Brief Warning: This is going to be a long post. You have been warned.
This Christmas (2014), I was given permission by my lovely, intelligent, wise, caring, sexy, and all-together-awesome wife to go ahead and buy a new bike frame. I, like almost every other cyclist, am constantly on the lookout for The Next Bike.
My fancies had bounced back and forth between a multitude of different bikes/frames over the last several years. One day it is a Rivendell Sam Hillbourne. The next, I was convinced I should buckle down and save until I could afford an A. Homer Hilsen. Then, lo and behold, the Surly Pacer sounded great. Oh wait! What about the Soma ES? No, no, no. The Soma Double Cross is the one! Each week had a new love.
The only thing that had kept me from pulling the trigger on any of these was money. I didn’t have any, or to be more specific, I didn’t have enough.
After a little bit of scrimping and saving, a few gifts and a nice break on price, I bought a 58 cm All-City Space Horse frame & fork (of the 2013 variety, I believe). Why the Space Horse? Good question.
Stock Photo from Allcitycycles.com – mine is a light blue but otherwise identical
As you might be able to surmise from the list above, I was not looking for a light-weight, carbon racer. The mythical One Bike to Rule Them All was more of the goal. Some of my criteria was:
- It needed to be comfortable and reliable for long distance rides.
- It did not need to make me faster but it certainly should not make me slower.
- A frame that was mechanically compatible with my current componentry was preferable (I didn’t want a frame that would require a different seatpost, stem and wheels)
Also, it needed to do several things that my old bike, Gimli, could not:
- It needed to fit fenders without having razor thin clearances
- It need to allow me to bring my handlebars up just a little closer and a little higher
- It needed to allow tires wider than 28 mm with fenders installed
The Space Horse had long been on my radar. When it was originally released, it was offered as a complete bike only. There was really nothing wrong with the complete bike build. Good, solid bits and pieces all around, but I had collected some odds and ends over the years that I had come to like. One of my goals was to be able to slide things from the Gimli to the new guy. This, of course, saves money as well.
Well, lo and behold the good folks at All-City did eventually offer the Space Horse as a frame & fork, along with still offering complete builds. Then, lucky me, I happened to see a 58 cm frame on Ebay in the color I like for about $150 less than list price. The gentleman selling it had apparently purchased it, built it up, rode it for 100 miles or less and then tore it down and was selling it. Why was he selling it? No idea, but it was great for me.
The New Guy
The frame and fork that arrived was in immaculate condtion. The only signs that it wasn’t brand-spanking new were some scuff marks at the dropouts. No big deal there. As I looked over my new frame, I noticed that all of the welds and bends and little details looked…just fine. Nothing sloppy. Was it NAHBS quality? No, but who has the coin for that? The paint was well done and in a color I liked. The head badge has a nicely understated, classic look to it.
Are these types of things really that important? They don’t affect performance, I would imagine. But, whether we like to admit it or not, aesthetics do matter. Every time I look at the new guy, it gives me a little burst of joy. There is something to be said for that.
Bikes deserve names, in my opinion. That’s how I feel about it, so there you go. The Space Horse was replacing Gimli the Road Bike. What would be fitting for the new guy? How about Thorondor the All-Road Bike! One bike named after a dwarf and the next named after the King of Eagles. That seems like an appropriate progression.
The Build Up
The full build up
I could go into the ups & downs & ins & outs of building up Thorondor but that mostly involves me messing things up, needing help and fiddling around for 4 months before everything was finally all set and the way it should be. The basics are as follows:
- Cranks – Velo Orange 48/34
- Pedals – Grip Kings from Rivendell
- FD – Ultegra double
- RD – Shimano Altus – has the capacity to handle a…
- 11-32 Cassette – SRAM
- Chain – whatever, it’s just a chain
- Bottom Bracket – not really sure. Whatever they had at Freewheeler
- Wheels – Cole Rollen front and Velocity A23 OC rear
- Tires – 38 mm Barlow Pass from Compass Cycles
- Fenders – silver SKS Longboards – 45 mm
- Shifters – Rivendell Silver Shifters – set up as bar ends
- Brakes – Origin 8 Cantilevers (medium profile)
- Brake Levers – some basic ones from SRAM
- Headset – Origin 8
- Handlebars – 46 cm Velo Orange Grand Randoneuur (I’m never sure if that is spelled right)
- Stem – 70 mm Velo Orange
- Seatpost – Velo Orange Grand Cru
- Saddle – Brooks B-17 with a waterproof cover
- Handlebar Tape – cloth, Newbaum’s I think, in a nice grey
- Handlebar Bag – Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag
Nifty head badge (ignore the kids bike in the background)
My first rides on Thorondor were on the indoor trainer. A trainer is not how I like to ride but in the deep, dark Michigan winters you do what ya gotta do.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the fit of my bikes have always felt different when I have been on my trainer vs. out on the road. I have no good explanation as to why, but that is the way it is.
Over the first 2 months, I moved my handlebars up and down several times because, well, I could. On Gimli, I had been topped out on the fork. The handlebars couldn’t go any higher and they couldn’t come any closer. Thorondor came with a fork with a ginormously long steerer tube, giving me plenty of room to work with. It also helps that the stack measurement was a little higher and the reach measurement was a little shorter.
When it finally came time to ride outside, I hopped on, started pedaling and within 100 yards I thought to myself,
“Holy Cow! These handlebars are up high!”
This was a completely new sensation for me. Is this a beach cruiser or a road bike? Afterwards, the handlebars got lowered about 1.5 cm and I have been riding around with them this way since early March. My intention is to continue to fiddle around with this for a full year before I decide where the steerer tube needs to be cut. Once cut, there will likely be 1 cm left on top to give me some wiggle room for longer rides.
On a side note, even though my handlebars felt ridiculously high on that first ride, I was really quite comfortable. Everything was easy to see. There was very little strain on my upper body. I was probably catching wind like a sail, but I may have to take this into consideration for the future. Maybe Grant Petersen is on to something.
This is where I, admittedly, feel rather silly commenting. My experience is so limited on different types of bikes and frame materials. For instance, I have never ridden a carbon fiber frame. There, I said it. No apologies either.
With that said, on the first several outdoor rides, the only difference between Gimli and Thorondor was the frame, the fork, the bottom bracket and the brakes. Everything else had been carried over from Gimli to Thorondor. Thorondor certainly did not feel harsher, twitchier or slower.
My perception is that the ride is smoother on Thorondor but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Placebo and expectation are powerful forces.
Thorondor corners well. Please keep in mind that aggressive is not a term used to describe my descending and cornering. There are several corners on routes I commonly do that I can take at a good rate of speed and come out of them right where I wanted to be.
Does Thorondor climb as well? Not sure, to be honest. It is still pretty early in the year and there is a lot of training and riding to do before I can answer that question with any real confidence. On my very first outdoor ride, I thought it climbed like a dream, but there was a lot of excitement and expectation there so you have to take that with not so much a grain of salt as with a full salt shaker.
While getting Thorondor built up and fitted out, I ran into issues with either my rear wheel or one of the 38 mm Barlow Pass tires from Compass Cycles. I won’t go into the details because I’m still not sure which one had the problem but during the process I removed the Barlow Pass and reinstalled the 28 mm Ruffy Tuffy from Rivendell. I could actually tell a difference between the two. A big question I had was would I actually be able to tell a difference between a 28 and a 38 mm tire? Everything I read said that I would but how do you really know until you try it yourself?
There was certainly a noticeable difference in the ‘bumpiness’ along some some of the mangled roads in my area. I was truly surprised. Initially, I would have told you that there was a difference going from 28 to 38 but I would have said it was a marginal difference. Let’s upgrade that assessment to a moderate difference. That seems fair.
The True Test
Based on my first several rides with Thorondor, I am certain he will turn out to be a good, trustworthy steed. That said, the real tests remain.
So far I have done 50 miles as my longest ride. Thorondor is really intended for rides that are much longer than that. Some questions that still need answering are:
- How will I feel both during and after a century ride? Something like the Colorburst would be a good example.
- How will I feel both during and after a multi-day tour? DALMAC is coming at the end of August, so I will answer this question.
- How will rides on unpaved roads go? Let’s not call it gravel-grinding, OK?
- How well will it ride in a more competitive environment, such as the MSU Gran Fondo?
- How well will it handle long, lonely, rambling journeys?
The wonderful thing is, I will eventually answer all of these questions and have an absolutely wonderful time doing it. This could be a long and beautiful friendship.