Narrowing the field - Choosing What's Next - CycleBlaze

September 6, 2022

Narrowing the field

Start with a short list, then make it shorter

WHEN I BEGAN considering options, I already had the advantage of having a relatively narrow marketplace to begin with.  There are three general categories I considered: 

  • Buy-and-ride "off the rack"
  • Fully custom, bespoke builds
  • Bikes made-to-order following a general "recipe" that can be customized at the buyer's request by selecting among various component options offered by the builder ("semi-bespoke")

As a note, the line between the second and third of these options is rather blurry and vague, especially if you need a frame that is not one of the standard sizes a given manufacturer offers.  Some builders will happily build you a custom made-to-measure frame and then outfit it with (your choice of) their standard component options.  Is that a custom or semi-custom bike?  You decide.

Equally, if you buy a bare frame and equip it yourself (either on your own or by working with and through an obliging local shop) do you end up with a custom bike or a "customized" standard bike?  Perhaps it's an artificial distinction, with infinite gradations.  

The basic point is this: the more you stray from a given manufacturer's "stock" offerings, the more nearly you are creating a custom bike.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm distinguishing between fully custom and customized stock bike by considering the number of changes I'd have to make to get what I want.  On a custom bike I'd expect to tell the builder everything I want, down to make and model.  On a "semi-bespoke" bike the number of such decisions would be smaller.  And smaller is better, for me.

Ready-to-ride

Among the mass-market ready-made offerings I thought about there's the Trek 520, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, and its close cousin the Surly Disc Trucker. 

Ready-to-ride options have the virtue of (presumed) short-lead-time availability but may not be so easily customized to meet the criteria I've outlined.

I quickly eliminated the Trek 520 from consideration, despite my fondness for its ancestor my beloved 620, because it has a listed rider-plus-gear weight limit well below what I'd expect to be putting on it.  Whether that's a purely technical limitation or one driven by Trek's legal department doesn't matter.  They put it out there, and in so doing completely exempt themselves from any future responsibility or liability should anything untoward occur.

The Surly has also fallen out of consideration, despite having a good reputation as a rugged, no-nonsense offering, because of its dry weight: 31 pounds.  That's just too much for the baseline.  The hefty weight comes as a result of its being made of straight-gauge steel tubing rather than butted or double-butted steel.  I also think the more exotic steels may offer a more enjoyable ride but that's a matter of conjecture and subjective preference.

Custom / bespoke

The fully-custom made-to-order alternatives I have been dreaming of come from Seven and Waterford.  These are beautiful, handmade works of art.  They have price tags that reflect that heritage.  Both builders have predefined models to use as a starting / reference point but nothing gets built until the customer has made their choices and changes and signed off.

I just don't think I'm prepared to spend, or could really justify spending, the kind of coin it would take to add one of these beauties to my stable, and not least because realistically I can see the end of my touring days in the not-so-terribly-distant future.  It just doesn't make sense to take out another mortgage for such an extravagance.

"Semi-bespoke"

In between those extremes there are what I described at the top of this page as customizable "semi-bespoke" bikes.  I've been looking at two companies more known for building tandems than singles: Co-Motion and Rodriguez/Erickson.  

A perceived virtue of buying something from either of these outfits is that they are presumably well-versed in and highly competent at designing, engineering, and constructing bikes that can be expected to stand up to the heavy loads and high stresses that are part and parcel of a tandem's everyday life.

Both manufacturers have predefined "buy it as is" model options; you can have them build one for you without deviation from the baseline, or you can add options and make substitutions as you choose.  Doing so results in what is essentially a one-off custom bike, much like Seven or Waterford, but (depending on the degree to which you deviate from standard) for somewhat less money.  

If you're lucky you might even find one already made, outfitted (nearly) as you want, and in your size just waiting to be taken home and ridden lovingly for years to come.

Of the two, I'm currently (as in today; ask again tomorrow and you may get a different answer) leaning in the direction of Rodriguez.  Why?  It's philosophical, as much as economic, and based on an as-yet-untested assumption/perception.

On the plus side of dealing with Co-Motion, I have a longtime friend who's been in the bicycle business for 50-plus years (and who's owned a one-of-a-kind bike shop for well over 40 of those years), who also happens to be the closest Co-Motion representative to me.  I'd certainly trust him to make good recommendations and to help ease and expedite the selection and purchase process if I went that direction.  

On the other hand, and going strictly by what Co-Mo shows on their website, they seem to have gone down the "whatever's the latest trend [fad] is what we're going to offer" rabbit hole.  That's a huge downside to me.  And it's also not clear to what extent I could make substitutions (at probable extra cost, naturally) that deviate from what they offer.  Then there's the service aspect: would a Co-Mo be serviceable only at an authorized Co-Mo dealer, without voiding the warranty?  There aren't many of them in the country, so a problem in the field could spell serious trouble.

I could of course buy just the frameset and then have my friend source and install all of the rest of the bits and pieces.  But buying parts piecemeal gets costly in a hurry, and raises the all-in price to a level not all that far from the art bikes.

Rodriguez, by contrast, don't have dealers or reps as far as I can determine.  When you buy their bikes you buy directly from them.  The process involves a great deal of back-and-forth communication.  That's a Good Thing, but it's time consuming.  This being a winter project for me, I don't really care: I'm done touring for this year anyhow.

It also assumes that Rodriguez/Erickson will continue to exist, for at least as long as I own the bike.  They've been in business for nearly five decades, and the shop's currently owned by a relatively young couple who seem committed to the business, so that's in their favor.  But, in the event that the shop folds up, I'll likely be out of luck if I need service of a sort that only they could provide.

Balancing that risk, the Rodriguez website makes it clear that their priorities, philosophies, and general approach align well with mine.  Keep it simple.  Don't go for the latest whiz-bang "innovations" without considering what benefit(s) they truly offer, and what hidden costs (such as planned obsolescence or a lock-in to proprietary, non-standard components that may be difficult to obtain) there might be.  

The components they routinely select and offer are much more in line with my preferences, so I'd be less likely to make numerous and radical substitutions.  In other words, what Rodriguez builds already matches the majority of my must-have list so I would have far less "tinkering" to do to get to the final product.  Also, selecting ISO-compliant parts increases the likelihood that even small shops may have something on hand, or be able to get it easily, to help me out of a jam.

However, it's a bit of a crap shoot insofar as you basically commit without so much as a test ride of something comparable- unless you happen to be in Seattle where they're made.  So, there's an element of trust: you trust that Rodriguez knows how to build you a bike that you're going to like, and that will serve your needs and meet your objectives, without ever actually trying one.

Still, talk is cheap.  This morning I emailed them my sizing information along with a general description of what kind of use I'll be putting the bike to.  So, the conversation has begun.

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Comment on this entry Comment 14
Scott AndersonYes! Go for the one with the bottle opener! Rodriguez is a great company and I would trust them. I love my bike and would ride it everywhere except for the convenience Bike Friday gives us on flights.

Also, there’s the consideration you didn’t mention unless I missed it. It’s made in America. I like supporting the American bike manufacturing industry, as small as it is.
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Scott AndersonI am LMAO about the bottle opener! (I saw your comment on the previous page, too... :)

Made in U.S.A. is definitely a plus but in the end not likely to be a deciding factor. The ones produced offshore have already been eliminated for other reasons, and I'm not looking to European builders when there are so many quality domestic options available.
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2 months ago
Mike AylingHi Keith
Don't overlook the Rohloff IGH. 14 speeds with equal gaps between gears and if you go for the belt rather than the chain, almost maintenance free. Generally considered to be bomb proof.
Rodrigues may be able to offer one.
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2 months ago
Kelly IniguezLet me throw a curve ball at you - have you looked at Habenro Bikes? Titanium, the company is in Arizona, made to your size, but manufactured in . . . Taiwan (?). Jim and Genny ride them and love them. I already said my piece about titanium - but thought I should mention those for full disclosure.

I'm sure you are aware Jacinto has a Rodriguez. (with a bottle opener! which he has used - it comes standard on their bikes). It's his favorite. We drove to Seattle special for a fitting. We were quite surprised that a standard frame fit him. They have 22 (?) standard sizes. Great shop, very personalized, lots of attention to what YOU want/need.

Rodriguez is a good choice - not too hard on the bank book - they really know riding. They ride, not just talk.

Bike color - I had a man point out years ago that he didn't like pretty bikes. He didn't want people looking at them, and potentially stealing his bike. I can definitely see his point. At the moment I'm somewhat considering buying a bright orange bike from a friend. It is outfitted to the nines, with coordinating orange bits and bobs everywhere. A downside to me, is that it is far too attractive of a bike.

When Jacinto bought his Rodriguez, I pointed out the color thing to him. He ended up with a sedate, but attractive green color.

I like the made in the USA part also. It feels good.
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Mike AylingHi Mike-

I contemplated Rohloff, briefly, and also the 18 speed internal gearbox bottom bracket / crank that Co-Motion offer. There's a certain appeal to maintenance free, and to no more greasy chain marks on my calf. In the end neither one made the cut because they each take me back into the "sole source proprietary manufacturer" space.

I know Leo Woodland, whose experience and knowledge vastly exceed anything I'll ever accomplish, has one and loves it. But, I believe he had some problem with it and had to send it back to Germany for repair. Similarly, Jacinto Iniguez (? Kelly's husband, not sure if they share a surname. My apologies if I have it wrong.) had a failure on his a while back.

There's a none chance of getting it fixed while you wait.

I mentioned it to my bike shop owner friend and his comment was "Sewing machines have simpler mechanisms."
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2 months ago
Mike AylingMore heresy - apart from when changing gear using the bar end shifters how often do you actually ride in the drops ?
It gives you a more aerodynamic position when fighting a headwind but do you frequently get down there or do you just stay on the hoods and suck it up?
Flat bar does not have to mean a "sit up and beg" position and with a suitable stem length you can achieve the same position as on the hoods.
Of course drops do make you look like a serious rider!
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Kelly IniguezHi Kelly-

No, neither Hanabero not veloOrange nor Rivendell have really been given a hard look. I cruised VeloOrange's website and also Rivendell's in very very cursory fashion, failed to see anything that looked like what I was after, and moved on. What's special about Hanabero other than being Ti at a relatively affordable price?

Without the impediment and burden of actual knowledge ;) I'd be afraid that they would want to sell me what they have, not what I want.

The color scheme I have in mind is a dark green to dark silver or metallic gray fade, front to back. I had my upright tandem repainted many years ago in a similar color scheme and was very pleased with the look, so I'd be trying to get close to the same result with Future Bike. Handsome, but definitely not flashy. Rather like me, now that I think of it...
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Mike AylingHi Mike-

I'm hardly ever on the drops, but they're nice in a headwind, as you rightfully say. Even better they give me five separate and distinct places to put my hands (which I move about every ten to fifteen seconds, typically). Most often I'm on the bend (NOT the same thing as "being on a 'bender' ") or "around the corner" on the sides of the bars at the backs of the brake hoods.

Otherwise I'm on the tops of the brakes, the straight segments of the bars, or occasionally on the drops just for a bit of variety and to stretch my back (at the expense of my neck. Oh well nothing's perfect.)

Separating the shifters from the brake levers is, as I hope I made clear, about "separation of concerns" (a term borrowed from the software development industry) and simplification of the overall mechanism. I do like the STI shifters on my sport bike, but wouldn't / done want them on a touring rig.
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2 months ago
Kelly IniguezTo Keith AdamsYou like lugs, Rivendell certainly does lugs! I've lusted after their lugs for years. Alas, no recumbent I know of has lugs. My butt says I must ride a recumbent . . .

the attraction to Habenero is titanium at a cheaper price. Jim outfitted the frames himself. I think that was a winter's entertainment, finding the parts and doing the work.

I had a Santana triplet, back when they were custom order. I rode it with the kids when they were small. It was a custom fade, wine, to pink, to silver. I have also fallen to the charms of a custom paint scheme.

Enjoy the process!
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Kelly Iniguez"You like lugs, Rivendell certainly does lugs!"

Yes they do! And really pretty ones at that.
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2 months ago
Mike AylingTo Keith AdamsHi Keith

Jacinto had a lot of trouble with a Shimano IGH which he binned and got a Rohloff. I was not aware that he has had trouble with it.

OTOH Jean-Marc and Leigh Strydom have ridden thousands of miles on their Rohloffs.
I would not tour on a derailleur bike.
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Mike AylingAh. I thought Kelly had said it was a Rohloff but I may have been mistaken.

I do know Leo had to abort a long tour when his Rohloff failed. But he got it fixed and as far as I recall has had no further problems with it.

"I would not tour on a derailleur bike."

And that's the beauty of it: you don't have to. I don't have to either, but I am likely to deliberately choose to.
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2 months ago
Mike AylingWheels and tyres 101

406 sold as 20 inch
559 sold as 26 inch
584 sold as 650B or 27.5 inch
622 sold as 700C or 28 inch or 29.5 inch

However 406mm actually converts to just under 16 inches.
The metric measurement is the diameter of the rim measured from the base of the rim well while the 20 inches are the diameter of the wheel and tyre combined.

The 559 lost favour when the marketing people wanted to increase mountain bike sales so they convinced the MTB riders that the larger wheels were better than the 559 26 inch.
As Kelly has pointed out quality 559 rims and tyres are becoming more difficult to obtain in first world countries although Rodrigues advises that this size is still used in the third world but the quality may not be what you wanted.
559 was said to build a stronger wheel than 622.

584 – 650B seems to be the new alternative for smaller wheels wheels for touring but you are unlikely to find this size in the third world.

622 700C is the same diameter rim used for touring/road bikes and in a slightly wider format for the MTB twenty niner.

Tyres and tubes are usually designated as XX being the width in millimetres X the diameter as stated above eg 36 X 406, 50 X 559etc.

So knowing the correct designation of your tyre/tube will save you a lot of trouble when reordering.
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Mike AylingThanks Mike.
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2 months ago