Longtime RBR readers know that I like steel bikes, a preference that originated when I began riding in the 1970s. Back then, steel was the only viable choice.
The pure lines and skeletal tubing of a classic steel bike make me happy. But steel’s durability makes me even happier. Sure, steel can fail, but when it does it typically fails slowly with ample visual or audible warning. I like that added security on fast Rocky Mountain descents.
I have 2 bikes from Grant Petersen’s acclaimed company, Rivendell Bicycle Works, and I’ve reviewed both — an Atlantis and a Rambouillet (now archived on RBR’s Premium Site). I’m on them often but They’re a bit heavy for fast, spirited group rides. Petersen, in a previous incarnation as head of Bridgestone USA, designed some still-highly regarded bikes for that brand in the 1980s and ’90s. They combined race-ready geometry with reliable, even retro, components.
Petersen founded Rivendell in 1994 and has built a reputation for beautiful lugged steel bikes that serve a range of cycling interests. But missing from his line was a lightweight model like the fabled race bikes of the ’70s and ’80s. The Roadeo is his attempt to revive some of that old magic with modern steel tubing and lugs.
Al Ardizone at Cascade Bicycles in Montrose, Colorado, built up my Roadeo frame and fork with components I already owned. (Complete bikes are available from Rivendell for $3,600-$4,200.) It has a Shimano 9-speed gear train with a Ritchey crankset, stem and handlebar, topped with a Thomson seatpost. Wheels are built around 32-spoke Mavic Open Pro rims shod with Continental Gatorskin 700×25 tires.
A perfectionist when it comes to frames, Uncle Al pronounced the Waterford-built Roadeo “excellent.” He straightened the derailleur hanger slightly and faced the bottom bracket and fork crown, frame-prep tasks that should be automatic in any pro shop. He found alignment to be spot on.
The derailleur hanger is long enough that an Ultegra medium-cage RD-6500 provides sufficient clearance for a large cog of 30 teeth. This is a nice bonus because most bikes need a mountain bike derailleur to accommodate such low gearing.
The Roadeo is a beautiful bike. Here’s a photo of mine. The lugs are nicely thinned and flawlessly brazed. I like the asymmetrical lugs facing opposite directions on the upper surface of the top tube and down tube. Not often used, this design reduces stress risers for longer tube life. There are braze-ons for fenders front and rear but not for racks. The Roadeo is designed for fast riding, not loaded riding. Another classic touch: a pump peg behind the head tube.
The fork deserves special mention. It has a traditional flat crown, enough clearance for 32-mm tires plus fenders, and a pleasing bend that starts near the dropouts and is rounded rather than looking like a dog leg. it’s available in either threaded or threadless versions. Steel forks inspire confidence but with a weight penalty of about 12 ounces (336 grams) compared to carbon forks.
I ordered my Roadeo in a sage green color that contrasts nicely with a cream band on the seat tube and a cream head tube. Each lug cutout has carefully painted cream accents. THere’seven a delicate pinstripe around the small hole at the bottom of the seatpost slot. The paintjob is flawless — no runs or drips. The down tube logo is in a script That’s understated and tasteful. Nothing garish tarnishes the classic appearance.
Because steel bikes are often thought to be excessively heavy, let’s get the weight issue out of the way. With Shimano PD-7750 pedals, a Fizik Aliante saddle and Blackburn stainless steel bottle cages, my 57-cm Roadeo tilts the beam at 20.3 lbs. (9.2 kg). No components were chosen for lightness nor were any of them carbon. With a selection of lightweight components, a 10- or 11-speed drivetrain and low-spoke-count wheels, the weight would slip to near 19 lbs. (8.6 kg).
The Roadeo is about 3 lbs. (1.4 kg) heftier than my carbon Specialized Roubaix that’s similarly equipped. Three pounds sounds significant but it’s less than 2% of my total combined weight of bike, body and clothing (178 lbs. or 81 kg). Also, there’s a difference between riding weight and what I call ???hook weight??? — the heft you feel when lifting the bike from its hook in the garage. The Roadeo has more hook weight, but on the road it feels as light and lively as my gossamer carbon machine. (My Roubaix review is in the Premium Site Product Test archive.)
Riding the Roadeo
I pedaled my Roadeo for 20 hours at a PAC Tour Arizona Training Camp and then 20 more hours back home in Colorado. Rides were solo or with small groups on varied terrain: flat bumpy pavement; dirt and gravel; short hills; long mountain passes.
This is a sweet-handling bike. It never felt twitchy, even on the high-speed descent of Arizona’s Mule Pass in a gusty crosswind. That downhill is notorious for producing shimmy in even well-behaved bikes but the Roadeo never wavered. (Maybe the Roadeo, befitting its western name, was eager to get to Tombstone.)
Back home in Colorado, I rode the 6-mile (10-km) climb to Black Canyon National Park. The road is potholed and speckled with sand and gravel but the bike handled perfectly on the descent. No shimmy, great stability, and it was easy to maneuver around obstacles even at 45+ mph (72 kph). The bike zips through sharp corners with confidence, too. In a pack it makes holding a straight line easy. Riding no-hands is confidence-inspiring.
Climbing performance is superb. On the short, steep walls west of Fort Huachuca near Sierra Vista, Arizona, the Roadeo lunged forward as I applied the pressure. On successive roller-coaster climbs I was able to maintain momentum up each hill longer than on other bikes I had ridden on that road. On long climbs in Colorado I could settle into a fast rhythm. I had no sensation of extra weight, and my times up familiar climbs were identical to those on lighter bikes.
I attribute some of this performance to the Roadeo’s supreme comfort. I used 25-mm-wide tires inflated to 90-95 psi, which smoothed the ride compared to narrower tires inflated rock hard. But the inherent comfort of steel also was a factor. It has a compliance that’s different, and welcome, compared to other frame materials. Interestingly, I had no saddle sore issues even during 6 consecutive days of riding rough roads. This can’t be said for other bikes I’ve used on such pavement. For more comfort, the frame’s generous clearance will handle tires up to 35 mm.
I didn’t install fenders but there’s plenty of room for them, as this photo shows. Most bikes these days barely allow 25-mm tires much less standard mudguards, but the Roadeo’s clearance makes it an extremely versatile bike without any performance penalties.
Not Quite Perfect
My complaints about this bike are minor. Petersen is known for his whimsical product names and I’m lukewarm about ???Roadeo.??? I polled riders at the PAC Tour camp and opinion was divided. Some thought it implied that the bike rode like a bucking bronco, others saw it as a clever play on words. A few wanted a more classic European name. One Roadeo rider is rumored to have scraped off the first 3 letters of the name, thus converting it to ???Deo.??? That seems a bit extreme — but the bike does exhibit heavenly handling.
The fork comes with a 1-inch steerer. This diameter is becoming less common, so someday it may be difficult to get a replacement headset.
Manufacturing company Waterford leaves pinholes in fork legs, chainstays and seatstays as part of the brazing process. Theoretically, they’ll let moisture out to prevent rust, but under certain circumstances they could let water in. Uncle Al sprayed the inside of my Roadeo’s tubes with rust preventative and I don’t anticipate problems.
Finally, the seat tube bottle mounts are low, as shown — one on either side of the front derailleur band. I like the low mounting because the bottle never bumps the top tube when it’s extracted. But some riders may find the reach a stretch.
Rivendell’s Roadeo is an impressive bike even in this era of carbon wonder steeds. it’s durable, versatile, comfortable and fast. I’d like to try it with tubular tires for a direct comparison with my favorite steel bikes from 30-40 years ago — Gios, De Rosa and Tesch.
Newer cyclists who have owned only carbon, aluminum or titanium frames should experience the ride of an expertly designed, handbuilt steel bike like the Roadeo. It might spark a resurgence of interest in this traditional — and wonderful — frame material.
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.