Monday, November 21, 2022

Putting together my Roadini

 After I broke my Ti frame in January, I decided that I should get a backup road bike. Anyone who's broken 2 titanium frames in around 12 years should probably have more than 1 road bike. Or at least, anyone who was completely unhappy about having to ride his mountain bike around for 2 months should have a backup.

I settled on the Rivendell Roadini. Other bicycles that were considered were either a Rock Lobster custom steel frame (and fork), or a R&E cycles Rainier. Both would have cost more, and while a A Homer Hilsen was available in May, I finally decided against that as well, not because of the cost, but because it used 135mm spacing and I only had 130mm wheels.  The Roadini had downtube shifters and I decided that I might as well take advantage of them.  I've had a long history of liking the way Grant Peterson's designs ride, and even though prices went up to $1300, considering the bike came with a headset, fork, and seatpost, I was happy to return to the Rivendell fold, after I'd sold my Heron Touring bike way back in 2008.

While waiting for the Roadinis to arrive, I built up or scavenged the parts:

When the frames arrived, I had a call with Will from Rivendell, and after realizing that I was going to put a drop bar on the bike he decided that the 54cm would work better for me than the 57cm frame. I didn't object --- a look at the geometry diagrams indicated that the 54cm was indeed a better match for my Strong ti frame than the 57cm would be. I would have a lot of seat post showing, but it looked normal to my 1990s-trained eyes.


The frame, fork, and headset weighed 7.1 pounds straight from Rivendell bicycle works. The bike after having built up and hung with a bottle cage and a topeak mini morph pump  (but no water bottle) came to 23 pounds even. By contrast the Strong ti bike was 20 pounds. (The Ti frame with headset and BB is 1540g), so just the frame and fork easily accounts for the 3 pound difference between bikes!

The frame  came without a frame cable guide, so I had to walk down to the local bike shop in the middle of the build to get a guide. To my surprise I had to use 2 KMC boxes of chains (these were the ones with 118 links each) --- I had to extract 2 links from the second box and use 2 sets of quick links to stitch enough chain to wrap around the derailleur and the biggest sprocket. The extra long 45cm chainstay definitely meant that you needed all that chain.

Shimano's 11s Duraace chains do come with 126 links, but I'm boycotting Shimano chains for being directional, which I consider to be an unnecessary burden --- you do not need a chain that can be put together wrong. Rivendell does sell 11s 130 link chains from FSA, but you can easily find SRAM PC-1110 11s chains for about $10 each, so in the long run that's probably cheaper.

I adjusted the stem height and the saddle height, and took it for a ride. The bike rides really nice off pavement, but I spent the first ride on the bike adjusting the seat post as it kept tilting up. It wasn't until I got home and used a really long handled allen wrench that I could torque down the seatpost clamp to the point where it would survive a ride of any length without coming out of adjustment. I suspect that I have to get a Thomson elite seatpost in order to get good behavior out of the bike.

To my disappointment, I measured the 700x30 tires on the front with calipers, and they came out to 27mm wide. The 700x28mm tires on the back did measure around 28mm.

The bike has a long front center, so as a result, even though my saddle to handlebar distance is the same on both bikes, my knee is significantly behind the pedal spindle on the Rivendell as compared to the Strong frame. In practice, this is no big deal, but I'd have to ride hard and compare both bikes to figure out if there's any difference in physiological efficiency.

Steel bikes have a riding resonance that's very different from titanium bikes. I find that when I ride a steel bike, there's a "ring" that emanates from the steel tubes of the  bike in a way that the titanium frame doesn't. It's not a good thing or a bad thing, but if you prefer steel frames that's most likely one of the reasons. Regardless, when I took the Roadini over the dirt road from Montebello over to Page Mill road, there was a surefootedness that definitely wasn't there on the titanium Strong frame. It could be the longer wheelbase or the wider tires. The bike, however, doesn't seem to climb as nicely standing up for short steep efforts --- it prefers for me to sit and spin. This might have something to do with the extra long chainstays.

The Diacompe shifter downtube shifter is responsive. A little nudge and the bike shifts. I have to over-shift a bit when shifting to lower gears. Again, it's something to get used to, but I definitely like how fast the bike shifts. The downtube shifter was a deliberate attempt to make the bike lighter, and to some extent I succeeded. Of course, that means that you have to move your hands low when you shift. Not a big deal, but you will shift less often.

When climbing, the Roadini feels fine. The "ring" I mentioned earlier offsets the heavier bike. Off pavement, the stability of the frame makes even deepish gravel feels rideable. Standing up though, the longer chainstays definitely makes you feel like the rear wheel is further away than on a shorter chainstay. Because Grant switched from a 73.5 head tube angle to a 72 head tube angle and increased the fork rake to 50mm, he was able to get the same geometric trail as my Carl Strong frame with a 73.5 head tube angle and 43mm rake. But the result of that change was that I have no toe-clip overlap. At low speed, I'd have to mount a much bigger tire or turn the wheel more than 90 degrees to get my toes to touch. Not that the toe clip overlap on the Strong frame ever bothered me --- I'm a good enough bike handler that touching the toes of my tire was just no big deal. But the Roadini can handle much larger tires and tighter turns at low speed as a result.

When descending, the Roadini is actually slower than my Strong frame. The extra 5mm of extra BB height doesn't feel as nice, and of course, I'm still not used to the bike so I may not be descending at my full potential.  I would later measure the BB and discover that it was 13mm higher off the ground than on my Strong --- 8 of those mm of additional height came from the tires! There are people who'd swear up and down that it's not humanly possible to feel the difference in BB height but for me the difference is night and day. I would later swap over the wheels from my Strong frame and with a 10.75" BB height the Roadini rides much better, so the increased BB height does affect how the bike feels quite a bit. With 25mm tires, the Roadini rides very nicely, but isn't as plush.

Upon braking, I was prepared for the longer armed Tektro 559 brakes to feel squishier, but they do not. They feel great and no worse than my standard reach caliper on my Strong frame. Part of it could be because I sprung for the super-expensive BC-9000 brake cables. I'd bought those because they got me over the free shipping limit for getting an extra pair of Specialized RECON 1.0 shoes. They were a little finicky to install but fortunately my cable needs were such that I had plenty of spare cable to screw up on. After using the Roadini for awhile I did a back to back comparison against my Strong frame and realized that I needed to do the same thing for my Strong --- the brakes felt so much better!

The SRAM 900 brake levers were great! I was leery at first since the Campy Record carbon brake levers were what were on my triplet and single, and I was worried that I wouldn't like the SRAM 900s. Turned out they're very comfortable. Even the strangely shaped levers that look like they're biased the wrong way turn out to be great.
Over time, as I rode the bike more, I got to appreciate the plush quality of the ride as well as the way it handles. Frequently riding the bike feels like riding on a leaf spring --- the bike removes chatter from rough roads and unpaved roads --- I set PRs coming down Fremont Older. I can definitely see myself riding the Stevens Canyon MTB track with a set of 700x38mm knobbies.

Needless to say, buying the Roadini was a good decision. It's given me sufficient data about how to get similar handling and correct some of the deficiencies of past designs, while giving me insight as to what I really like about bike geometry. After a week of riding I discovered a chip in the paint on the head tube which I didn't know how it got there. It's another reminder that I'm just not kind to bicycles and all sorts of damage appears that I don't know about. I want the frame to be lighter, not need paint, and I would like the BB drop to be lower, especially for using big tires. The chainstay could stand to be about 1cm shorter. But I'm not sure I'd change anything else about the bike!

I frequently have to remind myself that I'm very spoiled. I've ridden/test ridden many bicycles, but had the luck to ride a Grant Petersen designed bike early on, and have essentially been riding a variant of one of his bikes for much of my adult life. If you've never ridden a Grant Petersen design you owe it to yourself to ride one. He's a legend for good reason. The Rivendell Roadini is sure to be sold out completely by the time you read this, but it's worth the wait!

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