Blending Philosophies

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What would the optimum blend of bicycle composition ingredients from Bicycle Quarterly/Jan Heine and Rivendell/Grant Petersen look like for you? The Ocean Air Cycles Rambler shown above might be my version.

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In the last several years, I have been heavily influenced by the admirable work of Grant and Jan. But there are significant differences between them. For awhile, I thought I must choose to become a cycling disciple of one…or the other. After a little experimentation (and a lot of dollars), I finally realized what is probably obvious to you. Perhaps there is a way to identify and use the best of each “philosophy” or “approach” to enhance what I personally do with a bicycle. I didn’t set out to create some sort of “in-between-er”. On today’s outing, however, I realized how much I enjoy certain features that both influences have given me. This blend of two different influences just sort of evolved.

What follows is an illustration of what I mean. It is not my purpose to claim this is an optimum blend for everyone. If you look carefully, no doubt certain discrepancies will become apparent. But I’ll mention of few of the things that stand out for me. Who knows?  Maybe someone else can benefit from all this somehow.

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From Rivendell

Rivendell was probably the biggest influence on how I USE a bicycle. The whole “unracer” and “just ride” philosophy which suggests riding is possible without lycra was liberating. Now I enjoy platform pedals, upright bars, and even have a basket to carry things I want (not just need) to have with me. Rivendell showed me the benefits of slacker frame angles and a longer wheelbase. I was able to focus on comfort and let speed cease to be my master. My bike weighs as much as it needs to maximize fun. It was Rivendell that introduced me to S24Os and a kind of casual, hobo aesthetic that matches my personality.

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From Bicycle Quarterly

Bicycle Quarterly taught me certain technical aspects to help make what I do with a bike even more enjoyable. I learned that more flexible frames can be more “lively” and work with a rider to be less fatiguing and make climbing a little easier. The articles on low trail frame design described how front loads could be carried easier. The magazine is also where I learned about the benefits of dynohub lighting systems and wider tires with supple casings. Each of these technical insights has elevated comfort, ease, and convenience of my cycling.  Each is complimentary to my riding style, and even seems to blend well with so many of the things I have embraced from the Rivendell influence.

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So it feels like, in some accidental way, I’ve ended up with a bicycle that blends many of my favorite features from both of my major influences. It was a delightful outing today, if a bit soggy. It would have been nice to have fenders on my bike today. Maybe I’ll turn to my two great influences for guidance.

Aluminum or plastic?

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Rambler Revisited

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Four months in, and I am more impressed than ever.

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I might be just beginning to understand and appreciate the full potential of Rob Perks’ smart design of the Ocean Air Cycles Rambler. Versatility is one of the main features he emphasized in my pre-order phone conversation. But until I changed my build, I didn’t fully appreciate what he told me. The Rambler performed very well in its drop bars and front rando bag configuration. It provided a more sporty alternative to my otherwise upright Rivendell builds. The honest truth, however, is that I am no longer a “sporty” rider. My style is somewhere between cyclotourist and lollygagging. So I decided to change the build to better match my ride style.

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The unstated goal was to make it more of an ideal “#coffeeoutside” bike. I switched out my Noodle drop bar for the Albatross. That gives me a very comfortable position, and it works just fine for the speeds I travel. I also removed the Swift Industries front bag, and replaced it with a Wald medium basket and Sackville Shopsack medium. This gives me more load capacity, more packing configuration flexibility, and easier on/off. I wondered how these changes would impact my appreciation of the Rambler that performed so well as a sporty rando bike.

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I am amazed how well it works. Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I was afraid that wider bars, closer to my body might somehow compromise the otherwise excellent handling. Just the opposite.  This configuration better matches my ride style and seems to have made the Rambler even more of a tailored fit for me. It was a delight today on (relatively) high speed paved descents, standing climbs, and twisty, rocky forest trails.

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For my purposes, the basket/Shopsack combo works better than a traditional rando bag. My partially full rando bag tended to result in “loose” contents that bounced around and rattled. But the new approach allows me to custom fit my load by folding or rolling up my bag and securing it with a net or bungee. I’m also finding that it is easier to pack, and easier to remove/replace the Shopsack than the rando bag. Since I’ve switched bars, I’m not as limited in the width of my load. It doesn’t need to fit between the drops.

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And here’s the really cool part. The basket/Shopsack/Albatross combo allows me to carry larger loads, and the design of the Rambler handles it extremely well. Even with a sizable front load, I was able to easily pick my lines through rocks, roots, and ruts on rough terrain. I was amazed how well it worked. I’m so impressed, I’m seriously considering a larger front rack to make my wider load a little more stable.

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So I might be well on my way to building the ultimate (for me) “#coffeeoutside” bike. But given the lesson I’ve learned about the Rambler’s versatility, I’ll bet there is more it can do well.

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How about camping? I’ve got a Tubus Tara front rack that plays well with the Rambler’s fork. I’ll bet I can carry everything I need for a warm weather S24O with the basket and a couple of small front panniers. If not, maybe I’ll add a small saddle bag. Either way, I’m looking forward to trying it out. It if this works out as well as I imagine, the Rambler could be considered a true “all-rounder” for my purposes.

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Among current skinny tubed, low trail designs, I believe the Rambler has some wonderful advantages for many of us. If people are noting the low trail geometry and thinking “rando”, I’m afraid they might be missing some of the Rambler’s best (and under-appreciated) features, and features that Rob specifically designed into the Rambler. If you seeking a versatile, spirited frameset that can do lots of things well, you might be looking for a Ocean Air Cycles Rambler. Normally, with any kind of “do it all” products, we expect compromises. But I feel no sense of compromise when it comes to the performance of my Rambler. My headtube decal says, “OCEAN AIR CYCLES, USEFUL STUFF MADE IN THE U.S.A.”.

No kidding.

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