Surprise Good Sellers
1. Silver shifters. Twelve or thirteen years ago when we had to have these made because we’d run out of SunTour Sprint shifters (of which the Silver shifter is a copy, with SunTour’s assistance and blessing) and Shimano shifter pods (which, I forget how we got them, but we did)—-when that supply ran out, we went to SunTour who said Nah, we don’t want to get into that again, but we’ll help whoever you can talk into it. That was Dia-Compe, aka Dia-Tech, and the two of them combined their brains and resources and copied the Sprints exactly. The tooling cost us $9,000 back then, and it seemed dumb at the time, but we did it, and over the years, Silvers have been our best-selling shifter. I thought, “How many people will buy non-idexable shifters? Maybe three hundred over six years, if we’re lucky.”We sell about 250 a year, though, almost equally divided between downtube style and bar-enders..
Surprise Good Sellers
We used to call the Carolina-made, wool, Official Size & Weight Rivendell pennants our worst-selling item of all time, and they still may be that. They weren’t expensive, and I like the look, and I hung one on a tent on a campout in the wind and watched it flap, but I don’t have one on the wall in my house, and neither do many of you. We have one outside our door, it’s been there for 3 years, and now says, “Rivend.” When it’s down to the R we’ll either be gone or be rich, but until then we’re hanging in.
The pennants are NOT “superstars,” and wouldn’t be even if they were our best-selling item, because all they do is hang there.
The bike isn’t as drab as this may make it look. It’s not bright, but there’s sparkle in the paint that doesn’t show up here. The bars can be raised a lot higher. It would be really hard to not be really comfortable on this bike. Super fenders. Jay picked all the parts, did a great job. As of today, I’m calling the second top tube, the “undertube.” It may be too late for that to catch on big-time, but that’s the deal here. Bike will fit you great if your PBH is between 88 and 93. Even 87 to 94.
We wanted to try out a new color, so we asked Wford to make a Sam and paint it this way. It’s easier to tell on a whole bike than on just a 6-inch tube sample. We’re trying two colors, actually, but only one is here so far. And now we have to sell it, because that keeps the larder stocked. The new color is between grey and silver, and if ends up a keeper we’ll call it “grilver.” There’s a hint of green in it, too, but the g can be from grey, the r from green, it is mostly silver.
Most Wford Sams have forks made in Taiwan. They are excellent forks, every bit as strong and straight as forks can be, but this one is made in Wisc, and costs more, and looks a bit different. Also, it has no lawyer lips. That is odd, because a few weeks ago Mark here ordered a Roadeo for himself and specifically asked for it with no lawyer lips, and Wford said No. Mark said Why. Wford said We don’t want to be liable, and Mark said Fine, I’ll grind them off myself.
Thar ain’t no lawyer lips on these dropouts, so know how to close a quick-release. Nice rake!
Then this fork showed up lawyer lipless, which means don’t buy it if you don’t know how to close a quick-release. We want to sell it as a complete bike, using more or less Jay’s pick of parts. His last name is Ritchey, so he picked a Ritchey headset, and he liked the way the little black in it worked with the lotta black in the tires, I’m guessing. The rest of the build is pretty normal, because our normal builds all use our favorite parts anyway. Jay picked the bar tape. Grant insisted on a kickstand and Jay will wrap it to match the bar tape.
Ritchey headset, our own lugs and crown. This Sam has a super fancy fork. Costs a lot.
The frame size is correct for anybody between about 5-11 and 6-2 with a PBH of … about 87cm to 94cm. That’s a big range, but at 87cm you’ll have crotch clearance, and at 94cm you’ll still be able to get the bar higher than the saddle. It comes with a 10cm stem, and that’s fixed, no changes. You can fine-tune bar-distance and lean by raisin and lowering the stem, which is a Technomic Normal, for maximum that stuff.
The bike as set-up has 172.5mm cranks. Jay has long legs himself (91 pbh) and prefers 170s, but knows that most riders with his pbh ride 175s, so he split the difference. If you want 170mm or 175mm cranks, we’ll swap it out. The shown bike has Sneaker pedals, but we’ll swap out for anything there, with the price difference upcharge. You don’t have to buy a saddle from us, but if you do right now it comes with the basic black B.17, and that’s always a good pick. You can add racks to it, of course, and we’ll mount them for free (though not your old Blackburn).
Nine-speed 11x32m, XT rapid-rise r. der, Campy front. Sugno 172.5 46x36x24.
I don’t think anybody could not like the way it looks. From a distance it seems so neutral, but up close it’s really beautiful—it’s neutrally beautiful. It’s neutiful! Beautral! It rides like a Sam, which rides how all of our bikes ride, and it fits you, you’ll be comfortable on it right away.
For all-roundedness, it’s hard to beat a 700x38. Maybe a 700x40 would, but this is good enough.
Bids start at $2400 and go up in $25 jumps Any amount over $2600 will go to Smile Train. We expect it to go for about $2,500, but there’s a chance we’ll end up selling it locally, if nobody bids. You pay the freight, and in California, the tax. The “deal” is that you get the one-of-a-kind (we may do it again later) and the super expensive fork, and … it’s just a really nice bike.
Send bids to John@rivbike.com. He’ll post the high bids here every day, and auction ends this Friday the 25th at Noon California time.
Don’t bid if you can’t close a quick-release skewer, or think you might forget up sometime. Also, it’s a custom color, and in keeping with our tradition of not supplying touch-up colors for any of our bikes (“anti-beausage analness”!), we suggest Testors model paint or nail polish.
One way to make something seem super desirable is to price it higher than its peers and make it artificially scarce. Artificial scarcity is what you think it is. It’s making something scarce when there’s no compelling reason to do that, based on the availability of materials, or labor, or distribution channels, or the normal things that might get in the way of getting one in the hand of everybody.
Sometimes, if the thing is handmade and requires a ton of time-consuming handwork and rare materials to make, months of aging and careful rotating in a temperature-controlled environment, the scarcity is real. Artificial scarcity is saying my widget isn’t that much different from other super-similar widgets, and their price is lower, so I’ma make mine stand out by making it super expensive and taking 20 orders a year, and there’s a sign-up sheet over there for you.
If all you have time to make is 20 a year, it’s not purely artificial scarcity, but it’s related. When the scarcity (imposed by you or however it gets there) becomes the big draw, then that’s a little weird.
Our goal here is to make fine bikes as un-scarce as possible, and I’d say they’re no less fine for any of that. There’s something plain good about getting Sams and Homers and the rest of them out there in the world. They are, from my point of view and by my values, better bikes from design to execution to safety, than nearly any (pvtly I wouldn’t say “nearly”) bike that costs over $6,000. The money doesn’t make those bikes worse, but once as bike is up there, something funny’s going on. When Pinarello introduced its $16,000 bike, no doubt some people ordered it immediately. There is prestige in paying more. There’s prestige in waiting longer. When you combine the two, you need nearly nothing else.
We get a lot of ride-ins who get here on Surlys. That’s a beautiful bike. I think Surly makes (has made) about 30 thousand bikes a year. (Trek, about 750,000; Giant, about 500 thousand; Specialized, about $380 thousand; Bridgestone at its peak, about 45,000; Rivendell, about a bike and a third a day.) Surly bikes are beautiful, when you cast aside all snobbery and look at the things that matter AND include the price. I’d take a Surly over any $6,000 bike in a second, and not just to make a point, not just to save money. I’d do it if I had Oprahbucks. (I’m not saying Surly is my favorite bike. That would be the AHH. I’m just saying that if I were offered for free either a LHT or any bike that costs over $6,000, and I couldn’t resell it, and I had stuff to do on that bike, I’d go for the LHT.)
A high price doesn’t make a bike worse, but there comes a point, right around $5,000 in the year 2011, where the diminishing returns implode, and spending more money is like throwing the Pope diamond through the window of a discount clothing store because you feel you got gypped there. Is a $350 rear derailer more attractive than a $100 one? I’d say it’s way less attractive. A $100 rear derailer may be more attractive than a $65 one (depending on the particulars), but may NOT be more attractive than a $35 one. At some point the needle moves the other direction. Value makes it do that.
I am all for scrimping on unimportant stuff and spending big on bikes, which I see as healthy, nearly lifetime toyools. I think it’s great that somebody who’s not rich but is a bike person can save a little here and there, and after a couple of years of that and one good poker game, can afford one of our bikes. One of my favorite customers—I don’t like the way that sounds, but I don’t know him well personally, and he is a favorite, and he is a customer—is a local guy I’ll call Mike. He rides his bike a lot, he tours, he twines and shellacs, and he does it all on an Atlantis he earned on the links as a caddy. That is supreme flattery, and on crappy-money weeks when my doomsday chant is screeching out of control, thinking about Mike helps me settle down some. No matter what, we got him on a great bike, a strong bike, and a beautifully detailed one that he’ll be riding 50 years from now, and he didn’t have to wait that long or pay that much for it.
Many of you have read the 37signals interview of last week. They’re the ones who wrote ReWork, one of the books we sell. It’s not a long interview, but it’s one I can rear and not wince at, not get mad at, not shout, “That’s not what I said!”, and so if you have about 8 minutes, here it is.
Also, another book note: At least nine of you who’ve called or emailed in, have lost 40 or more pounds in 5 or fewer months following the stuff in two other books, The Primal Blueprint, and Why We Get Fat. Way to go. It may seem as though those books are out of place in a bikestuff company, but they’re not. The bike world has been lying to you for decades now, about what’s good for you and bad for you. If you take the normal advice you’ll be trying to ride you’re a** off in vain. We are a part of that world (by definition), and let me suggest that big mounds of pasta are not the fuel-4-U, and killer high-paced rides are not the best way to health and leanness, either.
It’s “What kind of tubing do you use on the Hilsen?” It’s not a dumb or rude question, but it doesn’t sit fantastically with me, which I’m sure is all my fault. It came today, answered by email politely but briefly. It happens about twice a year, which seems like not too much, come to think about it. Shockingly rarely, wonderfully infrequently!
In the old days, in the ’70s, nice-bike seekers were advised to look for tubing stickers on bikes, because without the tubing sticker, the frame could be made of anything, and tubing stickers came one per tubeset, and a maker would be a fool to not brag about the tubeset. It was a way of signaling quality. (So the sayers said.)
There have been fake tube decals for every brand. It’s so easy.
Anyway, Albert Eisentraut, often described as “the dean of American builders,” because he is the oldest, and he taught a lot of other builders how to build, and several of those builders went on to great things subsequently (Bruce Gordon, Mark Nobilette to name two of several). But to bring this back to the tube sticker thing, AE refused to put them on his frames, because he said they meant nothing, that he often mixed brands of tubing, and that tons of bad builders used famous stickers, so what’s it all mean?
That’s sort of how I think about it, too. Some super bad frames have been made with super good tubing. They’ve been super poorly designed, brazed by the rankest rookies using nice lugs and silver that they shouldn’t be using, and painted perfectly, with the Reynolds of Columbus sticker stuck on like a medical degree from Harvard.
Guys who are “decal sensitive” —- this is what I think —- should not ask the question unless they know the elemental breakdown of metals behind the decals that they’re hoping to hear as the answers; and what it all means in the context of a bike frame. Otherwise, it’s like not knowing how to build a coin bank out of an empty peanut butter jar, and then asking the guys who are adding a new wing on your house what kind of wood they’re using, or hammers, or something else about their tools, just to make sure you’re getting “the good stuff.”
Nobody who designs or makes things, or paints or knits things, or photographs things or sews or illustrates or writes or composes or plays a musical instrument want to be asked, by a prospective customer, “what kind of paint brush do you use?” It may come up after all the important stuff, as conversation filler, but there are more telling questions to ask, if the goal is to find out important stuff about the frame or bike.
Here are some good questions:
1. How bigga tire will the bike fit?
2. How bigga tire with a fender? Can I even put fenders on it?
3. If I ride a 38mm tire, can I install and remove a wheel without deflating?
4. Can I raise the handlebar to saddle height or above? How much?
That’s not an exhaustive list, it’s just four questions. There are seven or eight others I can think of right this second, but the point is, these are all questions that actually tell you something about the bike that will affect your life a-wheel.
The tubing label isn’t in that category. Once certain mechanical properties and quality have been met, everything else is fluff and marketing, and labels don’t tell you anything about the mech props or the quality.
There could be decades of work or education or practice and at least experience that goes into the skill that makes the difference, and then it all comes down to a label on a tool or tube of oil paint that Hobo Jones could buy, and then brag about on the street corner.
That’s the behind-the-forehead craziness that an innocent question can elicit. But the question deserves a calm & and sane answer, and so it goes like this.
The Homer is made with these tubes, if made in Wisconsin:
Seat tube: True Temper Verus heat-treated CrMo. HT CrMo generally ends up with a tensile strength of at least 140,000 psi, so I’m guessing it does too, but if you must know, look it up online. The bike would be no worse if the seat tube metal had an ultimate tensile strength (UTS) of 100,000 psi. That’s more than strong enough, but if a truly crummier frame somewhere had the 140,000 psi metal, we’d look bad, and would look defensive defending the 100,000 psi tube, which is nuts.
True Temper makes an even stronger tube, OX Platinum, which does’t work well for seat tubes, because heating hardens it to the point where it’s too hard to ream, so the seat post might not fit well.
DOWNtube and TOP TUBE: Here we do use OX Plat, with a UTS of about 200,000 psi. At this point it’s sort of like putting a razor’s edge or super steel on a butter knife and calling it better for it. But in the only slightly weird world of marketing fancy bikes, when bad builders can buy the same tubing and brag about it, it makes nonsense to use something more realistically appropriate.
The head tube is OX plat, too. With our lugs, with their reinforced head tube rings that totally forever absolutely will never ovalize, there’s no advantage to it, but we got it, anyway.
The chainstays are OX PLAT, with the odd wall thickness of 0.76mm. Normal would be 0.7 to 0.9, with 0.8 being really common, but these are 0.76. Odd, but fine. They’re good chainstays.
The seat stays are Reynolds double-tapered HT CrMo (725). TruTemp doesn’t make double-tapered seat stays, and the Hilsen doesn’t NEED them, but I like them and the Hilsen is our pride and joy, so we get them from Reynolds.
The fork blades are Reynolds, too. We like this blade better than any other. It’s not heat-treated. I don’t like heat-treated fork blades, because I think in a front-end crash, the forks should bend before the downtube does. Sometimes both go—-you never can tell—but when you’ve got an OX Plat down tube, a non-heat treated fork makes sense.
All of our lugs and bb shells and fork crowns and most of our dropouts are our own, meaning made just for us and of our design. They are as good as lugs can be, I think, but they can’t make a badly designed or poorly brazed frame good. Since our frames are well-designed (my opinion) and brazed, it makes sense to use really find fittings, and that’s why we do it.
A good frame has to have everything together, not just good lugs, or good design, or good brazing, or straightness, or good tubing. There’s also tubing preparation and brazing. It all has to be good.
All steel tubing used for bike frames is at least 96 percent iron (Fe). It is alloyed with other elements including Chromium (Cr), Molybdenum (Mo), Vanadium, Niobium, Silcon, Phosphorus, and Maganese. Monkeying with the alloying elements, the actual manufacturing process, and degree of heat treatement all affect the final mechanical properties of the tubes, but there’s no one or two or even three magical bullseyes.
The tubing cost is a TINY cost of the frame. It makes no sense, on an expensive frame, to try to save $20 per tubeset, and of course we don’t.
PLEASE feel free to ask any of us any question. I’ve got this out of my system, and we can all handle anything, and are lucky to get the questions in the first place.
February 4, 2011
They aren’t that bad, but they’re not for tender lovelies who rarely go outside. Nobody like that reads this section, anyway. The sweaters are neat. Dave was wearing one the other day, in a restaurant, and the waitress commented on what a fantastic-looking garment it was. Many of you know the ones we’re talking about. Pictures maybe tomorrow, probably tomorrow.