Rivendell Reader 42

The long-awaited RR42 is live on the web. As always, a great read.

Rivendell Reader 42
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47 Responses to “Rivendell Reader 42”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Awesome, I’ve been waiting and waiting!
    Thanks for letting us know!

    (Breathe, pause, make tea – then go read…)

  • Cezar says:

    Wow. It’s quite a big one. I’m excited to read this issue.

  • David says:

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread (or maybe I do), but I’ve read everything on Rivendell’s website as well as the latest edition of the Reader and am a little dismayed. Here’s where I’m coming from…I’ve been riding steel bikes all my life and commuting in Seattle on my latest one for the last seventeen years. I like it a lot, but it’s getting to the point where I need new tires, a new seat, new bars and a new stem (my preferred fit and position have changed over the years). To retrofit with the stuff I want will cost me on the order of $300, which isn’t insignificant. At the same time, there’ve been a lot of interesting technological developments in bikes since my current bike was new (disc brakes, belt drive, efficient dyno front hubs, wide-range 8-14 gear rear hubs, aluminum/titanium/carbon frames, etc) so I’m thinking about possibly replacing my old warhorse. I’ve been looking at bikes in the $2K neighborhood (and fantasizing about a couple in the $5K neighborhood). Problem is, I’m having trouble getting unbiased information, particularly from the small custom and semi-custom builders like Rivendell, Thorn, Rodriguez, and the like.

    Let’s pick on Rodriguez for a minute. They’re my local builder and I’d dearly like to support them. However, they don’t put disc brakes on their bikes, which is something I’m keenly interested in for my next bike. Why don’t they? According to a page on their website, they’re good for mountain bikes but not worth the downside on road bikes: the discs warp, the hubs aren’t strong enough, and one guy bent a fork that wasn’t properly designed for discs (there’s a picture of the tweaked fork on their web site). All of these issues were probably significant early on, but discs and they bikes they stop have since gone through multiple design iterations and been installed on literally millions of bikes without such problems. When asked, the folks at Rodriguez say they’ll put discs on a custom road bike for me but what is that really saying? In my mind, their heart isn’t in it. Have they really thought about how to build a fork and mount a disk properly? What happens if I have a problem down the road? Will their response be “No problem, we’ll fix it” or “Sorry, we told you it was a bad idea”? It raises real questions both in trying to design a bike rationally and trying to choose a supplier and supporter for bike I’ll be spending a ton of money on and riding for decades (hopefully).

    Rivendell is probably the most extreme example of what I’m describing. I get it, steel’s a great material for bike frames but what is it with the hating on aluminum/carbon/indexed shifting/disc brakes/cleats/lycra/etc? Is carbon fiber really so bad? Is its useful life really only a few years? Is it doomed to catastrophically fail? Do you really think that Raleigh and other major manufacturers would risk the liability? Fer crissakes, they’ve been making military jets out of the stuff for decades already, two commercial carbon fiber jets are already in the air and within 30 years, every commercial jet will be made of the stuff too. No material is perfect but there are generally many uses for every material and for every use, there are multiple appropriate materials. It’s just a matter of engineering.

    Believe it or not, I don’t mean to pick on the good folks at Rivendell. They make beautiful bikes that work well and they’re certainly entitled to their opinions. However, when I see page after page of assertions in their marketing materials that carbon is doomed to extinction and it’s not backed up by a whit of data, it destroys credibility. I’m not even considering a carbon frame, but if you’re going to slam the other guy’s design, be prepared to back it up with data and don’t just echo the “steel is real” party line. How’s a guy to figure out what to buy and whom to buy it from?

    Descending from my soapbox now. Move along, there’s nothing to see here…

  • Cezar says:

    While Grant can be extreme, he has many points. For the uses of bikes that he expounges, touring, “country bikes”, etc; his ideas are spot on.

    For racing, of course carbon is fine. I’ve seem many carbon failures come in and out of the shop. It may not fail more than other materials, but you can’t see it coming. It’s sudden. For the applications he wants for bikes, it’s not an option.

    I do think his stance on aluminum is too extreme though.

    His stance comes from wanting a bike to last 20 years. If that’s not what you want, you’ll find many of his opinions to be quite extreme.

  • Andrew says:

    Totally agree with you, David. And actually came into this thread intending to write something in a similar vein.

    I enjoy reading a lot of the sentiments on Rivendell because, well, bikes are fun, and he clearly appreciates that – but I feel like so many of his ideas, especially about materials, are really just curmudgeonly sentimentality. When he claims that carbon is dangerous, has no lifespan, and will be phased out over the next few decades, I find it really difficult to take him seriously, and I question his competence as an engineer and designer. I understand that he’s using his soapbox largely as a thinly-veiled sales tool, but spitting on your competition has always been the very lowest form of marketing.

    He should at least know that the ostensible fragility of carbon bikes on the market has essentially nothing to do with the material and everything to do with the application; steel racing bikes have an even shorter life than carbon ones. If some manufacturer wanted to build an ultra-robust carbon fiber bike it would be no problem to add a few plies of low-modulus fiber for impact resistance and make something indestructible. And I’m not even talking about sudden vs. gradual failures, I’m saying it’s unlikely you’d be able to make it fail, period. Ever. Because as long as it’s strong enough to withstand any catastrophic impact damage, carbon will never fail through fatigue. Of course, at that point you might have something that would weigh as much as a steel or aluminium frame, and weight-savings are what the people in that market are buying.

    Ferchrissakes, Specialized sells a fully-suspended carbon fiber XC mountain bike that weighs a sneeze more than the Rivendell Roadeo. But steel’s more durable and reliable, of course…

  • Finley says:

    Every company’s marketing needs to be taken with at least a grain of salt. Trek Madones, for example, are marketed based on lightness and speed, with endorsements from racers thrown in. For a lot of people who look for lightness and speed in a bicycle, the marketing works. Rivs are marketed based on strength and longevity, with a touch of retroness or nostalgia thrown in. For a lot of people who look for strength and longevity, the marketing works.

    David, your last bike lasted 17 years, and is still going. I may be wrong, but I would imagine that practically every single part on that bike was originally designed at least fifty years ago, from the brakes to the shifting mechanism to this that and the other. The basic argument is that your bike lasted so long because it was made with components that were proven by time to give great service over a long period of time. A lot of the components you are looking to use are probably just fine, they just haven’t yet stood the test of time (on a bicycle) yet- actual time, not simulated laboratory time, like the disc brakes. Keep in mind that it took over fifty years for the automotive disc brake to become reliable enough for production cars. I am not saying that it will take 50 years for bicycle disc brakes to become as reliable as cantilevers and calipers, but they would not be my first choice for a bicycle that I was building to last for the next twenty years. They probably will be my first choice for a 20 year bicycle if I find myself building one in 2020 though.

    Cezar nailed the Carbon Fiber issue- it fails suddenly when it fails. Granted, if you have a metal bike and you don’t regularly inspect it, it doesn’t matter, as any failure will seem sudden. Personally, I like steel because i am a bigger guy, and I don’t need to speculate as to whether or not a steel frame will last a long time because it has been proven to last a long time.

    The bottom line though is that it is your money, and you should certainly spend it as you see fit. If your local shop won’t happily build the bike you want, find one that will.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Whether you agree with it or not, I think Grant Petersen’s reasoning is explained pretty clearly and logically in Rivendell’s literature, as well as in the dozens of interviews of him that are out there. Different bike designs suit different purposes. In my view, Rivendell bikes are ideal for the purposes they are designed to suit. They are not ideal for purposes they are not designed to suit.

    David – If you’ve been riding your bike for the past 17 years, you “like it a lot” and all it needs is new tires, I confess that I don’t understand why you would be looking for bikes made of alternative materials and fitted with different components. If the size of the bike no longer suits, I’d be trying my best right now to find an identical bike in a different size instead, rather than a bike that’s as different as possible. Have you ever tried riding aluminum for 20 miles? Carbon fiber? Have you ever tried disk brakes?.. Some things are just not as good in practice as they are in the newest marketing literature. I’m just saying.

  • Alan says:


    “Problem is, I’m having trouble getting unbiased information, particularly from the small custom and semi-custom builders like Rivendell, Thorn, Rodriguez, and the like.”

    I don’t understand why you’ve singled out a few small manufacturers for criticism; the large manufacturers are spending far more energy promoting their products and their marketing approach is no less biased. The idea, for example, that a carbon fiber fork on a hybrid is an upgrde is absurd, yet go into many mainstream bike shops and talk to a salesperson and that’s the pitch you’ll get. Another example is that a twin spoke performance wheelset is appropriate on a city bike, which again, is not true in most cases. I can cite many more examples like these. These kinds of gimmicks are widespread and are meant to appeal to the novice who doesn’t know that racing-style parts are less than ideal on a bike that is going to see daily abuse in a commuting or touring environment. Of course, if you’re racing or have a long point-to-point commute, that’s something altogether different.

    Regarding carbon specifically, there’s no denying there have been many failures. Over the years things have improved, but there’s no question carbon frames and parts need to be cared for more carefully and inspected more frequently than parts made from traditional materials. The fact that the material is used successfully in the aerospace industry doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good material for a bicycle that will be used and abused on camping trips, or in an urban environment where it will be banged around in bike racks. Again, for racing, sure why not. But for everyday utility riding, probably not a good idea for most people.



  • David says:

    Thanks to everyone for your replies so far and for your tolerance of my heat-of-the-moment missive.

    First, let me say that I’m heavily involved in my own company’s marketing efforts and understand completely that you can’t base any decisions on marketing material alone. However, it is the starting point for further investigation and it does tell you a lot about a company and its products, often not exactly what they had in mind. My hope was that with lots of reading from lots of different sources, I would be able to traingulate on the truth and find the bike I want. Unfortunately, it’s not quite working out that way.

    Second, I love my steel bike. Before my current one, I had a customized Bridgestone road bike that my friend raced on and then gave to me when he upgraded. Grant may very well have helped design that bike and I morphed into a great commuter bike and rode happily for 10 years (including one nasty car vs. bike crash that required a new front fork and wheel – see the joys of building your own wheel in another thread) until another “afficionado” relieved me of it while I was in class one day. Both bikes stood the test of time, both worked well, and both incorporated essentially the same technology in frame and components.

    However, neither bike was perfect, particularly for rainy, dark Seattle. Braking could be a lot better in the wet. Lots of grit gets in the drivetrain, requiring more maintenance than I really want to do. The battery lights work great but if I forget to charge them overnight I can’t ride the next day in the pitch black. I hit enought potholes in the dark that my 700c rims require truing on a regular basis (even with 38 mm tires). Neither frame will/would’ve died without getting hit by a car, but at the expense of a fair amount of weight, etc, etc, etc.

    As a result, and given that I’m looking at a $300 expense to fix up my current bike anyway, I figured I’d evaluate some of the new stuff that’s come out in the last 25 years and price out my ideal commuter/credit card tourer. These bits include dyno front hubs, internally geared rear hubs, belt drive, disc brakes, carbon seatpost and handlebars, and possibly an aluminum frame. Thus starts the information gathering process and my frustration, particularly in evaluating the last three items on the list.

    The Breezer finesse is probably the closest off-the-shelf bike to what I’m looking for commuting but it’s probably not as versatile and possibly not as long lasting as I’d like for my $2000. I doubt the Alfine IGH has the gear range for touring. How long can I expect an aluminum frame to last in the face of 15 miles per day? I’m having a hard time figuring that out.

    The Tout Terrain Metropolitan looks on paper like is closer to my ideal, but it’ll probably exceed $4K with a Rohloff hub for both commuting and touring. Since it’s essentially a heavy touring frame, I’m sure it’ll last, but I’ll bet it tops 35 lbs all-in. Given that my primary use is for commuting and for that money, I can consider a lighter weight custom and that leads me to…Rivendell, Rodriguez, and the like.

    Now I’ve got a conundrum. With a custom (yes, steel) bike, I can get the frame weight and durability I want but I’m having a hard time getting advice I trust about the brakes and other components from the frame makers. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way and just haven’t found a builder that’s as open minded as I’d like. Any suggestions from blogosphere?


  • Mr. CrankyPants says:


    “…spitting on your competition has always been the very lowest form of marketing”

    My thoughts exactly. It is however, a VERY popular form of marketing in certain segments of the bicycle market because it appeals to the “holier-than-thou” mindset so prevalent in those segments.

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    “Have you ever tried riding aluminum for 20 miles? Carbon fiber? Have you ever tried disk brakes?.. Some things are just not as good in practice as they are in the newest marketing literature. I’m just saying.”

    In all fairness, have you? Have you tried out all those things before dismissing them as marketing hype? Keep in mind that marketing hype also leads people to believe that the only good bikes were designed half a century ago and anything new (especially anything new not made by them) is bad, bad, bad. I’m just saying.


    Could you cite some specific examples ie make, model, year of the bikes you mention with inappropriate equipment. The reason I’d like to see specific examples is so we can look at exactly how these individual bike models are marketed by their companies. Let’s not speak in vague generalities. You mention carbon forks on hybrids – are they performance hybrids? comfort hybrids? cross-trail hybrids? etc etc

    Horses for courses.

  • Alan says:

    I won’t be citing specific models. But please do peruse the websites of the top 4-5 manufacturers and you’ll see plenty of examples of what I’m talking about.

    For the last 20-30 years an overwhelming majority of bicycle marketing has been race oriented, even though only a tiny minority of people actually race bicycles. Selling “performance” to people who don’t need it is disingenuous at best and detrimental to the effort to get more people on bikes at worst. It could even be argued that our situation here in the U.S., where a majority of non-cyclists still see bicycles as sporting goods, is a direct result of the marketing campaigns of the big companies that are based around celebrity sports figures. Fortunately, some of this appears to be changing, possibly fueled by the increases in bike commuting over the past couple of years, and the multiple doping scandals that have tarnished the image of pro cycling.

    And for the record, I have no problem at all with racing and race bikes. I just don’t think selling race-oriented bikes that are uncomfortable and impractical, to people who need reliable transportation for commuting and hauling groceries, etc., does anyone any good.


  • Alan says:


    “These bits include dyno front hubs, internally geared rear hubs, belt drive, disc brakes, carbon seatpost and handlebars, and possibly an aluminum frame.”

    I see no issue with your list other than the carbon handlebars and possibly the seatpost. For what little you gain there, you give up too much in toughness, IMO.

    “Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way and just haven’t found a builder that’s as open minded as I’d like.”

    It sounds to me like you already know what you want. Why not purchase a bare frame and build the bike yourself? A lot of these choices are very subjective and finding a builder who is going to agree with your every component choice is probably not realistic or even necessary.

    Good luck with your process and let us know what you decide! :-)


  • Andrew says:

    Heh, my only experience with a carbon fork at the moment has been a test drive on a Specialized Sirrus Sport hybrid…the way it isolated road buzz while remaining snappy sure made it feel like an upgrade to me.

    (yes, even over the all-steel bike I ended up buying – fit and price were significant factors in that case)

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Mr. CrankyPants – I don’t dismiss aluminum, carbon fiber, or disk brakes as marketing hype. I think they are perfectly appropriate for some cyclists but perfectly inappropriate for others. What I am critical of, is the marketing that causes people to dismiss reliable, comfortable and durable steel bikes with traditional components because they’ve read that aluminum, or carbon, or disk brakes are “more advanced technology”. When it comes to more advanced technology, we sort of need to ask “More advanced for whom?” Often not for us.

    To answer your question: I have tried aluminum bikes for long rides (20-50 miles). This helped me make the decision not to buy one. I have tried disk brakes and did not dislike them. They have great stopping power and all-weather benefits. However, I think that for many people they are “overkill” and almost every single owner of a disk brake bike I know (where the bike is not a mountain bike) complains of various issues and side-effects – such as having to adjust them far more often than other kinds of brakes, and the incessant squealing. As for carbon fiber bikes, you got me there. I have sat on one, but have not taken any long rides. You know why? Because the kind of bike I am able to ride is not made in carbon fiber – which seems like an excellent indicator to me that the industry itself does not think carbon fiber is the appropriate choice for a bike where comfort is supposed to play a big role.

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:


    I have perused the websites of many, many manufacturers, top 4-5 included. Yes, there are some poorly thought out bikes out there, but for the most part, I don’t see them pitching low spoke count, carbon fork performance hybrids as workhorse city bikes. I see them pitching these bikes as performance oriented sport bikes that could also – if you wanted to – be used for commuting.

    I would also argue against the idea that the sport oriented nature of North American cycling is a result of marketing. The sport oriented nature of North American cycling is because that’s what people want. People vote with their dollars. Bike companies live and die by this. If the buying public wants performance and you refuse to sell it to them, your bike company dies. Simple free market stuff. Many bike companies have found this out the hard way.

    True, there is a chicken-or-egg element to the equation in that you can’t buy what’s not available. The thing to keep in mind is that decades ago (bike boom) “practical” bikes were available at the same time as “sport” bikes and the “sport” bikes outsold them. And then mountain bikes came along and outsold 10-speeds. Why? Because people wanted them. I mention mountain bikes because they were invented by enthusiasts, not corporations. The corporations scrambled to meet the demand for MTB’s, they didn’t create the demand.

    @Lovely Bicycle

    Thanks for clarifying your position. ’tis appreciated.

    As for disk brakes, cheap disks are a pox upon mankind. Quality disk brakes are things of beauty.

  • Alan says:

    @Mr Crankpants

    “I would also argue against the idea that the sport oriented nature of North American cycling is a result of marketing.”

    It’s simply not realistic to think 25 years and many millions of dollars worth of marketing hasn’t had an influence on people’s perceptions. Certainly racing is sexy, and we’re a nation of hero worshipers, so in that sense yes, people want performance bikes. On the other hand, many people over the years have gone away from bicycling after initially giving it a try because their bikes were uncomfortable, impractical, or unreliable.


  • Mr. CrankyPants says:


    “On the other hand, many people over the years have gone away from bicycling after initially giving it a try because their bikes were uncomfortable, impractical, or unreliable.”

    Very true, but that uncomfortable, impractical or unreliable bike can take many forms. That bike could be a 3-speed with a basket on it or a touring bike or a Dutch bike or a hand built boutique bike. Any bike can be the wrong bike.

    And of course 25 years* of advertising will have an effect on a market, just as 100 years of a free market will have an effect on advertising.

    I don’t think we’ll ever agree, so I’ll leave it at that. Except for carbon. We agree on that. I’m not a fan of the stuff, but there’s obviously a lot of people who are.

    * Why 25 years? What happened in 1985? Did all the bike manufactures laugh evilly, twirl their mustaches and agree from that point on to only sell racing bikes? ;)

  • David says:

    I’m glad to see the discussion has continued. I think the MTB phenomenon has its roots in the same psychology that drove the SUV phenomenon. We’re a nation of rugged individualists (real or imagined) and the MTB appealed to that go-anywhere, nothing-can-stop-me impulse. On top of that, a MTB could actually be quite comfortable relative to the competing 10 speeds with its wide tires, suspension fork, straight bars, etc, so there was not much downside for the casual rider. For me, it was the wrong bike from the get-go. When I step on the pedals, I want to GO. No mushy forks or knobbies soaking up my energy, thank you very much. That’s why I ended up with one of the first 29ers and am still riding it today…Get rid of the suspension and the knobbies and you’ve got a pretty great all-around solution.

    Alan, to your point about my well-defined desires, I’m very ready to build it up myself if necessary, but I still need an appropriate frame. Per my original comment, the number of shops who don’t pooh-pooh discs and therefore give me confidence that they can competently design a frame to accomodate disc brake stresses seems to be small. Of those, I’m also looking for a shop that has experience with Rohloff hubs. Smaller still. On top of that, I’d love a belt drive, which thins the herd even more. I’ll keep looking and I’m sure I’ll eventually find it, possibly even with Rodriguez, but my original point is that it seems harder than it should be due to the rigid design philosopies of a lot of the shops.

  • Andrew says:

    Amen, Mr. CrankyPants. I would be endlessly frustrated with a 40 lb omafiets as a daily commuter; I really do enjoy riding fast, so a performance hybrid (or a sport-touring bike) is my ideal city bike.

    And to clarify my position, I am not the patron saint of carbon fiber by any means. I do ride steel. CF is, however, the strongest and stiffest material we’ve got, and its very nature gives you endless flexibility in how you use it, so it enchants my industrial design instincts deeply. A bad carbon fiber bike is a badly engineered bike, nothing more, nothing less.

    I am, however, the man who is currently in the planning stages of building a riveted aluminium prone bicycle (that is, lying down face first) in my workshop, so I’m probably a bit of an iconoclast in the world of bicycling…

  • Alan says:


    Call Co-Motion in Oregon…


  • Andrew says:

    @ David, it really seems like what you’re looking for is a Civia Bryant (or perhaps a flat-bar Civia), with the possible addition of the dyno hub (which hopefully a bike store would let you upgrade to at point-of-purchase). Relaxed road geometry, belt drive, IGH, Avid discs…

    It’s probably what I would take a look at if I were in your shoes, but then again, Civia doesn’t sell bikes in Canada, so it’s tricky for me.




    may be other options for frames with belt-drive ready dropouts, but since they’re small companies they’ll likely be pretty pricey for just a frame.

  • David says:

    Thanks Andrew and Alan.

    Co-Motion is definitely on the list.

    Civia looks intriguing and I can handle aluminum’s ride characteristics by stepping up tire size, but I’ve still got my open questions about the longevity of aluminum frames. Are there any hard numbers as far as number of miles different frames intended for the same nominal purpose will last? If we’re talking 20 years vs. 30, it’s a non-issue. If we’re talking 20 years vs. 5, that’s a problem. Interestingly, Civia supplies the Hyland with a CF fork, so at least they have confidence in the use of CF there.

    For bare steel frames, Speedhound looks intriguing, we’ll see how they ramp up (no product to sell yet). Spot looks promising as well, though their only local dealer is a ways away from me.

    Thanks for the help!

  • Alan says:


    “Civia looks intriguing and I can handle aluminum’s ride characteristics by stepping up tire size, but I’ve still got my open questions about the longevity of aluminum frames.”

    The Civia Bryant has a steel frame:



  • Finley says:

    David- have you considered the Surly Pugsley, 1×1, or Karate Monkey? They are already set up for discs and internal geared hubs, two in 26 inch, and one is a 29er. A custom shop could probably install an S&S coupler to allow you to run a belt drive hub. The frames have the added bonus of cantilever posts, so if you decide you don’t like the discs, you can switch.

  • David says:

    Alan, thanks for the correction. With a Hyland fork and carbon seatpost, we’re getting closer. I’ve got to see if that Alfine rear hub has enough gear range for me or whether I need to go all the way to the Rohloff…

    Finley, I looked at the Surlys but don’t want to add $500 for a coupler and re-paint if I don’t have to.


  • Paul says:

    I find Grant really interesting, and I enjoy reading his website articles and so forth. But. He makes me laugh so much. The idea that no one needs mountain bikes, that they have destroyed ‘real’ bikes and people are all suckers to the insidious mtb marketing is just so ridiculous.

    Mountain bikes have brought wonderful innovations to cycling, and, I would argue actually best epitomise the ideal of cycling: freedom. Absolute, untethered freedom. If thats the marketing SUVs use, then that’s fine. Because a mtb still doesn’t destroy the planet any more than a road bike, or a ‘country bike’ or whatever, and it really does open doors to a world beyond tarmac and consumerism and the dangers of cars.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Paul,

    Rivendell sells mountain bikes (click here). If I’m reading him correctly, I think Grant’s beef is with mountain bikes that he feels are needlessly complex and over-engineered, particularly for those who only plan on doing some trail riding and have no intention of racing.


  • Finley says:

    It isn’t just that modern mountain bikes (and modern road bikes as well) are ‘needlessly complex and over-engineered for how many people use them.’ The other problem is that these are highly specialized machines for highly specialized cycling, and the average joe isn’t necessarily looking to engage in those forms of cycling. Back in the eighties, my mother had a bumper sticker on her four door sedan that said ‘I’d drive a Porsche if I could fit the groceries in the trunk,’ and the majority of bikes on the market for the last ten or twenty years have either been Porsches or Dune Buggies instead of four door sedans, economical hatchbacks, or pickup trucks. Before I got back in to cycling, I had said on a couple of occasions that I would enjoy riding a bike if I didn’t have to dress like an idiot to do it, because at the time, the only people I ever saw on bikes were people decked out in lycra and silly little shoes that made silly little sounds when people walked.

    For the most part in this country, we don’t have any non-cyclists, we just have vast numbers of ex-cyclists- people who have quit riding bikes for whatever reason. The most common reason is the aquisition of a drivers license. A lot of these ex-cyclists would probably enjoy cycling again, but have absolutely no interest in downhill mountain biking or time trials. They might have fond memories of their old Schwinn Black Phantoms or Raleigh Superbes, of their old ten speed with stem shifters or their old unsuspended mountain bike. Just like how only a very few automobile owners either race their cars or drive their cars over serious offroad trails, there is a huge potential market for bikes for ‘average’ people, but the ‘average’ people aren’t being marketed to. Instead, ‘average’ people are often encouraged to buy a specialized machine. It isn’t that there is an inherent fault with road racing bikes or downhill racing mountain bikes, they are great for their niche purpose. Unfortunately, the niche bikes are the mainstream, and the mainstream bikes are niche.

  • Alan says:


    “Unfortunately, the niche bikes are the mainstream, and the mainstream bikes are niche.”

    That really gets to the heart of it. Well put…


  • John says:

    Leave it to Grant to stir up the pot. As for myself, I find Grant’s “here’s what I like and here’s why” attitude refreshing (though I don’t agree with everything he says). My view is, ride what you like, wear what you like, and let me do the same.

  • Alan says:


    I agree. It’s amazing to me, that after all these years, Mr. Petersen still has such an ability to get people thinking and talking…


  • Rick says:


    First, thanks for bring this up in such a positive way; Alan seems to attract folks that are passionate, well-informed, and courteous, and I’ve enjoyed reading this thread a great deal!

    That being said, I do understand your situation; having lived in Seattle for many years (although I’m in Sacramento now), I remember a few harrowing trips down Denny Way in the middle a cloudburst and having practically no braking… so yes, even though I’ve never owned a bike with disc brakes, they sound wonderful. If I lived there still, I’d want them more than almost anything, and I’d be put off by any builder not willing to go there with me.

    When my wife and I decided to move into a small–really small–apartment several months ago, we wanted to go “car-lite” and then progress to not owning a car a all (which we’ve now done.) To help pull that off, we shopped like crazy to find a perfect bicycle, one that could stand up to the rigors of commuting, trips to the market, an occasional ride into the countryside for 40 miles, and do so with the utmost in comfort and reliability.

    When push came to shove, we bought Rivendell Quickbeams (you can see mine here: http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/12/03/a-sweet-city-bike/) because we felt that, for the cost, it did a little bit of everything well. After having lived with the QB’s for 8 months now, I can say that we were right, but if we ever move back to Seattle (hopefully, in a couple of more years, maybe?) I’ll be selling it, because it’s not a Seattle bike–at least not for me.

    I guess I’m saying this because I although I love my Riv, it’s only great in a certain way and in certain place, just like any other bike; it fits me well, rides comfortably, and I’ve no real complaints about it…but I wouldn’t feel that my enjoying Grant’s philosophy (which I prefer to call Sustainable Bicycling for a variety of reasons) would stop me from looking at other bikes, and particularly ones that could help me stop in the rain. Down a hill. With traffic.

    My advice? Let’s just say that the minute we get ready to move back home, I’m calling Mike Flanigan, so he can build me the ANT Light Roadster of my dreams…with a Rohloff!

    Good luck, and let us know how it works out!


  • nowhere says:

    You may have noticed that many cyclists tend to be fiercely opinionated. Once they’ve found what works for them they can be dismissive of EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY else. Burn the heretics at the stake dismissive. If a builder doesn’t really want to build something the way you want it’s probably best to go somewhere else (or do more research – they may be right after all). For what it’s worth I’ve been beating the daylights out of a scandium and carbon fiber cyclocross bike for three years now (not racing, road and trail riding for fun and commuting). I’m no lightweight and I’ve had three minor crashes with it with no damage yet. The ride is nicer than my old lugged and brazed steel road bike too. The only thing that bothers me about it are the cantilever brakes which tend to squeal, require constant adjustment and don’t have a whole lot of stopping power. I would have killed for disc brakes. (I’m going to try a set of Paul brakes to see if that helps)

    Grant Petersen is nuts, wonderfully nuts. I’m happy that he’s running a small company now where he can indulge himself and build what he wants. If anyone in your town sells Rivendells drop by and drool, they really are beautiful. I remember when I went to buy my first bike as an adult in 93, I had decided that a Bridgestone XO-1 would be perfect. There wasn’t a Bridgestone dealer in my city. In fact the nearest one was in the U.S.A. and I was in Canada. The nearest dealers wouldn’t sell outside their sales area. Bridgestone itself wouldn’t sell to me directly. I can understand protecting your dealer network but that was a bit silly! I ended up with a Cannondale mountain bike thanks to Bridgestone…(still like to find a mint XO-1 though)

  • David says:

    Rick, thanks for the kind words and it’s good to know that we share similar concepts about the ideal Seattle fast commuter. I visited Bill Davidson yesterday and chatted\. He seems pretty easy to work with and sure makes some beautiful frames.

    He had a custom Gates belt driven bike on the floor that was setup nicely but he wants Gates to come out with more choices of belt length and cog/ring sizes so he doesn’t have to compromise the frame geometry to suit the limitations of their catalog. I think his biggest issue with discs is their possible tendency to squeal and the weight he has to add to the fork to handle the stress. Fair enough about the weight issue but I’m willing to trade some weight (both directly with the disc units themselves and with the frame) for the potential benefit of the disks over calipers , V’s, or cantilevers.

    Just for grins, I tried out one of his Civia Hylands to get my first tast of the Alfine IGH and hydraulic discs. The Alfine IGH’s range is barely acceptable for my commute and so I think I’ll have to go the Rohloff route. The Hyland’s discs definitely squealed, so that’s one data point. Whether it’s because they’re new, improperly adjusted, or a poor design are open questions that’ll require more research on my part. FWIW, several folks at work have discs on their bikes that don’t squeal and my current front cantis squeal like banshees and always have despite different pads and adjustments. Maybe it’s just me!

    Nowhere, I can certainly respect Grant’s point of view, all the more so because he walks the walk and set up his own shop to implement his vision. My frustration comes from trying to figure out which of his well-articulated opinions I should take into account in designing my bike when they’re mixed in with other opinions I can’t abide.

    Anyway, I’ve gotten lots of great advice and food for thought from this thread and this blog. Thanks to everyone for your help and especially to Alan for making it possible.

  • Gentlemansbike says:

    @ David

    “To retrofit with the stuff I want will cost me on the order of $300, which isn’t insignificant.”

    Only $300 to get you old steel bike upgraded and rollin for another 5 years? What a deal!

  • David says:

    That is a deal. However, I noticed a slight rumbling from my rear wheel and am concerned that my rear hub bearings may be going out. It could also just be one of the freewheel pawls, it’s hard to say and it hasn’t been getting worse. The hub is Suntour GreaseGuard, so I’ve never had it apart. I just shoot some fresh grease in every six months and that’s that. The freewheel is virtually silent but a little air pocket in the grease can result in quiet rumbly sounds that can be mistaken for worn bearings. One of these weekends I’ll tear it open and see what’s going on. If I have to get a new powertrain, it’s game over for this bike but I figure I can nurse another year out of the old girl while I save my pennies.

  • Doug R. says:

    Great discussions and opinions! I however, have a different approach to buying, I see a bike I like, I get the passions fired up, I open the wallet and I buy it! I own some great carbon bikes, aluminum ones ,and some steel ones too! Each machine gives me a different experience, and I like variety! My Rivendell is elegance, my Marin Alpine 29er is fun in the dirt, my old Raleigh super course is fun on tweed rides. I say quit “thinking” so much and let your passions guide you to your new girlfriend. “close your eyes Luke” and let the force guide you. Sit on a bike, take it for a spin and let your heart decide. You could be out riding instead of racking your brains!
    Peace, Dougman

  • David says:

    I love it! If I had the financial wherewithal, the storage space, and the spousal understanding, I’d be right there with you. Alas, I’m a one bike guy for a number of reasons…

  • Doug R. says:

    I understand, however, there is that first contact moment, when you see “the” bike, and you don’t let anything get in your way until she is yours! I am a bit spoiled and I have no house mouse to tell me what I can and cannot have! Good luck in your search!

    P.S. I have disc brakes on my motorcycles and they have a “floating” type rotor, and that maybe
    a noise reduction factor. I looked on my mountain bikes and they have “solid” rotors? Worth a thought? peace, Dougman

  • David says:

    Thanks Doug. Floating calipers save a lot of manufacturing costs due to their simplicity and are very tolerant of bent or warped rotors, but the design adds a lot of weight. Adding unsprung weight on a motorcycle or car isn’t good, but it’s tolerable. On a bicycle, it’s a pretty big trade-off.

  • Doug R. says:

    Ok then, I hope you solve the brake problem! I also don’t know if you have looked at Swobo or Soma frames and bikes? They probably are a bit lower than what your ideal bike is going to be but I sure like the Soma frames. When I went to Rivendell to pick up my Sam Hillborne, Scott let me hold the Soma San Marcos frame they are building around. WOW! is it strong and light!
    It is going to be their new ride named the Amos. I don’t know if it will come disc compatible
    or not? (Grant probably won’t make it a either/ or, but that would be nice to have as an option).
    Onward into your hunt! Peace, Dougman

  • David says:

    Thanks Doug, I’ll take a look. Incidentally, I was in Counterbalance Bikes today and tried out a Rohloff-equipped Civia Hyland, same as the one I tried at Elliott Bay Bikes the other day (except that one had the Alfine IGH), and there was absolutely no brake squeal. In fact, the Shimano Alfine hydraulics on this particular bike were the finest brakes I’ve ever tried. I think the EBB Hyland must not’ve been set up properly. That Rohloff sure is nice but for $3,500, I want a lifetime frame and I don’t think the Hyland’s aluminum frame is all that.

    Civia, I take back my earlier suggestion to outfit the Hyland with the Bryant’s belt. Rather, please put the Rohloff and a dyno hub on the Bryant!

  • Alan says:


    “In fact, the Shimano Alfine hydraulics on this particular bike were the finest brakes I’ve ever tried.”

    I’ve been riding those brakes for about a year, and I agree – they’re super.

    “Civia, I take back my earlier suggestion to outfit the Hyland with the Bryant’s belt. Rather, please put the Rohloff and a dyno hub on the Bryant!”

    I’m sure they’d be happy to do that for you (seriously)…


  • David says:

    Let’s hope!

  • David says:

    Good news on my end, the old girl’s rear hub is doing fine so I’m gonna put the $300 in to fixing her up a bit. The Schwalbes and a new bar are on order…This will buy me a year to save up for my Rohloff-disk-belt-dyno ultimate commuter/tourer.

  • Dan Towle says:

    I’m the owner of R+E Cycles (Rodriguez Bicycles) and the article that David sites is one that I wrote myself. I’d like to address David’s concerns on the Rodriguez frame shop and disc brakes. Actually, we’ve been building custom bicycles and tandems for disc brakes (upon request) since the 1970’s. As a matter of fact, we recently just had a Rodriguez tandem from the 1970’s come through the repair shop equipped with Phil Wood disc brakes.

    Like I said in the article, we have nothing against the use of disc brakes, and as a matter of fact, we build dozens of bicycles each year for disc brakes. Not many of those are Rodriguez bicycles, but none-the-less, we have very extensive experience building custom bicycles and tandems that use disc brakes. We also service hundreds of bicycles equipped with disc brakes each year in our repair shop, and have thousands of customers who ride them.

    It is this very experience that I can draw from to come to the opinions that I have.

    If you ask my opinion on disc brakes on road bikes, I will tell you that I think that the extra weight and trouble that they cause are unnecessary, and a lot of my customers who’ve had both types agree. Some of these customers have even paid us to install the appropriate braze-ons for cantilevers and remove the disc brakes. That being said, not everyone agrees with me, and we truly are happy to build a bicycle however the customer wants it to be. It is true that I have lost bicycle sales because I have recommended to customers that their road bike would be better suited for cantilever brakes. It would be easier if I just said “disc brakes are better” and put them on every touring bicycle we made. That would not be true to my experience, so it’s not something I can just say to sell more bikes. That’s not the kind of shop we are, and we will continue to go the extra mile and produce what we feel is the best product for the intended use.

    David, we would love to build your next bicycle. Rest assured that we have the know-how, and the experience to build it with disc brakes. We are building a run of 10 tandems right now that are all getting disc brakes. Most of our non-Rodriguez brand names get disc brakes and I would never try to talk those dealers out of their specifications. If you tell me you want disc brakes…..you’ll get disc brakes.

    Thanks again, and I hope that my article doesn’t turn too many people off. I am not religiously committed to any brake type, and I understand wanting to have a bicycle your way.

    Dan Towle
    R+E Cycles

  • Cathy Hoffman says:

    I just wanted to add my two cents worth re: the Rivendell post. I agree that some of the opinions espoused by Rivendell are sometimes curmudgeonly, and other times, just downright goofy! However, some of their ideas are really good, and the bikes they design and build are beautiful and functional. I am a 49 y.o. cyclotourist/commuter primarily who did some racing into my 30s (very average physical ability). I fell in love with their bikes and ended up buying an Atlantis when the model was first introduced, in about 2000. I can tell you (if you’re interested) that I fell in love with the bike instantly and rode it thousands of miles until I was hit by a motor vehicle while commuting and the bike was destroyed. I later replaced it with a Rivendell Glorius which remains my favorite bike out of my current stable of bikes, including a Specialized Dolce road, Bike Friday Pocket Crusoe, and Surly Long Haul Trucker. Personally, I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of my Rivendell models than any other bikes I’ve owned. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, and you should only consider buying one if that is the kind of bike that really calls to you. If I had an older steel bike like you’ve been riding, I’d probably be very attached to it and want to upgrade it. But on the other, there is a lot of new and exciting technology out there, some of which may be overkill, but much of it is tremendously useful, especially to commuters and cyclotourists. The Surly LHT is a great example of traditional steel touring bike that is also a GREAT value. I am a 5’4″ female and one thing I find exceptional about the Rivendell models I have owned is that they have always been the most comfortable of my bikes. And, these are production models, not customs. But that’s my experience and I love the Rivendell products. If I was rich, I’m sure I’d buy more from them. Good luck with your search.

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