pre thanksgiving longy, longer than the recommended blog length. A 7-to-10 minute read

pre thanksgiving longy, longer than the recommended blog length. A 7-to-10 minute read

Here's a pro-paper thing, pretty neat, less than 18 minutes, and ironically, no reading involved. Grab a kombucha and relax! A little irony that you have to listen to it, but I didn't get the transcript.


 There are some things about frame design that I've been thinking about lately that I can talk about inside Rivendell but I don't want to bring up publicly, because certain things don't work well on the internet. Plus, they're small things that feel huge to me but wouldn't to a lot of people; and then there's the slam dunk thing that somebody will read something into it and get mad or defensive or aggressive and I just don't want that. Then they'd say if you don't want it, if you can take it, then you shouldn't say it, or just keep it to yourself. It's just completely not worth it. Plus plus, if I were to spell it out clearly, it would seem so obvious that some people would think I was arrogant for suggesting it's a new way to look at design, or that if I'm so smart, why did it take me 35 years to "discover" this simple thing. It's small, anyway.


 But those unnamed tiny things about design are pretty neat. Blame it on everything.


The Silver2 shifter is coming along:

The shifter itself is 99 percent perfect by our standards, which means it's unsellable in the normal bicycle market. For me, though...well, it's as good as it needs to be. It's not an automatic shifter. If that's a put-off, you won't like it. The guts are the same as our old (now classic?) Silver shifter, but the shape has changed to make it more ergo as a thumby, as you see here. It'll also be a bar-ender, and can be a downtuber too, but come on now.

We're working on the thumbish mount, also shown here. Small tweaks, but three of them. It works as is---I've been riding it even on smokey days with my N95 mask, and it's luscious, smooth, just really excellent.

If you want to be overinformed about it AND are over-the-top interested in getting a pair of them when they're out, follow the link below to sign up for the Silver2 mailing list:

Silver 2 Email List Sign Up

and I'll put you in a folder and send out secret information on it that nobody else will get until later, if ever.  The XX percent is the percentage likelihood that you'll get a pair as soon as they're available, and it's helpful for us to know that because it'll help us order the right amount. You can probably expect a slight discount if you then actually follow thru and order within a certain allotted time.

So a proper and trackable subject would be like:

SILVER2 / Roger Brigsee / 90

It will certainly shift nine cogs. Possibly 11 with fiddling. Count on nine, tho. Don't say in the email, "If it shifts eleven, put me down for two! :)"


 The Gus Boots-WIllsen is also creeping along. In case you missed it the first time around, here's the working art for the head badge. It is not final:

We may offer it in different colors, and it's possible than only the gold above will stay the same. Do you recognize John Goodman? He wasn't exactly the inspiration, but I wanted an oldish guy with puffy cheeks not quite as exagerrated as Louis Armstrong, and kind of a Goodman head but not quite as jowly. Firmed a bit by cheeks full of air. John Goodman does play the harmonica, and a good model for the badge. A cross btw him and a '40s blues guy. He is neither black nor white. He is mixed race. Music is more inclusive than a lot of things, isn't it? The most, maybe. Go, music.

Our second round of Gus frames is coming along. Would you like to see a work-in-progress brochure? No need to call out the typos. I know a d that should be an s. Some sentences need word-rearrangement. I might remove the curse. Here's a word-only and not-ready-to-print brochure looks like.

If your initials are EE, MH, or KY, feel free to proof it.

Gus Boots-Willsen, a Hillybike

In the fall of 1977, Joe Breeze built a mountain bike frame using virgin, state-of-the-art materials, and assembled it with fresh and trail-worthy parts. Known as Breezer No. 1, that bike was and is still the world’s first fully baked, non-hodge-podge mountain bike.

Joe rode the bejesus out of it on Mt. Tamalpais in California, and in the rockies in Colorado. Then in March 2012 the Smithsonian borrowed it. If you could rent Breezer No. 1 for a day and ride it (with good form) over bumps and rubble, you’d feel about what Joe felt, because bumps and rubble haven’t changed since 1977.

What’s changed are mountain bikes. Thru the ‘80s they were simple: strong frames and forks with big tires, strong brakes, and low gears. Suspension forks, borrowed from motocross emerged in the early ‘90s, and the technology race was on.

New technology is always cheered by racers, riders, manufacturers, media, the public...and encouraged by Red Bull events and YouTube videos. Each tech advancement leaves mountain biking’s flannel shirt, workboots-and-camaraderie roots further behind. The simple bike has become too boring for the market.

That’s the matter of fact origin of the Gus Boots-Willsen.

We call Boots a Hillybike…an awkward term, but one of the perks of designing your own bikes is getting to paint, name, and categorize them any way you like. Roman here suggested Hill bike. We liked it and added the y for fun and to make it one word. We want to see Hillybike (the term) catch on, but we don’t see that happening. Mostly, far more important to bicycle riders, we want to see this kind of bicycle come back, 40 years later. It doesn’t matter what you call it or who makes it.  

Hillybike (HB) vs Modern Mountain Bike (MMB)

Looks: The HB has skinny tubes, fat-tires, and is toyish and friendly, like the first mountain bikes. The MMB is fat, often a matte dark color, rarely steel, and looks incomplete without a motor.

Purpose: The HB is for travel, exploring, fun. The riding can be fast, but is never competitive. The MMB is for speed, competition, thrill-seeking, and risk.

Technology: The HB lacks is a magical mix of wheels and axles, levers, screws, pulleys, wedges, a saddle, and that’s all. No hingest, hydraulics, or discs. The MMB welcomes all technology, and borrows heavily from motorcycles.

Versatility: The HB blends in, looks and feels at home on road or tail, in city or boony. MMB: It looks out of place in town or in nature, but right at home in mountain bike parks.

Uniform: The HB rider wears what fits, makes sense for the weather, and isn’t overtly sportsy. The MMB rider wears logo-rich bike-specific clothing, with pads or guards to protect in crashes.


Eight00 years ago when Genghis Khan and his fellow Mongolians rode horses in battle, they were isolated enough from the gallop to shoot arrows with half a chance of hitting foes. They conquered the world.

For a thousand years, Mongolians have been the smoothest riders in the world, the most at home on a horse. Horses give them milk, meat, alcohol, transportation, and companionship. Their parents plop them on a horse at age two, and and in a few years they’re one with the horse, smooth as Kessler whiskey, gliding over the steppe, unaffected by the churning legs kicking up dust below.

A Mongolian’s horse is bigger than a pony, but not by much. It has stout legs to handle the rough-ground galloping without twisting its ankles and knees. To prepare the horse for a saddle, the rider lays down a pad of woven horsehair that’s cushy, waterproof, breathable, and drains water exactly as spectacularly as one of those wondrous plastic pot scrubbers.

A Mongolian saddle that looks so wrong but works so well. It’s nothing at all like the long, broad, shallowly dipped saddles favored by John Wayne. Wayne just ambled along with his cows, treating the saddle of his Hollywood horse like it was a chair, and sitting heavy on it like a sack of rice. It works fine for the Wayne gallop, also known as ambling.

The Mongolian saddle evolved for the athletic, Mongolian style riding required to chase the other guys on the steppe. This saddle is short, deep, U-shaped, and wooden. The front part of the U is the pommel, (ancient Latin for fruit or apple), the equivalent of the apple-sized horn on a cowboy saddle. But it isn’t a rope anchor; it’s a barrier against falling forward, and it evolved to prevent pain or damage down there. The rear of the U is the cantle, an old word for corner, and it keeps you from flipping off the back.

Mongolians use short stirrups, so they can stand high above the valley of the U, even with bent knees. Their legs tense and relax, as needed, and the big air gap between their crotch and the bottom of the U gives the horse something to bounce up into without banging plumbing. If Mongolians rode this way on a cowboy-type saddle, they’d flop forward and flip back.

To complete the Mongolian system are metal studs on the seat of the saddle — an idea, it’s said—that Genghis Khan came up with to keep his team riding high, smooth, fast. They regulary won battles against armies that outnumbered them as much as five-to-one.

This isn’t trivia or irrelevant history. If you ride a bicycle on trails, it couldn’t be more relevant.

There are two ways to look at a trail. When speed or stunts are goals, you see the trail as your arena, and the earth’s surfaces as your impediment. You push your limits, so you armor up with a tech bike, and wear armored and padded clothing in case you crash.

Riding armored-up like this on max-tech mountain bike on anything less than a combat mission is like wearing a fireproof suit and bringing a chainsaw to a campfire..

On the other hand, when speed and winning a race isn’t your goal, and travel, exploration, and fun are, you see the trail as an ally that lets you pass through.

Can you ride like a Mongolian on a suspended bike and combine the benefits of mechanical and organic suspension to reach some kind of super smooth nirvana? Only hypothetically, but it goes against human nature. The fancy bike either allows you to ride sloppier with impunity, or do radical things you wouldn’t do without it. Either way, you’ll be tempted to ride more aggressively.

To ride your bike like a Mongolian rides a horse, you need an unsuspended bike. Only a plain bike selects and reinforces good technique. Only a plain bike will make you a more aware and better rider, absolutely.

Down a bumpy trail, stand on the pedals like a Mongolian in stirrups to create that same pocket of air between saddle and crotch, and let the bike bounce into it, while your flexing ankles and knees contribute minorly.

If the descent is steep, lean a bit back, and catch the flared rear of the saddle, slightly squeezing it with your upper and inner thighs. That flare is like the Mongolian saddle’s cantle, just rotated 90 degrees, and instead of catching your lower butt-cheeks, you squeeze it with your thighs, then sit on the schmoose. You dial in the suspension by varying the squeeze and the weight. It’s fantastic! Your handlebar’s the ersatz pommel.

On steep descents, lower the saddle a bit, push against the handlebar (your pommel), sit on your thighs, and hang your butt low off the back of the saddle, to weight the rear wheel for better braking, as your joints flex, too. Your body stays steady as the bumps push the bike into the airgap and thigh fat. Roughness get smoothed into submission by this symphony of simplified suspension.

All skilled riders ride this way, even if they’ve never heard of Genghis Khan or Mongolia. It’s how you ride a bike.

Elevator Crash Course in Ancient Mongol Factology

They didn’t like the sight of blood. They didn’t wash, for fear of fouling the wild water. Genghis conducted no religious wars, but encouraged people of different faiths to coexist. The sky was his god. He didn’t torture, and often invited the conquered to live with them and gave them good jobs. Nomadic Monglians lived in wool felt gers. They didn’t make and sell things or grow food; they hunted, herded, ate a ketogenic diet, and loved too much fermented alcoholic mare’s milk. They didn’t read or write, but during Genghis’s reigh (1206 until he died in 1227) they conquered the world with small horses and bows and arrows. They once headed toward India but hated the heat and their bows lost snap in it; so they turned back to the cold in the north, where they cooled off and the snap got put back. Kublai Khan (“In Xanadu did...”) was Genghis’s grandson. The empire went to hell at the end of the 14th century, as the post-Genghis, post Kublai Mongols got normalized. They quit being nomads, got rich, greedy, super mean, lazy, and started fighting among themselves like everybody else.


Designed right & rides good

Since Gus lacks pivots, springs, and hydraulics, those who’ve never ridden one may underestimate its capabilities. But hidden within its simple, graceful architecture are four design elements that combine with your Mongo-skills to roll you comfortably and with remarkable stability over loose and rough trails:

  1. Boots’s long wheelbase makes it less jostleable, at any speed and smoother over bumps. Like long canoes in on a windy lake, long skateboards down steep streets, and long surfboards on big waves.
  2. Higher, closer grips. The head tube is high and the steer tube is long, and with any number of handlebars you’ll find it easy to put the grips where you want them for climbing, cruising, or steep descents. It’s harder to panic-crash on Boots.
  3. Extra long chainstays give Gus wheelie-resistance up steep hills
  4. The low standover makes bailing out on steep climbs easier, and remounting on steep descents safer.


Chome-moly Steel Frame for Safety, Beauty, Long Life

It’s safe because it’s tough and predictable. It resists fatigue, and when it gets whacked, it dents and buckles, never shatters. CrMo isn’t “retro,”. it’s just the best.

Nobody whips one out

A fillet-brazed Boots frame can take the builder a whole day to make, so it costs $1,600. The TIG-welded ones are faster, so cost only $900.

Even though they’re “mere” Hillybikes, both frames pass the toughest ISO mountain bike tests.

Small Things Count, Too!

The head tube is reinforced with luscious Rivrings. The rear dropouts are an ultra-strong version of an Erik Koski design from the early ‘80s, popularized by Joe Breeze. An offset kickstand hole gives tire clearance with a Swiss kickstand. Braze-ons for racks and cages abound. Any bike geek will be able to find something that doesn’t fit his or her personal style, but it’s not because we didn’t think of it.


Trail shifting, Hillybike style

When you ride up and down steepish trails, you gain and lose momentum so fast that one-or-two cog shifts can’t keep up. Plus, it’s human nature to hang in there too long with too big of a gear, and when you do that, you ultimately need to compensate with a six-tooth jump. So with a thumb-sweep, you push the chain into the big easy range. On a nine-to-12 cog cassette, you’ll spend 90 percent of your time on four or five of the cogs.

The normal modern way to shift is with indexed systems that click the chain into every gear and take the skill out of shifting. Some Shimano and MicroShift shifters both index and have a friction option, for riders who still want a friction backup.

Alternatively, you can fully commit with non-indexed (“friction”) shifters and shift silently 90 percent of the time, faster when you need to, but with no assurance of perfection. You’ll goof up more often with friction, and if that spoils the ride for you, get over it or get trigger shifters. Over time you’ll learn to shift with lighter pedal pressure and higher cadence, so you’ll shift before you grunt, and eventually you’ll master your derailers. It’s the stick-shifting of bicycles, and we’re the only bicycle company that still espouses and supports it.

Undecided? Let us help you pick. Keep in mind that although you can’t change your car from auto to manual, it’s easy and fairly cheap to do it on a bike.


Don’t weigh your wheels

Ride well-built 36 spoke wheels with brass nipples laced to 30mm to 32mm rims, covered with 2.1 to 2.8-inch tires inflated 18-to-30psi. Tubes or tubeless. These will be light enough, and will roll rounder and truer longer.

Volume trumps tread

The looser the trail, the bigger the knobs; the bigger the bumps, the fatter the tires. Gus fits tires to 2.8-inches, but 2.25-inches is a starter size. You don’t have to max out everything.

Pressure News!

Tire makers typically recommend too much air. No trail needs more than 30psi, and less is more. If the trail is really loose, ride super soft, as low as 18 psi (easy to squeeze with your fingers).

Use a pressure gauge only enough to get a sense for what 25psi (or 20, or 30) feels like. Then throw it away or paint the dial black. Don’t be a gauge-slave. It’s more fun to train your thumb and be a thumb-slave!


Rims are giant rotors, and a rotors functions as a circular lever. So taking in all we know about see-saws, pry-bars, car-jacks, shovels, and physics, that suggest rim brakes—the rim being a huge rotor— are more powerful than disc brakes. (Imagine trying to parallel park a jalopy without power steering by grabbing the steering wheel near the center. Leverage increases with diameter!)

But in trail braking, power’s not the holy grail, anyway—since even a weak brake can skid a wheel on a loose dirt. The goal is to slow or stop without skidding, and that calls for sensitivity.

V-brakes are more sensitive because they deliver more power with less clenching. When V-brakes debuted in the early ‘90s (was it?), cantilever-trained riders had a hard time modulating them, in the same way power brake virgins in cars need to recalibrate. It happens in one ride.

Since they’re the original mountain bike brakes, neo-tradists born after the golden years often pick ‘em. Cantilevers work fine, but V-brakes work better.


Road braking habits fail on the trail; and emergency braking to save your life

On roads the front brake works better, but on a steep trail that’s also bumpy or loose, if you brake the front wheel too much you’ll wheelie or skid, and probably crash. If you overbrake the rear wheel you’ll just skid and lose control. So on trails, brake more in back. Not only, just mostly.

If the trail is long, lower the saddle and sit on the back of it with the Mongolian thigh-fat squeeze/sit. It’s the horse-riding equivalent to leaning on the cantle, and makes it easier to brake without skidding.

If the trail is steep and loose and you can’t get traction for braking, your bike can become a runaway truck. Then lean back and left, and brake the rear wheel hard and skid to a stop. It’s ugly, and you’ll bleed, but it’s easier than jumping off, and your bike below you will protect you a little, not a lot.


Low-key fashion in the woods!

Athletic wear on a trail makes you look like you’re using nature as your gym; armored mountain bike clothing makes you look scary; and big corporate logos and look gross in nature.

Dress for the weather and wear clothes you could wear to a barbecue. Plaid always looks good, especially in photographs. Wear “barbecure plaid”! If you wear a helmet, go round, plain, and dorky—no fins, flames. The Nutcase watermelon and the all white earflapped Pro-Tec are kind of neat.

Shoes, Pedals, and Pedaling

Grippy, double-sided platform pedals have lots of surface area and love the rubber-soled sandals, sneakers, normal shoes, or boots you already have. Most of these pedals are designed for BMX and are perfect for Hillybiking, too.

Click-in pedals promise power around the whole stroke, but muscles don’t work that way; and they don’t give your foot enough room to move on the pedal. With platforms and normal shoes you’ll like the feeling of more power and more security when you shift your foot-forward as you stomp up dirt hills or coast down them. Platform pedals let your feet move around, and that’s why Hillybiking require’s em!

Defer to the organic movers

A bicycle— even a cool, low-tech world-beater like Boots— is an inorganic, historically unnatural way to travel on a trail. It doesn’t matter that they don’t poop and horses do. Horses have nowhere else to go, so we should compensate. When you see horses coming toward you, dismount and walk and say hi to the riders and give your last apple to Mr. Ed or Dan Patch. While you’re at it, get off or stop for incoming hikers, too. If they’re headed the same way, walk your bike past them before getting on again.

Other riders may pipe up :) !

Sometimes when riders on modern mountain bikes see you riding an unsuspended, bike, they’ll thumbs-up you for doing it the hard way (they’re unfamiliar with the easy organic Mongolian way!). In any case, that makes their bikes seem appropriate.

Don’t feel too macho — a Hillybike ridden Mongo-style can go anywhere a bicycle belongs.*

* which doesn’t include every unpaved surface on earth.

----- end of brochure as it stands on Monday Nov 19 at 2pm.

If you're interested in the GUS and want to get the inside, generally confidential dirt on every toe-stub in its development, do the same kind of thing as I asked for the SILVER2 shifter:, but this time send to

GUS / Artemis Gordon / 76

This is the kind of stuff you support when you buy something from us. It's tough out there. Don't let any flippant tone or irritating cockiness suggest to you that we don't know it. It's a rough scramble, but we're hanging in. --- Grant


Back to blog