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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.

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It’s hard to know where to start with the perfect bicycle The frame is the basis for many of the ride characteristics of a complete bicycle, but as I have a few frames in mind with different wheel sizes I starting this rambling discussion with wheels and tyres.

29 inch or 700c (622mm)
These wheels have the same rim diameter, however with the addition of their usually very different tyre, the effective diameter changes significantly.

Built as 29 inch mountain bike wheels, these large wheels usually have a relatively heavy duty rim and tire, and because they are heavier, they take more effort to start and stop. These wheels also take more effort to turn due to having a larger footprint and higher rotating mass. What this tyre and rim combination does well is roll over obstacles.

Built as 700c road wheels with a light rim and smaller tyre, they maintain their ability to roll over obstacles, and shed much of their weight. The compromise is a better handling wheel, that isn’t built to take the punishment you might dish out to a mountain bike wheel on a fast decent. This is a very popular size  and the availability of tyres, mud guards, spokes etc is all essentially universal.

The issue that is generally cited about this wheel size is toe overlap. It is something that I’ve noticed in the past and given that I am considering a bike that will be touring, city commuting and shopping, I’m definitely interested in making sure that toe overlap isn’t an issue with the bike I decide upon.

650b (584 mm)
This is a size that is regaining some popularity in the touring and randonneuring community. Availability of parts isn’t as good as with 700c and 26 inch, but it is getting better. This wheel is less likely to have toe overlap issues and is lighter, stronger, and a more responsive than the 700c wheel. When this wheel is coupled with a 700c purposed frame, the wheel size will slightly lower the bottom bracket, reduce toe overlap and slightly reduce the ‘trail’ of the front wheel – quickening the handling. The main draw back is availability of tyres and mudguards, but what I have found so far isn’t too expensive, and suits my purposes. If you use this size wheel on a 700c frame – you may want to get a slightly shorter crank.

26 Inch (559mm)
This is a size most commonly applied to mountain bikes. It further reduces the possibility of toe overlap, is very responsive, is strong, and allows plenty of room for mud guards. My guess is that this wheel will eventually loose out to the 29er on mountain bikes as it doesn’t roll or look as good as the 29 inch. However in other respects it is a good package for the maneuverability required in mountain biking. Availability of all related consumables is good.

Hubs
The flanges on a hub, I believe, don’t radically change the stiffness of a wheel and mostly the flanging relates more to the arrangement, number and lace pattern of the spokes. Aesthetics and fashion also play a role here. The width of the hub however does have a significant effect, and a centred rim, rather than a dished rim is much stronger. So a wheel that has been dished to include sprockets, will be weaker than a fixed, single or internally geared hub.

Tyres.
There are heaps of tyres out there in many different styles so I am going to keep this general. Probably the best tyres I’ve owned would be Continental, Town and Country. A tyre for all seasons but only available in 26 inch. I’ve done alot of touring on these tyres and they were extremely puncture resistant, durable, comfortable and efficient. I’d like to replicate this feel on the new bike if possible.

Jan Heine, Editor of Bicycle Quarterly has written a great deal about his experiences and has also done some testing relating to tyres, wheel size and pressure on his website “Off the Beaten Path” – If you want to find out about wheels and tyres (and randoneuring) the Bicycle Quarterly and Off the Beaten Path is going to toast your bread! In summary, it’s complicated. According to Jan and his testing, increases in tyre pressure don’t necessarily lead to increases in efficiency and decreases in rolling resistance and so a medium sized, supple, softer walled tyre may be more efficient than hyper hard, 23mm racing tyre – This is good news and somewhat vindicates my oft misty eyed remembrance of the performance of my town and country tyres. There are optimum pressures depending on your weight and tyre choice so there’s plenty to consider in selecting a tyre if you want to get fanatical about it. If you’d like to know more – try – Science and Bicycles 1: Tires and Pressure by Jan Heine.

Decision?
I’d be happy with any of the wheel sizes and so I suppose they aren’t a determining factor. The 650b does seem to be a rather happy medium between the various sizes – but I wouldn’t choose a bike on it’s ability to accept a 650b wheel.

Tyre choice and pressure, on the other hand, is something I’ll look at more closely when I have decided on a frame and wheel – it’s crucial.