Price: $950 for frame, fork, headset. About $2,000 for bike equipped as tested.
Source: website, catalog, selected bike shops
How obtained: cold cash
RBR advertiser: yes, 12/12/02 to 1/16/03
Tested: 98 hours
Rivendell Bicycles got its 15 minutes of national fame for supplying the bike ridden by Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. His Rivendell received front-page ink in USA Today not too long ago.
Rivendell was founded by Grant Petersen, the brains behind Bridgestone Bicycles before the Japanese company pulled out of the U.S. market. Grant was the person for whom Bicycling magazine coined the term, “retro grouch.” He likes traditional equipment. Or more to the point, he likes to promote traditional equipment.
So, his Rivendell catalog is heavy on wool garments, leather saddles, canvas bags and cotton handlebar tape. He likes old-fashioned friction shifting and sizes frames big so that the handlebar can be set as high as the saddle — or a bit higher.
Think of 1950s photos of British bike tourists doddering along the lanes of Merry England, and you’llget the picture.
But don’t be misled. Rivendell frames are also works of art, made one at a time by two American builders. The waiting list is several months long.
Petersen also offers the Atlantis for touring and dirt-road riding. And most recently the Rambouillet, a lugged-steel bike like the Rivendell, but less expensive and made in small batches at the Toyo factory in Japan.
I bought a Rambouillet (say: Ram-bo-yay) and rode it through 2002’s summer and fall for rough-road training and routes with steep climbs. This winter, equipped with fenders and Rivendell’s 700x27C Roly-Poly and Ruffy Tuffy tires, it’s my bad-weather training bike.
My Rambo is equipped with a Shimano Ultegra triple crankset, long-cage XTR rear derailleur and Ultegra bar-end shifters. I use a 12-25-tooth cassette for normal riding and mount an 11-32 XTR cassette for extremely steep roads and lightly loaded touring.
Although Petersen would have preferred to see me on a larger frame, I bought my regular 58-cm size. Still, it has an extended head tube that makes it easy to get the handlebar high if one’s preferences (and back) tend that way. I have it set up for the same riding position as on my Litespeed Vortex and Serotta Ottrott.
The Rambouillet is a beautiful bike. You can get a full description and see detail photos on the Rivendell website. The lugs are well-finished and the orange paint has a luminous quality in the sunlight.
Looks aside, the Rambouillet has that ineffable ride quality that the best steel frames deliver. It handles perfectly with no hint of speed wobble at 50 mph. It corners with enough quickness that I wouldn’t feel disadvantaged riding it in a fast criterium.
Petersen designs his frames so there’s plenty of clearance for wide tires and fenders, making this a suitable mount for brevets and credit-card touring. He gets this clearance by spec???ing long-reach brakes (made in two models by Shimano) and positioning them so the brake shoes must be set at the bottom of the slots. The result is plenty of room for fenders and 700×38 tires.
Eyelets are provided for fender mounts and a rear rack, but the fork isn’t drilled for a front rack. Petersen says he doesn’t like to put holes in the blades and suggests that clamp-on front racks work as well. I prefer a drilled fork, but I didn’t have any problem mounting the Nitto clamp-on rack That’s found in his catalog.
One big advantage of the ample clearance: You can mount tires wide enough to ride this bike on dirt roads or even mild singletrack. it’s great for touring or training on courses that mix pavement and dirt roads.
How about the weight? With typical road components and no attempt to shave grams, the Rambouillet tipped the scale at 22.6 pounds.
That’s at least 4 pounds heavier than many of the current crop of wonder bikes. But for training and touring, it hardly matters. With a lighter (but more expensive) mix of components, a Rambo could come in near the 20-pound mark, thereby nearly eliminating all of your excuses for getting dropped on climbs during the Sunday ride.
A Rambo Goes Light
RBR Newsletter subscriber Charlie Jonas wrote to me about his experience after fitting his Rambouillet with lighter wheels:
“I ride one of those wonder bikes, an Independent Fabrication Titanium Crown Jewel, with a Campy Record 10-speed drivetrain and Mavic Ksyrium wheels. it’s more bike than I am a rider! But it’s a fair-weather ride unsuitedto commuting, casual cruising in street clothes or light touring.
“So I looked around for a bike for the rest of my riding and got the Rambouillet equipped with sturdy rims and tires. I did wonder, though, how it would feel with light wheels on a fast ride.
“I decided to find out on the Mt. Shasta Summit Century, which has 15,500 feet of climbing in 130 miles. I put on a wheel/tire combination that was about 450 grams lighter than my normal setup, and a 9-speed, 12-25 cassette.
“As you can imagine, the difference was striking. By taking the weight off the wheels, I didn’t have to work as hard on the long (7- to 10-mile) climbs. Downhill, the bike retained steadiness through turns and a wonderful damping of the choppy pavement, both qualities of the steel frame, long wheelbase and fork with a functional and elegant curve.
“If I had to get rid of one of my bikes,” Charlie concluded, “it would not be the Rambouillet.”
Real Roadie Feedback
Fred wrote: “Although Petersen would have preferred to see me on a larger frame, I bought my regular 58-cm size.”
I just bought a Romulus, a complete bike modeled after the Rambouillet and hand made in Japan by the same 10-man shop that builds the Rambouillet frames.
I normally ride a 58-cm frame, or thought I did until Rivendell convinced me to try a 61-cm based on what they call my “pubic-bone height.”
The bike arrived with an 11-cm stem and a 46-cm drop handlebar. All of these dimensions rather shocked me until I rode the bike for about a week. Finally I took it on a 60-mile ride on the Longleaf Trace here in Mississippi, and everything fell into place.
Now the large frame, long stem and wide handlebar feel normal. I wouldn’t go back to anything smaller. The day after this long ride (my usual daily ride is only 10 miles), I feel none of the soreness or pain I expected to feel.
My advice to Rivendell buyers is to follow the company’s suggestions on frame size and component size. The salesmen know what they’re talking about. At least that has been my experience.
So my old 1985, 61-cm Trek 420 touring bike really isn’t too big for me after all. Hmmm, I always wondered why it was so comfortable. — Eric N.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.