Archive

Tag Archives: Bicycle

There are so many great frames around, it really is hard to choose. It’s hard to find out, without already being very knowledgeable about the industry, what are the real reviews and what is simply brand propaganda. It’s easy to be swept up in the carefully constructed stories around the different brands and the amount of choice is mind boggling. It’s a voyage into your own heart of darkness and fanciful whim. I considered many frames from far and wide, but the few I have listed below are the ones I have considered as seriously as a normal person might consider the pros and cons of particular bicycle frame nuances. There is much to like about them all – but making a choice requires some introspection and frank personal discussions with yourself. A decent into madness – anyway here goes.

Velo Orange Rando(nneur) was the first frame that I really looked at. This frame seemed to cover a fair bit of ground in that it could do light touring through to commuting. On the website they don’t mention the type of tubing that they are using – so I have assumed stove pipes (and am probably wrong). This looks like a great frame if you starting Randonneuring on a budget.

From the VO website

Velo Orange Polyvalent below is a very idiosyncratic and beautiful frame. Some of the builds that can be found online look practical and handsome. While I was considering this frame I read a fair bit about low trail geometry. They certainly look like a great urban bicycle capable of bearing weight above the front wheel. In the end the cost of the postage from the US was a big factor – it is all out of scale as far as I’m concerned. With the Polyvalent frame, while I was captured by the functional beauty, historic geometry and 650b reviews by Jan Heine of off the beaten path, I am not convinced I really want to carry that much weight over the front wheel. I may not buy a frame from them this year, even though I really like the polyvalent, it’s pretty certain Velo Orange will get some of my cash as their racks, mudguards, seats and accessories are all made beautifully and are very stylish.

The Singular Osprey again looked like a great frame and suitable for touring and commuting. Interestingly with this frame you have the option of choosing a low-trail fork. I made a few enquiries and Sam, the owner, answered all my silly questions quickly and courteously. Postage to Australia from the UK is much cheaper and for what they are, these frames are great value, but just not exactly what I was after. At this point I felt I was perhaps being too picky and I should just get a frame, or a complete bike and start customising it to suit me.

osprey built

Still not convinced, I began broadening my horizons from the low trail, somewhat french inspired geometries and came across the beautiful Soma Stanyan. I hadn’t moved far, barely into the next metaphysical suburb, as again this lugged steel frame is built with a pretty classic European road / touring geometry. But this frame was just another step in my sentimental journey. Soma are based in the US and therefore to bear the indignity of paying US postage I suppose I had to be really convinced that this frame had everything I wanted.

A Pedal Revolution build (http://pedalrevolutionblog.wordpress.com)

While all of the bicycles above are quite different, I would be fairly satisfied with any of them as they are reasonably close to my general requirements with the exception of one thing or other that could be easily over come with an extra braze on, rack mount or other. I started to think that I was the problem and not the bicycles. As I was going through the description of the Soma Stanyan bicycle, a single word stood out. TANGE. A strange word that suggested quality tubing, lightness and strength.

I looked around again and sure enough, I could find relatively cheap 2nd hand bicycles on ebay with similar geometries and high quality tubing – but would they fit? Then on a whim I checked around for custom bicycle builders and found that in Australia they were so expensive that it was simply unrealistic for any sane person – or at least so I am told. Overseas however they were perhaps $300 – $500 more expensive than an ‘off the peg’ bicycle, but for the extra expense I could get a hand built bicycle, using high quality materials and shoot the breeze with an experienced frame builder to tweak the geometry to my special needs. So was it worth it? I am not sure, and perhaps I never will be. The Singular Osprey really is a great bicycle for the money, and the Polyvalent is so practical and good looking. Perhaps there is something overly and overtly self indulgent about having a hand made custom frame when I could easily make do with the excellent bicycles I found while I was looking around. But I think I have finally decided that this is the way that I will go, and that I won’t regret the extra expense on a bicycle that will be high quality, unique to some degree and as suitable as I can specify within my budget.

The frame builders I am likely to go with are Mercian. They have been around for 50 or so years, have produced frames for time trial champions (I have no delusions of grandeur) and have great reviews from all over the internet. They offer a variety of lug, frame and tubing styles and their process for designing seems pretty good. Check out their frame builder software on their website at your own financial risk – It is cool. They have a skype channel which is great so I can chat with them face to face about the frame from my house – which is about as convenient as it gets. It will take a few months to get the frame – but I am looking forward to the process and of course, the result.

The Maryville Riviera

The bicycle, on first glance, is obviously heavily themed in a quaint ye olde fashion, good looking for a girls bike and probably a heavyweight. Its large mud guards, colour matched everything and enclosed chain guard give it a very solid appearance. Lifting it proves the hypothesis – however it’s ever so slightly lighter than it looks.

Hub Dynamo

Nice and appropriate alloy pedals

There are plenty of bells and whistles, including the very useful hub dynamo, rear light, leather sprung saddle and white wall tyres on 650b rims that I believe are worth their weight in safety, control and comfort. The rod brakes, newspaper holder and rear wheel lock looked to be exceptions and not something I believed would add to the efficiency or practicality of the ride.

Light and newspaper holder

Rod set-up is pretty

Brake levers are incorporated into the handle bar – very swish.

My first ride was at night and my initial impression was that the bike felt light and nimble, it was well geared, the lighting was OK without turning night into day,  quick enough without being fast, and relatively comfortable for a bicycle that is too small for me. It soaked up road bumps nicely, but had a few rattles that needed ironing out. To be fair the bike had just traveled 800km in the back of a largely unloaded removal truck so had probably had the stuffing shaken out of it, but with the rattle and the light feel through the handle bars it felt strangely like riding a pressed tin toy.

rear wheel lock

Where the brake pads meet the rim.

My second ride in light morning rain to pick up an espresso provided more feedback from the bicycle. Again it felt nicely geared, but if anything the handling felt a little to light for my liking. Braking hard resulted in a lot of heavy chatter from the front brakes and not much stopping power. I’m thinking a brake pad upgrade or fine tuning the rods to remove all the slack from the system may help, however my gut feeling is that at least some of the chatter will remain due to brake arm flex. Standing up on the pedals to get the bicycle up an incline produced plenty of rubbing and flex so I sat down again. I’m probably 3 or 4 inches too big for the bicycle so I was pushing it a little to see how it would handle the extra pressure. Our local park is pretty churned up from being renovated with new kids play equipment so it provided a chance to check out the off road handling. Over mud, gravel and bumpy ground it was very good – a product of the sensible tyres, light steering and low gearing. This bicycle, devoid of rattles, would handle the cobbled streets of Europe quite nicely.

When pushed the bicycle doesn’t respond solidly, but climbing hills and hard riding isn’t the point of the bicycle. It’s a cruising bicycle that is capable and comfortable when the surface gets uneven. A three speed hub would increase the speed of the bicycle, but I wouldn’t suggest riding the bike too hard with any extra weight because of the limitations of the rod braking – so it may not handle commuting with kids on board. Its recommend retail is above $1500Aus and for that you get a hub dynamo, reasonable lighting, brooks saddle and a double powder coated, fully lugged, hand built steel frame that has a nice feel to it – not bad value – but I’d want to effect some changes on the standard set-up. First port of call would be upgrading the braking and shedding some weight, but perhaps that’s just a personal preference.

The bicycle gave me an experience of using 650b wheels and 650x35a tyres. I’m not sure I’m a convert, but as part of this set-up they certainly seemed to handle uneven ground pretty well. Food for thought.

I think my trusty Trek mountain bike, after carrying me over hill and down dale, through hell and high-water is now probably going to serve as a family work horse. It is spectacularly too awesome for this role, but this new chapter of it’s life will only add to my long love affair with the bike that just keeps excelling at every ride and situation I throw at it.

So with that now settled in my mind, my thoughts are turning toward a bike for myself. So when would I actually be riding without my family in tow?

Terribly selfish Functions:
1/ Country touring is always something I’d like to think is just around the corner for me, and is definitely something I’d like a new bike to do. It’s not necessarily something I would always do on my own, but it’s a function that would be central to a ‘complete’ bicycle package. The Trek could do it, has done it, and I would love to put more Km’s on the Trek to add to our history,  but I believe I could, given my other required functions listed below, come up with a more suitable geometry. Any bike that you can tour on will almost certainly be able to handle a kids seat and trailer anyway.

2/ Commuting is something I do alone, and reasonably regularly on a bicycle. I could happily undertake this on almost any machine that offers some reliability. So while this may not be a defining feature, reliability is of course a major requirement. Having a couple of bicycles actually means I can ride different machines depending on my current whim – which is a nice and very privileged option.

3/ Morning constitutional rides either for a quick coffee, or with a mate or two as a regular Saturday morning jaunt would be great. I would probably be riding with ‘real’ road bikes, but that’s not necessarily what I am after. Essentially I would need something light enough, and efficient enough to keep up. In my mind there’s no such thing as a fast bike – It’s like having a fast shoe.

4/ Fire trails and off road day trips aren’t out of the question, and so while not a primary consideration I’d like the bike to be capable in that regard. I’ve loaded up  city bikes’, ridden them out of town and flexed the bejesus out of them in the process. My experiences gave me a certain amount of faith in the ability of a good quality steel bike frame to take carry loads over bitumen, gravel and dirt roads.

5/ I am shallow and aesthetics are a consideration. Often a minimal ‘form follows function’ approach leads to aesthetic outcomes in my opinion – so while I’ll be looking for a clean, light bike – I have some bike gear fetishes I may also need to satisfy. As I already own the greatest mountain bike ever made, I don’t need another one and am thinking of something more refined. I certainly like the look of older bicycles – but how functional are they? The Polyvalent frame from Velo Orange looks great and I think would fit the bill – but I’m not convinced at this stage.

6/ For this to be more than an academic exercise, the bike needs to be affordable. I am however thinking long term for this bike. It’s a bike that I would like to have at least as long as my only other new bike purchase (13 years ago). So good quality and the ‘right bicycle’ may actually be expensive. I’m not frightened of 2nd hand – but it’d have to be very well reconditioned – almost like ‘New Old Stock’.

So to summarise.
comfortable fit (geometry), Reliable, efficient, strong, stylish without being too flashy, good value.

The Bianchi Pista is a compromised track racer, a feisty, but broken thoroughbred. Tamed for fixie fascination and single speed simplicity it’s now road ready.

Bianchi Pista Specification:

FRAME: Bianchi Cr-Mo (steel) butted
FORK: Bianchi Cr-Mo, 1″
HEADSET: VP-A34C, 1″
CRANKSET: FSA Tempo, 48T
CHAIN: KMC Z50
CASSETTE: Shimano SS-7600 fixed, 16T
BRAKES: Reparto Corse, front & rear
WHEELS: Maddux Track F15
TYRES: Hutchinson Nitro 700 x 23
STEM: Bianchi alloy
HANDLEBAR: Premetec 4002R Steel, Chrome
BAR TAPE / GRIPS: Velo VLT-004
SEATPOST: Bianchi alloy
SADDLE: Charge Bucket
PEDALS: Wellgo

Before getting on the bike you notice it’s good looks. The one I rode (pictured) was the standard chrome pista. The chrome finish isn’t really for me, but having said that, it suits the bike’s Italian origins. While being showy, Bianchi have the racing pedigree to back up all that flash. I think the light green Pista Via Condotti is probably the prettiest of the variations on this theme.

Reclining Bicycle

Lifting the bike you notice that this is a traditional double butted steel frame. It’s not the lightest bike of its type but the supple feel of the bike more than makes up for the weight once you are on the bike. The feel through the handlebars is agile and intuitive, without being quick. The responsiveness is a product of its short wheel base, track geometry and engineered tubing profiles throughout. It’s not a bike you need to man-handle – you can really place it neatly and it responds well to changes in weight distribution. everything you’d expect from the bikes’ DNA. It’s not a fast handling or twitchy bike, it tracks well in a straight line and also responds to steering input – a nice balance.

Bicycle Photo

3/4 view

I found the 48 by 16 chain wheel and sprocket set-up to be pretty good once I’d been upwind and down wind on the bike, hills were a challenge, but this is a single speed and so no surprises there.

One of the compromises for the purists is that the bike has front and back brakes as original equipment. I found these to be good with plenty of feel without being amazing. Given the price tag perhaps you could expect more from them.

I am not a regular drop bar rider but found these to be pretty good on the bike. This is probably as much due to having the bike set-up well as it is a great design of drop bar. My guess is that track drop bars are all mostly similar. The bars suit the traditional style of the bike and I got comfortable with them quickly – probably enough said.

The pedals are a real disappointment and I think they are one of the only negatives of the bike. They are c-grade pedals on an a-grade bike.

Bicycle Photo

Stock Hindquarters

Overall, the package feels right with a nice mix of agility and a solid, supple feel on the road. If you want something that will probably hold its value, and potentially provide many miles of smiles, then this is worth the price tag. To some degree you are paying for the pedigree and cache of the bianchi name, but, the bike feels great to ride, and that’s what it is all about.