Riding a bicycle loaded “Grapes of Wrath” style up and around the foothills of Mt Diablo in Walnut Creek, California has always been a pleasure, and the new Rivendell Bombadil, a double top-tubed steel 650B mountain bike model, is more than ideal for this and other two-wheeled exploits.
Rivendell Bicycle Works prides itself on designing and selling only lugged steel bicycles, and the rideable art from the 16-year-old California company is meant to be ridden in all ways possible. A lug is a sleeve of metal that surrounds the frame tube at the joint, strengthening the joint. Most modern frames don’t have them, but most used to up until the early 1990s. The heart of the Bombadil is its US$1,600 frameset, with its investment cast lugs, fork tips, dropouts and bottom bracket joined together by master craftsmen with a heated torch and silver. One of the paint options is no paint, just clear coat, which shows off the curly Q lugs and handiwork. The unique double top-tube design stabilizes the frame, which was designed around the decades-old standard French 650B-designated wheel diameter.
Another major sticking point for the Rivendell crew is the importance of handlebar height in relation to its leather saddle-topped saddle height (Rivendell continues to be one of Brooks’ biggest sellers in the world). The Bombadil has a long wheelbase to accommodate 650B x 52c knobbies, a standard kickstand plate, and a lowercase ‘j’ fork rake to minimize ground chatter while maintaining reliable steering under load.
Notice the lugged gusset under the down tube – fancy and strong
Rivendell’s founder, Grant Petersen, was a product and marketing manager for Bridgestone Bicycles in the US from 1984 to 1994, and the bikes he enjoyed the most, for the most versatile riding, came from the earlier spectrum of his career, and that’s where the Bombadil gets its pedigree. Another Rivendell standard is the extensive use of Japanese-made components, including one-inch threaded Tange headsets, Nitto stem, handlebars and seat post, Sugino triple cranksets, and a fair amount of Shimano, with a flourish of SunTour and Dia-Compe-inspired components resuscitated by Rivendell, including bar-end shifters and brakes.
The ride: load it down, ride it up and over
A first glance of the double top-tube frame reminds me of the double necked Gibson Les Paul guitar played by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, whose bandmate Robert Plant was an avid reader of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, from which Petersen derived the name of his company in 1994. Creating another smaller triangle, according to Petersen, stabilizes the Bombadil and readies it to handle rough riding fully loaded, something most bike companies can’t boast. This bike is one I pictured under Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike contributor Cass Gilbert, who frequently takes self-supported, loaded tours in exotic countries. Front and rear rack braze-ons pepper the frame and fork to accommodate nearly every rack available, including the Nitto racks designed by Rivendell, which support the Baggins Bags, also from the gang in Walnut Creek.
Our sub 24-hour bike camping excursion brought us two-thirds of the way up the paved North side of Mt Diablo, before dropping down into the foothills on undulating Jeep trails. Three hours after setting off from town, we camped on a ridge with a 360-degree view that included the Santa Cruz Mountains in one direction, and Mt Tamalpais, connected to San Fransico poper by the Golden Gate Bridge in another. The dry California dirt tried jarring my hands from the drop bars, but the comfortably high position, thanks to the Nitto DirtDrop stem, allowed me to adroitly use the drops on descents without troubling my lower back muscles. The lower case ‘j’ fork rake ate up the bumps, allowing the Pacenti knobbies to bite and steer me away from danger on washed-out turns, of which there were many. In short, the Bombadil handles things best when fully loaded, so the extra weight is not a factor in the bike’s performance.
Components: yes, it includes the kitchen sink
My production test bike was specced to the neck with standard Rivendell components, including Brooks leather saddle, Nitto seatpsot, stem and handlebars, Shimano bar-end shfters, Deore V-brakes and XT rear derailer (Sheldon Brown’s spelling), Campagnolo Mirage triple front derailer, Tektro road brake levers and top-mount interruptors, Sugino triple crankset, MKS GripKing platform pedals, Velocity 650B Synergy rims with Shimano Deore hubs, protected by Pacenti Quasi-Moto 650B x 2.0 knobbies, and Nitto front and rear stainless steel racks. All told, the bike, propped up by a Pletscher aluminum kickstand, weighs nearly 30 pounds and costs US$3,400.
Verdict: want to be loaded? Look no further than the Bombadil
The author’s Bombadil, taking a short breather at the upper ranger station of Mt Diablo
Rivendell has always been the upstream swimmer company, and it certainly has its niche following. But, the employees ride all types of terrain, and practice what they preach. The Bombadil has recently been commandeered along the entire Great Divide Trail by Rivendell employee Daniel Molloy, who rode the entire distance self-supported without an incident.
Is the Bombadil for everyone? Not those seeking thrills on gnarly singletrack peppered with rock gardens and slick roots. The ideal Bombadil rider is one looking to enjoy each pedal stroke, with the city and one’s worries behind them. No hurry, no worry, and that suits Petersen just fine.