Long-Term Road Test: Rivendell Sam Hillborne

First off, let me say this is not intended to be an objective “Consumer’s Report” type road test. The Sam Hillborne is one of my favorite personal bikes, I’ve been a devoted fan of Rivendell for many years, and they’ve been a major supporter of this website, so what follows is an admittedly biased and subjective take on my experience riding a favorite bike for the past 9 months. I’ll cover some technical details regarding the build, and I’ll touch on some of the concepts and priorities that went into designing this bike (as I understand them), but know that I’m talking about a bike that I’m enamored with for personal reasons that might not resonate for everyone.

Some Background on Rivendell Bicycle Works
Grant Petersen was Marketing Director and Bike Designer for Bridgestone Bicycles during the 1980s and early ’90s. His philosophy of bike design was unique for that era (and ours); he believed in building bikes and speccing components that were practical, versatile, durable, repairable, and timeless, regardless of current popular trends. He marketed their bikes with thought provoking, informative catalogs. Some of the bikes he designed during that era are highly sought after today. Bridgestone eventually pulled out of the U.S. market (as did other Japanese manufacturers), but Grant’s vision has been alive-and-well at Rivendell Bicycle Works since 1994. Here’s a brief history of the company as written by Grant:

From late ’84 to late ’94 I (Grant) designed and spec’d bicycles and worked on catalogues for the U.S. division of Bridgestone Cycle, Japan’s largest bike maker. Bridgestone closed the U.S. office after ten years of no profit, when the dollar-to-yen exchange rate plummeted to the point where it became impossible to even break even. I was 40, and started Rivendell with $89,000, a mix of retirement money, savings, loans, and money raised by selling stock to friends.

True to the cliche, Rivendell was in my garage for two years. Now we have 5,000 square feet at about $0.90 per square foot, one of the cheaper rents in town. We like it here a lot. It’s easy to get to, close to good food and riding, and it feels like home, except that summertime temperatures average 90F and are often over 100F, and winter days rarely get above 57F. We drive home this point before we hire you. We’ve been profitable two of the past twelve years, but cash flow is neutral. Sales are about $2.2 million dollars per year. We’re just breaking even, there are no top-heavy salaries, and we fret a lot during slow weeks (and months). I do, at least.

Our mission is to make things that wouldn’t be made if we weren’t here, to offer an alternative to racing-centric bikes and parts, and to espouse a different approach to riding. And to resurrect and keep healthy many of the better ideas, designs, and styles of bicycles, clothing, and accessories that we personally like to use or wear. If you’d like to know more, just ask. It’s not a secret business we have here. —Grant

My History with Lugged-Steel Bikes
I cut my teeth on bikes in the 1970s and ’80s. Lugged-steel ruled in those days. Even with all of the so-called “advancements” in technology since then, I still prefer a lugged-steel bike built with thin-walled, lightweight chromoly tubing. One of my first “real” bikes was a beautiful, traditional, lugged-steel road bike hand-built by Bill Davidson in Seattle, Wa. I rode that bike to death for many years, using it for club rides, credit card tours, commuting, and just about everything. It cast my preferences in stone and forever ruined me for other materials and design approaches. I happen to be a fan of Rivendell because, among other reasons, they’re one of the few manufacturer’s still committed to this type of bike (as they’ve been from the beginning). In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in lugged-steel frames, though most are being made by boutique builders in the upper price brackets. At least some of this interest can be directly credited to Grant Petersen and his efforts to keep this type of bike alive.

The Sam Hillborne as a Concept
The Sam Hillborne is what Petersen calls a “Country Bike”, a term he coined to describe a bike that, in his words, “is just a road bike designed for comfort and versatility.” He goes on to say, “It has 32mm to 38mm tires, fits fenders easily, can carry racks and luggage, but is still zippy when you strip off the extras. It’s a bike without racing’s influence. It’s not going to be the ticket for racer-wannabes, but it’s just right for 90 percent of the rest of us.”

I love this concept. In this era of ultra-specialization, solid, versatile bikes that are able to cross from sport to utility are few and far between. This hasn’t always been the case. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, versatile touring and sport touring bikes were quite common. Today, there’s an active used market for these old bikes, an indication to me that there’s an unquenched thirst for smart, solid, versatile bikes, free of design gimmicks and trendy “advancements”.

I’ve spent great effort over the years modifying various bikes to make them more versatile, so it’s a real treat owning a new bike that was designed from the ground-up to be an all-arounder. In bike design, it’s often the little details that make all the difference, and Rivendell has paid close attention to the details on this bike. Careful consideration has been given to things like tire and fender clearance, handlebar height in relation to saddle height, and providing the necessary fittings for mounting racks, fenders, and kickstands. But perhaps, most importantly, Petersen brings nearly three decades of frame design to bear on this bike, something which comes out clearly in the ride quality (more on that later).

The Hillborne is considered one of Rivendell’s “budget” models. Last year’s Hillborne frames were made in Taiwan by Maxway (Maxway is a well-respected Taiwanese manufacturer producing frames for a number of well-known brands). The current crop of Hillbornes are being produced in the U.S. by Waterford at a slightly higher price (Waterford is a high-end shop in Waterford, Wisconsin owned by Richard Schwinn, great-grandson of Ignaz Schwinn, who founded Schwinn Co. in 1896). Regardless of who assembles the frame, the lugs are Rivendell’s, and the tubes, geometry, and all other details are strictly specified by Rivendell. Rivendell’s more expensive models such as the Atlantis and A. Homer Hilsen have fancier lug work, fancier paint (yes, these bikes are painted, not powder-coated), more refinement in tubing tapers, and generally more detailing across the board. They’re also available in a larger range of sizes.

Speaking of sizes, take a look at the spec sheet and you’ll notice that the Hillborne is only available in a relatively small number of frame sizes. The range is wide, but the steps between the sizes are large. This is a trend we’re seeing from more-and-more manufacturers as a way to reduce inventory and cut costs. To compensate for the smaller number of frame sizes, the Hillborne is designed with a 6 degree sloping top tube. Sloping top tubes reduce standover height and enable a wider range of riders to fit a particular frame size. While I personally prefer a nearly-level top tube for aesthetic reasons (there’s that 80s thing again), I certainly understand the economic factors at play here, and I can’t blame a small company for making this decision. And, of course, if a person wants a more closely spaced set of sizes and a level top tube, they can always move up the product line to one of the Hillborne’s more expensive siblings.

On most bikes, my ideal fit is a 58cm. Since the Hillborne is not made in a 58, I had to decide whether to go down to a 56 or up to a 60. I wanted to run Moustache bars on this bike, and I also didn’t want a lot of seat post showing, so I went with the larger frame; I’m glad I did. Doing so made it easy to place the grip area of the bars in my preferred position at 1-2cm above the height of the saddle. If I’d gone with the smaller frame, I would’ve instead opted for Albatross bars (with their greater rise) to make up for the larger drop to the head tube.

Component Build
Pretty much every Rivendell is unique. They offer standard component builds, but one of the advantages of working with Rivendell is that you’re allowed—even encouraged—to spec the bike to your liking. They don’t use full component groups as you’ll see on bikes like Treks and Giants. Instead, Riv cherry picks individual parts that are a good fit for their bikes and their design philosophy. In the case of my bike, the component build is fairly typical for a Sam Hillborne, with a majority of the parts coming from Shimano, Nitto, Tektro, and Campagnolo (see below for the complete list). I have multiple friends and acquaintances who purchased Hillbornes this past year, and each one chose a slightly different set of components to suit their personal preferences and budgets.

  • Frame Size: 60cm
  • Crank: Sugino XD2 170mm 46/36/24
  • Chain: SRAM PC850
  • Cassette: 8 sp 11-32
  • Brakes: Tektro CR720 High-Profile Cantilevers
  • Brake Levers: Shimano Tiagra
  • Hubs: Shimano Deore XT
  • Rims: 36H Velocity Dyad, Silver
  • Tires: 622×33 Rivendell Jack Brown
  • Fenders: 43mm Honjo Hammered
  • Handlebar: Nitto Moustache
  • Stem: Nitto Dirtdrop 80mm
  • Shifters: Silver Supermix Bar-end
  • Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deore Rapid Rise Long
  • Front Derailleur: Campagnolo Triple 28.67 Clamp-on
  • Rear Rack: Nitto R14
  • Front Rack: Nitto Mini
  • Saddle: Brooks B.17 Special Honey
  • Pedals: MKS Touring
  • Kickstand: Pletscher Double Center-Stand
  • MSRP: $1250 (frame only). Complete builds start at around $2200.

The one major change I made from the stock build is the wheelset. The bike originally came with a set of Rivendell’s budget wheels, a compromise made to keep the original purchase price at around $2000 total. While it’s likely these wheels would’ve served me reasonably well, I fairly quickly upgraded to a set of bomb-proof, 36H touring wheels built with Shimano XT hubs and Velocity Dyad rims. I also swapped out the stock kickstand for a Pletscher double. My favorites from the list include the Nitto Dirt Drop quill stem which works wonderfully with the Moustache bars and allows for a wide range of vertical adjustment; the Sugino XD2 triple which is still the nicest crank on the planet for the money; the Silver shifters which feel great in the hand and impart a classic look; and, of course, who doesn’t love a honey colored Brooks B.17 Special?

Ride Quality
For me, this bike is all about the ride quality. The geometry is neutral in the best sense of the term, meaning there’s nothing at all weird about the handling (it still amazes that after all these years, so many bikes have handling quirks). The steering is predictable and easy, light in the hand without being twitchy, just pretty much dialed-in. No-hands riding is no-sweat on the Hillborne. The frame is long-ish on paper (1089mm wheelbase, 620mm effective top tube), but the front doesn’t feel long while riding. It took me a while to figure out why, and I realized it’s due to the 71.5 degree seat tube. Many people on many bikes end up jamming their saddles all the way to the back, with some even going so far as using seat posts with added set-back, effectively lengthening the top tube and slackening the seat tube angle. This is something I do on my Long Haul Trucker. But on the Rivendell, with it’s already relatively shallow seat tube and correspondingly long-ish top tube, the Brooks feels perfect when centered on the rails; there’s no need to jam the saddle back or sit on the back edge of the saddle to get the pedals in front of me.

The 60cm Hillborne frame is lively, and noticeably flexible in a good way. In this regard, it very much reminds me of some of my favorite old bikes from years past. By comparison, my 56cm LHT feels rigid, stiff, and even somewhat leaden. It’s not a difference in weight as much as it’s a difference in frame compliance. When hitting potholes, jumping train tracks, traversing washboard, or climbing up curbs on the Hillborne, the frame nicely absorbs shock; this forgiveness in the frame imparts a wonderfully comfortable feeling that’s one of the main reasons I still prefer lightly built steel frames over all others.

That liveliness and comfort comes at a price; the Hillborne is not as adept at hauling big, heavy loads as say, a rigid bike like the LHT. I run a medium-sized saddle bag in back and a small trunk up front; the saddle bag keeps the load near my center of gravity, and the small trunk up front is light enough to not negatively affect the steering. These bags limit my carrying capacity to what I feel is ideal for this bike, while still providing plenty of capacity for how I use it. While a person could certainly run a pair of full panniers in back and a cargo basket up front, I feel this bike performs at its best with light to medium loads (at least this version of the frame in the 60cm size).

So how do I use the Hillborne, and how does it fit in with my other bikes? I enjoy riding this bike for almost any outing that doesn’t involve carrying major loads or mixing it up with transit. That would be trips across town to visit friends, dinners out, coffee shop runs, quick trips to the library, fill-in trips to the grocery store, long rides in the country, bike picnics, and so forth and so on. My LHT is reserved for daily commuting and the big once-a-week trips to the grocer or hardware store that involve carrying cargo-level loads. And, of course, the folders are used for those times when a portion of the trip requires packing the bikes in a car or on a train or bus.

Frame Geometry

Model Size HT ST TT BB CS WB Trail
Rivendell Sam Hillborne 60cm 72° 71.5° 620mm 78mm 455mm 1089mm 59mm
Surly Long Haul Trucker 60cm 72° 72.5° 600mm 78mm 460mm 1080mm 65mm
Soma Saga 60cm 72° 72.5° 595mm 80mm 450mm 1075mm NA
Legend: HT = Head Tube Angle, ST = Seat Tube Angle, TT = Effective Top Tube Length, BB = Bottom Bracket Drop, CS = Chainstay Length, WB = Wheelbase

Who Will Find this Bike Appealing?
The Sam Hillborne will appeal to anyone who has a soft spot for light-and-lively lugged-steel bikes, but can’t justify the price tag for a custom bike from a boutique builder. It’ll also appeal to those who’ve fussed and fretted over bikes that weren’t properly designed for everyday utility use: in other words, bikes lacking sufficient clearance for >28mm tires and fenders, and bikes supplied without fittings for racks, fenders, and kickstands. And finally, it will appeal to anyone who prefers tried-and-true designs over this season’s Next Big Thing.

The Sam Hillborne serves many purposes well, from commuting, to joy rides in the country, to quick errand runs around town. It falls short as a pure cargo hauler, but it more than makes up for it with its lively, comfortable, and refined ride quality. It’s nearly always my first pick for those times when I just want to enjoy a nice bike ride, regardless of what I’m up to or where I’m headed.

Rivendell Bicycle Works

[NOTE: Rivendell Bicycle Works is a sponsor of this website. For more information about our reviews, please read our review policy.]

60 Responses to “Long-Term Road Test: Rivendell Sam Hillborne”

  • Sabinna says:

    This is not a bike that I’m all that familiar with, but it is certainly lovely when fully assembled in all it’s glory. I had the opportunity recently to check out a production of Hillborne frames–they were being painted at the same place I have my carbon frames done I was very impressed, and these photos really show this one at its best.

  • Jeff Lock says:

    So what if your review is a bit biased. I just love the way your passion for transportational cycling and the bikes that suit it oozes out of every word you write.
    My only gripe is that I wish I could keep my bikes as clean as you do yours.
    Nice review.

  • JEP says:

    Thanks for such a thorough post about one of the least understood categories of bikes out there. Steel lugged sport utility bikes from the 70’s get a lot of mentions on ecovelo but I wonder if you could give a few specific examples for those of us who don’t have 2K to drop on a bike? The more I’ve read your posts on the Sam Hillborne, the more I’m convinced that my 1979 Raleigh Sprite (for which I paid $100 on craigslist) epitomizes your description of a country bike for much, much less. Yes, a new Brooks saddle, full-tune up, and a few new components bring the price up to $500, but now your country bike will last forever.

  • RDW says:

    Nice job on that bar wrap, looks good.

  • Alan says:


    I’m no expert on which specific models are the best candidates for refurbishing (others may chime in on this), but I’d look for Japanese-made frames from any of the major manufacturers, made with either Reynolds 531 or Columbus tubing. Be sure to pay careful attention to wheel size and clearance. There’s a lot of junk out there, but there are also some real gems. Here’s an article by Sheldon Brown that covers the issues:



  • Alan says:


    Thanks! It was a fun project… :-)

  • Garret Parsons says:

    The bar tape looks great! So does the shellack. Does this come off with wear? I use a product called Futura Floor wax. It’s basically liquid acrylic and produces the same shine, but it oxidizes fast and needs to be reapplied monthly.

  • Andrew says:

    JEP – the LHT has already been mentioned in the review, but in terms of steel utility bikes on the market, I would definitely look at some of Jamis’ offerings. The Aurora is a touring bike with a similar level of spec as the Sam H. for about half the price, and the Coda is an even cheaper flat-bar option that rides really nicely (I ended up picking up a Coda Sport a few years back as my commuter/tourer after test-riding about 20 other new bikes and certainly don’t regret it).

  • Alan says:


    Thanks, Garrett. Shellac does eventually show wear, but it takes many months, after which a thin coat puts it back in near-new condition.


  • Bob B says:

    The Sam H is a stunningly beautiful bike – – made to look even better by your brilliant photos. I volunteer at a local bike co-op and the most sought after bikes are the 70s/80s Japanese and European lugged steel “sport touring” models. The cromo versions are the most sought after, but the 1020 steel ones are the cheapest and easiest to find. I just restored an 80s Azuki mixte that is lugged 1020 steel with a cottered chromed Sugino double crank. I’m into this bike $60 and it should last decades. Some of the brands are: Raleigh, BIanchi, Peugeot, Bridgestone, Centurion, Fuji, Nishiki, Miyata, Panasonic, Shogun, Specialized, Takara, Univega, and some Schwinns. Sheldon writes about them here: http://bit.ly/we55

  • Alan says:

    Thanks for the info, Bob.


  • Moopheus says:

    The Sam Hillborne is a pretty bike–I got to test ride one of the Taiwanese-built ones a week ago, set up with these huge balloon tires, so the ride was butter-smooth. Handled very well. If there were a disc-brake option, I might have plunked down the cash right then. Tomorrow I will be going to look at a Jamis Aurora Elite, no lugs, sadly, but we can’t have everything.

    I think your geometry numbers for the Soma are wrong–they don’t match what Soma has listed on their web site.

  • Alan says:


    Thanks for the heads up on the Soma numbers – major brain malfunction there… LOL.


  • bongobike says:


    I know handlebar selection is a personal thing, just like many other aspects of cycling. But I have always been curious about moustache h-bars and have yet to try them. Have you written anything about them? If not, could you compare/contrast them with drops and the Albatross?

  • dweendaddy@hotmail.com says:

    Great review. Here you outline when you use the Hillborne and when you use the LHT in stead, but you didn’t mention where the Loring fits in. I love hearing what bike is best for what, so keep it coming!

  • Alan says:


    “”…could you compare/contrast them with drops and the Albatross?”

    Sure! Like you say, handlebar selection is highly personal, so this is just my $.02.

    Albatross/North Road – The ultimate for around town comfort and heads up riding. Pairs well with a wide saddle. Limited hand positions cause problems for some people on long rides, though there’s also less weight on your wrists and shoulders which partially makes up for it. A great bar to use if someone sold you a bike that’s too small (an all too common occurrence).

    Drops – Nice for long rides because of the multiple hand positions. Also good for go-fast riders who need the aerodynamic position provided by the drops. On many bikes that will be used for utility and transportation it may be difficult to place the bars in a high enough position in relation to the saddle. Drops also provide less leverage than Alba/NR bars which can be an issue of you’re running a cargo rack up front.

    Moustache – In many regards they’re a blend of the two above. I find them comfortable and versatile, but they have to be set up correctly. For my tastes, they work best with a stem that has a short forward reach and a high rise like the Nitto Dirt Drop. When mounted on a more conventional stem, the reach down and forward to the brake levers is too much for me.

    M’bars provide multiple hand positions, but without the flat position on the tops. The levers are easier to reach than on drop bars, and there’s a unique position at the rear of the bar that mimics the Albatross position, but without the rise, which is nice for cruising away from traffic. My favorite position is with my hands cupped in the outside portion of the forward bends – this position feels very secure, provides lots of control, and places your hands close to the levers.

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, nice job! My Bridgestone xo-1 got the same treatment with the Brooks tape. Someday, I may even get you pics LOL! Oh, my Sam H would agree completely with your article, they are twins after all! ; ) Dougman.

  • Andrew says:

    To chime in a bit about Moustache bars, if you’re refurb’ing an old bike with downtube shifters you can also use time-trial style reverse brake levers that fit into the ends of the handlebars, giving you a more Albatross-y braking position and negating some of the reach issues you might encounter with traditional brake hoods out front.

  • Shane says:

    Nice review, and beautiful photos, as always. I was struck by something in your photos this time: You seem able to keep your bike extraordinarily clean. This is something I struggle with–especially riding in the city. Fighting grime and grease is not something I find easy, and I wonder if you might have some tips on bike washing that might be helpful for those of us who need it. I’d love to see a post on this subject.

  • Alan says:


    “Here you outline when you use the Hillborne and when you use the LHT in stead, but you didn’t mention where the Loring fits in.”

    The reality is that all three of these bikes overlap quite a bit. I use the LHT for daily commuting because I don’t mind beating it up. I use both the Loring and the LHT for hauling heavy loads. The Loring is my favorite for quick trips when I’m picking up loose items because the front rack is so convenient. With it’s step-through frame and IGH, it’s also nice for riding in and around pedestrians and in tight traffic situations. I’ll definitely be on the Rivendell if we’re headed across town or out into the country. And sometimes, I’ll pick one or the other just because I feel like switching things up a bit for fun… :-)

  • Alan says:

    There was a legitimate comment on this thread that ended up caught in my spam filter and deleted earlier today. If that was you, please feel free to post your comment again. Sorry for the hassle!


  • Alan says:


    “Fighting grime and grease is not something I find easy, and I wonder if you might have some tips on bike washing that might be helpful for those of us who need it. I’d love to see a post on this subject.”

    A few others have asked the same question recently, so I’ll be working up a post on the subject very soon.


  • alan g says:

    Great review, beautiful pics. Check your chart, it appears that all your top line categories should be moved over to the right one column, and the first column should be headed “seat tube height” or “size”.

  • Mark says:

    Hey Alan,

    Very interesting review. I am particularly interested in your comments on the sizing which led me to wonder how tall you are? I am about 6’1″ and find my 56cm Miyata to be a pretty good fit for me, but I have often wondered if a slightly larger frame would fit better.

    Thanks for all your great writing!

  • j. pierce says:

    Didn’t realize that Riv’s were painted not powder-coated. Seems like an odd decision; while I understand the choice of paint for a small builder working on their own, and for the small details like lug lining and filling, once you start to get into any sort of quantity, it seems the advantages of powder coat (durability, low VOC’s, limiting waste by reducing lost overspray, etc.) make it very attractive. What are the advantages to wet paint, and why does Riv use it?

    Totally jealous of the gorgeous bike. I finally upgraded from my drain-pipe-special mid 90’s dept store hardtail MTB this year, and wish I could have afforded a Riv. Went with a VO instead. (Although shortly after I bit the bullet and bought a new frame, a bunch of used ones that would have sufficed finally showed up in my area)

  • Alan says:

    @alan g

    “Check your chart, it appears that all your top line categories should be moved over to the right one column, and the first column should be headed “seat tube height” or “size””

    Hi Alan,

    Here’s how the chart looks on my computers:

    Is this what you’re seeing?


  • Alan says:

    “I am particularly interested in your comments on the sizing which led me to wonder how tall you are? I am about 6’1″ and find my 56cm Miyata to be a pretty good fit for me, but I have often wondered if a slightly larger frame would fit better.”

    Hi Mark,

    I’m 6’0″ with a PBH of 88.5cm.

    The trend in recent years has been to fit people on smaller and smaller bikes; this is due to the influence of road racing and mountain biking on other types of riding. At one time, every bike shop would have put me on a 60cm frame, but “modern” sizing methods place me on a 54 or 56, both sizes that I feel are too small for the type of riding I do. Undersized frames make it difficult to get the handlebars at or above the saddle height (assuming the saddle is positioned properly), particularly if the bike has a threadless headset.

    Regarding your Miyata, if it feels good and you’re able to get the bars where you like them in relation to the saddle, you’re probably fine. I’m on a 56cm Surly LHT which works pretty well with North Road bars. I’d be happier on a 58, but it’s not enough of an issue to sell the bike and start over.


  • alan g says:

    No, where the above chart reads ‘size’, the published chart on my computer, in your original post reads ‘HT’, and where the above reads ‘trail’ the original is blank. Confusing at first, though not too hard to figure out what was going on. But maybe it’s just on my computer? Looking at it again, I see on the original chart as viewed by me the ‘size’ column is above the names of the bike models.

  • Alan says:

    @alan g

    Sounds like a little browser quirk. I’m going to take a wild guess that you’re on an older version of Internet Explorer… :-)

    Thanks for the heads up!


  • Alan says:

    @j pierce

    “What are the advantages to wet paint, and why does Riv use it?”

    Wet paint is glossier and smoother, it’s available in a wider range of colors, it allows for finer detail and masking options, and it better shows off the frame details underneath. Disadvantages are that it’s less durable and more expensive than powder.


  • SFF says:

    I love my 60cm orange Sam Hillborne. My only regret is I waited so long to buy it. Great bike! Thanks Rivendell!


  • Saddle Up says:

    Nice looking bike Alan and of course top quality photos as always. I notice people keep commenting on how clean your bikes are. I find it relatively easy to keep my bikes clean. First, do not over lube the drive train! Wipe them down with a wet rag, followed by Pedros Bike Lust.

  • Renaissance Bicycles — Custom Tailored Rivendell, Velo Orange, Soma, and Lugged Steel Bikes » Blog Archive » What We’ve Been Saying All Along says:

    […] http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/06/27/long-term-road-test-rivendell-sam-hillborne/ […]

  • Moopheus says:

    “Disadvantages are that it’s less durable and more expensive than powder.”

    Also, paint throws more VOCs into the atmosphere.

    Interesting that you think the 56 would be too small–the one I rode was a 52, and I have a PBH of 88cm. But I’m only 5’10”–I have slightly long legs for my height, and slightly short arms, so the top tube length of the 52 felt pretty good to me. Any longer would have been too much of a stretch. (This was with a moustache bar, which I liked.)

  • Alan says:


    I’m surprised the bars weren’t too low for you. Curious, what stem were you using?

  • Moopheus says:

    I don’t know what the stem was, probably some Nitto stem. The dude at the shop raised the bars before I went out. The bike I’m trying to replace has bars that are too low, so I know what that feels like.

  • Pete says:

    Alan- Your reviews and photos have me seriously shopping for a Sam! (You do get commission, don’t you? ;-) One question – how did you get cantilever brakes on your bike? I asked Rivendell, and they said the current bikes are set up for caliper brakes, and the new ones due later this summer are going to be set up for cantis?

  • Alan says:


    “Alan- Your reviews and photos have me seriously shopping for a Sam! (You do get commission, don’t you? ;-)”

    Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice. :-)

    “One question – how did you get cantilever brakes on your bike? I asked Rivendell, and they said the current bikes are set up for caliper brakes, and the new ones due later this summer are going to be set up for cantis?”

    One thing you’ll notice about Riv is that they have their bikes built in small batches, and quite often the details and even the place of manufacture can change from one batch to the next. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as they’re always refining what they do, but it does makes specific models a bit of a moving target if you have a particular spec in mind. At the time I received my Hillborne, they were being manufactured in Taiwan by Maxway and cantis were the norm. While long reach calipers can be just fine, I personally prefer the extreme clearance provided by cantis. The down side, of course, is that cantis are notoriously fussy to get set-up just right.

    Let me know when you pull the trigger – I’d love to hear what you end up ordering.


  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    “My Bridgestone xo-1 got the same treatment with the Brooks tape.”

    Thanks, Doug. Just for the record, the tape in the photos above is Newbaum’s cloth tape with three coats of shellac, not Brooks leather.


  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, I know your tape is the cloth stuff, I meant the type of bars, shifters, and recent wrap. I
    often use the cork wrap (road vibration dampening) and I colorize the cork with brown shoe polish or old oil pastels to “antique” it and then I shellac. I like the Brooks leather too on some of my rides, however, it is pricey! I do find that the cork wraps, need a re-shellac after a few hundred miles. It cracks and gets a hazed look, but easily fixed. With the Brooks, no need to wacky shellacy! LOL. ( For the record: My xo-1 came with ram style bars and down tube shifters.) Dougman.

  • Alan says:

    @Doug R.

    “Alan, I know your tape is the cloth stuff, I meant the type of bars, shifters, and recent wrap.”

    Ah, I misunderstood.


  • Doug R. says:

    No Worries old friend! I am patiently waiting for Steve Rex to build my nice bike. I still need to think about paint colors etc. ( A good kind of anxious).

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Mother Nature’s Fireworks says:

    […] Long-Term Road Test: Rivendell Sam Hillborne […]

  • Tony says:


    I am 5′ 10″, and a half, maybe…..have a 32″ inseam on most pants………I have measured my PBH a dozen times, maybe more when my girlfriend is agreeable…anyways, I do believe to have a 90cm PBH, or 34.5″…….seems like I have longer legs than most, but anyways, was very intrigued by you choosing a 60cm model. I test rode an LHT and was surprised that the 56″ fit so well, and I just cleared the top bar of that size as well.

    So having stated all of the above, do you think I would be happy with a 60cm with Nitto drop bars? I plan on using it almost strictly for long day tours, self-supported or things like TOSRV, RAGBRAI.

    Great article and thanks for your input.


  • Alan says:

    Hi Tony,

    At 5’10” and a 90cm PBH, you have unusually long legs in relation to your torso. I’m wondering if you’re correct on the math: when I do the conversion, 90cm is 35.4″, not 34.5″. Did you, perhaps, measure in inches and make a mistake on the conversion? If, in fact, you’ve transposed the numbers, it’s possible you have an 87.6cm PBH, which would indicate a frame smaller than 60cm. The fact that you said you “just cleared the top bar” of the 56cm makes me think there’s a mistake in there somewhere; with a 90cm PBH there should have been a ton of clearance. In any case, at your height I suspect you’ll feel too stretched out on a 60cm LHT.

    At my 88.5cm PBH and 6’0″ height, I get the best fit on a 58cm LHT. I’m riding a 56 but it’s a little small. I could certainly ride a 60, but my preference is for the 58. If the Hillborne was available in a 58, that would have been my choice as well.


  • Tony says:


    Thanks for checking my work, apparently, my math was wrong, go figure!

    You know I have been trying to do a compare/contrast with all the “big” touring bikes around, you know the type, Rivendell vs LHT vs Jamis vs CoMotion vs Rodriquez vs Trek vs whoever…

    One bike I found on Bikedirect.com was the Windsor Tourist, which is just basically a Fuji frame branded a once noble Windsor, just as Fuji once was……anyways, just wondering, any reviews on it, for $599 out the door to your house, no taxes, no shipping costs, it is quite the deal. You have to assemble it yourself or pay about $50 or so for a local bike shop (LBS) to do it and that is that. Point being, this seems to be a pretty good bike for the $$$.

    What say you, have you heard any pro/con and/or know of anyone including yourself who has test ridden a Windsor Tourist or any Windsor?…

  • Tony says:

    Oh yeah, this time I will include the link for the bike……..duh!

    And please let me state, I would love to have a Rivendell Atlantis, Homer, and Sam, in that order, but $$$ is tight right now and that is that.


  • Michael says:

    Thanks for the review and great pics. My twin-top-tuber Sam should arrive next week. . .I’m going to camp out on the front porch until it gets here.

    What’s that thing on the front rack where it’s bolted onto the fork?

  • Alan says:


    “What’s that thing on the front rack where it’s bolted onto the fork?”

    That’s a Gino light mount from Paul Engineering:


    The Moustache bars don’t have a good place for mounting a light, and it’s nice to have the light down low anyway; the Gino mount solves both problems.


  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Bike Design and Sloping Top Tubes says:

    […] Long-Term Road Test: Rivendell Sam Hillborne(946 views) […]

  • Michael says:


    With the rear rack and bag combo you are using on this bike, do the backs of your legs hit the leading edge of the bag? I’ve always hated that, and have avoided rear bags that announce their presence every pedal stroke.



  • Alan says:


    Yes, the backs of my legs brush the saddlebag. This is one of those things that doesn’t bother some people, but drives others crazy. I happen to be among the former.


  • Chris says:

    Nice build on all of your bikes. Your detailing is superb and honestly, through expert photography you capture the beauty of bicycles second to none. I enjoy your site, thanks.

    I am thinking about a Sam and I am kinda b’ween a 56 and 60 and wondered what your saddle height is from BB, along seat tube to top of saddle?

    Best Always,

  • Alan says:


    “I am thinking about a Sam and I am kinda b’ween a 56 and 60 and wondered what your saddle height is from BB, along seat tube to top of saddle?”

    Saddle height (BB to top of saddle, parallel to seat tube): 30.75″

    Top of seat tube to top of saddle (parallel to seat tube): 7.125″


    PS – Thanks for the kind words… :-)

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Reader Mail FAQs says:

    […] Do you prefer your Long Haul Trucker or your Sam Hillborne? That’s a tough question. Both are excellent bikes for how I use them. The LHT is stiffer and more of a pack mule. It’s a bit harsh when unloaded, but it really shines with a full load. The Hillborne is prettier, lighter, more lively, and just a blast to ride unloaded or lightly loaded. It doesn’t handle heavy loads as well as the LHT, but it makes up for it in ride quality. Think packhorse versus thoroughbred and you have the image. I covered this in detail in my review of the Hillborne. […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » In Retrospect says:

    […] long-term road test of the Rivendell Sam Hillborne was the most visited […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Apples & Oranges or Splitting Hairs? says:

    […] at them from outside the little transpo bike bubble I live in, they really are very similar. My Rivendell Sam Hillborne and my Civia Loring seem quite different when looked at from my usually narrow perspective, but […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Rawland Cycles rSogn says:

    […] for tires up to 2.5” wide. The latest model, the rSogn, will be made by Maxway in Taiwan (my Rivendell Sam Hillborne was made by Maxway). Framesets will be $625 and can be pre-ordered online or through Rawland […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » The Moustache Handlebar says:

    […] only occasionally having a chance to try it on borrowed bikes. It wasn’t until purchasing my Rivendell Sam Hillborne in September of 2009 that I had an opportunity to give it a try over a sustained period. I’ve […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » A Few From the Archives says:

    […] Long-Term Road Test: Rivendell Sam Hillborne […]

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