Sunday, August 28, 2011

Building the Rivendell "Betty Foy"

It's been a while since I last posted, I know, but I didn't feel much like idle chit chat after the funeral, and then Walu and I went to San Francisco to escape the heat for a few days, and then school started back's an old story.

Anyway, I have lots of things saved up to talk about--so many, in fact, that I hardly know where to start. I've dithered about the issue for a couple of days now, and have finally decided to just jump in with whatever is foremost in my mind. I'll get to all the other posts in due time.

So here's what I'm spending much of my spare time on these days: building a new bike. The bits and pieces came via UPS while we were in San Francisco:

I've long had the idea that I'd like a bike I could throw a handlebar bag onto, loaded with a camera and a lunch, and go rambling around for hours at a piddling pace--an old-fashioned European touring bike, if you will. (Of course this begs the question that there is anything in or around LBB that might invite rambling and touring.) The Ruby and the Salsa, much as I love them and as much as they serve their own, specialized, useful services, are simply not comfortable enough for me to imagine spending long hours in the saddle on them. The problem seems to be with the drop bars and the beating my hands take on them. More than 20-30 miles, and I am done with the rambling fantasy.

Neither bike has the geometry for a handlebar bag, either, though I have, in fact, been putting one on the Ruby lately so that I can carry a camera along on my rides. Even so, there just isn't anything remotely "rambly" about the Ruby. She is built for one thing, and that thing, on a person with better legs than mine, is speed. The Salsa might be a little rambly, but she's just not super comfortable.

Nevertheless, in an experimental mood earlier this year, I switched the drop bar on the Salsa for a pair of Nitto Dove handlebars (swept-back, or "North Road" style). What I got was less than satisfactory. Not only did I immediately develop knee problems from the change in geometry, there was an obvious loss of speed. I got, in short, a bike that was neither a fast commuter (which La Chica was before) nor a rambler capable of going long distances comfortably.

I've wanted a Rivendell for a couple of years, and the Betty Foy, in particular, for the last year or so, since it seemed to fit the profile of what I wanted exactly. Rivendells are reputed to be extraordinary bikes--durable, well-made, exceptionally comfortable to ride--indeed, the very ramblers I've been fantasizing about. Short of a custom-built randonneuring bike, they are probably the best on the market for a person searching for such a steed. So when I got a little discretionary money in the form of a paycheck for a summer course I taught at Mary Baldwin College in June, I thought I knew a good way to spend it. Even so, it took me almost two more months to make up my mind to place the order. I mean, how many bikes does one person need?

Ironically, it was a bit of car-trouble that gave me the push I needed. My Subaru had some hiccups when I was traveling back and forth between San Angelo, and since it is nearly ten years old, I started thinking that maybe I should look into getting a new car. But then--mirable dictu!--the hiccuping turned out to be a very fixable problem, and suddenly I had a car that probably has a few more good years left in it. So if I wasn't going to have to spend my money on a car...

Plus, all these bikes added up don't even come close to what a new car would cost. Heck, they wouldn't even add up to a good used car! Ok, maybe they'd add up to a mediocre used car, but you get my drift.

You see what kind of scary rationalization I am capable of.

Anyway, I called up Rivendell and in short order the Betty Foy and most of her bits and pieces were on the way. (One can, of course, order a fully built bike from Rivendell, but why would an incorrigible tinkerer want to do that?)

This is the second bike I've built from scratch, the first being the Salsa Casseroll. This one was a little easier, since it came with the bottom bracket and headset/fork already installed. In no time at all, I had the guts of the bike put together, more or less in this order (the astute reader might notice that I started out in my shop, but I quickly determined that it was too STINKIN' HOT to work  out there, and so was driven inside to my auxiliary shop, aka, the front living room):

The hammered metal fenders, handlebar, cork grips, Brooks saddle, Acorn seat bag, and Velo Orange constructeur rear rack were all things I either had lying around or on other bikes. I've ordered a Velo Orange front rack, which should be here sometime next week. I've yet to pick out a handlebar bag, as they seem a tad pricey to me. I may settle for a Wall basket and some zip ties...

Finally, Betty Foy is a character in a Wordsworth poem, "The Idiot Boy," and she is supposed to represent the best of mothers. Appropriately, I have named this bike Frances, after my own mother.

I'll ride the bike around for a hundred miles or so and post a review of how it handles. In future posts, I might explain a bit about bike geometry and components, and what makes one better for rambling (and loading up with bags and gear), and another better for speed (and keeping up on club rides), and so on. And that, as Mario Battali would say, is the dish.


  1. I'm not even a true rider, nor a incorrible tinkerer, but I really enjoyed this post. I find your musings fascinating my friend. Wish I'd seen you this year.~~Dee

  2. I wish I'd seen you, too, Dee! Next year, though. We'll make it happen.

  3. Frances is pretty gorgeous! I hope she is just the rambling bike you were looking for, and I love her name. Hope your mom's spirit is smiling...

  4. Sounds like you needed a project to tinker with, and I love that you named it in memory of your mom. Last summer I turned 50 and my parents gave me a small sum of money, enough to buy a new bike. I have had the same beach cruiser since 1985 and wanted something more. I bought a hybrid, in between a mountain bike and a racer. I need to do something about the seat though. Other than Irene, we have been enjoying an unusual-for-August spate of weather and I have had some marvelous summer evening rides. Enjoy your new ride!

  5. Kudos on building your own bike. It looks beautiful.

  6. Great that you built the Betty Foy (Frances) up yourself. I'll be back to read more about your impressions. Thanks for stopping by my site.

  7. Please could you help me with a query I have regarding fitting the Velo Orange constructeur rear rack to your Betty? I received my Betty in July this year and got my LBS to build her up with VO Zepellin fenders (for 650b wheels)and a VO constructeur rear rack. Unfortunately, the second hole (for 650b wheels)can't be fitted without having to remove the end of the tang, otherwise it looks out of alignment. Any ideas would be most welcome!

    1. Mary, I'm sorry to say that I built this configuration up so long ago that I no longer remember how I got the VO rear rack on there. I do remember that I never could get the front rack to fit properly, and for some reason or another (now forgotten) I switched out the VO rear rack for an off the shelf Planet Bike rear rack that works much better. The VO stuff just wasn't configured for the Betty Foy, much as I like its looks. Sorry I can't be more help than that.

    2. I will add that if the rear tang needed whacking off, it's very likely that I did that, since I generally have no fears about modifying things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but that's the nature of tinkering.


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