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Our thinking about bikes

Rivendell Atlantis

A 61cm Rivendell Atlantis with Albatross handlebars, racks front & back, chubby tires, nice parts and a comfy seat. Ready for just about anything. 

Bikes should be safe first, comfortable second, useful third, and beautiful fourth.

1. SAFE—

When I started RBW, I told my wife our No.1 goal was CREATE NO QUADRAPLEGICS. It sounds like a harsh, poor-taste joke, but it's not. Riding a bike is more dangerous than a lot of things, but you're on your own when it comes to skill, judgement, and luck. All we can do is make you a frame with a decent cushion between whole and broken. The best way to do that is make it with steel, because steel doesn't snap (it bends, it dents, it fatigues slowly). Then we use enough steel in the stressed areas to add more safety; and use only builders we thoroughly trust—to all but eliminate shoddy craftsmanship as a danger factor; and finally, we test frames to make sure.


Many bike riders associate comfort with sloth, and that is insane. When you ride a bike, any discomfort should come from burning muscles, not the bike or your riding position.

80 percent of bike-comfort is a high handlebar that takes weight off your hands and decompresses your arms. Ten percent (or so it seems) comes from a longish wheelbase to smooth the ride (make the bike easier to control); and the final ten percent comes from cushy tires to soak up bumps before they pound into you. When you buy a bike here, we make sure it's the most comfortable bike you can ride.


Riding purely for exercise is a small part of a good long life with bicycles. You should be able to do things on your bike. Pick up some food or commute or carry spare food or gear for a longer ride—something other than jack up your heart rate and make you sweat. It's cool (and inevitable) that you'll own more than one bike, but they should all have the capacity to help you live your life.

4. BEAUTIFUL— because a bike you may ride for 30 or 40 years ought to be a pleasure to look at, like any other nice thing you own and keep for a long time.

Beauty is subjective, but to our way of thinking, it's a combination of proportions and detail. For instance, skinny frame tubes look better than fat ones. Fat tires (to a point) look better than skinny ones. Good clearance for tires and fenders look good because they promise utility. Decals should be easy to read and restrained, and should be outlined. Headbadges should offer something to look at besides a company's logo. Forks should have a nice curve. Lugged frame joints are always more attractive than non-lugged ones. A bike set up like the one below may look unkempt, but the proportions promise comfort, the crap on it shouts "I get used a lot, for everything, day and night, all year long."

There's an extension to this diatribe below the pictures here. Addressing how "classic" we are or aren't.




A Rivendell Staff Bike (link). This on is a 59cm A. Homer Hilsen. Bikes get more useful the more stuff you add on. 

All of our frames--from our lightest-weight Roadeo to our tough-as-nails Hunqapillar--are steel. And until recently all were fully lugged. Lugged means tough and elegant. It also means expensive. So recently we've released some semi-lugged frames that make buying a Rivendell more realistic for more people. More on that later.

Rivendell Roadeo

Here's a 53cm Rivendell Roadeo with a mix of more contemporary parts. Mix old with new, new with new, whatever makes sense. We can help.

Here's a 62cm Hunqapillar with typical Rivendell build: wide gearing, bar-end shifting, a value-mix of parts, tough wheels, big tires and a Brooks B17. 

A 52cm Clem Smith Jr., our new-for-2015 value-priced offering. A perfect knockaround bike. Just add a basket and go. 

We don't copy the "classics"

We can't deny any inspiration at all, but my gosh, there are so many differences, so many different drivers of our design, and the actual results are far from "old skool." The Rivendell you ride today is leagues beyond your Grampa's Raleigh. It was good at the time, we're glad he liked it, no disrespect here.

It's the same with prewar Parisians bikes baguettes and wine bottles over cobblestones, dashing to some affair. Maybe it's the college days winding through campus on your trusty Schwinn, or your old Italian racing bike that you've recently restored but is now handing up as wall-art. (You now ride carbon.)

Throw all those kinds of bikes together, and their influence is 15 percent. Far more influential (40 percent?) were the best American steel frames of the '70s, which were objectively better than those. Other influences included the irreverence for tradition that came with the mountain bikes. In the late '70s and early '80s, the mountain bike pioneers were thinking about bikes differently, and lots of good came of it. 

When we look at our bikes, we see the invisibles: Seat binder bolts you can replace from any hardware store not just in America, but in the world. The extended head lugs, longer fork steer tubes, and long-quill stems that, combined with gently or radically upsloping top tubes, make it so easy to raise the bars for a comfortable perch...shifters that offer a friction option and aren't part of the brake lever....cork grips, kickstand plates, beautifully curved fork blades.

The tubing looks normal from the outside, but the invisible butts and tapers and bellies were improved upon from the reasonable (but not as good!) tubing profiles most builders buy off the rack...Our lugs and fork crowns are our own designs and ours exclusively. They're interesting, quirky now and then, fairly beautiful, and always  strong.

They're the bikes we ride every day, everywhere we go. They'll work as well for you.