This review appears in the August/September 2016 issue of Adventure Cyclist. See the video review here or below.
By Patrick O’Grady
Welcome to Rivendell. Please set your watch back to … oh, heck, just throw that tiresome, old ticker away and let’s ride bikes!
Time seems to stand still at Rivendell Bicycle Works. Want the latest and greatest? Carbon framesets, disc brakes, electronic shifting? You are cordially invited to shop elsewhere.
But if you seek comfortable, durable steel with sensible, reliable components, why, you’ve come to the right shop. Grant Peterson and his woolly elves will see you now.
A quick disclosure: I’ve done a little business with Rivendell over the years. Odd bits of this, that, and the other; hard-to-find widgets, doodads, and dinguses to keep my aging fleet in fighting trim. But I’d never actual ridden a Rivendell bike.
So I dropped Grant a note, proposing that Adventure Cyclist review a Sam Hillborne. The Sam is what Grant described as “our versatile road bike, plenty tour-able … fine for fire roads, and road loads, but we say no to loading it up for fire roads.”
Grant came back with a counterproposal: by all means, have a squint at the Sam. And while you’re waiting for one, how about a peek at the Joe Appaloosa, Clem Smith Jr., and Clementine? Not so much a tour by bike as a tour of bikes.
Well, shucks. Sure. Why not?
Ours was a formal introduction. Most media/product managers simply ask, “What size ya ride?” and send that size bike along, or the closest thing to it. But Grant asked for my height, weight, saddle height, and pubic-bone height, and he will ask you for these things too.
Crunching the numbers spat out a 58cm Joe, two centimeters larger than my usual size. I feared the bike would be too tall — maybe it was that double top tube (not pictured, only included on 58cm and larger models) — and when I actually saw it at The Bike Coop in Albuquerque I was certain it was.
But whaddaya know? It wasn’t. And while I wouldn’t care to perform an abrupt straddle-the-top-tube(s) dismount on a technical stretch of singletrack, let us remember: the Joe is not a mountain bike.
What it is, is comfortable. Versatile. Resilient. Elegant. Attach a medium Nitto Campee rear rack to the hourglass-shaped mounts just up the seatstays from the dropouts and you can carry 44 pounds of must-haves on your ride while leaving the dropout eyelets free for the fenders of your choice, even while running tires as broad as 50mm. I stuck to loads of 25 pounds or less and did without the fenders, which can be a nuisance off road.
The bolts atop the ornate fork crown will accept a Tubus rear rack and some Nitto racks. Rivendell recommends its Nitto Mark’s M1 rack, which lets you carry an additional 4.4 pounds up front.
Also up front: Rivendell’s Choco-Moose, a swoopy stem-handlebar hybrid that’s sort of the love child of Rivendell’s Bullmoose and Albatross bars. The combination of two top tubes and these butched-up Pee-Wee Herman bars, which fairly beg for streamers, may have you wondering why Rivendell didn’t go full ballooner, maybe throw in a Schwinn Slimline tank and a deck of playing cards for the spokes.
But as it turns out, the twin top tubes stiffen the lugged frame and the Choco-Moose straightens your spine, and before long you’re wondering why you ever accepted any other kind of bar into your life. Grip ’em at the grips or at the bends it’s all good. I spent a lot of time on the bends, especially at cruising speed.
My go-to mountain bike is a Jones 29er with H-Bars, and so I felt right at home steering with the Choco-Moose, never more so than when an impulse took me off asphalt and onto Trail 365 at the Elena Gallegos Open Space.
The 700c x 45mm Kenda Kwick Bitumen tires weren’t quite up to our sandy singletrack — Rivendell’s Will Keating says he likes the Schwalbe Smart Sam for riding off road — but the rest of the Joe did just fine. The Tektro V-brakes smoothly slowed and stopped me without incident as conditions dictated, and despite the long wheelbase and broad bar I even cleaned a cramped S-shaped gate while exiting the trailhead.
And I looked good doing it, too, because the Joe Appaloosa is very much a horse of a different color on the trails in these parts.
“I like your bike,” said one mountain biker aboard a more typical off-road rig.
“Looks like the perfect tool for the job,” said another.
Frankly, I had been reluctant to take such a handsome bike off pavement — Rivendell pays at least as much attention to form as it does to function — but the handout that comes with the Joe advises owners to “think of each [paint] chip as your bike writing its own history. Your bike, like Levon, wears its war wounds like a crown!”
Other mental adjustments were required as well. The drivetrain is mostly familiar — Shimano Deore rear derailer, Shimano Claris front derailer, Shimano cassette, KMC chain— but as you move forward you’ll notice some interesting departures from the norm.
First, there’s the 173mm Silver triple crankset, with 43/35/24 rings. Some of those numbers may throw you, but it was rock solid and a fine match with the nine-speed, 12-36T cassette; if you can’t climb in a 19-inch low gear, it’s time to pull on your walking shoes.
Second, there are the SunRace thumb shifters. Rivendell likes thumb shifters, and so do I, but these non-indexed thumbies took a little getting used to. While they click, a click does not a gear change make. I botched a few shifts while settling in, and finding oneself clattering around between cogs is more noticeable when riding flat pedals in street shoes.
Flat pedals? Street shoes? Yep. Did I mention that Joe is a Rivendell? No need to squeeze into your Special Suit for a ride (though of course I did, eventually, being a creature of habit).
But before I went all slick-Lycra-and-hard-plastic on the poor thing, I spent some time riding the Joe in street clothes, sans helmet, gloves, or Sidis. It’s perfectly fine to do that, if you don’t mind a bit of hate mail, and it feels awfully natural on the Joe.
Indeed, the fourth recommendation in Rivendell’s “Tips for Happy Riding” reads: “At least one ride in 10, go without your sunglasses and gloves. Sometime next month, put some double-sided cheap-style pedals on a good bike and ride in non-cycling garb. It works shockingly well, and sends a good message to would-be bicycle riders.”
Rivendell’s been sending good messages like that since 1994, and the Joe Appaloosa is just their latest friendly tug on your jersey sleeve. If the hand lingers a bit, no sweat, it’s just gauging the quality of your wool.
You are wearing wool, aren’t you?
Patrick O’Grady has written and cartooned about cycling since 1989 for VeloNews, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, and a variety of other publications. To read more from Patrick, visit maddogmedia.wordpress.com
Contact: Rivendell Bicycle Works, 2040 N. Main St. #19, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, 800.345.3918 rivbike.com