Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen: Initial Thoughts/Review

As some may have gathered after the guest post recently from Sam, I have acquired another Rivendell bicycle.  I intended to wait a bit longer to post any sort of opinions or thoughts about the bike, but because the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, I thought I'd write some initial thoughts and will follow up at a later time as things change, and as I have more time to ride the bike. Please keep in mind that these are just some thoughts after having the bike for a somewhat short period of time (a couple of months), and I'm sure they will change as more riding takes place.
The A. Homer Hilsen made its way here a bit by happenstance. While I was browsing bicycles (as I often find myself), I came upon a discounted frame and honestly couldn't say no. Okay, I could have said no, and perhaps should have, but I didn't.  I almost felt as though I couldn't turn it away because it was the correct size, and I (as many do) have eyed this frame for some time, wondering what sort of differences I would find, if any, between the Sam Hillborne and the A. Homer Hilsen. I went into the purchase with the mindset that the Homer would end up being more of a faster ride, road bicycle, and the Hillborne would be the hauler, long distance, eventual touring kind of bike. With that in mind, I decided to keep the Homer stripped down, and reserve the fenders, racks, large bags, etc for the Hillborne (though racks can be put on both frames).

To provide some sizing comparison info for the two bikes I'm riding:

Sam Hillborne
Frame Size: 48cm
Stand Over: 74.9cm
Top Tube (effective): 54.5cm

A. Homer Hilsen
Frame size: 47cm
Stand Over: 73.5cm
Top Tube: 52cm

To obtain more info on sizes, geometry, etc, you can see Rivendell's size chart here. There's also a ton of information that can be read on the Rivendell website in regard to each frame, as well as numerous reviews to be found with a quick search of the web.
Initially, I was excited about the Homer's size because I've always felt that the Hillborne is just slightly large for me. What I found amusing, is that I've grown accustomed to this "large" feeling, and now it is simply comfortable, so when I first rode the Homer, I wasn't sure what to think. I started saying things like, "I feel cramped on this bike," and "Why are the handlebars so close?" The Homer was set up with the same size (same reach) stem as the Hillborne, but after a few rides, I was fairly certain it would be difficult to get used to the closeness. I believe part of this could be due to the pressure on my hands. Having the handlebars farther away helps me distribute weight to the rest of my body more easily, rather than resting it all on my wrists/hands (or at least, this has been my experience to date). After obtaining a longer reach handlebar stem, I felt much more at ease on this bike, though it has now become an issue of perhaps being too stretched. It's funny how a small change (50mm) can make a big difference.
A slightly off topic note on the handlebars:
The Homer was built up first with randonneur bars (from Nitto). I have wanted to try these and thought it would be a good opportunity to give this a go. I took the bike on a few rides with this set up, and ultimately found (as I have in the past with new bicycles), that I, personally, cannot seem to get a good working set up with any kind of drop bar. I really like the "hook" portion of these bars, as it feels like a more natural hand position (to me), but inevitably, after 10-15 miles, I find my hands and wrists to be in severe pain. So, off came the rando bars, and on went my old standby: the albatross bar. A few rides later, I started to think that maybe I should try the randonneur bars again (maybe I hadn't given them a fair shake), so they were put back on, and then subsequently removed when I came to my senses. I have to admit, I definitely have "drop bar envy," and it's difficult when I desperately want to make this type of handlebar work for me. I keep trying, so perhaps one day I'll find the right set up.
The Homer is most certainly a lighter bike than the Hillborne. Routinely, the Hillborne is pushing close to 40 lbs (if not more) by the time I get everything I need. In addition, the Hillborne frame is physically heavier, so even if they were set up exactly the same, the Hillborne would weigh more than the Homer. In its current set up, the Homer is around 26 lbs. Obviously, this is a significant amount of weight to lose on a bicycle... yet, I don't find that it adds to my speed. Where it does seem to make a difference is on hill climbs. While the actual speed I'm travelling doesn't seem to vary much, there is significantly less effort needed to climb with the Homer. Of course, if I were used to riding a 15 lb carbon frame, this might be a completely different story.

In more arbitrary terms, I find the Hillborne to be a stable and solid bicycle, and while I wouldn't say that the Homer is not solid or is unstable, I have yet to find the right balance on this bike quite yet. If I look at the history of edits with the Hillborne though (of which there were many), I know it is likely just  a matter of finding the right pieces to the puzzle to help this all come together. I have noted, however, that the Homer seems to ride a straighter line without steering. Meaning that if I were to take my hands off the handlebars on the Homer, it would pretty much steer itself straight ahead (assuming the road is level, of course), whereas the Hillborne, in my experience, requires a bit more handling to keep a straight line. Neither way is bothersome to me, but I've just found it interesting.
There are some minor annoyances to date with the Homer. One that stands out most to me is that the seat tube bottle cage mount is too high on the frame, and I cannot get a standard height bottle into it, so instead I use a short bottle (fortunately, we have many, many bottles sitting around). The Hillborne mount is lower down on the seat tube, and I'm not certain why the Homer has different positioning. A similar problem occurs on the mount under the down tube, though I expected this due to the small frame size.

I am still trying to determine exactly how to set up the Homer so it functions in the best possible manner.  Most of the parts were items sitting around, so they weren't specifically sought out for this frame, nor are they particularly exciting, but I will share them regardless. Currently, the bike is running with a Sugino XD2 crank (24/36/46), a 3x8 drive train (cassette is 11-32 teeth), Pari-Moto 650b x 38 tires (which, actually are kind of exciting, but I can share more on those later), an inexpensive wheel set picked up on e-Bay last year, and Shimano 8sp bar end shifters. The derailleurs are also nothing impressive - both are Shimano - the front is Sora, and the rear is an XT Deore. I have switched back and forth between the Brooks B-17 and the B-72 saddles a few times now, but I'm having difficulty finding one that works well. If I lower the handlebars, the B-17 works better, but with the stem raised higher, the B-72 is a closer fit (thought still not ideal).
Not being mechanically inclined, I'm hesitant to comment too much on the parts making up the whole; however, I will state that one advantage thus far I've experienced in the Homer vs Hillborne saga is the shifting. The 8 speed gearing on the Homer seems to shift much smoother than the 9 speed on the Hillborne. I don't know if possibly this has to do with the smaller frame sizes, and thus some agitation with the chain moving across more rings? Perhaps someone more informed/skilled can provide better details in regard to that matter.

I have yet to mention the looks of this bicycle, but it is in fact gorgeous. Perhaps I assume this goes without saying? People stop and stare, want to touch, ask if it's an old bike, and so on. If this bothers you, perhaps it's better to go in another direction - it's hard to keep people from touching it, frankly. In fact, I had it at farmer's market recently and it was definitely a topic of conversation (which included some caressing and touching of lugs/paint/handlebars/saddle/etc. I have made my peace with the idea that it's simply a bike that needs to be touched, and I understand that it's part of having a bike that's different from what most are riding.

Ultimately, this bike has already undergone a multitude of changes, and they will undoubtedly continue as I attempt to understand it better. I am happy to update about the Homer at a later time, as I'm sure some thoughts and opinons will change. Would I buy the Homer again? Yes, I believe I would, though I will be happy to have it settled into a more permanent state. If I had to choose between the A. Homer Hilsen and the Sam Hillborne, which would I pick? That may be a topic to tread upon lightly. I think I can more accurately state that if I were looking for a road bike to race with, I wouldn't choose either of these (but if you're looking at one of these, it likely isn't for road racing anyway), but if I were looking for an every day bike, a ride that can do distance and provide comfort, and/or a bicycle that works in many different set ups or variations, one of these two would definitely be on the list. Time will tell if one wins out over the other, but for now I am enjoying simply discovering the differences and similarities between the two.


  1. Replies
    1. {laughing} Yes, indeed. Even turning it sideways doesn't hide its branding. :O)

  2. I need y'all to adopt me, or to tell me how you keep your bike pipeline so full.

    1. Direct quote from Sam, "I'm not ready to adopt an adult 'child.'" :O)

      Cecily - it's been a lot of shuffling, selling, etc with the bikes (and other things). Sam is very kind to take the bargain bikes and make them into something that works for him, while he let's me experiment with these often more pricey choices. It's helped that I've had some income again as well. This frame was very discounted, which also helped facilitate the purchase (honestly, it wouldn't have been possible otherwise). We definitely have a limited amount of space, so without getting rid of something, I don't think we can house any more.

      By the way... I know you had mentioned something about the Surly Pacer when we were selling it. The friend we sold it to isn't going to build it up (long story short, he broke up with his fiance, who the bike was intended for, and now needs to sell the frame). I'm sure he'd be willing to sell it for a pretty decent price, if you'd be interested. It's a 46cm (not sure what size you are looking for). It would have to be built up (I think we actually still have the wheels, but the other parts are gone), but if you're looking to slowly build something, maybe it would work? Just thought I'd throw it out there, just in case. :O)

    2. Ooh. A 46 might be just right, as the standover height on the 50cm might be a little bit high. Do you still have my email address?

    3. I think I do have it, so I'll drop you a note. The frame is actually sitting here in our basement because he's transitioning into a new place. If you need/want any measurements, just let me know. Emailing now... let me know if you don't get it. :O)

  3. Replies
    1. It is little, but that's what happens when we aren't blessed with long legs or bodies. :O(


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