Birds of a Feather

A number of people have asked me to compare and contrast how I use my Rivendell Sam Hillborne, Civia Loring, and Surly Long Haul Trucker. Your wish is my command… :-)

Rivendell Sam Hillborne
Rivendell Sam Hillborne

Among these three, the Hillborne is the most well-suited for longer rides outside of the city. The frame is nicely compliant, providing plenty of shock absorption for rough roads and trails. It has the widest gear range which makes it the most suitable for varied terrain. The cockpit is more stretched out than the other bikes, and the bars provide multiple hand positions, both of which are advantageous for long days in the saddle. Rivendell defines the Hillborne as a “Country Bike”, a moniker I feel perfectly describes this back road beauty.

Civia Loring
Civia Loring

The Civia Loring is my step-through grocery getter. It’s perfect for toodling around town and running short errands. The front rack defines this bike. When combined with the double-legged center stand and fork-centering spring, it makes a perfect platform for picking up this-and-that as I go from one place to another. The upright riding position, step-through frame, and internal gear hub make the Loring exceptionally confidence inspiring for riding slowly when in close proximity to pedestrians and automobile traffic.

Surly Long Haul Trucker
Surly Long Haul Trucker

My modified Surly LHT is my daily commuter and cargo hauler. It has an incredibly stout frame with completely rigid racks front and rear. It will easily haul anything I can strap to it. In its current incarnation it’s 100% business with a stripped down, minimalist 1×9 friction-derailleur drivetrain, flat bars, 37mm Marathon tires with Chromoplastic fenders, and a dual LED headlight system. It’s a tough bike that gets me to work and back everyday with absolutely zero fuss. Of the three, it’s probably the most versatile, though it doesn’t do what the other bikes do as well or as enjoyably.

From outside the confines of the world of using bicycles for transportation, these bikes undoubtedly appear to be very similar. It’s only when a person who predominately rides for transportation looks closely at these bikes that the differences start to emerge. So while any of them could cover most of my needs with very little modification, it’s a real privilege and pleasure to have a trio of specialized steeds that so perfectly cover the spectrum of how I use bicycles.

26 Responses to “Birds of a Feather”

  • Daniel M says:

    I’m going to try to do with two bikes what you are doing with three. I’ve had a Hillborne for about eight months, and it is quite simply the best all-around bike I’ve ever owned. Mine has high-mounted drop bars, and I’ve ridden it in a double-century, toured from the Bay Area to Washington State and back with rear panniers and a front basket, and now use it as my daily commuter and grocery getter with the basket moved to the back. I’ve also ridden it on singletrack trails in the forest. “Country Bike” is too modest; I prefer “all-rounder”.

    I do still want a more heavy-duty, upright-bar bike to complement the Hillborne; I’m anxiously awaiting delivery of a Thorn Raven Tour frame, which is designed from the ground up to work with my Rohloff hub.

    Either of these two bikes, however, could be my only bike, and I think that any of the three bikes you are comparing here could be one’s sole steel steed as well. (Might have to put the granny back on the LHT in that case.) They can all carry loads and handle bad pavement or lack thereof. The second you sacrifice either of these two in the name of speed and lightness, you get a bike that is less useful for practical purposes.

  • Fergie348 says:

    Yup, they all look pretty similar to me. It’s like the kid who has a BMX race bike, a freestyle bike and a dirt jumper. To the casual observer, they all look the same but are intended for different purposes. I have three bikes with drop handlebars – go figure..

    It looks like Raleigh USA has created a bike just for you, and probably for a significant % of your readers: http://www.raleighusa.com/bikes/steel-road/sojourn-11/

    I saw one in the wild the other day and thought of you.

  • Andy says:

    I like seeing other’s bike breakdowns. Even within the cycling world, I’d say your uses aren’t all that far apart. The SH or LHT could easily be used for those, though I know we all have different preferences.

    My fairly standard cyclocross bike works well for me as a do anything sort of bike. It sees century rides with the occasion dirt roads in fall, touring, bike polo, and year round commuting too. My other bikes are very different, even in appearance to those that don’t bike all the time. I have a go-fast bike for the races and long weekend rides, a mtb for the really bad winter days and off-road use, and a recumbent.

  • Alan says:

    @Fergie348

    “It looks like Raleigh USA has created a bike just for you, and probably for a significant % of your readers: http://www.raleighusa.com/bikes/steel-road/sojourn-11/

    Yup, that’s a very cool bike.

  • Alan says:

    @Andy

    Before we started seeing more bikes designed specifically for commuting, cyclocross frames were one of the most popular choices for building all-purpose commuters.

    Alan

  • Tracy W says:

    They’re all gorgeous bikes and any one of them would be a pleasure to own.

  • twk says:

    Like you I have different bikes for different purposes. Part of it is the bike and the way it rides. Another part is just the way they are fitted out. My hybrid, which I use for grocery getting, is fitted out with the bike lock, grocery panniers, and the hitch for the trailer. I have a Bike Friday that is fitted out for commuting to work with lights and different panniers. Since it is relatively small I can park it in my office. Having different bikes setup differently makes it easier to bike more often as I am not constantly reconfiguring for different tasks.

  • Alan says:

    @twk

    “Having different bikes setup differently makes it easier to bike more often as I am not constantly reconfiguring for different tasks.”

    I totally agree. Being prepared and not having to continually reconfigure is an important aspect of successfully riding bicycles for transportation.

    Alan

  • Mike says:

    Since I’m one of those people who requested this post — thank you.

    I do have one little comment, though; one need not be “outside the confines of the world of using bicycles for transportation” for those three to look very similar. All of my bicycling is for transportation, but my current two bikes are a Van Andel Bakfiets (from WorkCycles) and a Redline 9-2-5 (single speed flip/flop). I’m either transporting my kids (looking forward to the day when they can do their own pedalling) or going places around the city. Your three above are all more similar to each other than they are to either of mine (the Loring doesn’t really look like a “step-through” to me — do you step through even when it’s unloaded?).

    Here’s a hypothetical question: If you put the same racks and handlebar that you have on your LHT on the Sam Hillborne, how different would the two of them be? It seems from your description that the latter is your “going for a bike ride” vehicle, and the LHT is your “transportation” vehicle, but to what extent are these things defined by the racks and bars, rather than the frames?

    [Apologies in advance if I’m coming across as confrontational; that’s not my intent. In fact, I’m trying to gather information in order to make buying decisions to fill up my garage. Sadly, the only transportation bikes I can see in person in Winnipeg are an LHT and a Pashley. I can’t even test-ride those, because one’s too big and the other’s too small. Thus, I look to the Internet…]

  • Alan says:

    @Mike

    “the Loring doesn’t really look like a “step-through” to me — do you step through even when it’s unloaded?”

    Yes.

    “If you put the same racks and handlebar that you have on your LHT on the Sam Hillborne, how different would the two of them be?”

    Quite different. The LHT is board stiff. The Hillborne is lively and compliant. Read my review of the Hillborne for more on this:

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

    “It seems from your description that the latter is your “going for a bike ride” vehicle, and the LHT is your “transportation” vehicle, but to what extent are these things defined by the racks and bars, rather than the frames?”

    The main difference is in the frames. The bars, racks, and drivetrains were chosen to match the characteristics of the frames, not vice versa. The characteristics of the frames are the primary drivers for how the bikes are used.

    “Apologies in advance if I’m coming across as confrontational; that’s not my intent.”

    No worries!

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Mona says:

    Alan,
    I am interested in saving up for a Sam Hilbourne. I understand that the frame in my size now runs $1400. I think that your component selection is nearly perfect, except I would opt for a drop bar. I looked at the review you posted with the invoice of a typical build, but couldn’t find the cost of your build. What would it cost me, including everything but the bags? Thanks.

  • Jay in Tel Aviv says:

    This is the post I have been waiting for!!!

    I commute 16 miles r/t daily on a late 90s steel MTB with 32mm slicks (SMPs), a large Carradice saddle bag w/QR Bagman and a small handlebar bag.

    I have the opportunity to tour around Vermont and New Hampshire for a week this summer and would like to buy a new bike for that. I would have to get rid of my commuter since I don’t have room for both in my apartment.

    I’ve been going back and forth between the LHT and the Salsa Casseroll – complete bikes as speced by QBP and pretty much drooling over the Sam, which is way out of my range.

    Which bike would you keep if you could only keep one?

    The other thing I’ve been wanting to ask you is sizing. I am 5’11.5″ and was sure the 58cm LHT wold be right for me. I see you are happy with a 56cm LHT and a 60cm Sam. Does that mean the 58 would be the wrong choice or is it related to the different way you use the 2 bikes?

    Thanks a bunch.

  • Alan says:

    @Mona

    At the time of the initial purchase, the build was just over $2000. A lot has changed since then, though. My advice is to call Rivendell to get a quote. They’re super helpful and I know they’d be happy to go over everything with you in detail.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Jay

    “Which bike would you keep if you could only keep one?”

    The Riv.

    “I see you are happy with a 56cm LHT and a 60cm Sam”

    A 58 in either would probably be better for me, but they both fit. What counts in sizing and fitting a bike are the points where the bike intersects with the body. The relationships between the saddle contact point, pedals, and the handlebar grip area, determine the riding position. These relationships can be affected by a number of factors including frame size, saddle adjustment, crank length, stem size and adjustment, and handlebar design. Frame size is only one component. See this post for more on this:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/04/11/bike-sizing-is-an-art-not-a-science/

    Alan

  • Jay in Tel Aviv says:

    Alan says:
    @Jay
    “Which bike would you keep if you could only keep one?”
    The Riv.

    I was afraid you were going to say that.
    Would you be comfortable on it in dense city traffic?

  • Alan says:

    Jay,

    Sure – I frequently ride it in the city. One of the main differences between the Riv and the LHT is that the LHT is stiffer, which makes it better for hauling heavy cargo (beyond commute loads). The Riv is a more pleasant ride. The LHT is a bit harsh when unloaded.

    Alan

  • dan says:

    @Jay

    Are you worried that your 90s MTB will be inappropriate for touring or are you just itching for another ride, or both?

    Most of the steel MTBs from the 90s are nearly perfect for touring (depending on the model, of course) and if you like the ride, you’ll be hard pressed to make significant improvements with a new bike.

    As Alan has said a few times, the LHT is a tank and is perfect for hauling heavy loads. The Cassaroll is made of lighter tubing and will not handle heavy loads as well as the LHT, but will probably feel more lively and be more enjoyable on longer road rides. That’s the classic trade-off with a do-all bike :)

    As for sizing, I’d say do your best to ride an LHT and a Cassaroll before you buy. That will give you a better impression. Just one more thought – if you’re going to be locking your bike up outside every day, the Salsa will probably attract more attention than a Surly with the decals removed.

  • Jay in Tel Aviv says:

    @Dan

    I think the MTB is a little small for me. I’ve managed to get (almost) comfortable on it with an uncut fork and 10-11″ of seat post showing.

    It’s a Gary Fisher with the Genesis geometry, which I reallly liked when I used to ride a lot off road but almost never do any more.

    If I do end up keeping it I probably change to a rigid fork, maybe the Surly.

    This site / community is a terrific resource. My wife is understandably not interested in the nuances of my deliberations when it comes to bikes.

  • bongobike says:

    Alan,
    I’m curious if you have considered testing one of RANS’ “crank forward” bikes. They have a couple of models that look like ideal practical commuters and cargo bikes. The Citi and the Hammertruck come to mind. I have tested a couple of RANS CF bikes at my local dealer and they feel very comfortable and stable. I think they deserve a close look.

  • Alan says:

    @bongobike

    I’m certainly open to testing crank forwards. I’ve ridden them, but only on short test rides. For any bike to be of much use for me personally, it needs to no larger than a typical touring bike. Any larger than that and it won’t fit in City bike lockers or on bus and (sometimes) train bike racks.

    Alan

  • bongobike says:

    “For any bike to be of much use for me personally, it needs to no larger than a typical touring bike.”

    Alan,

    Yes, I understand, and these RANS CF bikes are maybe five or six inches longer in wheelbase than your regular bikes. But many of your readers may be interested in them. Of course the cargo bikes are in a different class. I remember you featuring a blue cargo bike not too long ago (can’t remember the brand).

  • dominic says:

    Like Alan and the responders to this post I am fortunate to have a few bikes, each with a specific purpose. Lots of options. I also have two adult size sons and my wife who for one reason or another need to share these bikes. So on any given day in the summer our garage is busy with 4 bike riders choosing a bike for their use. We are fortunate to have the space for our 8 bikes that serve 4 adult transportation needs on any given day. In the city where we live it is easier to park and navigate on a bike than a car. It’s great to see the next generation riding. When the time comes and they want a bike of their own I’ll have to remind them to share.

  • John says:

    For myself, I have what I think is not an uncommon situation: a dedicated road bike for commuting/touring (a’06 Bianchi Volpe), a MTB for MTBing (a G.Fisher Utopia) & a hybrid from the mid-90’s sitting in the basement waiting for god knows what (a Schwinn Mesa).

    Alan: does Grant Peterson and Jan Heine’s shared assertion, that +32mm tires roll almost as fast as skinny ones, hold up in your experience?

  • Alan says:

    Hi John,

    On anything other than perfectly smooth surfaces, I’d say yes.

    Alan

  • Daniel M says:

    @ Alan and John: just came across this today:

    http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/bicycle-tires-puncturing-the-myths-29245

    Hopefully this doesn’t open a whole new can of worms!

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