Friday, August 22, 2014

Finding Love Again: A Renewal with the Rivendell Sam Hillborne

For anyone who's been in a long-term relationship, most of us recognize that there is an ebb and flow when it comes to feelings. Unlike the ideas that are often taught to us (especially females) in our youth, relationships take work and it can be highly unrealistic to go into a partnership with another person expecting it to be (only the good parts of) a fairy tale. Rainy days happen. It's just a fact of life. Sometimes it's easy to feel madly in love with the other person, and at others it can be more of a sense of tolerating each other. We hope that the sunny days far outnumber the stormy ones, but we can't really count them until we are on the other side looking in the rearview mirror. As crazy as it may seem, I can actual find quite a few similarities between human relationships and the one I have with the Hillborne.

Recently, I had someone stumble across an old post about my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen being for sale. She was wondering if I'd sold it, which rolled into a brief conversation about whether or not I still preferred the Sam Hillborne over the Homer. My response to her was something along the lines that if I had it to do over again, I'd probably have kept the Homer and sold the Hillborne, simply because the top tube is shorter on the Homer and I always seem to struggle with reach - particularly when trying to get the handlebars at a lower position. The Homer could easily have been built up in exactly the same way as the Hillborne, but would've allowed a bit more flexibility with positioning. This is the curse of being made shorter-than-average, and is never more true than when trying to find a good fit on a bicycle.

At the time of the sale, the only thing I could view the Homer fulfilling in the bike fold was my heavier road bike and because I had a road bike that was meeting my needs, the logical-to-me response for that moment was to sell off the Homer and keep the Hillborne. Had I thought it through, I could've built the Homer frame up in exactly the same way and had a shorter reach. But, alas, that idea didn't occur until many months after the sale.
I giggle a bit now looking at this photo and realizing that the brakes/hoods were in the wrong place completely... of course, I am sure I did this because I couldn't reach them if they were where they should've been.
The reminder of this situation put me into some deep thought about the Hillborne and I couldn't help but wonder if I really would have given it up in place of the Homer if I had it to do over again. I've had my Hillborne for over 4 years and it's been the only bike I've owned for any length of time. Most seem to come and go as I find (usually due to fit) reasons to send bikes on their way to a new owner. The funny thing is that even though the Homer had a more appropriate fit, I've grown used to the feel and fit of the Hillborne. Yes, it's larger, but it's almost as though my body has somehow adapted to it in some sense. While I still find that I struggle on longer distance rides on this bike (mainly due to the reach), and I question whether I, personally, could ever truly use it for even light touring because of the sizing, I find myself struggling with the thought of giving this bicycle up.

The idea of selling the Hillborne was brought up a second time in the not-too-distant past as I pondered the idea of selling it off to help fund other efforts. My initial response to the idea was to seriously consider it. I asked myself if it was a necessary bicycle in the fold and I came to the conclusion that I would be willing to give it up. During this time of reflection, I quickly found myself hesitating with the sale. I use this bike a lot and I've made some mistakes in the past selling a bike that I enjoyed, so instead, I decided it was time to play with the set up and see if I truly was ready to let it go. I wanted to ride it on some longer distances again. If I was able to do that and still wanted to give it up, I would let it go, but if I was unsure or hesitating, I would keep the Hillborne.
My biggest frustration with the Hillborne over the years has been my inability to use it with the handlebars in a lower position. No matter how short the handlebar stem, when I put it into a lower position, the reach is simply too far for me. Presently, I have the Hillborne set up in a lighter manner (meaning most of the extras -such as fenders, racks, huge bags, etc have been removed) so that I can use it for training on the roads. I find that there is a maximum lowering point for the handlebars though, after which I start having elbow pain, neck strain, and at times back pain. This was never an issue with the A. Homer Hilsen; however, I also recall feeling as though the Homer was almost too small (my feelings changed a bit as I got used to the Homer, but I do recall thinking that maybe it wouldn't work because of its smaller top tube at one point).
Wanting to attempt to find a comfortable position for my tests on the Hillborne, I located the point at which I could lower my body a bit for road rides without straining myself too much... and then, I rode. I rode so much that even after I received my much anticipated custom road bike, I continued to ride the Hillborne more frequently than the new bike. There were days when I simply wanted the feel of the Hillborne, and other times that I was really just trying to put mileage on it to test out its value in the bike fold. I started to find that I really wasn't much slower than on the road bike, so if I wasn't going for some sort of speed ride, why not take the Hillborne?

As I rode, it was hard not to think about all the transformation this bike has gone through. I expected a lot of it when it first came into my life, and in some sense, I recall being disappointed. Riding with drop bars was an impossibility, even though I attempted it several times. Saddles were changed almost too many times to count. Stems were exchanged as I attempted to fix reach issues. I couldn't decide what this bike was supposed to be for me and how it was supposed to fit in, but through it all, I kept riding, discovering the things that I loved and the things that I might change if it had been made specifically for me.
A couple of years ago, I gave up trying to use the Hillborne as a road bike. I decided to relegate it to more of a city-bike that could travel some dirt trails if needed. I loaded him up with racks, fenders, bags, and so on, creating a machine that often felt slower than it should have... but it worked. It allowed me to pull a trailer, to fetch groceries, to carry things that I might not on a road bike. Suddenly one day though, it just didn't seem an appropriate use for this bike any longer.

The idea of this heavy, slower bicycle was no longer appealing, but I realized I had done all of this to the bike. Lightening the load and switching its usefulness was just the rejuvenation I needed. It seemed in many ways like a new bike, but still had that familiar feel. The bumps don't hurt like they do on a lightweight bike. The wide tires are perfect to take it on dirt or gravel rides when the need or want arises. The magic has somehow returned in our relationship.
All at once, it was as though I had an epiphany. Throughout our time together, the things that I believed were the downfall of this bike, are actually the things that have kept it around. The fact that it can so easily transform from a road bike to a trail bike to a grocery-getter, that I can set it up in so many different ways, that I have this inexplicable desire to stare at it when I see it locked up against a bike rack, the reality that I honestly can't imagine my life without it... for these reasons and more, I know that this bike was meant to be with me. It has seen me through fatter days and slightly less-fat days, but it has always been exactly what I needed, sometimes without me even being aware of that reality.

Whether our relationship works because of the designer or because of its flexibility (or both), I will leave that up to someone else to determine. I think little has to do with the brand itself and more with the reality that I, for whatever reason, have always had the patience with this particular bicycle to work through our issues, and that hasn't always been the case with other bicycles. There was an immediate level of comfort - on an emotional level - with this bike, and I suppose that helped spur on the adaptations to help it not only stick around, but get so many miles of use.

Although I do still enjoy having a lighter weight road bike to use, and I can't say that I won't have something faster for road rides or a bike that's slower or heavier for tooling around town, there is something special about the connection I have with the Hillborne. Like a human relationship, we've shared good times and bad, we've had our fights and make-ups (okay, maybe I was the only one actually fighting), and we've each grown and/or changed over the years together. I know that I really love this bike though and am grateful to have a bicycle that I can always count on. It's taken time to understand what our relationship is and how it works best, but it was well worth the effort to arrive at this point.

20 comments:

  1. My Surly Pacer is a half inch too long in reach. This purchase taught me the importance of geometry and what I needed in fit. I tried all kinds of stem and handlebar modifications. I had too much invested to sell it then, so I finally found a used uncut Surly Pacer fork on eBay, added a 35 degree rise stem and slightly swept back handlebar. That seems to work and will make it into a utility bike or short distance tourer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so nice to be able to find a way to make a bicycle one likes actually work, isn't it? I know that some people don't seem to be horribly bothered by small differences in size, but for me, it can definitely make a huge, HUGE difference in the way I feel about a bike. Glad to know that you were able to get your Pacer to work for you! :O)

      Delete
  2. I understand your epiphany moments. It's why I tend to hang onto bikes - there is always a perfect use for each - they just make themselves known at unexpected times. A good solid frame with multiple braze-on points lend themselves to different functions and can be adapted to your own particular need.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, yes... hanging on to bikes. I sometimes dream about having some ridiculous bicycle garage to store all of the finds. :O) But then... I wonder if I'd actually hang on to them all. I start feeling guilty when I don't ride bikes that I have sitting around, so I don't know if I'd be able to just let them be without necessarily using them anyway. Though, I have to say that it is nice to have a few extras in case anyone wants or has need to borrow one when visiting.

      Delete
    2. I ride 3 of my 4 bikes regularly. The 4th is still a work in progress, waiting to reveal its personality.

      Delete
    3. That is awesome. I have three that I ride regularly as well... it's when I start adding in more that I seem to find it problematic - though it doesn't seem to stop me from looking at others. :O)

      Delete
  3. Very interesting post! A a regular reader of your blog, I did sense that you had a real affection for this bike - as you say, you have owned it for a very long time compared to your other bikes. It could be that you have a strong sense of 'loyalty' towards it which is hindering your 'relationship' with your custom bike to some extent. I have a Pashley Poppy, which I absolutely love. After reading about faster and lighter bikes on blogs and the internet generally I decided to buy a light, fast bike for fitness and long rides. I was also experiencing what I thought was a slight 'pulling to one side' on the Poppy, which baffled me as it was not always there and when it did happen, it was always on certain stretches of road. I asked two different bike shops to check the bike out and they both said it was fine. Anyway, I bought the fast bike (a Giant flatbar road bike, aluminium and carbon fork, on which I put 38 mm trekking tires for more comfort on dirt roads) ... and instantly something strange happened ... I keep 'flip-flopping' between the two, sometimes feeling a strong preference for one, sometimes for the other. Weird. When I first bought the Giant, I loved the Poppy MORE ... to the point I worried that i had made a mistake buying a second bike ... but I think I just needed time to get used to the Giant and play around with saddle height and so on, because after a couple of months I started feeling affection for the Giant too. Perhaps you need to spend more time on the custom bike, and keep reassuring yourself it is OK to have two bikes that you love :)

    Incidentally, the Giant solved the 'slight pulling to one side' problem I was having on the Poppy ... it was instantly obvious that I was feeling the same thing on the same stretches of road with the Giant. These stretches of road happen to have steep road camber (I live in the UK, road camber is awful in my area) so I figure it is either the road camber itself, or else it is me getting so stressed out by the camber that I tense up and affect the balance on the bikes somehow.

    Just two questions for you ... I took up cycling 11 months ago, but am still terrified of going downhill and struggle to do more than 25 miles at one go. You have completed centuries and seem confident and strong on your bikes. How long did it take you to reach the level of fitness and comfort you now enjoy?

    Looking forward to another post on the new road bike, BTW!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is amazing to ride two different types of bikes over the same roads and be able to feel the differences (or not, as in your case). I would think there would be a very distinguishable difference between your Poppy and the Giant as far as ride quality and speed, but that is the beauty (I think) of having more than one bike to choose from. It sounds as though you are enjoying both, so that is wonderful news! :O) I can definitely identify with feeling as though your bicycle may be leaning in one direction due to the road itself. I've been on a few of those myself and it can be a bit off-putting to say the least.

      Congratulations on taking up cycling fairly recently! I hope you're enjoying it thoroughly. Your question(s) is(are) such that they would likely be answered by 100 different people in 100 different ways. That isn't to say that I won't offer up my personal thoughts, but just know that everyone is unique and I think the biggest piece of advice I would offer is to listen to your body and increase mileage as you are comfortable with doing so.

      The first summer that I started riding longer distance type rides, I didn't ride all that much. I just didn't feel capable of doing more than 20 miles at a time and only rode 1-2 times per week. Part of this was due to the fact that I was not properly feeding my body as I was riding. And (here is where a bit of my personal issues come into play), I had a difficult time wanting to eat while I rode because I truly felt as though I was being judged by anyone who passed me (i.e.: Why is that fat woman eating while she's riding? etc). Once I was able to overcome the idea that I'd built up in my head and no longer cared what anyone thought, I found that my body was capable of doing amazing things. I started researching how often I should be hydrating and taking in some sort of food (be that Gu or other brand packs of energy or some type of drink, etc) and realized that I was doing a huge disservice to myself by not giving my body the fuel it needed to carry me into the extended mileage. Additionally, I tried not to overdo things at first. This is difficult for me because I am competitive (even with myself) and I always want to do more, but I had to learn that there was a point at which my body would just stop and I'd find myself in the middle of nowhere with no way home except a phone call to a friend to come and rescue me. I think building up mileage slowly, but purposefully is definitely beneficial (I know I keep saying that, but I really do think it works). I struggle each year to regain the strength because generally there is an approximately 3 month gap between the time I stop riding until I start again due to weather here locally (I don't mind cold and snow, but it reaches a point at which the mileage simply has to drop off for me), but I find that each year it seems to pick up a bit easier each time.

      As for going downhill, I think this is something that you can build confidence with over time. I am still not exactly comfortable with super-steep descents, so I try to ease my way into them. I think my biggest fear is being out of control (or imagining what might happen if I did lose control). I believe confidence in this area grows over time as we continue to ride down hills and see that we have control of our own two wheels. My best advice for this would be to start with not-so-scary descents and work your way up to larger ones, if at all possible. Don't be afraid to use your brakes as needed, but I have found that tapping them occasionally (rather than death gripping them the entire way down) usually works better and allows a smoother, more comfortable descent. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect (or at least easier to handle). :O)

      Perhaps some others who read here will have some suggestions for you as well, but if I can offer any other thoughts, please feel free to ask and I'll do my best to assist. Hopefully, that helps a bit though?

      Delete
  4. I think the Hillborne and Betty Foy are just too long in the top tube for people with shorter torsos. I had similar problems with fit when I first got the Betty Foy. I thought maybe the bike was just too big for me. After talking to Keven at Rivendell, he talked me into getting Bosco handlebars, and I'm ever so glad he did. The handlebars are slightly longer, but with a shorter stem or steeper downward angle, you can get yourself into a somewhat racier riding position. I like mine up high with just a tiny bit of tilt. But regardless of how low they are, the bars reach far enough back that I don't feel the strain in my arms, shoulders, or wrists.

    For your style of riding, Boscos may not be the answer. At any rate, the Hillborne is due to be retired soon, so maybe whatever replaces it will have a slightly shorter top tube.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. [giggle] Don't say that! :O) Hopefully, the Hillborne doesn't get retired. I always hold out hope that he'll make it to the end with me.

      I'm glad you're enjoying the Bosco bars. I did pick up a pair a couple of months ago(ish) that I've been trying out on a different bike. I don't know if I'd like them the same on the Hillborne, but it could be worth a try. I hope you are continuing to enjoy your Betty!

      Delete
    2. No, I meant the Hillborne will be retired by Rivendell for a couple of years: http://rivbike.tumblr.com/post/93350728279/sam-last-shot-long-time

      Delete
    3. Ah, gotcha. Yes, I had read that Riv will be putting a temporary hold on building the Hillborne for a bit. It should be interesting to see how that affects business in terms of those looking for a less costly diamond frame, but I'm also curious to see what they'll be doing instead. Looking forward to learning more.

      Delete
  5. This could so be the story of my Cross Check and Pacer - another "same brand stablemate/sibling" relationship where somehow the heavier bike with the more problematic fit is somehow the one that belongs and stays with you. The Hilborne is truly lovely and I hope you enjoy many more years of sunshine (and occasional showers) together.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That really is interesting, Rebecca. I'm not sure what it is... but it sometimes does seem to work this way, doesn't it?

      Delete
  6. I suspect I am stating the obvious, but that first photo in your post shows a good profile of your seat. I can see the seat has room to slide forward on the rails a good inch, and bring you that much closer to the handlebars. I can also see that the clamp on your seat post is offset to the back. You can purchase seat posts with no offset, or less offset than the one on the bike at the time of the photo. It looks like going to a zero offset seat post would allow the seat to mover forward another 3/4 to 1 full inch. Switching to a zero offset seat post and sliding the seat forward on the rails could move the rider as much as 1.75 to 2.00 inches forward closer to the handlebars - a big change.

    The photos are probably old, and you've probably already tried some of this, but I just point it out, because the photo offers a good opportunity to illustrate how the seat post offset and the rails on the seat provide adjustment of seating position fore/aft.

    That said, the fore/aft adjustment of the seat is also used to orient the rider over the pedals and going too far forward or aft can lead to soreness in the knees. Still, selecting the seat post offset and sliding the seat on the rails is part of the overall combination to fitting a bike to the rider.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the photos are all fairly old except for one, and there was a lot of shifting of things and changes in the process (seatposts, positioning of saddles [fore/aft, tilt, etc], handlebars - even a crankset change). As you stated though, sometimes bringing the saddle too far forward results in other issues because of body positioning over the pedals. I've also found that as I switch back and forth between bikes, I sometimes seem to create problems that weren't ever there before, so it's interesting to watch this take place. I have to remind myself that I was perfectly comfortable on it prior and actually ride for a bit to make sure that I haven't just grown used to riding in a different position on another bike. It's both fascinating to realize and annoying as hell (especially to the house mechanic who has to endure my requests). :O)

      Delete
    2. Yes, if I learned just one thing from working with physios and bike fitters, it is: set up the saddle fore/aft position to suit the alignment of your legs over the pedals. (Not necessarily knee-over-pedal-spindle as some preach; variants in proportions e.g. femur relative to calf will have an impact). Once that is set - do not touch it!! No matter how tempting it may be to do so, in an attempt to "solve" a reach problem. There are other things to do regarding reach but only so much latitude even there. Still, messing with your leg alignment by moving your saddle should not even be a consideration if you value your ankles, knees and hips -- not to mention power, efficiency and overall comfort on long rides.

      Sorry if I sound dogmatic, but this is one fit issue where there is no "gray area".

      Delete
    3. I don't think you sound dogmatic at all, Rebecca. It's good advice (and something I've had to learn the hard way myself). Sometimes, I've just had to accept that I bike isn't going to work and move on because of this exact reasoning. I've really messed myself up trying to make something work that just absolutely wasn't going to.

      Delete
  7. So many thoughts came into my find as I read this! AND it has inspired me to consider a post specifically about the two Rivs I own. Personally, these bikes feel special to me, despite not being custom made. I think it's because they are not bikes a person sees every day and Grant Petersen has a strong philosophy about his bicycles that I tend to agree with in many ways-- except for flat pedals, and buying the biggest bike you can stand over, and (I digress). :)

    Like Annie, I tend to hang onto bikes. Some of that is because of the various purposes they serve (grocery hauling, touring, randonneuring, "light bike," etc.), and some is because once I have dialed in the fit of a bike I do not want to give it up.

    Loved this line: "As crazy as it may seem, I can actual find quite a few similarities between human relationships and the one I have with the Hillborne." This is how I feel about my Bike Friday Tikit. It is the one bike I own that shines with personality. Maybe that's why we fight so much, ha ha!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :O) I'm glad I'm not alone in my "fights."

      I think buying the biggest bike one can stand over can create issues (as it has for me), but I agree that Rivendell bicycles just have that something special about them - even if they aren't custom. I will look forward to reading your thoughts on your own bikes!

      Delete

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.