Riding Fast is Fun!

The cycling community sometimes seems to fall into two camps: Those who emulate racing, and those who don’t care the least about racing and performance.

On the one side, you have the mainstream bike industry, who finds it easy to sell racing bikes to anybody interested in cycling for recreation and sport. What used to be “racing bikes” today are called “performance bikes” to make them appealing to a wider audience. The result is novice riders wobbling along bicycle trails on entry-level carbon bikes, which are stable only above 20 mph, a speed most of them rarely reach.

On the other side are advocates like Grant Petersen, whose recent book addresses the pernicious influences of racing on our cycling culture. Through his company, Rivendell Bicycle Works, Grant offers an alternative vision of riders in seersucker cotton shirts on bikes with double top tubes. Every person should be able to go out and ride, but the focus is not on speed and performance.

As so often, both camps have valid points. Grant is right: The racing bikes that are peddled by much of the bike industry are a poor choice for most riders. But the riders who buy them do so for a reason: Riding fast is fun! Sensing the bike accelerate as you increase the pressure. Climbing a hill at speed, soaring like an eagle on an updraft as you see the valley recede below. Feeling your body working at its maximum. Taking a corner close to the limit and having the g force push you into the saddle.

These are the same sensations that made riding a bike when you were a child so joyous. Now these sensations are greatly magnified. It’s like a roller coaster, which recreates the sensations of playground slides and swings, to the nth power.

Long-time readers of this blog know that you shouldn’t have to choose between performance and versatility. Fast bikes can be sensible and comfortable. A performance bike can be equipped with wide tires, fenders, lights and the ability to carry some luggage. Riders can wear clothing that allows them to pedal hard, yet does not make them look so conspicuous. And the faster you ride, the further you can go to explore interesting places and “smell the roses.”

Car enthusiasts long ago stopped being limited by the false dichotomy of “sensible” vs. “fun”. Today, you can get sensible sedans and even wagons with the performance and handling of sports cars. Sporting drivers know that you don’t need to accept the limitations of two doors and two seats to enjoy your driving.

Similarly, performance cyclists do not need narrow tires and clothing festooned with sponsors’ logos to enjoy going fast. What they need is a bicycle built for performance, yet able to cope with the real world. We need to reclaim the term “performance bike,” as it should stand for more than just an entry-level racing bike.

Fortunately, an increasing number of companies offer frames that combine performance with versatility. A local shop in Seattle, Free Range Cycles, builds them into complete bikes that are relatively affordable. They have Rawland frames that appear to be designed for performance, yet are intended for wide tires and fenders. (I write “appear” because I cannot recommend products we have not yet tested.) Recently, they had a lovely Box Dog Pelican 650B bike, which is a great choice with a relatively affordable hand-made frame.

For those who know exactly what they want, Boulder Bicycles also offer excellent machines that are ready to ride. And of course, if your budget allows it and you are not in a rush, there are many constructeurs that can make you an amazing custom bike.

It will be a nice day when bikes like that can be bought off-the-shelf in every good bike shop alongside racing and mountain bikes. For now, they can be hard to find unless you know where to look. So when somebody asks you what bike to get, point them in the right direction! Riding fast is fun, and the more fun new cyclists have on their bikes, the more likely they are to remain in the sport and inspire others to ride.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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47 Responses to Riding Fast is Fun!

  1. Jeff Loomis says:

    For those that are aware of the options and are willing to seek them out there are a growing number of bikes to fill this niche. However, when new riders ask me for advice they are not interested in this direction because these bikes are almost exclusively steel. Steel bikes are perceived as old-fashioned, heavy, and slow by most cyclists. I try to tell them that an extra 2-3 pounds of steel is not going to make a perceptible difference but when they see all the “serious cyclists” they know except for me riding carbon, they want carbon too.

    • You are right – the weight of steel bikes does not make them slow… However, many affordable steel bikes are sluggish because their frames are incredibly overbuilt. Most makers use oversize tubing with relatively thick walls, even on relatively small frames, so you get a bike that is way stiffer than is ideal. Given the choice between a mainstream steel bike and a carbon one, I suspect I would prefer the carbon bike as well!

    • spare_wheel says:

      not all riders prefer carbon due to marketing. i prefer carbon because it absorbs high frequency vibration better than steel.

      • I like carbon, too, although my reason is that you can make it perform very well. There is no reason why carbon bikes cannot be equipped sensibly, with wide tires, fenders and lights.

        Regarding the high-frequency vibrations, the only thing that can absorb this well are the tires. Once you have the entire wheels going up and down, it’s too much energy to dampen effectively by any means. Even suspension forks cannot absorb high-frequency vibrations. We tested this at Bicycle Quarterly, but it also was researched by Dr. Alex Moulton.

        Moulton’s data showed that above a frequency of 8 Hz, his suspension did not provide any advantage. A speed of 20 mph translates into 8.9 m/s. That means you cover 8.9 m every second. On a rough road, you have about a bump every 2 cm, or 50 bumps per meter. That means that you’ll go over 450 bumps every second, creating a vibration frequency of 450 Hz. Even your carbon fork cannot absorb the energy of your front wheel going up and down 450 times a second. If it did, it would get very hot and you’d lose a lot of energy to heat! (Car shock absorbers get hot at much lower frequencies.)

        The secret to absorbing vibrations is to kill them at the source. The tire’s contact patch weighs just a few grams, so having that go up and down 450 times a second isn’t too hard.

  2. Jeff Day says:

    I have been enjoying & riding bikes for 50 years, and have been subscribing to your publication for a while now. The custom randonneur bicycles you discuss in your publication seem like a perfect bike for me, but are a bit out of my price range so I haven’t really pursued checking into them further. So thanks for this article about a contact in WA State that builds up some affordable randonneur bicycles. By the way, when you are talking affordable, what’s your reference point? $1500? $2500? $3500?

    Thanks for the great magazine and posts like this!

    Kind regards,

    Jeff

    • The components determine the price of the bike. So you can build these machines at various price points. Production bikes do have a price advantage, because they are assembled (often poorly) in low-wage places, and the makers buy the components at heavily discounted “OEM” prices.

      • Andy says:

        From the Rene Herse website: Randonneur Frame/Fork and Rack Lugged 650b $6,900. Can you clarify what you mean by “The components determine the price of the bike.”?

      • I was referring to “these bikes”: the Rawland, Box Dog and Boulder Bicycle. Giving a price for these is difficult, just like a Trek Madone can vary in price based on the components.

        As you point out, frames and forks are available at different levels of quality and different price points, but for most beginning riders, custom bikes are not really an option they consider.

      • Jeff Day says:

        Hi Jan,

        While it is true that components determine the cost of a bike, you didn’t actually answer my question. In your article you cited ‘affordable’ randonneur bikes. What do you consider affordable for a randonneur bike (not just a frame)? Please put some numbers to it so has some meaning, as I’m trying to understand what your definition of affordable is.

        Best,

        Jeff

      • I called Kathleen to find out about pricing: A Rawland costs between $ 2000 and $ 2500, depending on whether you want rack and lights or not. They don’t sell the Box Dog currently; the one I saw was a customer’s bike, who had bought the frame directly from Box Dog and had Free Range Cycles build it up.

        Compared to a Surly Long-Haul Trucker at $ 1300 (without fenders, racks or lights), that is a lot of money, but on the plus side, you get a bike designed for performance, and you can pick and choose your components.

      • Matthew J says:

        In any event, Andy, the Rene Herse is not a good benchmark for sake or argument. The bikes are made by two of the most established builders around. The lugs and bottom bracket are custom made for each bike. As Jan points out, off the shelf options are much less expensive. As are many quality fully custom and semi-custom options such as Mitch Pryor’s annual MAP Rando Project bikes.

    • Jon says:

      Jeff: The Rawland rSogn has been my affordable ticket to some features touted by BQ (light tubing, 650b tires, low trail). I outfitted the frame with sensible components that suited my needs+budget and have been very pleased with the results: a versatile rando/touring/rough-stuff/porteurish bike. If you’re looking for something like that, I suggest checking out Rawland’s offerings.

  3. Mike says:

    Sport bikes of the 70′s often meet Jan’s requirements. One of my favorite bikes is a Trek from the handbuilt days of the late 70′s. This bike is fairly fast and very comfortable. It accommodates fairly wide tires and is a joy to ride.

  4. BBB says:

    I believe that the best off-the-shelf mainstream option that sensibly combines practicality and versatility with high performance are cyclocross bikes. The weight isn’t much higher than the road frames (not that it matters) and there is plenty of choice in steel, alloy and carbon at various price points. Put some 35mm Kojaks or 33.33mm Jack Browns on and you’re sorted.
    Alternatively one could build (as I did) a bike based on a lightweight 26″,650B or 29er (carbon?) mountain bike frame with a rigid fork and spec it with road components. The only potential compromise would be a q-factor and the aesthetics.

    • You are right, cyclocross bikes do offer a viable alternative to “road” bikes. However, I wouldn’t recommend the Jack Brown tires for somebody looking for performance. We tested the 650B versions (same casings), and they were among the slowest tires we tested.

  5. GRJim says:

    Next time I track stand my race bike I’ll remember how unstable it is.

    Guys wobbling down the path don’t know how to ride it.

    • I like track stands, too. Track standing requires quite some concentration, so they aren’t really a measure of stability.

      There are many reasons why beginners on racing bikes tend to be less stable. We discussed this in the Summer issue of Bicycle Quarterly. A big reason is that when you don’t pedal very hard, you tend to support your upper body with your arms (“straight arms” position). Add to that the very short reach of many “enthusiast” race bikes, and you have way more weight on the handlebars than is ideal.

      Experienced cyclists tend to have a light grip on the bars, with their hands barely resting on the bars. Ridden that way, a racing bike is very stable, especially when you ride it at racing speeds.

      • GRJim says:

        One of my favorite things to do is ride said race bike on unpaved terrain. If it’s not difficult then a few smaller cogs will do the trick. If it is then it can be walking pace. Cargo bike gets the same treatment.

        Really bikes don’t matter that much.

      • You are right that the biggest determining factor is the rider. However, having spent significant time (>200 miles) on more than 50 bikes in the last 10 years, I have found that the bike really does make a very significant difference. I first realized this when a fellow randonneur told me that whenever I was riding a particular bike of mine, I was noticeably slower than on my other bikes. The “slower” bike was the bike I rode all the time, and the “other” bikes were a few old bikes that I rode once in a while. So I started riding the “other” bikes more. The result has not only been an improvement of my times on various course, but also of my enjoyment of riding. And that last factor is the most important one!

    • GRJim says:

      Of course when a guy rides the monster distances you do the criteria are much different from what I like to do. But then again I’d rather stab myself in the eye than ride a 600k.

      • In this post, I wasn’t talking about randonneuring, but about standard weekend rides. Even for those, the choices available at most bike shops are not ideal. Most of my rides are 2-5 hours, the long rides are special events that happen a few times a year.

        Going fast is fun even on short rides. Unlike a sports car, which is of little use when it’s stuck in city traffic, even a commute allows you to enjoy the performance of your bike.

        However, a racing bike hardly is ideal for short rides in the city or the suburbs. On the rides close to home, I value my wide tires most: cracks in concrete pavement, railroad and streetcar tracks, as well as frost heaves on bike trails are much less of a problem. The same applies for fenders: Often, the weather forecast predicts a 40% chance of rain, and with a racing bike, I’d stay home. On a fully equipped bike, I enjoy the ride, and more than half the time, it doesn’t rain at all. And if it does, it barely detracts from the enjoyment. Lights: I tend to stop at bike shops to visit with friends, and it’s easy to spend more time than planned. Suddenly, the sun is setting, and I am 5 miles from home. Judging by the number of riders on light-less bikes that I see just after dark all over the city, I am not alone.

        So in the end, the criteria aren’t much different, no matter the distance I go. I want a bike that is comfortable, yet fast. A bike that is stable, yet corners eagerly and with precision. And a bike that I can ride comfortably in any weather, and which can carry a bit of luggage. For a long distance, I might want two or three bottle cages instead of one, but that pretty much is the only difference.

      • Matthew J says:

        My nephew lives a few blocks from me and happens to work near my office downtown. He commutes on a Madone and I on a custom 650b poteur style bike.

        We switch rides every now and then. While i cancertainly appreciate what Trek is trying to do with the Madone, delivering a pleasant ride on poorly maintained city streets is not a priority. It would not surprise me to see a less experienced rider unnerved by the vibrations overcompensate.

        Chicago traffic conditions as they are, commute times on either bike are largely the same.

      • GRJim says:

        You are from the one bike for all camp then. Closer to home I prefer my cargo bike; the race bike is good from anywhere to one hour to six, so I’m covered.

        There are different ways to approach the same problems; if I leaved in Seattle and made frequent stops over hilly terrain your approach might work for me, but anyway to bottom line it it is about rider ability/comfort over x distance coupled with needs which are highly variable. To each their own.

      • To each their own.

        I agree totally! Whatever works… The post was about the polarization of “racer wannabe” vs. “alternative cyclist” – I think that polarization is needless and harmful. Even alternative cyclists enjoy going fast. And many “racer wannabes” are pushed into that camp because of a lack of alternatives for “go-fast” bikes.

  6. Conrad says:

    I’ll echo what BBB says. I did some early season kermesse races this year on my cyclocross bike with 32 mm Paselas and I was able to stay with and even beat some riders that I normally couldn’t hang with. It could be a “Christmas superstar” thing but I could see them bouncing around all over the place on their skinnier tires on the gravel sections and feel myself riding easier next to them. The Paselas are not even what most of us would consider to be high performance tires but I think the extra volume still makes them faster over rough surfaces. I have come to favor a cyclocross bike with slicks over my road racing bike for fair weather commuting for the same reason. Until some bigger manufacturers can come up with a well designed frame/fork/rack/fender/light/wide tire integrated setup, bolting these parts onto a cyclocross bike is a good option for a versatile high performance bike.

  7. don compton says:

    One day I had enough( sore back, losing interest in cycling). I had some many bikes( Serotta, Specialized,etc.). I am 60 and I am talking about 9 years ago. A friend of mine had purchased a Romulus from Grant Petersen and, after looking at that bike, I traveled to Walnut Creek, Ca. and met Grant. I had a wonderful, long conversation with Grant and bought a 60cm Ram on the spot. By the way, all my previous frames were 56cm ct. It was a revelation. One year later, I road my first century ride in over ten years. Today, my main ride is a Roadeo with wide rims and 28c tires at fairly low pressures. Thanks grant.

    • The Roadeo sounds like a very nice bike. We should try to get a test bike.

      It would be great if Rivendell offered a 650B version of the Roadeo, which could accept truly wide tires. Otherwise, you still are stuck with the choice of going fast (on the Roadeo) or having versatility (on the wide-tire, but less performing, models).

      • donald compton says:

        Jan
        In my case practicality comes into play. We ride on many bumpy roads, but rarely unpaved. The 700×29 Grand Bois really works for me and I can share tubes with my friends.

      • ted kelly says:

        Why don’t you count the Hillsen as that more versatile but still high performing model? It takes reasonably wide tires (riv says 38 with fenders and I have seen photos of hetres and fenders on a Hillsen), and the ride is quite lively. Also the even sizes are 650b.

      • As far as I can ascertain, the A. Homer Hilsen is made from oversize tubing, and I know Rivendell doesn’t like thin walls. So the smaller sizes will be very stiff. The larger sizes have two top tubes. Since top tubes greatly influence how a bike feels, doubling the top tube will produce some interesting results. It does not appear that performance was a major consideration when the bike was designed. Bikes like that have a place, and I am sure there are many happy owners out there. I am very glad Rivendell is offering models like that, but I would not suggest such a bike as an alternative to a racing bike for somebody who wants to keep up with their buddies on racing bikes.

  8. doug says:

    My wife smirks when I mention riding my “performance bike” (a 1983 Univega with GB Cerf tires) because I am a big guy who never rides particularly fast and never competitively. I love it, though — even if I don’t ride fast, the efficiency of the machine allows me to go a bit further for a given energy input. And I love riding my bike to distant locales.

    Just today I broke a personal benchmark: I rode my first 200k. After reading your rapturous descriptions of Reiter Road in the Skykomish Valley, I decided I just had to go. And it was delightful. I wish it were closer so I could do it more often.

    I thought you might be interested to know (if you don’t already) that it appears the county has paved the entire thing. I remember you describing gravel sections in your magazine. Now there are merely sections of fresh smooth asphalt.

    • Congratulations on your first 200 km. Glad you enjoyed Reiter Road.

      What matters is not the absolute performance, but how your bike feels and works with you. If you chase absolute performance, there always will be somebody faster. But the enjoyment you get from a performance bike at your very personal speed makes cycling so special.

  9. Leaf Slayer says:

    Since completing the Cascade 1200k in June I’ve done only one ride in bibs, spds, etc. I’ve been riding a bunch, but choosing my Rivendell with its platform pedals, heavy racks, tires and luggage and wearing sneakers, MUSA shorts and a light weight hiking shirt. This hasn’t kept me from doing long rides, I’ve just been going at a different pace and with a different focus. I wouldn’t say that I have more fun riding like this, a good ride is a good ride. I do feel fortunate to not be caught up in any one riding style or “kit”. Most likely, come fall, I’ll return to riding in bibs and SPDs, but I really enjoy rambling in the summer. I have no problem riding distances up to 125 miles in this kit, even did a 200k brevet like this a few years back just to see what it was like. It was fine.

    • It’s great that many cyclists have several different bikes and enjoy riding them all. The reality of many recreational cyclists is that their budget (and sometimes, storage), allows for only one “good” bike, and all too often, they have to choose between performance and versatility, when they really could use both.

      • Leaf Slayer says:

        That’s true. Believe me, I feel fortunate to have multiple nice bikes. For many years I had a road bike and a mountain bike, neither of which was very fancy but both of which met my needs and provided me with a lot of fun. The nice thing about a versatile all road bike like a Rivendell or any of the ones you mention above is that they can accept different tires and swapping pedals is no big deal. MKS sneaker pedals work great and very inexpensive. But yeah, I’m fortunate and well aware of it.

  10. Ted says:

    Last weekend I rode just under 100km on my custom Terraferma brevet bike, with 650B Pacenti Pari Moto tires, Honjo fenders, Schmidt dyno hub, and a Berthoud front bag that was pretty much empty except for food, tube, patch kit and phone. It’s a lightweight build with a Herse crank, SRAM Red derailers (and cassette) w/down tube friction shifters, Tioga platform pedals and my new Teva sneakers (not particularly light). It was a solo ride involving a warm SW wind and a few hills.

    This weekend I rode just over 100km on my custom Riv Road which at the time it was built was one of the lightest frames Grant had spec’d. The frame is a bit heavier than the Terraferma, but the fork is lighter. It’s shod with Gran Bois Cerf Blue tires and has a Campy Daytona group, Crank Bros Ti pedals and Adidas classic shoes with cf soles – it’s definitely my “fast” bike. I rode almost the same route, but added a trip up to the Holy Hill cathedral and a longer route home. I did the ride with a friend who is well matched (we did the whole brevet series together this year), and it was a lovely summer day with a blustery NW wind.

    My average speed on the brevet bike was 1.5 km/h faster than on the “race” bike. The difference? Riding alone I pushed myself harder (visible in the heart rate trace), while today we enjoyed the beautiful weather a bit more.

    I wouldn’t call myself “fast” in either case, but I’m not pokey, and I had a lot of fun both rides. Being able to enjoy 100km of Wisconsin farm land and be home in time to eat a big lunch, mow the lawn and take a trip to REI with my daughter makes for a pleasurable day.

  11. ted kelly says:

    Jan writes: “As far as I can ascertain, the A. Homer Hilsen is made from oversize tubing, and I know Rivendell doesn’t like thin walls. So the smaller sizes will be very stiff.”, and “It does not appear that performance was a major consideration when the bike was designed.”

    I think the Rodeo is also built with oversized tubing, and I think the Hillsens tubes are lighter than the rest of Rivs models (asside from the Rodeo). Since the fork blades are cantilevered and the rest of a frame is not, its hard to see how a slightly larger diameter tube in the main triangle is going to have more than a tertiary effect on ride quality.

    Also it seems that performance and flexibility were the primary design considerations for the Hillsens. Hence it is the second lightest tubed bike they sell, yet still accommodates 40mm tires. Why do you conclude that performance was not a “primary design consideration”?

    • My concerns about many overbuilt frames is that they are too stiff – they don’t feel “lively” for most riders. It’s not an issue of comfort, but of performance. Whether the A. Homer Hilsen is overbuilt or not is hard to say without having ridden one.

      • The intent of this blog post was not to discuss which bikes offer performance and which versatility – refer to Bicycle Quarterly’s bike tests for that – but instead point out that riders who buy racing bikes do so for a reason. They want to go fast. They may be interested in versatile bikes, but not at the expense of performance.

        There are many other ways of cycling out there that don’t stress performance, which are equally valid. Everybody choses the way they ride, and it should be the bike industry’s job to provide bikes for all these different ways of riding. And if we want to keep people cycling long-term, the bikes sold to them ideally would exceed expectations, rather than falling short of what their owners want and need.

  12. Brian says:

    http://rivbike.tumblr.com/archive Link to A. Homer Hilsen tubing explanation.

    • AllanInPortland says:

      Looks like your URL was truncated. I believe you wished to link to the Feb 2011 one: http://rivbike.tumblr.com/post/3218082349/the-t-question-long-post-dry-reading

      Curiously, the only mention of wall thickness is wrt to the chain stays. My guess is they are 9-6-9, and the Roadeo 8-5-8. But that’s nothing but a guess based on my read of Grant’s style. The thing to remember is Grant is a burly guy. I didn’t realize how strong until seeing him on his book tour. Also, Riv’s most vocal supporters seem to be tall and/or heavy.

      That said, I’m neither tall or heavy. I bought a used Hilsen F&F off the internet curious about what all the fuss was about. Upon receiving it and seeing the over-sized tubes I had buyer’s regret and took my time getting it built-up. However, once it was built, I was very pleasantly surprised by how great it felt. Kind of made me a little sheepish over my apprehension. And yet, leaves me wondering what a true thin-walled rando-style bike would feel like. An equal amount greater to the Riv than the Riv was to all my previous rides? That would be interesting! I have a Rawland rSogn F&F to build up, but it’s taking my a while and the Hilsen is so nice I feel no great urgency. Regards.

      • Michael_S says:

        it is my recollection that the Hilsen uses 8-5-8 single oversize tubes. I read somewhere that it is the 4th up from the lightest in Rivendell models after the Rodeo, Legolas and Rambouillet. I rode a Rambouillet for a few years, it was a lively frame for someone of my build ( 190lbs) and riding style.

  13. Steve says:

    I’m a multiple bike owner though I have a keen interest in the do-all performance bike thing.

    After years of riding 56cm racing frames I’m now sold on the French fit (the Rivendell fit theory as well). My fastest bike – probably my favourite fast bike of all time – is a 61cm early 80s Moser, (Columbus Aelle tubes, 28mm tires). Though it has race geometry and race parts, at 22.5 lbs it’s not race-light and it has the handlebars about 1cm below the seat level (higher if I want them there) with the ‘fistful of seatpost and fistful of stem’. I’m able to be in the drops for 90% of the time. I think I experience planing when I ride it and it’s a fantastic climber. The bike just wants to go fast and is soooooo much more comfortable than any other race bike I’ve ever owned. I’m able to hang with stronger riders on long rides and I notice that I shift a lot less than they do, which I’m guessing has to do with how comfortable it is and how right the bike is for me (planing? maybe); It’s just more enjoyable to spin on this bike and feels faster doing so rather than my usually mashy pedal style.

    I rescued it from an LBS scrap heap. After the down tube repair and paint the cost to me was just over $200 (and was a fun, rewarding project where I learned a thing or two). My next rescue is a 62cm, early 70s Coppi that just needs some dent repair; I already removed the seized bb (I’m a shipyard welder, often required to removed seized bolts on rusty ships). Only the seat tube is longer than the Moser’s; the rest of the tubes are 1cm shorter and it has a slacker head tube and longer chain stays. It will fit 32s and has even thinner walled tubes (Columbus SL.. maybe too thin for the frame size according to some informed sources). The build plan is for multi range gearing with a TA Pro 5 Vis and other light, vintage parts (even bought a rubber chainstay slap thing for it from Compass to give it that classy Toei vibe). Here’s hoping it works well for me… if not I’ll at least learn something.

    I’m totally sold on classic fit theories, fatter tires, and all the other versatility and comfort factors I read about on this blog and the Rivendell site. If or when I ever do commission a custom build I’m hoping to be well informed to really get my money’s worth.

    Whenever I’m asked for bike buying advice from a non-rider the best I can do, given what is available where I live and given the prices for entry level bikes, is to steer the buyer toward a hybrid (or heavy city bike if they don’t care about weight) for all-round versatility. Most are intimidated or misinformed about drop bars and want an upright bar for commuting and general fitness riding. At least I’m usually able to convince them not to opt for a mtn bike with cheap suspension (unless they want to do off roading). I wish there were more options for fast all rounders because I know the buyers would enjoy them and become more frequent riders if they just got over their notions about race bikes, drop bars, etc. I’m not a fan of hybrids style-wise but at least it gets them started.

    – Rolly

    • The Coppi sounds like another neat project. Columbus SL is not all that lightweight, so your Coppi should be fine. I am a bit smaller, but my new bike uses tubes that have 0.4 mm walls in the “bellies”, versus the 0.6 mm walls of Columbus SL.

      If or when I ever do commission a custom build I’m hoping to be well informed to really get my money’s worth.

      I think that cannot be stressed too much. Experimenting like you are really allows you to dial in your fit and what kind of ride characteristics you want.

  14. Chris Lampe says:

    Jan,
    I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and I really enjoy reading your analysis and opinions. Being a super-clydesdale (375 lbs) I find myself wondering, do you have any thoughts on whether a bike could be built that allows a guy my size to experience the ride quality you advocate? Can a tubing set that is built to support a guy my size retain enough flex to yield the same results as more normal sized people on high quality tubing?

    • In theory, it should be easy to make a frame that is flexible enough for your weight. Unlike small, light riders, who might find that the lightest, most flexible tubing still is too stiff for them, you’ll need more stout tubing, probably in oversize diameters. The only problem I can see is that there isn’t much experience in this arena. Bikes for “average racer-types” can rely on more than a century of experience.

  15. Franklyn Wu says:

    in 2006 and 2007 my wife and I were training for a double century, and were riding a lot by ourselves sometimes in desolate country roads where service areas are dozens of miles apart. I remember carrying a hydration pack on my back for multiple 100+ miles rides not only because of fear of running out of water, but also for carrying food and layers of clothing (at least a wind breaker, sometimes arm and leg warmers) as the temperature in and around the Bay Area can vary greatly in a day. My wife was riding a Torelli racing bike and couldn’t carry very much, so I ended up carrying most of the supplies for both of us on my back. I remember thinking that I would appreciate some sort of portage solution, but were afraid of adding weight to Romulus, not the lightest of bikes already!

    Three years forward in 2009, I ordered a semi-custom Ebisu from Jitensha Studio and asked Jan for his opinion on wheel-size, and went with 650b. Hiroshi designed the frame to accommodate a lightweight front rack, and mounting aluminum fenders was relatively easy. I carry a variety of different front bag from Riv’s little loafer to Jitensha’s french-flavor front boxy bag. The bag became indispensable as we like to ride long and in places often without services, and we are vegans, and always have to carry additional food for ourselves, even on organized rides in fear that we won’t find any food that fit our diet restrictions to eat on the road. Later that winter in 2009 when I began my first brevet season the aluminum fenders became an essential, as the Bay Area winters can be very wet. But the Ebisu was built in a way such that even with all this added stuff (bag, rack, fenders), it still weighs a reasonable 25 – 27 lbs depending on the components. And the tubing selection–more flexible top tube, slightly stouter down tube, and stiff chainstays made sure that I can get in sync with the bike with relative ease and enjoy a lively ride. Now with all my bikes I aim to duplicate as many qualities of the Ebisu as I can.

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