There's a lot here, forty percent will be worth your time.
"Goofy hypotheticals are the coin of the realm."
—DAHLIA LITHWICK, LAW AND POLITICAL ANALYST
I saw her say that on the TV set, and it's just one of those sentences that will stick with me until the day I die, and I wanted to share. When I hear sentences that I am sure have never been said before, some kind of inner alarm goes off.
Speaking of ye olde Coins of the Realm, here's a few modern and not-so-modern bicycles that foretold trends and are foretelling the future.
Comment: Should normal riders stop using simple proven fantastic reliable technology just because professional shills are hired by big manufacturers to create a demand for car-brakes on bicycles?
This is why we are continuing to work on our own sources, and sometimes our own designs or collaborative designs for rim brakes. It's "fine, not great" that the industry as a whole is going all-disc, but we realize and don't love the message that sends to new cyclists who have no strong opinions one way or the other, and so figure that if all the big makers and all the modern bikes have disc brakes, they must be better. If you can't trust the masses and a trend, who or what can you trust?
If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself. —Bob Dylan
That's not one of Bob's more insightful or mellifluous lyrics, but he did write a song called Trust Yourself, and it's better advice than follow the trend.
Of course, doing our own swan song'd brakes will shove us deeper into the recesses of the ultra-niches of cycling, but we also believe rim brakes are not just sufficient, but superior. For many reasons we've said before and so I won't repeat here. They should be on our site, somewhere. Onward to some bikes that probably don't have a swan song:
You have to be careful when you collaborate with outside artists. It CAN work. We have a group we work with to help us pull off the looks we're after in decals and head badges. If they have an approach and style examples that give you confidence that they can do it, and are patient and they don't resent suggestions, it can work out. We've used and will continue to use Olivier, Jon, and Tim. I'm not saying this painted Cinelli is bad. How good or bad it is depends on what the goal was and did the artist achieve it? This paint job would be less appropriate on a 1971 Cinelli lugged steel Super Corsa, but in this case it kind of fits the frame. Bravo!?
The old Cinelli decals and head BADGE, before Antonio Columbo of Columbus tubing bought the company, were beautiful and inspiring, and we modeled a few of our decals on them. And that's where we got the gold and black inline and halo we use on all of our models, on the decals.
"Advanced" has many meanings.
This bike was destined to be a showroom piece from the day the frame was designed. Clearances, gearing, toe clips, drops with steep ramps, sew-ups, downtubers. It's a bike a rich guy buys his wife who doesn't ride. The only practical thing on it is the Flickstand. But I think the CPSC ruled against those a few decades back.
This bike screams "early 2020s!!" And it inspiring us to stick with slender, round tubes with pretty frame joints and painted nice colors.
Pro riders in 2023 will be on this.
A more sedate version.
ALEX rims are super. The message could benefit by substituting bike for aggressions.
It is these and many other trends that make us dig in our heels deeper. I don't know whether we'll survive the next several years, but I think we will. It's important, for that survival thing, that we become less dependent on trend-following manucturers, so we can keep bicycles bicycley. I go back and forth between thinking we should just shut up and do our thing, or speak up more. Bicycles are in transition, and we're already in the minority, and to me, that changes what we can or should do, or say, or something. It's not just about protecting our business and jobs. It's way bigger than that. Bikes are turning ugly. Bike riding is racing and spectacular tricks. I don't expect Joe Commuter to become a national bicycle icon, but I personally have more respect, tons of respect, for somebody who rides around town, to work, for shopping, and for fun, than somebody who does front-flips on hand rails with a fifty-foot dropoff on one side. It doesn't matter what I "respect," I'm just saying that. I don't care at all how fast somebody can ride or climb, or cover a course, or how much they can suffer. I don't think any of that is stupid, but it doesn't inspire me. I think it's another "fine, not great" if it inspires you, but I don't think it makes a good face for riding a bicycle, and all those things have become that face. I just think the most important thing a bicycle can do is contribute somehow to the rider's life and to the lives of others, even if it's a drop-in-the-ocean-sized contribution. Think of how you think, your visceral response, when you see somebody riding a bike on a task ride or commute. You don't know anything about them, but there's a positive vibe. You root for them, you hope they don't get a flat or get hit, and you have something in common with them, even though you'll never say a word to them. Flash them the peace sign or give them thumbs up--whether you're on foot, on a bike, or in a car. They're being vulnerable at the same time they're making the road they're on slightly better for anybody else who rides.
You can't glorify that enough, and it sounds condescending to glorify it at all, but that is how I feel about bicycle riders. I just love them.
Sometimes it's necessary to follow the trends, and that day might come for us, too, but I think it would make us weaker and pathetic and weird if we were to do it now. But, I want to make it clear that NOT doing it isn't strictly a business decision. I feel like I've got to call it PARTLY a business decision, to keep me from feeling like an undereducated bicycle rider who, at a critical time in his life, had no other work options, so had to make it work. Basically, that's my story.
But to me personally and all, inside and behind all of that, is a sincere distaste for certain things, and a sincere LOVE of certain others. Not just bicycle and frame hardware, but design, looks, and approaches to riding.
NONE of this is original. It all comes from a different time, not a better time, but different. Actually, I think it is better. If "better" can be used on a supersubjective matter like this.
To paraphrase Dahlia Lathwick, "Ugly, aggressive, trendy bikes are the coins of the realms."
Criticizing current trends or bikes is not fun or a great thing to do, but it's relevant because it points out what we are and aren't and it's inspiring us to do other things.
We're working on these:
V-Brakes. Two models, two different suppliers, because you never know when one of them might stop supplying. One's a collaboration.
SILVER Crank: Another one, same "square taper 110/74 bolt pattern" but lighter and less strong. The current SILVER won't hold you back, but we like double-options.
New "not quite a Mixte" style frame, for light riders and loads and ... well, we just SUPER like this design, and we want to do it. The final Charlie H. Gallop, for 2024. It's a ways off, but is positively happening, and we'll have prototypes by the end of April, maybe sooner.
More Hobson-Zingo options. A collaboration.
Saddle 175. It won't be this light gray. It is "Saddle 175" because it's a saddle that's 175mm wide, which means, dang, a missed opportunity to call it the Saddle 6 5/8th. It's a hair wider than a B.17, but flatter where your sit bones rest. It is a great design in theory, and we've had several prototypes, and this one is the winner. "Testing saddles" is tricky, because you're looking to hard and thinking too hard about how they feel, and the body wants them to feel like a down pillow, and when they don't, they can't score a perfect 10. But I've ridden this one about 45 minutes a day ever since we got it five days go, and it doesn't even let me think about it. Nobody can speak for YOUR crotch, but it seems good to mine. It has super saddlebag loops, and a unique middle loop that you probably won't use, but I really will. It lets you overfill a rackless saddlebag that barely rubs on a fenderless tire, and then you put a strap thru the loop and around the bag and hike ' er up and all's well. I've jerry rigged ("jury-rigged") this fifty times, and it's kind of a pain without the midloop. Mr. Midloop makes it a cinch.
It'll be a lot darker.
Internally, it's been "Will's Saddle," but that was never going to be the final. To me it feels great, as good as my best B.17. Will's not sold. He likes the B.17 more, and some skinnier saddles, and we had an earlier prototype he likes pretty much, and so maybe we'll have two cheap-good-vegan saddles. We batted around a few different names, but in the end settled on a low key one that emphasized its width in millimeters, which happens to make it 5mm wider than a B.17. Only 2.5mm wider PER SIDE than a B.17. The B.17 is the only Brooks saddle with a model number equal to its width-at-widest.
The thing is, every butt and crotch needs to find its own saddle or saddles. For rides of ten minutes or less, anything will work, and ten of ten saddles will do you. At an hour it matters more, maybe five in ten. At two to four hours, maybe two in ten. Longer than four, one in twenty, but it also depends on how hard you sit, pedal cadence (higher makes you more sensitive), and how much off-the-saddle climbing you do. Once you're standing up climbing, the seat post could be sharpened to a spike and it wouldn't matter.
And check out this, on the 175:
When your saddlebag is too deep or loaded to heavily for your tire below it:
But the middle loop lets you do this:
"The smartest loop in the saddle world" isn't exactly true. This loop was inspired by a similar loop on a Selle Anatomica saddle, but I think on theirs it was incidental, not a saddlebag-lifting feature.
The final 7sp hubs. A collaboration. They're coming along really nicely, just a couple of things to change.
Here's an interesting passage in a book my wife is reading: Fleischman is in Trouble. Just interesting, that's all.
Here's a good little essay on the state of fly-fishing, which parallels the state of many things, I'm sure, and bicycles, for sure.
If you have no interest in fly-fishing or aren't familiar with the lingo, it might not strike ye olde chord with you. But it's still good.
It's the same with bikes. It's "all fine," meaning it is inevitable. Niches start groovy and spread to mainstream and are better for it in many ways, because the love is spread, and that's good, the sweet spot grows and something like a pure golden age begins, with helpful smart useful innovations and availability and pricing kind of for every budget. One good design or innovation has a ripple effect, and the whole big puddle grows better with more contributions, people doing what they can and what they like, not motivated by size or fame.
The world takes notice and opportunists and innovators from other industries get involved and use other appeals and technology or materials, whatever it takes, to grow the market bigger than the golden age (will try not to use that term again) will allow. They see bicycles as backwards technology that needs updating, electrifying, motorizing, shape-shifting. They got to the status quo too late to make the important contributions, so they're uncomfortable with them and tend to wipe them out.
At the same time that's happening, there's a professional class of sponsored racers who are all at once getting paid (not a bad thing) for "testing" gear and creating a market for it among lesser riders, The media loves the innovations and pro racing, because it's news and makes it easy to fill pages with editorial and advertisements. At this time the bicycle industry is a legitimate large industry and employs tons of people. Business that started out with three people now employ, literally, 500, and their paychecks require more growth. Investor groups in Europe and India and China buy midsized companies with the intent to grow them into big companies, and that requires more innovation that reaches new markets. It isn't a matter anymore of supply needs or wants, but creating new ones. They do this with the slightly ironic but time-tested combination of dumbing down its use through technology. Some people truly cantt move a lever that pulls a cable that moves a derailer, or they think it's crude to have to, so bicycles are "simplified" with shifting systems that moved from silence to clicks to what's been described as a whirr or a purr, like ejecting a CD from a nice stereo system.
Easier and No Practice always sells, and is hard to argue against without sounding elitist. Because, the opposite, harder and requires practice, sounds horrible, and sounds like you don't care about old Uncle Billy and Grandma Mathilda, who've seen better days. But one of the points of high technology, beyond "improving your life," is to make more profitable products. Imagine a the selling prices of a 2023 mode fully manual camera or typewriter made in American, Japan, Germany, or Sweden. It would cost more than the market would pay for mechanical movements and out-in-the-open simplicity. What the market will pay more for is not having to learn how to use something.
(Do electric can-openers and pencil sharpeners contribute, in their fields, as much as iPhones, laptops, and those car screens that let you see what's behind you before you back up and hit somebody?)
Big company ownership and growth plans always lead to dilution. Many improvements happen that can't happen in a niche. Look at the Shimano Deore hub, look at the price, o my goodness gracious. Look at tires, look at lots of things, but also look at what happens in a market that by any natural measure is limited to the segment.
In the case of Rivendell, here's how it would work. We sell to somebody for $8 million. The new owner or owners—in the case of public shareholders—are NOT going to be happy with my salary ($82K for the last three years), and they have a bigger staff to support, and the only way to do that is grow bigger.
I am all for us growing bigger, because I think everybody should have a shot at our bikes. But growing bigger means dealing with suppliers who can make more bikes or brakes or cranks, and paint the bikes with the same detail, the masking of the creamed areas, and so on, and they'd find it impossible to find those vendors. They don't exist, ONE GUY and a part-time helper paint all of our Taiwan models. He is Wonderman, and his English name is Vincent. That kind of paint can't be speeded up, and you can't just hire people and train them for a few weeks and get them up to speed.
I've been to a big assembly factory in Taichung and seen detailed paint jobs that were decals. They can't go over lug edges so they're like gratuitous artwork on a blanks space of a big fat carbon fiber tube. Vincent could paint it in, but he can't handle MUCH more work that we give him. He does local, one-off jobs, too. I saw a 1972 Colnago on his hooks, waiting to get painted, and I know his paint job would be twice as tidy as the original.
It's hard to grow big without diluting everything.
Richard Sachs has some nifty slogans. Two of them are below, and profanity alert on one of them:
Resist the urge to merge
and, profanity alert
Never fucking relent.
Richard is rare and an inspiration, always has been, going back to before the Bstone years, but we connected during those years. It's not his role to maintain a certain status to please me or anybody else. His ripple effect began in the early '70s when he started building. He can do no wrong. We don't do his kinda bikes, he doesn't make ours, but there's 99 percent overlap in 99 percent of the ways. I don't say that to horn in on his glow. I know where I and Rivendell stand and how we stack up and where we don't rub shoulders. It's not even about that. AS A BICYCLE PERSON-BUSINESSMAN, he is the main one for me. It doesn't mean I copy him, it means he's a role model, that's all.
I'm planning more fishing this coming year, with old friends. I can't exactly easily go by myself, because I have this car-driving phobia that isn't at the clinical level, it doesn't interfere with my daily life AT ALL, because I ride my bicycle where I need to go, and one of my riding buddy drives if we go to Marin. But it, along with raising a family and fear of poorness and being unable to make house payments, etc, has taken a shovel-sized divot out of my fishing life. I used to say that between 17 and 23 I did a lifetime's worth of fishing. It was a lot, but I'm still living and I want experiences, not memories. I envy an of you with good local trout fishing. Or bluegill, or smallmouths, whatever. Mainly trout, but if I could ride 30 miles to a good carp pond, I'd do it. Anyway, my tastes in fishing and flies is hard to explain to bicycle riders, but it makes sense to me and for me and is parallel to and probably influenced by my taste in bicycles. Here are some flies I'm tying as I get my tying fingers back in shape. These are indelicate and easy, and presented well, a trout will try to eat them. That's what trout do.
Multiple misgivings about this one, and if you tie your own flies you'll see the flubs in it, while at the same time admiring its proportions and a little rogue-ishness in the blend of materials.
Here are more variants of the same. For me, now, trying to retrain my fingers to handle and control materials, to improve I have to tie a dozen or more of the same basic pattern in succession. It's interesting for me to revive something that I used to do tons of. I tolerate flubs, I don't care, it's all fun for me. I don't care.
Looking at 2023
The group here is so, so good. We're going to miss Vince SO much when he leaves in the spring for a union job and all that means. Roman, who used to work here, plans to return, as kind of a Vince-replacement, but he has his own contributions.
This is a baffling television commercial. My wife cannot understand why I even give these a second thought. Good question. I have no doubt that I could get along with the people who conceived it, wrote it, and approved it. But holy cow, still, Sorry.
Looking back and forth: We're fairly settled, and we gave some money away to good causes. Lots of OM-1 derailer progress, and we may have three samples by mid-Feb. The RoadUno will happen, and the next samples will be here by late April? The last HHH tandems are coming, so if you or your children or grandchildren will want one in the next 40 years, here's your chance.
I am personally resolved, have accepted and all, that bikes with electric motors and/or electronic shifting are the future, but they're not our future, and I'm trying to figure out how to convey that, or if it's possible to continue to even mention it, without sounding grumpy or unsupportive. Every time they take a car off the road, I'm thrilled and in love with them. Every time I see them on trails I'm not. It's not important what I feel about them.
If any of you have a Rosco Bebe (labeled Rosco Bubbe but was a special run of them, and you know who and what they are or were if you got one), and your child has outgrown it, and it's a medium, and if you're in the Bay Area, then might you want to sell it to me? It won't be for RIV credit or trade, because it's not a RIV deal, it's a me-deal. PM me email@example.com. No rush.
The derailer is coming along. Will it be successful? What even IS "successful"? Here are some traditional definitions:
• profitable. It will never contribute significantly to our profitability.
• popular. About 150 million derailers are sold worldwide every year. We're shooting for 300 of them.
• revolutionary. The revolution, a reverse-action derailer (Shimano's RapidRise) already tried and flopped in the early 2000s. If Shimano couldn't get the world to accept them, we sure won't, either. And ours is, at best, a Shimano copy with better graphics. Mechanically, all we can hope for is "it feels like a Shimano."
But in the big picture, it's not derailers that shift, it's footwork and timing. In friction shifting, at least, complaining about the derailer because the shift wasn't smooth is like complaining about a spoon because you tilted it wrong on the way to your mouth and dropped half of the soup in it. Anyway, we're still happy about the progress, and so, so appreciative of your support of this wackadoodle project. I wonder about a year from now.
Today is Jan 6. Wait--wasn't that the insurrection day? Well, it's also the day we got in our last bunch of fillet-brazed Hillibikes, the Gus and the Susie/Wolbis. Here's Antonio (left), James (right), and Sergio (ladder) handing them up to Will (unseen). They cost too much to make and take too long to get, all fillet-brazed. Last chance at these painful, beautiful frames.