Friday, May 18, 2012

{Part 2} Rivendell Betty Foy vs Sam Hillborne: Are They Interchangeable?

{If you would like to read the first post in this series, please click here}

After making the decision to buy the Betty Foy frame, I knew it would not be something we could build up immediately because the parts would more than double the cost of the bike, and it just wasn't in any way going to fit into the budget for awhile. Not horribly surprising, we had quite a few parts around the house that were for projects never completed, back up parts, wrong parts for other projects, and so on, so very little needed to be purchased to build up the complete bike. I suppose that is the "good" that comes from the never-ending bike search/builds, and also allowed for Betty to get built up quicker than I anticipated.
The infamous Betty Foy heart lugs
Before I get too far along in the process of sharing my opinion and/or comparison of the Betty and the Sam, I should point out that some size changes took place recently at Rivendell for the Betty Foy. She now comes in fewer sizes that are supposed to cover a wider range of riders' heights. I was a little unsure of what to do when I discovered that the newest shipments will come in 50cm, 55cm, and 60cm (for the record, the old sizes were 47cm, 52cm, 58cm, and 62cm), but after some discussion with the folks at Riv, I figured I would give the 50cm a go, particularly after my experience with the far too small 42cm Soma.
Quite honestly, the 52cm would likely have been just a tad large, and while it could be adjusted with stems and so on, I am actually grateful that I waited for the size in between the two former variations to actually commit to the purchase.
More of the Betty hearts
Part of my trepidation with the purchase of a Betty frame had to do with information I had read about the bikes, and the idea that it would ride and compare very similarly to the Sam Hillborne. Duplicate bikes isn't what I am after, but my curiosity simply got the best of me and I needed to know if I could truly sacrifice one for the other. My #1 reason for wanting the Betty was to have a frame that isn't a diamond shape. Particularly in the warmer months, I wear many more skirts/dresses and I wanted the option to wear them on my bike, especially when roaming around town. I know that some are capable of performing this task on a diamond frame, but I am not at all graceful and I know my limits, so having some kind of dip in the frame is a necessity unless I want to change before riding.
Side by side - Sam Hillborne and Betty Foy
The set up of each of these bikes is comparable, with the same or extremely similar components, however, there are differences. The Betty is an 8x3 (24 speed) and the Hillborne is a 9x3 (or 27 speed). To me, this is of little consequence as it doesn't affect my ability to get where I need to go, nor the speeds reachable on either bike. Betty has fenders, a rear rack, and the same handlebars (positioned the way they were intended or "right side up"), and the Hillborne has Grand Bois Hetre tires in cream, while the Betty has black Schwalbe Marathon's. The stems are different on each of these - the Hillborne has a Nitto stem, while the Betty has an Origin8 stem (more on that in a post at another time) that has a significantly greater reach than the Nitto. The saddle bags on each are different as well, and please note that the basket was just added to the Betty, so my thoughts are prior to that addition.
Betty and Sam - both gorgeous, but different
With that bit of background, I will say that while both bikes are comfortable and fun to ride, I find them to be quite dissimilar. Although the looks are undoubtedly Rivendell aesthetics, personally I could not imagine doing a long distance ride (let's say, greater than 15-20 miles) on the Betty, while I have completed many on the Hillborne. Take that information for what it is worth, particularly coming from a rather fussy rider, but there is definitely a different feel when changing from the Hillborne to the Betty or vice versa. I find the Betty to be more upright (not as upright as many European city bikes, but more so than the Hillborne), but while certainly usable for a longer distance ride, may cause discomfort to those more sensitive to positioning. While some might argue this sensation is due to lack of drop bars on the Betty, I will point out that I don't have drop bars on the Hillborne either, and have not experienced that feeling on that particular bike unless I have traveled some distance greater than would be a typical "long" ride for me, and that is due to my own wrist/hand sensitivities, I believe (though please feel free to argue otherwise, if you see it differently or think I am missing something in my thought process). I should also add that there are folks who own the Betty Foy and do use her as the long distance/road bike, as well as riding in the city with her, so while I think there are differences between the two models, it is also apparent to me that some find her perfectly capable and comfortable to take on longer rides. I wonder if this is just differences in rider comfort, size, set up of the bike, or simply that by comparison for any given individual, the Betty Foy may indeed ride like a road bike?
These two bikes are also equipped with the same saddle (although I've had the Hillborne Brooks B-72 laced in the past to help with spreading), so I don't think this is where the differences are coming into play. The reality is that they are simply different in my opinion, and even if one were to get each bike set up with the exact same components, it would be impossible for them to feel exactly the same, and improbable to feel/ride close to the same way. Is the Betty faster than most typical city bikes? I would say most certainly, but due to even very small changes in geometry, it simply feels different, and in my opinion, those differences make it more pleasant and more comfortable for me to use the Hillborne for longer and/or faster rides.

In many ways, I begin to feel as though I'm trying to find similarities in two completely different bikes, comparing an apple and an orange in some respects. Just as bikes from various manufacturers/designers are different, I have a difficult time understanding how these two bikes are interchangeable. While it is not an issue to me personally, I am curious as to how and why these are often viewed as equals, and even thought to be easily used for the same purposes. As I mentioned in the first of these posts, I was prepared to deal with the reality of possibly having two bikes that would ride the same, but I have yet to find that they could be used for the same riding tasks. I understand that I've only had them together to compare for a fairly brief time of a few months, but even prior to adding the heavier bag to the Betty, or the basket, the posture I use on her is simply different - not bad, but different. So, I am left to question whether I would be able to give the Hillborne up in exchange for the Betty, or vice versa.

It would be nearly impossible for me to know ultimately what will happen with these two bikes, but as it stands, it seems that they each have their own functionality, ride differently, and will work well for my personal purposes. So, for the time being I will ride them both and continue to evaluate whether they are interchangeable for me, or whether they can each hold their own spot in the bike fold.


  1. Well said. I have to agree that these are two very different rides, equally smooth and compliant, but totally different. I did however find that the paint quality was higher on the Betty Foy, while the Sam's paint seems to flake off. The only other oddity was that the seat post on the Betty Foy is a 26.6, and the Sam is a 27.2 (very standard), that threw me for a loop. Leave it to Grant : ). Both great bikes!

  2. { Although the looks are undoubtedly Rivendell aesthetics, personally I could not imagine doing a long distance ride (let's say, greater than 15-20 miles) on the Betty, while I have completed many on the Hillborne }

    Just wondering, would you still think the above if you never had the S.H. in the first place, and all you rode before was a regular commuter bike ?

    1. I think you have a great question, and I'm not entirely sure my answer will be fair, simply because of the very fact that I have ridden both. My instinctual response is to say that I would still feel that the Betty isn't appropriate (for me) for super long distance rides. That said, I know there are people who do use the Betty Foy for longer distance rides. My personal sense when riding the Betty is that it sits more upright, but if that isn't bothersome to the rider, then I am sure it would be fine. Could it be adjusted to have more weight on the hands? Yes. Personally, I find that I need a nice balance between weight on the saddle and hands or I am unable to sustain longer distances. So, in that sense, perhaps with some fiddling it could be more appropriate for longer distance rides too. I have to remind myself that I've had lots of time to tune the Hillborne in to be perfect for me, and I'm sure that the Betty could be the same way if the individual was willing to put in the time with the trial and error process.

  3. Interesting! Both of your bikes are beautiful. I would love to try the Sam Hillborne sometime to compare. As you noted, I have no problem riding the Betty on long distances, but I'm sure my experience is influenced by the fact that I've never really ridden a sportier bike for long distances before.

    1. Thank you, Dottie! I think there are a couple of items at work for me - First, that I have had the opportunity to compare the two back to back, and second that I just seem to be very aware of even the smallest changes in a bicycle. I almost want to attempt a longer distance ride on the Betty, just to see if I would feel the differences that I notice on shorter rides. If you're out visiting your friends in Denver and ever want to take a stroll up a little north, feel free to drop me a line and you are more than welcome to try out the Hillborne. I know it would be a bit small for you, but it might be interesting to compare thoughts about your Betty and the Hillborne.

  4. A little late to the party, but you state you'd prefer the Sam to Betty for longer rides... that there's just something about it which fits better for that use (at least for you)... but can I ask the reverse: Would you feel as happy on Sam as Betty for the shorter, more mundane rides? (local shops, friends within just a few miles of home, a shortish ride to work etc.)? Sam also has a front rack, so could take a basket, and a rack could be added for the back if needed...

    1. It's never too late to the party. :O)

      For me, I am just as comfortable on the Sam Hillborne for shorter rides. In fact, I use him frequently for many short-ride type tasks. In fact, I frequently hear from people when I arrive at a given location, "Hey! I know you... I see that bike all over town." The benefit to the Betty Foy (for me) is in that with a sloping top tube, I would have the option to wear skirts or dresses. Now, I know this doesn't affect everyone in the same way, but for modesty's sake, I find the sloping top tube to be easier to deal with in such attire. I believe it could be possible to use either of these bikes for both short and long distance rides/trips, but the trick is finding the right set up. For myself, I had already spent years perfecting the set up on the Sam H, so it didn't make sense to me to attempt to fuss as much with Betty (and ultimately she was sold). I did "replace" Betty, however, with a more city/loop frame option because there are times when I simply prefer the ease of a step through.

      I'm not sure if this was helpful or completely answered your inquiry, but ultimately, I think that (for me) the Sam H simply suited me better and covers more variety than the Betty would have been able to do.

  5. All useful comment... ultimately then, perhaps your most comfortable bike fit depends on what you're wearing on a given day :-) Skirt/Dress - grab that stepover/mixte bike... covered legs and Sam's your man...

    If you were to ever re-run a similar test (Betty compared/contrasted with Sam) you'd have to wear the same outfit to control variables!

    FYI I got here as I'm conceiving a bike for my wife, and I note more than one Pashley/Dutch > Betty/Mixte > Hybrid/Randonneur journey in the blogosphere... just wondering how successful I'd (she'd) be moving 'direct to go' rather than all the way around the board...

    1. You may very well be correct. :O) I hadn't really considered wearing the same clothing, but I can see how it could play a role, certainly.

      I think it's wonderful that you're trying to help your wife find an appropriate bike. As for what may be the "right" bicycle for her - that's a very difficult thing to tell someone else. Has she been riding for awhile? Has she cycled in the past and is coming back to it now? I believe these things can play a role. I know some female friends who have been very satisfied starting with a more "road" style bike and just adding the accessories they needed/wanted. I was definitely not one of those individuals. My first round several years ago (after coming back to cycling after an extended time away) was a "cruiser" bike, which eventually turned into the Pashley, and after lots of fiddling with various routes, I ended up with a diamond frame (the Sam H). I should also note that I am fortunate now to have more than one bicycle, so I can choose what is best for the given task/day/etc.

      If you have the option to take your wife to try out some different styles, that may give you some clues as to what will work best. Although it's been a somewhat costly venture to have one bike and then find that I prefer another style, the path made sense for me. I would not have been comfortable on a "road" bike in the beginning of all of this, and now I couldn't imagine living without one (well, perhaps I would live, but I wouldn't enjoy life as much). Given your handle/screen name, I presume that you are somewhere in the U.K., and if that's the case, you likely have access to shops selling the Pashley's. The Betty Foy will likely be more of a challenge to get your hands on, but if you have that option, have your wife try it out as well. I think the most important aspect of finding a bike is that it is one she will use and enjoy regularly. Best of luck to you both as you seek out a bicycle.

  6. Thank you for your kind words (and incredibly prompt posts too).

    It's important in all this of course not to lose sight of who the bike is ultimately for (her not me), but I'd also like to ensure her 'journey' is as quick as possible to its destination with as little detour (time, money and space devoted to cycles) as possible (perhaps a male attitude)... but sometimes the beauty is *in* the journey, hey...

    London Townette cycled a bit as a kid, but has barely cycled since. I've been riding for years, and have the kids well-primed already even though they're young... we want Townette to join in - and perhaps build a passion for two wheels like the rest of us... Whilst one can often do pretty much any trip on any bike, it is clear some just feel a bit more right than others for a certain trip... probably your multiple bike strategy (time/space/money) permitting is the way forward, but I'd like to think that with a little mental ingenuity, a good multi-purpose frame and some choice components we'd reach 90% of nirvana with only a quart of rocket fuel...

    Will try and get her on a few tests in the next several weeks, but as you know, these don't always reveal what it's like to spend a long time on a particular bike or to use it for a variety of tasks!

    Onwards and upwards!

    1. Absolutely. The number one concern should definitely be the one who will be riding. It's easy to get caught up in others' opinions (the beauty of the web/internet), but it's all quite moot if the individual won't be happy on the ride selected. For what it may be worth, my husband felt very similar to you, and when I was ready to switch the type of bicycle I was riding, I think he was a bit upset about it. Over time, he's come to accept that it's all just part of the journey. However, I completely understand wanting to get to "the one" as quickly as possible, and I hope you're able to do so.

      Again, all the best to you with your search, and with getting the whole family riding in the near future.

  7. Nice review! Wife and I have both owned Bettys and Sams. I ended up liking the Betty (now a Cheviot. Long story). She rides a Sam.

    We both ride Alba or Choco bars, so fairly upright. But you are correct that the mixte is more upright. I ended up getting a wider saddle and now do long rides on the Cheviot in total comfort. Sam required no saddle change.

    Again, thanks for a fine report.


Word verification is on, but I've turned off the moderation portion in an attempt to make it easier for you to know that your comment has indeed made it through. We'll see how this goes, but I'm hopeful that this will help out and I'll try my best to weed through and remove spammers comments. Additionally, I recommend copying comments before hitting publish as the "blogger comment eater" seems to continue his snacking.