Fenders, every bike should have them, whether you ride in the rain or not
I’m glad that a company like Rivendell exists, I’m glad that they have the balls to say everything they believe about cycling, and keep a fading style of cycling and bikes alive, but I’ll never be a customer of Rivendell, just as I’ll never be a customer of Harley Davidson. What could Rivendell and Harley Davidson have in common? They both are trying to sell you a lifestyle, their particular cultivated image, which in Rivendell’s case is exactly opposite of the current trends.
That wouldn’t bother me so much if there bikes were affordable, but their entry level frames are a 1000 dollars and while we could sit around and argue the benefits of lugged steel and artful design, the fact of the matter is I can’t afford 1000 dollars for a frame. Their typical build costs about 3000 dollars, that’ll get you a 26-27 pound bike with all the technology of something that cost about 800 dollars in 1985. I guess giving the man the finger and bucking the trends isn’t cheap?
My Nashbar touring frame and fork cost 150 dollars and was made by human robots in China, it might break in 5 years, but I’ll still have 850 dollars left to buy another one. After buying all the parts I needed for the bike I had about 600 dollars invested, and my integrated shifters and brake levers were cheaper then the bar end shifters and brake levers Rivendell specs for their bikes. If you wanted steel and a little more quality you could buy a Surly Long Haul Trucker and get a whole bike for less then some Rivendell frames.
SO I guess to sum it up, Rivendell makes nice bikes, their ideas make alot of sense, but there is nothing wrong with having a fast bike with modern technology and bicycling isn’t or at least shouldn’t be such a polarized community. There’s no damn law that says you can’t dress up in lycra with stupid shoes and pretend to race one weekend on carbon fiber, and then wear flipflops, wool with bluejeans and take your steel bike camping. If you want that steel bike to be a Rivendell my advice would be to start saving.