Sunday, September 15, 2013

Retrogrouch Ride: Rivendell Long-Low

I thought I’d share some pictures and info about one of my favorite bikes. A Curt Goodrich-built Rivendell Long-Low from about 2001.
Long and Low - among the strawberry plants.
I'm proud of those fender lines.
I purchased this as a frameset new and direct from Rivendell, although it was not built specifically to my order, as most Riv-badged bikes are. This was listed on the Rivendell website as a special offer and was available for immediate delivery – no waiting – although there was no real explanation of its story. It was exactly the size I’d have wanted, and was very much what I might have ordered if I’d have been able to custom-order a Rivendell. The best part? It was $500 less than the starting price for a new Riv frame.

Some interesting details about the frame: The head lugs are a bit different from most Riv-badged bikes. The points are rounded and shorter, and the lugs don’t have as many hooks and swirls. In fact, the head lugs are the same as were used on the first generation of the Rivendell-designed, Japanese-built Atlantis and Rambouillet production frames – although the lugs had a little extra cutting and shaping to make them a little more “special.” According one of Rivendell's flyers from 2002, they would sometimes use the Atlantis lugs on a Rivendell if the particular geometry called for it. One other thing that makes the frame different from other Rivendells I've seen is the fork crown. Rivendell bikes usually have really interesting flat-topped fork crowns – this one has a much more plain semi-sloping crown. I've identified it from RR 23 (June-ish 2001) as a Long Shen LC-17, and according to that article, it was used on many Rivendells, but I've never seen another one with it (I'm guessing they were used on some of the earlier bikes, but by 1998 or 99, I believe most were using the Riv-designed flat crowns). It’s still nice, but the overall effect with the lugs and fork crown is a more understated frame than most of its brethren, which suits me fine.
Atlantis Lugs 
The frame is built for cantilever brakes and has huge clearances for tires and fenders. I have it equipped with Velo Orange hammered fenders and Rivendell Jack Brown 33.333 mm (green label) tires and there is still plenty of room to spare. It is painted in a light blue that has just the slightest hint of green to it, and a contrasting cream head-tube. If Rivendell has anything like a “standard” color for its bikes, this is probably it.

I built this up with what I believe is an ideal selection of components, each part selected for the best reliability and durability. After about 12 years and I don’t even know how many miles, everything is holding up exactly as I’d planned. Other than tires, and a new chain and cassette, nothing has been changed since I first built it up. It’s gained a little “beausage” (BYOO-sage) – beauty through usage (a Grant Petersen term) but everything still works like aces.

I built my own wheels with Shimano Ultegra hubs and Ritchey Rock Pro rims. I’m not sure those rims are available anymore, at least not in the 700c size, but the rear rim is an asymmetrical design that helps equalize spoke tension on both sides of the dished rear wheel, making it stronger. The Ultegra hubs are notable for being essentially the same internally as the more expensive Dura Ace hubs. They are serviceable, and have proven themselves to be very reliable. One could spend a lot more for hubs, but they wouldn’t be gaining much for their money.

The derailleurs are Ultegra (6500 generation), which work beautifully and look pretty good, too. Shifters are Dura-Ace 9sp bar-ends. The right lever (rear derailleur) has a friction option, but I’ve never needed it: the indexing works well. The left lever has a very fine micro-ratcheting mechanism that gives a light feel with great fine-tuning control of the front derailleur. I have bikes with integrated brake/shift levers – but really, with bar-end controls as good as these, I don’t see the STI or Ergo controls as offering any significant advantage. The bar-end levers can be shifted without taking hands off the bars; they are durable, reliable, and work flawlessly; they offer more user control (especially on the front derailleur); they are less vulnerable to damage, there's less to break or wear out, and they’re cheaper.

TA Zephyr Crank, with elusive TA quill pedals. There's
a Phil Wood BB holding it together.
Instead of the Shimano crank and bottom bracket setup, I used the very lovely Specialties TA Zephyr crank with a Phil Wood bottom bracket. The Zephyr isn’t available anymore, but it was a great looking, super strong, low-q-factor (for a triple) cold-forged crank. The Phil Wood BB is about as good as a square-taper BB can get. I also have the TA pedals, which are probably the best quill pedals ever made. Excellent bearings. Replaceable cages. Even the little flip tab is replaceable. They have grease ports in the end for easy maintenance. I don’t know if these are available here in the US anymore – over the years they’ve seemed to disappear and reappear every so often. Current status: unknown.
Brooks B-17 - well aged - and a Baggins Bag.

Handlebars, stem, and seatpost are all from Nitto. Beautiful and strong. Headset is a Stronglight Delta needle-bearing unit. Needle-bearing headsets are incredibly long-lasting, but still completely user-serviceable. I have spare bearings and races should they ever need to be replaced. I wrapped the bars with Tressostar cotton tape and many coats of natural shellac. It’s holding up incredibly well. Maybe once every other year or so, I’ll put on a fresh coat of shellac. The saddle is, of course, a Brooks B-17. The honey color has darkened significantly over the years, but it is wonderfully comfortable.

Cotton tape and shellac bar wrap. Twelve years
old and still looking great. 
Brakes are Shimano cantilevers. I upgraded them with Aztec pads which I think improves their braking. The brakes are light, smooth, and powerful. They are also easy to adjust. For brake levers, I had thought about using some old Shimano aero levers with under-the-tape cable routing – the spring loaded SLR versions are really nice. But I had a pair of vintage SunTour Superbe levers (with non-aero cable routing) that weren’t being used, so I put them into service. They work so well, I’ve never seen the need to change them. Maybe if the bar tape ever needs to be replaced, I’ll put on different levers, but I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.

I've never gotten the backstory on this bike. Why was it available at such a discount back in 2001? Did someone place an order then change their mind? Was it made for a photo shoot? Was it built to try out new lugs, or experiment with geometry -- like some kind of prototype? (Rivendell has put prototype frames up for sale before, but they don't usually badge them as Rivendells -- they'll call them "Protovelo" to make clear what they are). Whatever its backstory was, in the past 12 years, its story has been mine. It's proven to be one of my most versatile bikes. Comfortable, and great-handling. I've ridden it on century rides (it's an absolute dream on centuries) and I've commuted on it to work. It's equally at home on roads and on trails. If for some reason I ever had to get rid of all my bikes except for one, this would be the one I'd have to keep.

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