I first visited the Bay Area in 1998. I lived there from 2000-1. I visited several times since then. Yet, I had never been to Walnut Creek, a town on the east side of the Oakland/Berkeley Hills, some 15 miles from Oakland. And why should I have? No one I knew lives/lived there, it just seemed to me like just another Bay Area suburb.
But it isn’t just another Bay Area suburb, it’s the home to Rivendell Bicycle Works.
During my many years of visiting/living the Bay Area, I was either completely unaware of Rivendell, or in the case of the most recent past visit (2009) I was vaguely aware. 2014, of course, is different. Not only am I highly aware of Rivendell/Grant Petersen, I subscribe to his “newsletter”. I order from the catalog on a regular basis. And I know many folks who own Rivendell bikes. So when I was informed that I’d be going to San Francisco for a meeting in mid-January, the first thing that came to mind is: I’m going to Walnut Creek.
Tuesday, January 28. I hop on the BART for a longish (and expensive) ride from San Francisco to the far-flung reaches of the East Bay. From the BART station it’s barely a half-mile to the non-descript warehouse-like building that houses Rivendell HQ. I hear that many people get lost finding the space, but I knew I was in the right place when I saw all the bikes leaned up against the exterior wall. And if there was any doubt in my mind where I was, the first person I saw was Grant Petersen.
While I talked with Grant a little, the person I had the most interaction with was Miesha. Within the first couple minutes she asked me which bike would I like to test ride. Now I am sort of weird and generally don’t “test ride” bikes, especially new bikes. This is mostly because I don’t want to be tempted by a new bike. But this is Rivendell after all, and I’d be stupid to not try out a bike or three. (And of course people would ask me what bikes I tried out, so I would look stupid if I said “None of them.”) So I asked to try a Hillborne. Soon I found myself standing in stocking feet atop a tree stump with a tape measure with a stick at the end wedged into my crotch. Yes, this awkward ordeal is how one is measured for their PBH, or pubic bone height. (Mine is 86 cm) Miesha grabbed a 58 cm Hillborne, adjusted the saddle to the right height, gave me directions to the Iron Horse Trail, and I was on my way!
And yes, it was fun to ride. It felt light, responsive, and sprightly. Of course, it was unladen, so it’s hard to tell what the bike would feel like “laden”, and I rarely (if ever) ride an unladen bike. I rode it up and down the bike path for a bit and returned to Rivendell. Without prompting Miesha had pulled out two more bikes in my size and had the saddle adjusted to the correct height. I tried out the Cheviot, the new mixte they offer, which was also fun. Then the Hilsen, which for some reason I didn’t really like. (Yeah, I suck in reviewing bikes.) Then the Appaloosa, the extremely long wheelbase prototype bike. And then it was onto the Hunquapillar, the current Rivendell “mountain bike”. I rode this Bullmoose-handlebared behemoth to downtown Walnut Creek to get some lunch and visit the Rivendell Bike Book and Hatchet store.
After hanging out there for a bit, perusing the various curiosities that populated the store and chatting with Will, I rode the Hunq back to the HQ, and then tried out my final testing bike, the Atlantis. Then I purchased some bits from the catalog and was on my way.
What really struck me about the whole experience was how great it was, and everyone was very nice. I spent about five hours total between both shops, and tested a whopping six bikes. Yet at no point during this time did I feel unwelcome. Six bikes and five hours is a lot of time and energy. (I did purchase some stuff, but it was maybe $50 altogether. If I wasn’t so broke, I would have grabbed more stuff.) I say this because in some quarters Riv is looked at as being an “elitist” organization full of Retro-Grouches. (And yes, I have made fun of Rivendell, too.) I had some great conversations with Grant, Miesha, Keven, and Will during the course of that time, and also saw how helpful they were with other customers. Heck, it would be a fun place to work at, that is if I did live in the Bay Area, which ain’t happening again.
And now you probably will ask: Do you want a Rivendell? Well, sure, if I had the cash. All six of the bikes I tested were fun, and the Cheviot is a cool bike. But if I were to pick right now, I’d be torn between the Hunquapillar and the Atlantis. Thankfully, I don’t have to pick right now. And if someone wants to gift me either/or, I would take a 58cm in the Atlantis and a 54m in the Hunq.