By Patrick O’Grady
On their website, the folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works proclaim that the Sam Hillborne is “the bike that defines us more than any other.”
Still, when Adventure Cyclist proposed reviewing it, Rivendell’s Grant Petersen sent not just the one bike but four — Joe Appaloosa, Clem Smith Jr., Clementine, and Sam.
I found all four appealing, reviewed two, and bought one (the Sam Hillborne), not because I desperately needed another bike, but because I admire Rivendell’s style.
And it’s the funniest thing — that style seemed best defined by the Sam Hillborne. Thus we are reminded yet again that everything on the internet is true.
“Sam is our most popular bike, not by far, but it’s still got to be the winner,” said Petersen.
Available in your choice of orange or blue, with cream head tube and accents, the Taiwan-built, lugged steel frameset is a bargain at $1,300, especially considering that the price includes headset, bottom bracket, and 26.8mm seatpost.
Ready to ride at twice that with a Rivendell build kit, the Sam can go pretty much anywhere a wandering eye might lead you — to the job, to the store, even down that intriguing unpaved avenue that gives your road bike the shivers.
It’s what Petersen calls a “road-ish” bike. Or, as the seat tube decal puts it, “a country bike,” suitable for everything from weekday commuting to weekend expeditions.
“Unless you race for a living or for fun … there’s no great reason for riding a twitchy bike that's limited to smooth roads, lightish riders, and can’t carry even a magazine,” said Petersen. “That kind of riding is popular, but we don’t enable it.
“Sam is our idea of what a non-competition road bike should be.”
Very pretty, Colonel, very pretty. But can he tour?
Yes, sir! By industry standards, Petersen said, the Sam is “totally tourable.”
“Hundreds of riders have toured on Sams. I've toured [and] ridden tons of trails on my Sam. The tubing's strong enough, the chainstays are long enough, the wheelbase is sufficient, the head-tube angle isn't radically steep, and the clearances are better than they are on many touring bikes,” he says.
“But by our standards, a touring bike should take even bigger tires, have an even longer wheelbase, and probably have more powerful brakes, like V-brakes or cantis.”
This being the case, why did I spring for the Sam? As Petersen noted, it’s built for long-reach sidepulls, not cantilevers; it has a lighter fork and less tire clearance than the Joe Appaloosa (see my review in the August-September 2016 issue of Adventure Cyclist); and the 58cm version I evaluated no longer comes with that eye-catching, main-frame–stiffening double top tube (though you will still find the double on the 62cm size, and on the Joe, too).
Simply put, the Sam checks most of my boxes. Like most folks, I don’t get to tour whenever I like for as long as I want, so I want a lively bike that’s a pleasure to ride day in and day out, between paying work and household chores.
The Sam fills that bill admirably. It’s too well-mannered to remind you at every pedal stroke that the roads could use a little work. It’s relaxed on descents and responsive on climbs. And while I have yet to shatter any speed records or clip a pedal while carving a corner, I have no qualms about challenging its limits as the spirit moves. Sam won’t do anything stupid to you. If that’s your thing, you’ll just have to do it to yourself.
When I do wander farther afield, I keep my load light because I’m perpetually undertrained and want to enjoy the ride. And the Sam is more than capable of a short bike overnight or a longer self-contained journey with a couple dozen properly distributed pounds of must-haves.
Sam has most of the usual attachment points — rack and fender mounts, a pump peg, two sets of bottle-cage bosses — and when equipped with the standard Rivendell build kit, it’s geared and shod for rough, rolling country.
The 700c x 38mm Kenda Kwick Tendrils are right in my personal sweet spot, rubber-wise, and the 45/35/24T chainrings are just the thing for the ups and downs of New Mexico, especially when teamed with a nine-speed Deore derailer and 11–32T cassette.
Silver bar-cons that ratchet rather than index? Love ’em; this is my third set. Shimano Tiagra aero brake levers? Ditto; I use their pre-Ultegra, 600-level ancestors on two other bikes.
And the Tektro R559 long-reach, dual-pivot calipers stopped me when stopping was called for.
“Those brakes were requested and many of the details were specified by us, and now it is one of Tektro’s best-selling brakes all over the world,” said Petersen. “It allows (like on Sam) a 40mm tire and a fender, so — it’s pretty fantastic that way.”
At Rivendell you’re not strictly limited to the build kit, so with Petersen’s blessing I took a few liberties, adding SKS LongBoard fenders with mudflaps, a brass Crane bell, a Brooks B-17 saddle, a Pletscher kickstand, a Nitto Mark’s Rack, and an earth-toned Sackville SaddleSack to hang off the Brooks.
Later I sprung for a small TrunkSack for the front rack and a large Nitto Big Back Rack in case I developed delusions of grandeur. Until then, the two Sackville bags are roomy enough for running errands around the ’hood or even a light overnight jaunt to Santa Fe.
Thus bagged, my orange-and-cream Sam looks very much the country gentleman’s bike, although I’m more of a bourgeois suburbanite. Sure, with all these add-ons it weighs nearly 33 pounds, but that doesn’t bother me, and it shouldn’t bother you if you’re in the market for a versatile, durable bicycle. And by “durable,” Rivendell means a bike good for 40 years.
Lose the fenders, kickstand, and front rack, roll with lighter tires, and you’re down in the 27 lb range. But I like all those items because you never know when you’ll need them, so they’re staying right where they are.
The Sam is one of those rare bikes that I’m not tempted to doctor, fearing malpractice. “First, do no harm,” as the saying goes.
Sure, you brush your thighs against that saddlebag when pedaling. If that feels weird, just pretend you’re the captain of a tandem with a really friendly stoker who likes playing “Pattycake, Pattycake, Baker’s Man” with your buns.
Price: $2,600 with Rivendell build kit ($1,300 for frame and fork with headset, bottom bracket, and 26.8mm seatpost)
Sizes available: 51cm (650b), 55cm, 58cm, 62cm (double top tube)
Size tested: 58cm
Weight: 31 lbs ready to ride, with Shimano A520 pedals, Nitto Mark’s front rack, SKS fenders, Crane bell, Cateye Velo 8 computer, and two Blackburn stainless bottle cages
Seat tube: 580mm (center to top)
Top tube: 590mm (center to center, effective)
Head tube angle: 72°
Seat tube angle: 71.5°
Standover height: 860mm
Bottom bracket drop: 78mm
Crank spindle height above ground: 275mm
Fork rake: 52mm
Frame: Butted chromoly with investment-cast lugs, most tubes Rivendell’s Silver brand. Two sets of bottle bosses; rack and fender mounts; cable stops on top tube, down tube, and right chainstay; pump peg; kickstand plate. Color: Orange or blue, with cream head tube and accents.
Fork: Butted, lugged chromoly, flat crown, fender and rack eyelets, low-rider mounts.
Handlebar: Nitto Noodle, 480mm, 4° flare, 95mm reach, 140mm drop, 26.0mm clamp diameter.
Tape: Newbaum’s cloth, gray and orange, finished with twine
Stem: Nitto Tallux quill, 80mm
Brake levers: Shimano Tiagra aero
Brakes: Tektro R559 long-reach, dual-pivot caliper
Shift levers: Silver ratcheting bar-cons
Front derailer: Shimano Sora triple
Rear derailer: Shimano Deore, 9-speed
Pedals: VP 538 black, nylon platform with chromoly axle and sealed bearings
Crankset: Silver triple, 173mm, 45/35/24T
Cassette: Shimano HG 9-speed, 11–32T, 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32T
Bottom bracket: Shimano 110mm, sealed
Seatpost: Kalloy 248, 26.8xmm, one-bolt clamp
Saddle: Brooks B-17 (a $145 upgrade; stock is Velo)
Headset: FSA Duron X, sealed, threaded
Chain: KMC X9, silver
Hubs: Silver, 32h (front), 36h (rear)
Rims: Alex DM18
Spokes: Butted stainless, multicolored nipples
Tires: Kenda Kwick Tendril, 700c x 38mm
Front rack: Nitto Mark’s Rack ($140 upgrade)
Fenders: SKS LongBoard P50 with mudflaps ($48 upgrade)
Bell: Crane brass, hammer strike ($14 upgrade)
Kickstand: Pletscher ($15 upgrade)
45 35 24
11 111.8 86.9 59.6
12 102.5 79.7 54.6
14 87.8 68.3 46.8
16 76.8 59.8 41.0
18 68.3 53.1 36.4
21 58.5 45.5 31.2
24 51.2 39.8 27.3
28 43.9 34.2 23.4
32 38.4 29.9 20.5