Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Pass Hunter at Velo Orange

I posted some time back about versatile road bikes that buck the racing-bike trends that have spread so much through today's bicycles (Bucking the Trend). In that article, I mentioned a couple of nice offerings from Velo-Orange, which specializes in classic-styled but reasonably priced bikes and components for non-racers. Well, VO has just gotten in a new model that I think looks like a good one to add to the list. The new Pass Hunter. This is a bike I'd really like to get a closer look at and take for a ride.

The reinforcing rings on the head-tube give the impression
of a lugged frame. And the fork crown is gorgeous.
(photo used with permission from VO)
The bike takes its name from the sport of "Pass Hunting" which is apparently popular in France and Japan -- that is, searching for mountain passes, and riding over them -- "collecting" them, if you will.

Built from butted chrome-moly tubing, the Pass Hunter should offer a nice ride and prove very durable. I'm totally a sucker for lugged frames, so the welded construction for me is a slight let-down -- but the Pass Hunter has some nice details to add visual interest -- like the reinforcing rings at both ends of the head-tube (which almost give the impression of lugs), and a gorgeous "bi-plane" fork crown that would look good on just about any bike. The VO shield headbadge is a nice touch, too. Anyhow, other than perusing eBay for a used classic steel bike, it simply wouldn't be feasible to get lugged construction on a $520 frame today.

The bike is built for cantilever brakes, and has clearance for tires up to 32 mm with fenders, and 35 mm without. If I were the one building it up, I'd almost certainly install VO's aluminum fenders and mount a pair of Grand Bois Cypr├Ęs 32 mm tires -- they're a bit pricey, but have a classic look and offer an unbelievable ride quality. The bike has mounting bosses under the fork crown and on the seat-stay and chain-stay bridges to ease fender mounting. It also has fittings for racks to add some versatility.
A nicely equipped Pass Hunter with lots of VO-branded
parts. (photo used with permission from VO)

Steel frame purists might be put off a little by the 1-1/8" threadless steerer. The Retrogrouch in me would prefer a quill stem, but I think what VO was after here is more of a blending of classic and modern elements. Certainly, a 1" threaded steerer with a quill stem makes changing the bar height easy and gives classic visual proportions for a steel frame. However, a threadless stem does give a more solid connection between the stem and the steerer. In regards to getting the right bar height, it's worth noting that the steerer on the Pass Hunter is very long, and having a long steerer on a steel frame is not a strength concern as it would be with a carbon one. Leave it long, use lots of spacers, and worry not about being able to raise the bars.

From the VO Blog: "We decided to go with the 1-1/8" fork for several reasons. 1-1/8" is more-or-less expected on high performance bikes today and we wanted to make this bike appealing to non-retrogrouches. Most Pass Hunters will likely be bought by experienced cyclists who probably know exactly where to set their bars, so quick stem adjustability was not as high a priority. . . I also, personally, wanted to try something different, not just make what's basically the same bike over and over again."

As an open suggestion to the folks at Velo Orange, I think it would be great if someone offered fork/headset spacers that are thinned down for steel frames. Most aluminum headset spacers are roughly 1/8" thick -- making the steerer under a threadless stem look as fat (almost fatter) than the head-tube! That's fine on the bloated proportions of aluminum and carbon fiber frames -- but on steel frames, it looks odd. I've had spacers thinned down by a friend at a machine shop to about 1/16" or less, and it helps the look a bit. It would be nice to be able to buy them that way. Just sayin'.

In terms of geometry, the bike is built with a "mid-trail" front end, which the folks at VO say should strike a good balance between quick handling and stability. The fork seems to have a nice, low rake to it, giving a classic look. And again, I love that fork crown.

The bike is available as a frameset, and VO can supply most of the parts necessary to turn it into a complete bike. VO will provide a 10% discount on any parts purchased at the same time as the frame. I've used a lot of the Velo Orange branded parts, such as handlebars, stems, seatposts, pedals, racks, and fenders. I've been very pleased with all of them. Also, the service and shipping from VO have always been top-notch in my experience.

I'm not in the market for a new bike right now, but if I were, and if I were on a pretty modest budget, I think I'd want to give this one a try.

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