Bruchtal Sam Hillborne
A NOTICE:An update on how this bike performed in my first brevet season.
Last year I replaced my 1988 Bianchi with a new Fuji endurance bike and found that I still really enjoy riding it. I added some lights and bags, swapped out the rear cassette to get some lower gears and maxed out the tires to 32mm to make it even more comfortable for long rides. It's a great budget bike with very little left to do (a wheel upgrade maybe?) and I think I'll enjoy it for years to come.
This year I had decided to replace my even older Univega mountain bike with something new. I had converted the mountain bike to a makeshift touring bike over a decade ago in preparation for a tour I never rode, but the truth is the frame is too small for a tour. I'm just under 6ft and the bike's seat tube is 17". The small frame offered plenty of standover height for hopping around in the woods, but it also had proportionally short chainstays. I found that IcouldTour on the bike but panniers from whatever rack I mounted on the bike resulted in heel strike.
Initially I thought I would buy a classic tourer to replace the Univega. A long haul trucker was on my wish list. But I wondered if I would ever actually drive across the country and if that was the right choice. I started watching videos on how classic bike frames are made and researched different frame manufacturers on the internet. I let myself dream a little about super light steel frames that were built just for me. Two trips to the west coast were helpful.
During a trip to Oakland, I rented an old bike from Spinlister and rode across the Berkeley Hills and to the top of Mt. Diablo, after which I set out to find the backyard store for Rivendell in Walnut Creek. I've been quite on board with the Rivendell aesthetic and philosophy when it comes to bikes since rebuilding my Univega, which I outfitted with their silver bar-end shifters a decade ago. Will, the manager of the place, suggested I try an A. Homer Hilson for a while. I was short on time, but this short ride on the Homer made a real impression.
In Portland I rode the owner's personal bike at the sadly now defunct Norther Cycles, spoke to Ira at Breadwinner about a G-Road and saw some great work in progress across the street at the KI collective. Everyone thought a good next step for me would be to attend the Philadelphia Bike Expo this fall, which I did with my son. We walked through the exhibition hall, took a group ride and I spoke to builders from all over the country. Rivendell had a booth there and I had a chance to speak with Will again. I told him I'm trying to decide if I "need" a custom frame. He said, "You don't need a custom bike." As simple as that!
He was right. For one, a dedicated randonneur bike might be a bit too "nutty" when I wanted to charge it. A more "normal" build would probably make more sense if I ever planned on touring this bike. I needed something that could handle wider tires with fenders, be easy to service on the road, and have the aesthetics of a lugged steel frame.
A few more calls and visits to local bike shops to look for the perfect mix of price, quality, aesthetics and je ne sais quoi yielded unsatisfactory results. I decided to order a homer from Riv. I was going back and forth on a bill with Will when I happened to come across a forum post on the BOB email list that listed a double top tube Sam Hillborne for sale in Rochester. It was the local Rivendell dealer's personal bike that he was selling. He reduced his stock after closing his shop... tough times for a niche bike shop owner. I went up and tried it on a fast ride around the block. He had set it up for commuting with albatache rods and friction shifting. It had some nice touches, like Paul brakes, Velocity wheels, VO cranks and Spécialités TA rings. The frame and components have been well maintained with just a scratch or two in the paint. I canceled the Homer bill at Riv, put the Sam in the back of the car, and drove him home. This would be my light touring/randonneur bike.
Rivendell Sam Hillborne as purchased
drive and brakes
The bike came with a 9-speed 11-30t rear cassette and a Velo Orange crankset with 40/30 Spécialités TA rings. I swapped out the cassette for an 11-34t after climbing a particularly steep incline 100 miles in one ride. The front derailleur is a Claris and the rear derailleur is a silver Microshift R10, both of which worked very well and weren't begging to be replaced. In my experience having such a small big ring is an odd setup, but this bike was a commuter, not a racer. A few rides convinced me that I rarely spend time in these top gears and that the small rings ensured that progression through the gears was not "slowed down". I really like the look of the sleek silver R10, most of the new components are black.
The brakes are Paul Racer Center Pull Caliper brakes. These are very powerful brakes, which I find are as powerful, if not stronger, than the BB7 discs on my Fuji. Nothing had to be changed here.
cockpit and saddle
The bike came without a seatpost and I was using an aluminum post from my son's mountain bike until a Nitto Crystal Fellow arrived at my doorstep. I spent the end of winter rubbing a little Proofide into the leather of a piping hot, honey-colored Brooks B17, which I hope will speed up the breaking-in process. I had ridden a Brooks Flyer on the Univega and found it generally worked for me. A B17 seemed like standard equipment on a Riv which I thought would be a good guideline.
I've been trying the Albatache handlebars with the retro friction Suntour shifters for a while. If I kept this for commuting I would probably love this setup. However, I didn't think I would love them for a long drive. I'm used to drips and again went for a Rivendell recommendation, the Nitto Noodle. I had done some measurements to try and get the same stack/reach as my Fuji and ordered a 110mm stem from Nitto Technomic Deluxe (Talux). However, these measurements did not result in a perfect fit. A couple of long rides convinced me to swap out the 110mm for a 70mm Technomic I had on the Univega, which was much more comfortable. So much for my DIY Bike Fit! All's well that ends well I think. A set of indexed (but slick) 9-speed Shimano bar-end shifters, new Jagwire cables, Tektro TRP brake levers, and an old eBay St. Christopher bell rounded out the cockpit.
Nitto Noodle und Technomic Stiel
bags and racks
This bike will probably never see four panniers and a full tour, but I wanted some options for doing overnight randonneuring events as well as light touring. For this bike I chose black, waxed canvas bags. Despite their heavier weight than more modern Xpac or Cordura alternatives, I thought they would look timeless and last a very long time. I chose a large and boxy Acorn Rando bag that would rest on a Nitto M1 on the front of the bike. This bag isn't the biggest of any bag you can buy, but I didn't want to carry everything but the kitchen sink. I had previously purchased a Carradice Nelson longflap and quick release Bagman post to carry a light load on my back. I figured these two bags would handle most of my on-bike use cases.
I would note that while I had read and seen many videos touting the benefits of a low trail design for carrying a front load, most custom builders I spoke to recommended a mid trail design , which has the Sam Hillborne. I had some concerns that overloading the front of the bike would result in slow handling. Most Rivendell literature these days seems to indicate that a rear load is some sort of their preference, and they no longer sell front bags (but they seem to be enthusiastic about bike baskets).
Finally, a rustproof Tubus Cosmo pannier rack is on standby for days when I need to carry rear panniers. I have a full set of Jandd Mountaineering panniers in pretty good condition from the 80's that I can retrofit with larger hooks to fit the wider tubes of the Tubus rack. Have yet to try, but I can see the Tubus rack will put those rear panniers way out of heel strike range. I doubt I'll ever ride front bags on a bike. If I ever need a full touring setup, I'll probably want to evaluate a dedicated bike.
By the way, the bagman support and the tube rack interfere with each other and cannot be used together. I have to tie down the Carradice bag with the leather straps to the saddlebag loops (imagine that!) if I want to use panniers with the cross saddlebag.
Acorn Large and Carradice Nelson Longflap
electrics and lighting
One thing I learned while driving the Fuji was that USB lighting (and really all electrical stuff) is a spotty mess. The day before a ride, I charged a phone, two headlights, two taillights, a camera, and batteries for the GPS and a USB power brick. Even then, you never know when the power will go out. I was easily won over by the idea of a generator hub and a bunch of great lights. I ordered a SON28 and asked Glenn Swan to rebuild the front wheel to use it. Glenn also ordered a Schmidt Edelux II (which I mounted on the left side of the M1 rear rack), a B&M Secula Plus that mounted on the left seatstay, and a Toplight Line Brake Plus (for use with the Tubus rear rack ). I did the wiring and soldering of the quick disconnect coaxial connector to the hub. It all came from Peter White Cycles in NH, who was helpful when I had questions about the generator hub vibrations I felt while riding the bike. "Pull the axle a little tighter." And that fixed that.
As I said, I haven't used the Tubus rack yet, but the Edelux II and Secula Plus are an excellent light set. I carry a set of USB lights with me just in case, but the Edelux's bright and even beam and the knowledge that I'll never be without lights are a big part of comfort as I drive through the night. I still have a power brick and spare batteries for the eTrex, and I don't think I'll be overcomplicating the electrics of this dependable bike with a USB charging system.
Side view of the bike.
wheels, tires and fenders
The bike came with a very nice wheelset. Blue anodized Velocity Dyad 36 spoke rims laced to Velo Orange Grand Cru hubs. I bought another Dyad rim but you couldn't get the anodized version so I had Glenn rebuild that blue rim with the SON28 hub and build a new wheel with the new black rim and Grand Cru hub to replace. One day I will learn how to do it too, but it gives me a lot of comfort to know that someone got it right.
The previous owner ran a number of Continental Speed Rides which he considers very valuable. They're a bit knobby and probably not exactly what I'd drive on a long road trip. I ordered a set of Rene Herse 44mm Snoqualmie Pass tires with the Endurance casing. The ride is a bit smoother on the slick pavement and they're fine off-road as long as I'm not in a wet mess, where knobs would be nice. When pumped up to about 25 psi, rides down chewed up back roads are surprisingly easy on the rear end.
Rivendell does not sell fenders other than SKS fenders. They believe the Securi clips will keep you from flipping the handlebars if a stick gets stuck between the spokes and the fender stays. It was only this winter that the SKS P65 longboards came loose from a stuck stick on my Univega, so I understood their value. There are certainly nicer fenders I would have liked to see on this bike, but I mounted a pair of P50 longboards over the tires. I think they look pretty nice. They are certainly easy to assemble.
I took over this bikeseveral long drives this year, includinga trip around the lakes Keuka and Seneca,a ride around all the Finger Lakes, and one to Lake Ontario and Skaneateles. I enjoy riding it more than the more "advanced" Fuji, but I tend to be a bit faster on the Fuji. I know this because I've repeatedly ridden a 24-mile practice loop to Brooktondale and back and kept logs. However, speed is not always king for me. The bicycle, as Grant Petersen is often quoted, is “ridable art” and people seem to be realizing it. It's a nice conversation starter when meeting people and a joy to drive. I sat in the garage one night and just admired it, which I don't do with anything in particular.
The bike's handling is now very stable, but not sluggish. However, earlier this year I did a ride where I experienced a fast descent that resulted in a sharp left turn. At that time I had the 110 mm stem which was too long for me and carried a front load. The bike felt like it didn’t want to make that turn. I thought I might end up in the ditch. Ever since I switched the stem to the 70mm stem I have found the bike to be very predictable.