Rivendell Bicycle Works
Builder Profile

About Rivendell:

WE'RE A FIVE-YEAR-OLD MAIL-ORDER BIKE SHOP for bike riders who prefer traditional, classical bicycles and parts and accessories to today's ever-changing high-tech fare. Sometimes people hear "classical" or "traditional" in the context of bicycles, and think turn-of-the-century highwheelers or '50s ballooners, or English three-speeds, or restoring vintage racing bicycles. Those are good pursuits, but they're not our deal. We just like to ride bikes, and are more influenced by the pure, practical, and beautiful design ethics of the '70s to late'80s.

Then, the cycling powers in Japan and Europe were mature, and hadn't yet been corrupted by power , and were not yet influenced by the need to radically change technology every couple of years in order to increase sales in a flat market. There was variety and healthy competition, and the best of the new designs were refinements of already excellent ones. We took it for granted at the time, but have come to appreciate it now.

We offer gear for cyclists who can't relate to the aggressive, thrill-seeking and/or body-shaping approach that passes as normal today. Our bikes are designed and built to withstand a lifetime of long, hard, fast riding and racing, if that's what you're up to, but we don't go out of our way to appeal to the rambunctious, speed-before-all crowd. It isn't us versus them, or retro versus techno, or old versus new. It isn't niche marketing in the tactical sense, either. It's the same gear we prefer and ride, every day. It is not a "market-driven" approach, which is one reason we're so small.

As you look through our catalogue you'll see a common theme. It is simple gear, because bikes aren't improved by complication, and simple parts allow for more rider input. It is practical gear, in the sense that it fulfills a fundamental cycling (not just psychological) need. And it is proven - much of what we offer was born before we were, and even new items borrow heavily from materials and designs from the past. On the other hand, when something new comes along that really is better, we're open to it.

We believe the best bicycles are simple to operate, simple to fix, and simple to understand. They aren't black box point-and pedal bikes. Those kinds of bikes are important, and get a lot of people into this sport, and for some people, they're the best choice. But just as a point-and shoot camera leapfrogs the full photography experience on the way to getting you the snapshot, we believe part of the fun of riding a bike is interacting with it. That's why we like bikes that allow human input - manual bicycles. Compared to the point-and-pedals, they're at least as fun to ride, easier to service, less likely to need service, and more satisfying to use. For anybody.

Rivendell Road Frame:

Most of the changes in road frame design during the past 20 years have been subtle, but the cumulative effect of shorter chainstays, steeper angles, loss of eyelets, and vertical dropouts has made the modern road bike less versatile than a 1970's model. Still, it's no more raceworthy.
It's the easily overlooked, never discussed things that make the difference-the height of the brake bridge, the length of the fork and the distance from the brake bolt hole to the underside of the crown, and the internal dimension of the crown and the chainstays just behind the bottom bracket. Those determine the tires the frame will accept, and tires, more than any other single specification, determine what kind of roads or trails the bike is suited for and affect comfort more than any other component. So even though tire clearance ought to be a huge issue, in the design and purchase and selling of most road bikes, it rarely gets a mention.
Dropout eyelets are another thing. It used to be that even racing frames had them, but now, to save a fraction of an ounce and to present a "clean" frame, virtually all production makers have eliminated eyelets on their sporty bikes, so there's no convenient way to mount racks or mudguards. When you're out shopping for a road bike, you don't imagine yourself carrying loads or riding in the rain, but eyelets weigh so little and offer so much, it seems a shame to eliminate them altogether. Ten years from now your riding habits may change, you might be living in Seattle, you mightwant to shop by bike, or you might want to tourxand you'll be wanting eyelets.

Don't get the idea we want to turn your nice zippy road bike into a somber utility vehicle. No! You can have the features that increase versatility without giving up any of the qualities that make a good racing bike feel so fine. The Rivendell frame is as raceworthy as any frame, but it is so much more versatile than a typical modern race frame, it's like having another frame entirely. The most "radical" dimension on a Rivendell road frame is the chainstay length, from 42 to 43cm (except on the 26-inch wheel models). Those are long chainstays by modern standards, but they're the same length as the chainstays on the bike Eddy Merckx won so many races on, and nobody yet has found any evidence that he'd have won more races with shorter chainstays.
The Rivendell road frame is made from Reynolds 753 steel tubing drawn to our own specifications, and the tubes are heavier than the stock Reynolds 753 tubes and other modern superlight steel tubes. But the weight is well-placed: The upper down tube butt is 100mm, because the most vulnerable part of any tube on a bike is the upper portion of the down tube, just behind the headset, and the extra metal is a defense against buckling. A tube doesn't just buckle there without you running into something, but accidents happen, and a little extra metal in the most vulnerable place on the frame makes sense for a frame built to ride hard in all conditions for a long time.

The Rivendell frame has a shallow seat tube angle to keep your weight back, which in turn reduces weight on your hands and strain on your shoulders. Also, the head tube on a Rivendell is 15mm taller than the lug, which allows you to raise the bars higher (more on this below). This combination puts you in a better position to absorb shocks, and allows a more powerful seated pedaling than you get with a more forward position. Since the shallow angle shifts your weight to the rear, we've compensated with a slightly shorter-than-normal front-center (the distance between the crank axle and the front hub axle), and used longer chainstays to shift the rear wheel slightly farther back. The slightly shorter front-center with a longer rear-center is the opposite of most modern frames, which tend to be short in the rear, long in the front. Those bikes feel funny to me (Grant), but that may be the curse of having paid too much attention on too many test rides over the years. In any case, the best riding bikes to me/Grant tend to be shorter up front and longer in back. (Ritchey road frames are that way; and Pino frames are this way in extreme.)

Following are some other features of the Rivendell road frame:

* Extended head tube and fork steerer.

The standard Rivendell road frame has a head tube 15mm taller than the top of the lug, and the steering tube is 10mm longer than the height of the heaset calls for (the difference is made up with a machined spacer). These feature allow you to get the bars higher than you can with a standard frame (10mm + 15mm = 25mm higher). So if you ordinarily ride a 56 road frame, you can get the bars as high as they'd be on a 58.5 frame. A higher bar position has many advantages: It opens you up at the waist, so it improves breathing. It tends to lift an oversized belly out of the way of your pistonlike thighs. It brings the drops into a more useful zone, takes weight off your hands and shoulders no matter what part of the bar you're holding on to; and it reduces strain on your back. The added height on the head tube means you can't lower the bars as much as you can on a bike without the extension, but who shoves stems down all the way? If you do, we can make your frame with a standard head tube. But I encourage you to go for the stock arrangement-the comfort it adds makes a huge difference. (The taller head tube also has the effect of shortening the top tube by a few millimeters, but without shortening the wheelbase or front center.)

* Low bottom bracket.

Conventional wisdom says a lower BB makes a bike handle better and easier to control at high speed, and most people who try a bike with a lower bottom bracket, and I believe it. In BB heights, 10.25 inches is very low, and 10.75 inches is considered high. (By the way, the term "bottom bracket height" makes sense only on a bike with tires on it, since the height of the bottom bracket grows and shrinks as tires get fatter or skinnier. Still, some frame brochures specify bottom bracket height without a tire reference!)
Bottom bracket drop is the distance the center of the bottom bracket falls below the centerline of the front and rear dropouts. It is the first dimension I specify when I design a frame, and everything else keys off it.
To determine the bottom bracket height you measure the height of the hub (the wheel radius), and subtract the drop. In the case of a road bike with skinny 700C tires, the wheel radius is about 13.25 inches. On a typical road frame with a hanger drop of 2.5 inches, this yields a bottom bracket height of 10.75 inches. If you put a far more useful 28C tire on this bike, the BB height jumps to 11 inches-strong evidence that the typical road frame is designed for hard skinnies. The Rivendell road frame accepts a huge range of road tires, but I designed it with a 700c x 28 tire in mind. You can just as easily ride a skinny on it, but it makes more sense to wind up at 10.5 inches bb height with a nice 28c tire, than to be there with a racing tire, and have it jump up too high with the tires you ride every day. With a racing tire your bb will be about 10.3 inches-definitely on the low side-but most everyone rides clipless pedals these days, and the cornering clearance gained by cliplessness allows you to ride a lower bottom bracket. If you're still riding toe clips (as I do), then you're probably not racing, and won't be bothered by a slight reduction in cornering clearance, since you don't have to lean the bike hard and pedal out of corners.

* Lower standover heights.

For any given seat tube size, a shallower seat tube angle and a lower bottom bracket make for a lower top tube, and Rivendells have both a lower bottom bracket and a shallower seat tube angle than most frames. If you're between sizes and your fear of a too-high top tube is keeping you from going to the larger size, it may not be a problem with a Rivendell.

* Horizontal dropouts.

These allow you slide the rear wheel far back for added fender clearance, or tire clearance at the chainstays. Or you can adjust the screws all the way forward to shorten the wheel base and make the bike turn quicker. The listed chainstay lengths are to the center of the dropout. But screwing in and out the adjusters, you can can lengthen or shorten it by 10mm or so. Vertical dropouts make the most sense on mountain bikes, but the main reasons they've taken over on road bikes are index shifting's requirement that the hub axle-to-derailleur relationship be limited to a short range. This has even caused the extinction of those nice, long horizontal dropouts that allow you to vary the wheelbase by almost an inch. An equally dubious reason for verticals on road bikes is that many chainstays have gotten so absurdly short that you can't slide the wheel forward to remove it, because it hits the back of the seat tube. A vertical lets it drop straight down without moving forward. All dropouts are forged carbon steel, made in Italy by Tecnociclo. Tecnociclo also makes Campagnolo dropouts, and we settled on these only after having tested six candidates metallugically to determine the best material for this application. There are other nice dropouts, of course, but none have Tecnociclo's combination of strength, history, and style.

* Clearance for 35C tires, or 32C tires with fenders.

Many modern road bikes are compromised off the race course because they don't have clearance for tires larger than 700x28, and sometimes they don't even clear those. Rivendell road frames fit tires up to 700C x 35, so you can ride them not only on any road, but most fire trails, too. There are so many benefits to a little extra volume in a tire. More volume allows you to lower the pressure, which adds tons of comfort on rough roads. A slightly softer tire is probably faster than a skinny hard one on rough surfaces, too, because the tire deforms when it hits a bump and rolls right on over it, whereas a hard skinny tire will bounce up. Another benefit of higher volume tires is their broader range of ridable air pressures. A 700x20 tire needs at least 110psi to prevent pinch flats, but a 700x28 can be ridden as low as 60psi (with some care), and a 700x35 can go even lower than that. (It depends on your weight, of course.) Who among us hasn't flatted in the rain, or flatted with a pump but no repair kit, and had to ride as far as possible between pump-stops? Even if you don't plan to ride tires that large, the added clearance makes room for fenders, or gives the wheel some wobbling room if you happen to break a spoke, and that can make the difference between riding home and walking.
The dropout eyelets make it easy to mount a rack or fenders. If you want to mount both, use a longer bolt in front (putting them both on the same bolt), and either do the same on the rear, or use a Blackburn Custom eyelet, made expressly for the purpose of fitting racks or fenders on eyeletless dropouts. They're cheap (less than $5), light (11g per pair), and we stock them. The chainstay bridge and brake bridge are tapped for fender bolts. The seat stays have internal rack bosses, already fitted with 4mm stainless mounting bolts. The bolts weigh 3g each.

Note About Toe Clip Overlap:

On some Rivendell road frames, when your foot is at 3:00 and the wheel is turned enough, the tire will indeed touch your toe clip or shoe. Dangerous? It would be if you turned your bike by turning the front wheel, but you turn by leaning. If you turn the wheel that much when you're going faster than about 4 mph, you'll crash way before the toe hits. Adding a front fender decreases this clearance further (as will a bigger foot or tire), but it still isn't a problem at riding speeds. Occasionally having toe clip overlap is an inconvenience when starting off, or doing a track stand at a stop light, but that's a small price to pay for a better ride. (It's not an issue on frames larger than 575)

Sizing Your Frame:

Think of your contact points with the bike-the bars, seat, and pedals- as corners of a triangle, with nothing connecting them-no frame, no seat post, no stem, nothing. Assuming you can straddle the frame comfortably, fit is just a matter of getting those corners in the right place, using normal-dimensioned seat posts, cranks, and stems.
It's easy to get the correct position on the lower corner (represented by the pedal at both the 3:00 position and at the low point of the stroke) and the upper corner (represented by the saddle). But the aspect of fit which most affects comfort is handlebar height, and nobody ever talks about that. If your bars are too low you suffer a sore back from leaning over too far; a sore neck from holding your head up to see, sore hands, wrists, and triceps from supporting your weight; and since your arms are supporting your weight, they can't relax and absorb road and trail shocks, as they're supposed to do.

To get the most comfortable position on a road bike means getting the stem as high as possible, and Rivendells, with their taller head tubes and longer steer tubes, make that easier.
For the same reason, (vertical adjustability), stems with taller quills are good. In the world of stem quills, 125mm is short, 135mm is average, 140mm plus is long). Higher bars aren't always better, just usually. If you climb hills off the saddle, the bars should be low enough so that your arms are fairly straight, otherwise they'll get tired faster. That's more a problem when the bars are really high, though.

Small bikes & wheel sizes:

The smallest bike I'm able to design with a 700c wheel is a 52, center to top. Below that, I go to 26-inch wheels. Wheel diameter it the issue. A 700c wheel has a nominal diameter of 675 to 685mm. Small frames generally have shorter top tubes, many small-bike riders need short top tubes, and that's the problem. When you design in a short top tube, the 700c wheel hits the downtube. The usual "solutions" are all bad, and include (1) steepen the seat tube angle, thus keeping the top tube short on paper, but pushing everything forward (bad) so the wheel clears the downtube; (2) Slacken the head tube, to push the wheel forward. Usually this means a sub-72-degree head tube angle, and that compromises the way the bike handles; (3) Raise the bottom bracket to "lift" the downtube off the front wheel. Many 19-inch frames in the mid 1980s came with 11 3/4 to 12-inch bottom brackets! Short riders should have lower bottom brackets, if anything; (4) A combination of (1, 2, 3). I'm not saying it's impossible to design a great 48cm frame with a short top tube, just that it's beyond me, and I've never seen anybody else succeed. The big wheel just doesn't fit! The best solution is to go with a 26-inch wheel. That's what I've done, and it allows me to design the frame to fit the rider, not the wheel. Ritchey and Continental and Specialized make fast road tires in this size. Tubes are available all over.

Custom Frames start at $1200.

There are some things we won't do: internal cables, braze-on front derailleurs, wacky geometry. But if your body requires something unusual geometrically-a shorter top tube, a longer one, longer chainstays-let's talk.

Rivendell All-Rounder:

This is our most versatile frame, but unlike most things so versatile, it excels at and is probably the best choice for most of the riding most people do most of the time. When you build it up in a typical fashion, with either Moustache or drop handlebars and bar-end shifters, it is clearly neither a conventional road or mountain bike. And because of that many people look at it for the first time and call it a "hybrid." But "hybrid" is a modern term most often applied to fat 700c-wheel bikes with straight bars, whose original reason for being, and this is the truth, was to escape the high import duties leveled on fat 26-inch wheel bikes. This bike is not in that group.
Our All-Rounder's most recent inspiration was the Bridgestone XO-1, made in both 1992 and 1993. But the XO-1 itself was modeled after the French 650B-wheeled touring and the British "rough stuff" bikes. These practical breeds go back at least 50 years. I thought the XO-1 would revolutionize the concept of "hybrid" bikes, but instead it became a cult bike and a symbol for not fitting in. I don't understand why this style frame is so hard to sell-it's pretty much a light road frame dimensioned to fit the widely available 26-inch mountain bike-sized tires &wheels, and has enough strength to handle anything short of the most abusive off-road riding.
The combination of road geometry and 26-inch mountain bike-sized wheels lets a lot of wonderful things happen. The 26-inch wheels are especially important on sub-52cm frames . A 700c tire with enough volume to cushion big bumps and carry loads-700 x 38c and up-is much larger in diameter than a road 700c tire, and you have to design the frame so that the tire doesn't hit the downtube. You do this by lengthening the top tube too much, raising the bottom bracket too high, slackening the head tube angle too much, or adding too much fork rake. By going to a 26-inch wheel, you get not only all the strength and weight advantages of the smaller wheel-and increase the tire selection-you can design for fit and ride, instead of designing around a big wheel.
There's nothing wrong with 700c wheels, of course, but 26-inch wheels are inherently much stronger and lighter, and offer a wider choice of tires, from 26 x 1-inch to 26 x 2.35-inches, with plenty of room left over for mudguards (with tires up to 26 x 1.9"). That's a big deal, since tires and wheels make a bigger difference in the ride than any other component.
Although the All-Rounder is not a mountain bike in the usual sense-neither is our Mountain frame, for that matter-a rider with good skill and only fair judgment can ride it all over mountainous terrain. (The World 24-hour Off Road Record is held on the Bridgestone XO-1.) If you don't currently have a mountain bike, you may find no need or desire to own one after riding an All-Rounder. And if you do have a mountain bike, you may still prefer to ride your A/R anywhere you go off-road.
The frame seems made for whatever parts you put on it, and everybody seems to have a special plan for it. With swept-back bars, fenders and racks, it's a gentlemanly commuter; with Moustache H'bars and midsize knobbies, it's uncatchable on fire roads; with drops and Ritchey 1.1 Crossbites or Specialized Fat Boys, it's the fastest commute bike in town. For some people it's their mountain bike, for others it's their road bike, some buy it for loaded, long-haul touring, some for city commuting. For a pure road bike, put on either the Continental 26 x 1-inch tire or the Ritchey 26 x 1 tire with a bigger big chainring, because you'll want it-the A/R flies on smooth asphalt.
And how can you own one and not want to load it with baggage and take it on a tour? No matter how many bikes you own, this is the one you'll ride most often, because it's so fun to ride and so good at everything.
Like our other models, the head tube on the All-Rounder is 15mm longer than normal, so you can raise the bars that much higher. And it has a 15mm longer steer tube, too--so if you're between a 55.5 and a 58, you can probably go with the smaller size without suffering from having bars that are too low.
We often have people send in a frame deposit undecided on either a road or an All-Rounder; natural, since out road is so versatile, and our All-Rounder handles so much like a nice road bike. The best way to decide is tire size. The road bike accepts tires up to 700x35, or 700x32 with fenders. If that's not big enough, get an All-Rounder and don't give a second thought to missing out on the feeling of a nice road bike, because you won't.

Sizing Frames:

Look at a photograph of Fausto Coppi, Hugo Koblet, or any pre-1970 racer or rider, and you'll see a fistful of seatpost and the bars nearly level with the saddle. Were those riders incorrect, misinformed, or uncomfortable? Probably not. More likely, they were comfortable. They fit frames so that the bars and saddle were, if not level with one another, at least a whole lot closer to it than is common today.
The trend for the past ten years has been to get frames too small, and this is especially true of road frames. The downsizing of road bikes may have come from mountain bikes or BMX or track bikes, and it may be some kind of reverse macho approach ("if I'm comfortable with a dinky frame, it must be because"); or it may have come from road racers who didn't want to look like high-bar tourists. Still, it may be an overreaction to the tendency, in the early years of the bike boom, to get bikes too big. Whatever the reason, it seems to be happening and it's gone too far. The saddles may be at a height that allows proper leg extension, but bars are too low and stem quills are too short to raise them, and so backs, necks, and hands are getting sore. No wonder road bikes make up less than 7 percent of the market-they're lucky to get that!
Despite various formulas and number-based systems out there, sizing is still as much art as it is science. We think the key to comfortable, efficient, every day riding is getting the top of the bars pretty darn close to the height of the saddle, and on conventional frames fit with conventional methods this is hard or impossible.

Two Steps to Getting the Right Size Rivendell:

1. On any bicycle that has the saddle at the correct height for you, measure from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle, parallel to the seat tube. Call this A.

2. Take your shoes off, stand with your feet a foot apart, and get someone else to help you measure from the ground to the bone between your legs. Call this B. Given these two numbers, we can suggest a frame size that'll be comfortable, efficient, and healthy for your body. There's a lot more to fit than frame size alone, but it's a lot easier to get set up correctly if you start with the right size frame. On the frame order form, there's a spot to mark A and B. It's near the top right.

On S and S Couplings:

We've only built a few S and S frames so far. That doesn't sound like a lot, mainly because it isn't a lot, but these are built by Waterford, and Waterford is one of the most experienced S and S builders out there; maybe THE most, but that's not for me to say. The point is, the builders who do our S and S bikes have plenty of experience, and the owners love them. My personal opinion of S and S couplings: When I heard how much they cost, I thought "why not just get a beater bike with that?", but then, of course, you can't travel with a beater, and you'll end up paying way more in airline fines than you did for the bike. Then later on I thought "why do that to a GOOD bike?", but if the bike is going to last a long time and be used a lot, you won't regret the high initial cost. I like how the couplings are made. They're machined from 17-4 stainless, something I didn't know until I asked, and I don't recall hearing that or reading it anywhere. 17-4 is pretty much the ultimate material, period, and it's not available in tubular form, hence the machining. It's strong, and a good complement to a good tubeset (although 17-4 is stronger than most frame steels).
The couplings need to be brazed on to tubes that are at least 0.7mm, so we use a slightly heavier one than on our standard frames. We use the same downtubes, though. We're always concerned with how the bikes look as well as how they ride (blah blah, who isn't?), and I can't say the coupled bikes look as nice as uncoupled bikes, but they do look as nice as I can imagine couplings looking, and we're very proud of them.

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Contact Information:

Rivendell Bicycle Works
1561 B 3rd Ave.
Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Phone: (925) 933-7304
Fax: (925) 933-7305

Here are our email addresses:

e-mail rivbici@earthlink.net general info/tech question
Grant Petersen: gp@rivendellbicycles.com Technical questions about the frames.
Allen Escobar: aescobar@rivendellbicycles.com Frame order questions.

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