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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Practical Bikes

10 years ago, when Rivendell Bicycles was new, they stood for practical bikes. Bikes that could take wide tires, fenders, racks, but wouldn't actually be any slower, and wouldn't cost an arm and a leg because they were factory production frames.

Fast forward 10 years, and now we have a whole new generation of bike frames. Velo-Orange, for instance, makes a French Randonneur bike for $1650. Jitensha Studio makes an Ebisu bicycle for $1400.

By contrast, Bill Davidson's custom frame costs $1200. Put on a $300 custom fork and it's at $1500, the same price as a production Rivendell Rambouillet frame and fork! Carl Strong's pricing isn't that much higher.

I don't understand the logic of people paying more for a production bike than a custom frame. It makes no sense. If you want lugs, Bill's prices are $100 more, but for most people the advantage of going custom would be too large to ignore.

Today, when someone wants an economical bike, I point them at the Soma Smoothie ES. At $500 for a frame and fork with long reach caliper brakes, this is the practical bike that Rivendell no longer produces today.

And yes, I have test ridden the Kogswell P/R. It's not a nice handling frame. 650B wheels feel sluggish to me, and make the bike feel like a lopsided turtle on level ground. I think Jan Heine's taste is contrary to mine, and I am sad that the bicycle fashionistas have moved away from the quick handling, practical light riding bikes that I learned to love so much over the last 10 years or so, and I definitely blame it all on the pernicious influence of Jan Heine. Fortunately, folks like Craig Calfee keep turning out beautiful riding bikes just like the ones I rode 10 years ago, and judging from how popular his bikes are, these bikes are winning in the market over the fashionistas, which is all the satisfaction I need. Now if only someone made a light steel frame with that geometry...

7 comments:

ChiaLea said...

Yes, it would be lovely if such a bike existed. I vote for a 56cm top tube, 56cm seat tube, 73.5 degree head tube, and 43mm fork offset, as long as I'm dreaming. Plus it should be durable and comfy and responsive. And really light. And for all I'm going to find one, I should just go ahead and ask for a pony and bike shoes with magic retractable cleats.

Jim G said...

Hi Piaw, Can you elaborate on why you didn't like the Kogswell P/R? Is it specifically the low-trail geometry, or the 650B wheels? Do you think the bike would feel different if designed around 700C wheels?

Piaw Na said...

What low trail geometry? The Kogswell felt really difficult to turn, resisting leaning movements at every corner. The bike felt sluggish, as though it was a Schwinn Cruiser, not a lightweight riding bike.

Most of that is the 650B wheel's fault. You can't get tires as thin as 700c, so the sidewalls of the 650B tires flex more, and and the heavier tires have more inertia. Also, when you use such big fat tires, you have to lower trail, and I think the Kogswell does not have trail low enough to compensate for the stupidly sized wheels and tires.

If the geometry was sized up to 700c wheels, the trail will still not be acceptably low for my preferences (look at the design I posted for my touring bike for instance). Basically, the fatter the tires you want to use with the bike, the lower the trail you must use to compensate.

Ultimately, of course, all this is a matter of taste. I think Jan Heine has terrible tastes in bikes, and I am very sorry that he has so much influence, turning bike manufacturers who made bikes I used to love into fashionistas, who make bikes mostly for people to be seen on.

Jim G said...

Piaw wrote:
>>What low trail geometry? The Kogswell felt really difficult to turn, resisting leaning movements at every corner. The bike felt sluggish, as though it was a Schwinn Cruiser, not a lightweight riding bike.<<

Low-trail geo? Aside from the 650B wheels, the Kogswell P/R's main distinction is the low-trail front end. On the first batch of frames, you could choose one of three forks providing 30, 40, or 50mm of trail to tailor the handling of the bike for wider tires and/or heavy front-load carrying ability. See http://kogswell.com/KogswellPR.pdf

>>Most of that is the 650B wheel's fault. You can't get tires as thin as 700c, so the sidewalls of the 650B tires flex more, and and the heavier tires have more inertia.<<

What tires were on the bike you tested? There *are* supposedly lightweight 650B tires available from Michelin and Panaracer.

>> Also, when you use such big fat tires, you have to lower trail, and I think the Kogswell does not have trail low enough to compensate for the stupidly sized wheels and tires.<<

If 30mm of trail isn't low enough, then what is? Most modern road-style bicycles have trail between 55-65mm.

>>If the geometry was sized up to 700c wheels, the trail will still not be acceptably low for my preferences (look at the design I posted for my touring bike for instance). Basically, the fatter the tires you want to use with the bike, the lower the trail you must use to compensate.<<

Right, the theory is that wider tires increase pneumatic trail making the front wheel harder to turn, so lower geometric trail is needed to counteract this. The next batch of P/R frames include models designed for 26-inch and 700C wheels. I have a 700C frame on order, and I'm eager to see how differently that frameset will handle compared to my current cyclocross bike, which behaves badly with wide tires.

>>Ultimately, of course, all this is a matter of taste. I think Jan Heine has terrible tastes in bikes, and I am very sorry that he has so much influence, turning bike manufacturers who made bikes I used to love into fashionistas, who make bikes mostly for people to be seen on.<<

I'm assuming you're alluding to Rivendell here. Jan has apparently had little influence on Grant P., who has written or otherwise stated that he dislikes the French-style low-trail designs, which is why all Rivendells currently have high-trail geometry.

That said, I do agree with your writings about Rivendell no longer making budget-conscious practical bikes...although they are nice. A friend just picked up an A. Homer Hilsen that, aside from the price tag, seems like a very capable and adaptable bicycle.

Piaw Na said...

I don't remember the details behind the test ride. It was more than half a year ago, and Kogswell's owner set it up, and he seemed confident that I would like it. I didn't. It might have been that the bike had the wrong fork or the wrong tires. In any case, after the test ride, I definitely did not want to have 650B wheels anywhere in my garage. And seriously, I do not need to stock yet another wheelsize of tires in my garage.

I'm probably not going to be bike shopping for a while. The last touring bike I bought lasted well over 40000 miles before the brake problems that I've written about made it impossible. I have no doubt the new custom frame will go for another 40000 miles at least, provided it doesn't shimmy or do any crazy things.

In any case, I see no point in buying a Japanese-made frame when custom builders in the USA are more cost effective, and give me exactly the geometry I want. I don't know what market Grant is addressing, but it's not me anymore. As for the Kogswell, I'll reserve judgement on their 700c bikes for when I see the geometry. But it seems to me right now that Jan and I have severe disagreements on what makes a nice riding bike, so I'm not going out of my way to evaluated the new frames.

Unknown said...

Jeez, Piaw Na, why are you such a DOWNER? All your blogging must be going to your head... If you actually knew what you were talking about here, you'd be praising Jan Heine and the Kogswell P/R for emulating one of the great bike designs of the 20th Century, the Rene Herse...and BTW for under $600

So lighten up dude, and why not go out and ride one before spewing such negativity? I mean REALLY!
Peace, man....
MBB

Piaw Na said...

I definitely don't think that my tastes are the final arbiter of what is good. I didn't like the Kogswell P/R. And I didn't like it to the point where if you offered me one for free I wouldn't make space in my garage for it. Jan is entitled to his opinion, and you are entitled to yours.

The market suggests, however, that the geometries I like will still be ridden and enjoyed long after the fashionistas have moved on to the next fad (riding fixed gear off road?).