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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Not A Review: Rivendell Cheviot

About a year ago, we ordered and picked up a Rivendell Cheviot for Xiaoqin from Rivendell Bicycle Works. The process by which we ended up with the bike was long and dragged out: Xiaoqin test rode many bikes at many bike shops big and small before finally I took her to Rivendell and she tried the Cheviot and immediately said, "This is the bike I've been riding all my wife." (Incidentally, Arturo said the same of his Rivendell Roadeo clone) By the way, if Rivendell hadn't worked out I was going to take her to Calfee next,  but I was starting to feel desperate.

I've always pegged the bike as being my wife's bike. To be honest, I was initially  unimpressed. Every time I've had to lift it to put it on the bike rack on the back of the car, I've been annoyed by how unwieldy it was: compared to my Ti frame, it was heavy. It even looked heavy: Grant had put on the lightest tire he had in his inventory, but the big fat tires with 650B wheels and the triple-tubed rear triangle just combine to make it look like a tank.

The assembly also wasn't perfect. Since we bought the bike, I'd fixed the shifter and brakes a few times, and had to completely replace the chain when it completely fell apart. Not all of this could be attributed to "break-in", either. In one case, the derailleur clamp just wasn't tightened properly! But Xiaoqin was happy with the bike, so I figured it's just the kind of bicycle that you rode if you grew up with "Flying Pigeon" bikes and couldn't get used to the nice lightweight bikes that everyone else rode. When I had to remove the front wheel to stick the bike into a car, I was severely disappointed to discover very prominent lawyer lips, much worse than any of the other bikes in the garage, let alone the much earlier Rivendell or Bridgestone models. "How could you do this, Grant?" I thought. Upon reflection, maybe the kind of person who bought a Cheviot wouldn't be expected to know how to properly use a quick release skewer.

I did notice that whenever I rode it for short distances, that the Cheviot didn't exactly ride like a Flying Pigeon. The steering was light and the bike could accelerate. It didn't feel heavy, even if it was heavy.

Then this past Sunday, we rode from La Honda to Pescadero and once in Pescadero, the wife and kids decided to kick back and enjoy the afternoon. Which left me a choice of riding back to fetch the car with the Cheviot or the triplet. There was no question that I'd take the Cheviot. Fortunately, I'd equipped the Cheviot with A530 pedals, which meant that all I had to do was raise the seat and then ride.

The bike felt floppy and flexy: some of it is because of the traditional square taper crank, which don't feel nearly as stiff as the new style external BB cranks. There's also the missing top tube. But once I started cranking hard, the flexiness didn't get worse, and I quickly caught up to the Western Wheelers C+ group and hung in the draft on the flat. (Those bullhorn bars are NOT aero, no matter what) To my surprise, when the climb started, I could hang out in front with the faster cyclists, setting PRs for Stage Road and the connection from Stage to La Honda. Now this isn't a fair test: when I'm normally out here on the coast, I'd have already climbed both Page Mill Road and Haskins Hill, which means that Stage Road is an afternoon waddle and my edge has long been taken off. But what this showed me was that the Cheviot, while heavier than my normal bike, just wasn't holding me back. When it came to braking, the side-pull brakes were sure and effective. They're still the best brakes available for any except the dedicated off-road machines.

Now, I still wouldn't want to ride the Cheviot for 30 miles (my jaunt on it was 15 miles at maximum speed), and my position on it wasn't ideal for pushing hard (and it probably isn't the right size for me anyway), but that'll teach me to turn up my nose at anything Grant designed. For the right person, it's not a bad bike, and its performance is more limited by your strength and aerobic capacity than the inherent weight of the bike. What can I say: the man's a great bike designer. The Cheviot is a lot like a Mercedes Benz. It's going to eliminate a lot of the road chatter and feedback that I like to have, but when push comes to shove, it's going to perform just as well as that BMW that feeds every road bump back into your hand (and butt). It's still going to come down to how good a cyclist you are, and no matter how much it resembles a beach cruiser in looks, get beyond that and it's a bike that will make the club riders with their fancy carbon fiber frames and aero wheels stare at you as you pass them at speed and do a double-take. And there's gotta be some fun in that! And with the 6" difference in height between my wife and I, it's remarkable that any bike that she can ride would even come close to fitting me, so this makes a great family layabout bike.

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