Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen review

I picked up the new bicycle about a week ago, just in time for an unprecedented week of good weather. I spent plenty of time getting to know the AHH, riding over 250 miles. Here are my impressions.

The AHH is quite nice to look at. The blue and cream color scheme is classic and highlights the frame detail well. The lug-work is terrific; a tasteful amount of curls and points. The fork has a nice long curve. This is a nicely made frame and it shows. While the bike looks terrific, I am most pleased with how it rides.

My AHH is quick and comfortable. The bike is built mainly as a light touring and brevet bike. The components are similar to the more common Rivendell builds you see - Nitto randonneur bars with bar end shifters, 36 spoke XT hubs and Mavic Open Sport rims, Jack Brown tires, Sugino triple, 12-27 gearing, and a Brooks B17. (Special thanks to Elton at Harris Cyclery for putting this together for me.) This set up is ideal and I'm extremely pleased with how everything works together. The drive-train is quiet and the shifting is crisp. It's probably the first time I've been pleased with a geared system. The Nitto Randonneur handlebars have a noticeable sweep outward that not only looks great, but allows several comfy hand positions. The bar-ends extend back a little farther than those of other handlebars, which is really nice for riding in the drops. The wheels are ultra smooth, and the Jack Brown tires live up to the hype. Jack Browns look a little odd with their fat roundness, but they soak up bumps and roll just as fast as any other skinnier tire I've used.

The AHH frame brings everything together nicely with it's long dimensions and somewhat slack angles. There is a good bit of trail in the fork, which provides very steady handling - you almost don't need to steer at all. The relaxed geometry holds the road well. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the AHH is how well it goes downhill. For a while I've been skeptical of all the Rivendell hype. People talk about Rivendell bicycles like they are magic or something - lot's of people drinking kool-aid. There are many Rivendell-isms or token highlights. One of these is how people talk about a Riv being a good "descender." What? Gravity is gravity and all bikes roll downhill. How can some be better at it than others? Well, I have to say that I'm converted. I don't think I'll give up my clipless pedals for sandals and platforms, but I will concede that there are some special bicycles and Rivendell is certainly in that category. As far as descending, the AHH loves the downhill. Instead of holding on and trying not to die as on other bikes, riding the AHH downhill more like flying along hoping that there is another steeper hill ahead. Perhaps the only con is that this is not a lightweight bike. Mine weighs in at 24 pounds (without the huge seat-bag), but you wouldn't know it when you are pedaling. The way I see it, the added weight gives back in overall handling ten fold. I spent many many hours riding this week and couldn't be happier. My former skepticism is cured.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bird Update

A good picture of the bird and the two chics doing well

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cape Ann loop

Cape Ann is one of my favorite places to ride. It's a bit north of Boston on the north shore, so I make an effort to go up there once in a while to cruise around. In the past I've just used a Rubel map to guide me to the best roads, but I recently found a good cue sheet online that details a few new interesting routes. Last weekend Mrs Wheelie and I did a loop starting in the elegant Magnolia neighborhood and cycled out and around the Cape. We brought some snacks and a camera. It was great. A couple of things to note. Cape Ann is great for scenery with a nice endowment of coastline and elegant homes or with the hustle an bustle of seaside towns like Gloucester and Rockport. The area is not known for its roads - most are just fine, but there are a few exceptional pieces of pavement, if you want to call them that. Eden Road in Rockport is probably the toughest patchwork of surface you'll ever see, but the scenery alongside makes the bone-rattling traverse worthwhile. Perhaps my favorite spot along the route is a little detour as you re-enter Gloucester from the north east and pass through the village of Annisquam. You eventually work your way down to Lobster Cove, a narrow harbor filled with a mish-mash of working boats, house boats and other floaters. The best part is the continuation of the aptly named Bridgewater Street as a very long pedestrian bridge across the water. It's a very unique place to go on two wheels.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One Less Bicycle

I sold a bike a today. The converted Motobecane Grand Record fixed-gear is gone by way of Craigslist. I think it found a good and appreciative home. That matters because it's a good bike and someone should ride and enjoy it. It was a 1980's lugged frame of Vitus tubing and a Reynolds 531 fork. There was some chrome detail too. A long while ago, I carefully cleaned it up, re-greased everything, added a few new bits and found it to be a fine fixed-gear, as quick and comfortable as could be. I did my first 100 miler on it. At any rate, a recent purchase motivated me to consider thinning the herd. My bikes numbered four; some say that's a lot, some say that's too few, but three feels about right to me. The appropriate number of bikes to own is a complex issue for another time. Anyway I decided to get rid of a bike that doesn't completely suit me anymore. The Motobecane was a terrific ride, but it was flawed in a way that I could not accept. It was French - meaning having odd French-sized parts. Replacement parts are almost impossible to find. The best shops couldn't even determine what the bolt spacing was on the chainrings, much less find a replacement ring. Keeping this one rolling was more about nursing old parts along rather than replacing worn out rings and things with more durable newer parts. This is something that can be done with considerable time and effort. Though my bikes get too much wear and tear to make that trade-off sustainable. So it goes, maybe I'll have to find another oldie but goodie to bring back to life.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Bird

A bird nested on our window sill this spring, and we've been watching her. She's taken up residence in a window box that normally holds some flowers. Several weeks ago, we noticed two little eggs. Since then, we've been waiting for an opportunity to get a snapshot of the eggs. Wouldn't you know, the bird is always sitting there minding her eggs so getting another look at the eggs was almost impossible. I opened the window shade about a week ago to check on her and I noticed a little chic sitting there too. The chic mostly hides underneath the mother bird's fluffy feathers so it's hard to see it clearly, and I'm not able to tell if there are one or two chics. The little birds are still gray and lanky with baby fuzz instead of feathers. We'll be watching as they get bigger and more bird like.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Boston Brevet Series 107K Populaire

Earlier this year during the winter when the thought of “spring-time” riding seem relatively sublime, I made the decision to give randonneuring a try. Luckily, the Boston Brevet Series is local, so I signed up. Saturday was the first event of the year, the 107K Populaire. I watched throughout the week as the forecast for Saturday got progressively worse. On waking Saturday at 6 or so, it was pouring and miserable; this was going to be a wet day on the bike (thank goodness for my new and improved fenders). Things were still looking pretty rotten even as I arrived at the parking lot in Bedford, MA, and everyone seemed to express silent acknowledgement of this reality by staying in their cars for as long possible before the ride began.

By some stroke of luck, the weather turned around just at the right time. About 20 or so riders finally appeared. Everyone was thrilled to get started with the first event of the season despite the raw conditions. Just as the organizer Tracy Ingle concluded her ride explanation, the rain slowed to a light drizzle and it almost started to feel nice outside.

We rolled out promptly at 8AM heading for the turn-around in Sterling MA. I joined a group of riders moving quickly along as we pedaled over the first decent hill into Lincoln. Several miles down the road, the group broke up a bit as a few of us stopped to flip cue sheets and take a drink. We then worked our way over some long and steep hills through some orchards and farms in Bolton. We arrived shortly thereafter at the checkpoint in Sterling where a nice spread of goodies awaited us. The sun was starting to come out and the air was getting a little warmer. I happily shed a few layers and enjoyed a sesame bagel covered with peanut butter and Nutella, delicious.

No sooner had I finished the last bite of the bagel, than did a few of my companions from earlier start buzzing about heading out. About five of us grouped up for the ride back. I’ll stop and talk about bikes here. The variety of bikes present, something I had been curious about, was pretty wide - a few minimalist roadies, some touring bikes, a 3-speed, some classic-style randonneur rigs, and a handful of fixed-gears. Excellent, I thought, riding fixed (46x17) wasn’t going to cause a stir in this crowd (no silly remarks like, "it must be hard going up hill on that..."), and it didn't at all. So, the little group I joined was zooming along and I was definitely not up to spinning the cranks fast enough for that pace... it was fast. Whatever, it’s not a race. I was happy to ease off considerably and take my sweet time enjoying the sunny morning and scenery. The last 30 miles flew by. Eventually, another rider and I made our way up the last little hill before the final turn. We agreed that it turned out to be a terrific ride.

People were milling around a bit after the ride chatting about this ride, other rides, bikes, but most of all about food. Cyclists like food, a lot. Talking about food is almost as good as eating it. Everyone seemed to have a food philosophy. I personally like Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwiches – lots of calories, delicious, and readily available everywhere around here (but I didn’t stop for one this day). Everyone shared their food favorites. At any rate, it was nice conclusion to a good of day riding, and I look forward to coming back for the 200K in May.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Take Two

Great scenery on a ride yesterday afternoon. I remembered the camera this time.

The waterfall in south Natick.

Sunset over Spy Pond in Arlington

Monday, April 7, 2008

A. Homer Hilsen

A new bike is on the way. I've spent many months trying to find the perfect bicycle. For me, that means a relaxed steel-framed road-ish bike that has clearance for fatter tires and has eyelets for racks and fenders - a bicycle that I can take on roads or trails, on a fast ride or a slow tour - an all-arounder. The Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen fits that bill perfectly, but it's only produced in 57cm and larger. That size is just a bit too big for me, so I've been considering alternatives like the Gunnar Sport, Rivendell Rambouillet or Saluki. All are fine bicycles and achieve their intended purposes well, but none meets my criteria entirely. In my experience, Gunnar makes a terrific bike and is probably the best bang for the buck, but the Sport just isn't versatile in the right way. The Gunnar Sport can really only take a 28c tire with a fender. The Rambouillet has the same problem and probably won't be available until the end of 2008. The Saluki is nice, but I'd rather not add the 650B wheel size to my collection of 700c wheeled bikes. So I searched. Recently I called Rivendell to ask some questions about their sizing methods. They off-handedly mentioned they had a few AHH's made in the 55cm size this time around, and still with 700c wheels!!! Could this be a sign? More importantly, was I prepared to plunk down 1500 for a frame and as much again for components and everything else? To add to that, there is definitely a certain sentiment about riding an expensive retro-grouch bicycle made of lugs and fairy dust that stands firmly against modern and popular cycling trends. That's a lot to consider.

Despite the price-tags and cynics, I like the Rivendell practically and aesthetic; it's suits me well. I talked to my LBS and put down a deposit on an AHH in their next shipment. It should be ready in a couple of weeks. I only need to go and pick out components, and then it should be on the road. Just in time for some long spring rides.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Thousand Words

There is little that is regrettable about going for a long bike ride. Riding just about anywhere and in any condition is better than not doing it at all. Though going unprepared is not a good thing. For example, every time I ride more than a few miles, I take along a small tool kit. A flat tire or a loose nut is no big deal with the right tool. To that list of must-haves I usually add the cellphone, wallet, waterbottle and lights.

Yesterday I was prepared as usual, and decided to go ride for a few hours because I got out of work early. I took the long way home first through Dover and then continued north through Wellesley and Bedford and looped around the air base before heading back to Brookline. Great ride!!! The road is fast in some spots and meanders in others, but the scenery is good almost everywhere. There are horses in Dover, a small damn and a pretty bridge in south Natick, airplanes in Bedford. When I finally stopped at Spy Pond in Arlington, I realized I forgot something...the camera. The sun was setting over the pond and it was literally picture perfect. Though you wouldn't know it because I don't have a picture. From now on, I'm going to add the camera to the list of must-haves because there is a lot to see and remember on a long ride. If what they say is true about a picture being worth a 1000 words, then having a camera will make things a lot easier. I'm about 250 words into this post, and I wouldn't want to have to write another 750.