01 August, 2006

An All-Around Bike Should Not be Versatile

Too often we mistake a bike that's built to accept any number of different components, wheels, racks, and drivetrains for a good all around bike. But that sort of frame is more often just a compromise. A good all-arounder is best built with very specific components and accessories in mind.

I've been riding my Ebisu a lot lately; it's about the only bike I ride anymore. With it's 30mm tires, wide gearing, small front rack, and mix of old and new components it can do almost anything. I ride it fast on paved roads, enjoy the gravel-like towpath on the C&O canal, I potter over the brick and cobble streets in our 350-year-old town on it, and I can go inn-to-inn touring. All this and I never change anything on the bike, other than occasionally hanging the larger handlebar and saddle bags. The trick to a good all-around machine is in building both the frame and the bike with great care and as an integrated unit, not as a collection of interchangable parts.

I've been thinking about this a lot as we plan the Velo Orange randonneuse frame. It will be a frame designed around very specific parts so it can do a lot of things well. Being a moderately low trail design will force the rider to use a handlebar bag as the primary piece of luggage. Big rear panniers will compromise handling. That may seem like a limitation, but this geometry will also make the bike more stable and more precise in corners.

The tires for our bike should be between 26 and 32mm wide and not pumped up too hard; go too wide or too narrow and the bike won't ride or handle as it should. The fenders should be 43mm Honjos, which we will stock. Sure, other fenders will fit, but they won't look quite as nice. The front rack will be small and made especially for this frame. The current rear rack will also fit, but a slightly smaller and lighter version will be made just for this frame. The recommended brakes will be such that good modulation, not simply maximum stopping power, is considered.

If this sounds like a constructeur bike, well, that's the idea. The plan is to start by having a few semi-custom prototypes made by a first class US builder. These will not be inexpensive frames, but by making them all almost identical the price will be well below that of a full custom bike. Interested?

Eventually we'll try to duplicate the geometry and features in a production frame. A production constructeur bike? Will Herse and Singer be rolling over in their graves?

Oh yes, one final detail: they will be silver with orange lettering.

UPDATE: The cost for the first few prototypes will be around $1200. You get custom fit and tube selection in a handmade silver brazed frame with Kalavinka lugs.


Anonymous said...

Interested? Very. Can I afford it? Probably not. But if this bicycle comes to light as a slightly less expensive production version, I would take a close look at it. Do you have a price point that you can mention? For both the small-run and production versions?

C said...

Sounds good. If you can hit a price somewhere between a Kogswell and a Rambouillet or Atlantis I think you'll be on to something.

How will this be any different or better than any of those frames or an Ebisu? Kogswell, Rambouillet and Ebisu may not sound like a big range but consider how teeny tiny the market for such bikes is I'd say it makes for some tough competition. Still, I hope it succeeds! The more of these bikes that exist, the more they will be seen. The more they're seen, the more people will be exposed to them and hopefully more will be made and sold.

Anonymous said...

Tubing diameters? Standard or oversized?

I've recently become obsessed with Jan Heine's "planing" theory, and it would be intriguing to build a bike designed for that effect.


Velo Orange said...

Greg, The price point for the semi-custom really depends on the builder we choose; we're talking with three and hope to know in a few days. The production version should be around $1k.

C, The production bike would differ greatly from the Rambo and P in being an integrated French style bike, not a sports tourer. As for the Ebisu, it would differ in geometry and in numerous details. It would be built in Japan, by a very respected builder.

Andrew, I wonder if planing depends so much on rider weight and style that designing a bike around it would be a real challenge.

We would use oversize tubing on the larger sizes and standard on the smaller, of course you could choose on the semi-custom.

Anonymous said...


I would be very interested in the production model and maybe for the small-run model depending on time frame. Your design criteria sounds great. My only concern is wheel size. I have 30.5" inseam and I don't think 700x30 will work well in frames my size.

Anonymous said...

Chris. Cool! Will you allow the smaller size design with 650b in minded? I rode on C&O many times and think a 38mm tires work a lot better than 28mm. 32mm is OK but 38mm really shines on C&O. Keep up the good work.


Dad said...

Andrew, what the heck is this planing thing you mention?

C said...

Planing is a sensation described Jan Heine of Vintage Bike Quarterly. It's a way of explaining why some bikes simply ride better. Among other things it explains how a heavier and more flexible bike can climb better than a lighter and stiffer bike. In a nutshell, the idea is that the frame flexes harmoniously with the rider. Since it's heavily dependent on the rider's weight, riding style and other factors it's pretty hard to production build a bike with these traits. A bike that planes nicely for a 170 pound spinner may not plane so well for a 150 pound rider who like to push big gears.

The main article is, I think, from VBQ Vol 4 #2 (Winter 05)

Dad said...


I always look forward to your great posts here, but with all due respect that sounds like some kind of urban myth. ;-) From my race days, I am 100.0% convinced that the lighter and stiffer the bike (more so the wheels than the frame), the faster it's gonna go uphill. No need to overthink it. To think that frame flex could be optimized for a 170- vs 150-pounder, well, I just can't see it.

In any case if there *is* any planing to be had, I'd say it stems from the wheels. Put fine wheels on a crummy frame, and it will ride great; do the opposite and the whole thing just goes dead. No?

Anonymous said...

are the lugs pictured kalavinka lugs?

Velo Orange said...

The lugs shown are Kalavinka.

The frames will have 700c wheels, but in the smaller sizes we may go to 650b.

Lesli Larson said...

I would definitely be interested in a down the line, production version of this bike (for a smaller, shorter rider, like myself).

I am curious about the notion that front handlebar bags are more versatile than saddlebags. I've only always used saddlebags and mini rear racks on my other bikes.

Never having used a handelebar bag I'm wondering if you could clarify why it might be more desirable, and versatile, than a rear mounted bag?

It's hard for me to imagine why you might want a bike designed around a front handlebar bag rather than a saddlebag as your central carrying mechanism..

C said...

I didn't come up with the planing thing. That is Jan Heine's idea. I do have to say I think there is some truth to it. I have ridden bikes that weighed more and flexed more than other bikes but still climbed better. I borrowed a Cannondale Six-13 (about as light and stiff as you can get) and it didn't climb as well as my cross bike despite the C'dale weighing at least 3 pounds less (and pound or so of that was in the wheels)