Saturday, February 06, 2010

A. Homer Hilsen

Though travel wide and far do I
O'er stoney paths, 'tween fields-o-rye,
Past foggy crags, where the lost sheep bleat,
I tell you, Mate --- 'tis no Grand Feat:
For I ride A. Homer Hilsen!

(From "A Life With A. Homer Hilsen" and the other 12 or so verses on request to grant@rivbike.come)

(Included in the batch of photos here are some of a 69cm A.Homer Hilsen, with a double top tube. We do that on 69s and 72s.)

Download the geometry information for this, and all our bikes. (Printable PDF file, 87KB)

The A. Homer Hilsen is a Country Bike.
A "Country Bike" is our name for a smart, useful, comfortable, practical, and hellatiously versatile road-ish bike. It's a road bike with good clearances for tires and fenders, and one that can carry racks. It's not a loaded touring bike for self-contained extended tours. But you can certainly put 20-25 pounds on it and head out for the weekend. Everything you wish your current road bike can do, but it can't, the A. Homer Hilsen can. The zippiness that you wish your comfort or mountain bike had, but it doesn't, the A. Homer HIlsen has.

It comes in sizes 47cm thru 71cm; and the wheel size depends on the frame size:

Having trouble choosing between a Homer and Sam? Click here.

47-50-52-54-56-58 are for 650B wheels.
57-59-61-63-65-67-69-71 are for 700c wheels. (Actually, we had a few 55cm/700c frames made up, and they're the best-designed 700c 55cm frames ever, but in keeping life simple, we won't have them made again.)

Calling the A. Homer Hilsen a "country bike" means it's a road bike you can tour with, a touring bike you can ride trails with, a trail bike fast enough for club rides on the road. It's a brevet bike, a commuter, a daily everything bike. It looks and rides like a classic road bike, but it's far more comfortable, and can take you places you plain can't go on a road bike. On fire trails, it's more practical and more fun than a mountain bike.

The A. Homer Hilsen's versatility isn't a result of design genius or high tech breakthroughs. Its versatility comes the way versatility always comes: by means of properly dimensioned tubes and properly located bridges, which lead to the clearances that fenders with medium-volume tires require.
It feels odd to boast about that or even mention it at all, because it's kind of a boring topic, and it seems as though making forks the right length and putting the seat stay- and chain stay-bridges in the right spot for good clearance should be a given.

And yet good clearance is almost unheard of these days, which is why we love to talk about it. Bike makers are all agog over materials and light weight and ten-speed cassettes and other things of questionable value unquestionable. They've either consciously leapfrogged the basics of good design to get to the glitzy stuff and to capitalize on trends, or they don't know what good design is. It has to be one or the other.

In any case, until late 2006, the clearance that allows the versatility was
impossible with quality sidepulls. Campagnolo's and Shimano's are too short. Nobody made a sidepull brake in the right dimensions until Tektro pulled it off in late 2006, and that brake, which we sell as the Silver sidepull, opened the door to a versatile bike with sidepull brakes.

With these brakes, the A. Homer Hilsen is able to fit tires all the way up to 40mm, and up to 38mm with fenders. Maybe you'll never ride a tire that fat, but having the ability to means the A. Homer Hilsen can go where road bikes can't. And yet it still looks and works magically (well...that may be slightly enthusiastic) with the normal 32mm to 35mm tires you'll be on 90 percent of the time. Fenders don't get squeezed, and wheel installation and removal couldn't be easier. No single detail on the A. Homer Hilsen by itself is all that earth-shattering, but the combination of details in just one bicycle is truly a breakthrough, or at least an anachronism. It amounts to this, in a nutshell: The A. Homer Hilsen has the sort of design smarts that bikes used to have fifty and forty years ago, but the details have been refined, evenized, and perfected. It combines these design elements with the absolute finest modern materials, and a build quality that is rarely equalled and remains unsurpassed by anybody in the twenty-first century.

The A. Homer Hilsen, also, is a stellar example of what can happen when frame design isn't driven by a poor selection of components.

This is worth harping on. If you have the interest and the time, it's even worth reading. Otherwise, no, because it's long.
Most bike makers design bikes to work with the available components, and don't ask for anything different which might allow a breakthrough.
This is a matter of fact, not opinion, not hunch. I know it sounds lousy to declare something a fact, but I did put the word "most" in there, and that makes it a fact.
Before we went to Tektro for the Silver brake, we asked Shimano for a good-clearance sidepull like the Silver. We don't have the influence that comes with volume, so Shimano suggested I contact the high volume makers to make the same request. I did, they didn't, and so Shimano realized there was no market for a brake like this, and naturally didn't make it.

I think they should've made it, anyway. If they make it, they can introduce it with the normal high-kicking chorus girls and sparklers and media-blitzing that they normally employ to kick off their other parts, and then the bike makers would see an opportunity to make "country bikes" (or, if you prefer, roadish bikes with practical, useful clearances for medium-volume tires and fenders). But as it is, the big bike makers are content with racy, single-purpose, minimal-clearance road bikes that are out of their element in wet weather or on pockmarked roads. They don't take that kind of riding seriously.

Anyway, at this point it doesn't matter to us that Shimano doesn't have an offering in this neat kind of brake. We've got the brake, and Tektro made it, and it's unlikely Shimano could outdo-them on it, because it's perfect as it is. But Shimano's inaction just reinforces our belief that Shimano prefers the extremes. Extreme road racing. Extreme mountain bike riding (the Saint and Hone groups were designed for death-defying feats and super hard landings). Extreme commuting (internally geared hubs, generators). And its next group is called "Coasting." It's for yet another extreme group for people who don't ride bicycles. That's a noble target no doubt, and in itself isn't criticizable, but it just completes the circle on the extreme fringe.

What about a component group for people who ride a lot but don't race, or even pretend to; who just want to ride a bike for fun and health, and want a comfortable bike that can take them just about anywhere, with the ease and efficiency of a road bike, but one that's not limited to smooth, dry roads? That's all a country bike is, and it's a concept foreign and uninteresting to Shimano; probably because this style of riding doesn't inspire fear or admiration, and has no famous protagonists.

For the record, Shimano is a fantastic company, and overall Shimano parts are probably the best in the world. With all Shimano does, it's still more all-around than any other parts maker, and the things it makes work really well, of course. I'd have no quarrel or gripe if it would just do this one little thing, that would be so easy for them to do and by its inclusion suggest that bicycles can be normal toys for normal people, not extreme tools for the fringe. Back to the bike.....

Who shouldn't get an A. Homer Hilsen?

Folks who merely like the idea of a versatile bike, in principle , but can't let go of their racing fantasies. If you stay home on July weekends watching your heroes challenge the hills in France, and your dream vacation is dressing like them and riding those same routes and dreaming of cheering throngs, then the A. Homer Hilsen is not your bike.

Get the A. Homer Hilsen only if 95 percent of the time you'll ride tires bigger than 700 x 28 and want to fit fenders with tires up to 700 x 38. For all-purpose road-n-trail riding, that's a good way to go. The A. Homer Hilsen is ideal for any riding that isn't road racing or gonzo mountain-bike riding or racing. From club rides on smooth roads to centuries to mixed road and trail rides and bike camping overnights that's what it's for.

TUBING: Lightweight butted heat-treated CrMo steel.

The A. Homer Hilsen isn't revolutionary. Almost every non-racing bike made before the Era of Racing's Influence from the Schwinn Varsity to the Dawes Realm Rider was laid out a lot like the A. Homer Hilsen is, so from that point of view, there's nothing revolutionary about it. If anything, it's resurrectionary.

What makes it special in a modern context, is that those older bikes weren't nearly as well-made and beautiful as the A. Homer Hilsen, and had crummy parts; and there's no other modern bike that does as much, as well, and looks as beautiful doing it as the A. Homer Hilsen.

What does it ride like?
The A. Homer Hilsen feels like any Rivendell-designed bike. When you get the right size and set the bike up in a normal way, you have a good position and feel comfortable on it immediately, no matter how new it is, no matter what you're used to.

With 32mm tires pumped to 95 psi, it feels like a fast road bike. Not a race bike, thank goodness, but a fast-enough road bike, with zip. With 35mm tires at 40psi, it feels perfect for fire roads. It turns easily, but doesn't overreact to wind. The most we've put on it so far is about 22 pounds, and it handled that wonderfully, even on fire trails with a 185-lb rider at the controls. If you weigh less, you can carry more. All in all, it combines the best of a late-'60s road bike with the best modern materials and craftsmanship. It's a good, smooth, bike you can ride anywhere.

TRIVIA: During its development, the A. Homer Hilsen was named the Honus Wagner, after the early 20th century Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop. All we talked about was Honus Wagner this, Honus Wagner that.

But it turns out Honus Wagner is trademarked. So we contacted the firm that represents the Heirs of Honus (and about fifty other famous people), and started two months of talks and negotiations. Not full-time, mind you. We were optimistic enough to have completeted the decal art for Honus Wagner, but then the contract included a few unexpecteds that killed the deal for us (who were already stretched to the max), so we didn't sign. Instead, we holed up in our Model-Name Think Tank, and after about an hour and a half, emerged groggy but giddy with A. Homer Hilsen shocked that it hadn't already been taken, and that it wasn't, like Honus Wagner, trademarked.
We considered names from the usual sources----Middle Earth, geography, birds, fish, and mammals. The good ones were all taken, and besides, they all get lumped together. I never liked combo-computer names, like Lexuva&Futura&Diamante, that sound precise, smug, and high tech. As bike names go, A. Homer Hilsen is their antithesis, and that's why it won. It's kind of a filter, actually. That may not be a great thing, but it's a useful thing.

How to get one, price, delivery, and so on.
Frame and fork when you buy them alone, no parts: $2000

"What if I want another color?" You can probably get it, but it'll cost you $300 more. That's what it costs us. It's possible that we'll change colors on future productions, but it will always be some shade of blue, and the only other blue that's in the running is a really pretty one, too.

[Sizes above 67cm have two top tubes. The second/lower top tube adds strength and
rigidity to a super tall frame, by effectively shortening the headtube. This isn't theoretical or innovational; the cheap bikes of China and India have had two top tubes for decades. It's the only way they hold up for decades under the huge loads and rough road they travel. This "cheap bike technology" simply uses triangles (the strongest structural configuration) to improve the big-tall bikes. If the cheap-bike comparison sounds offensive to those noble workhorses, none is intended. If the idea of copying such bikes makes you uncomfortable, it shouldn't. Triangles build the world. Every spindly looking cantileverd loading crane, skyscraper, and non-stone bridge you've seen is made with triangles.]

How much for a frame with fork and headset?
$2000 if has one top tube, $2200 if it has two.

How much for a complete bike?
Depends on parts picked, of course. We're happy to help you figure it out if you feel overwhelmed by all the parts decisions you have to make.
If you want to upscale it here or there, we've done it before and offer great advice. Want top of the bar shifters, a second set of brake levers, STI? We've done it all. We won't let you wreck the bike with a fantasy part that doesn't work, but we're quite flexible if you have a notion you'd like to explore, or just want our opinion about some idea you might have.

How long to get one, and how do I get the ball rolling?
Call us, put down the $300 non-refundable deposit, and tell us your Pubic Bone Height (PBH). We'll order your frame, and we'll have time to go over the details. We may ask you about color, and if you go for the AHH signature blue, we can lock that in now. If you want to think about that longer, you have time.


Where's it made? Early Homers were made in Japan by Toyo. Then gradually and now totally production shifted to Waterford, in Wisconsin. Although it's human nature to wonder, "Which ones are better? I want one of those!" --- there is no difference in quality. If there were, we'd know it and lay it out there for you. (Our "country selector" allows one pick and no manual it says United States. Note the above, though.)

Tires: designed for 32mm to 40mm

Brake type: Sidepull or center pull

Brake reach: 64mm

What "brake reach" means: It's the distance between the brake bolt hole in the fork crown or rear brake bridge, to the braking surface of the rim. It matters because if this distance is too short, you're limited to a skinny tire and won't have room for a fender.

How does 64mm brake reach stack up with other bikes I might sort of be familiar with?
A modern road bike typically has a brake reach of 44mm, which is why it's so limiting in terms of tires, and fenders don't fit. Modern short reach sidepulls, the kind of brakes you see on these bikes, have a brake reach range of 39mm to 49mm (or 51mm, in Campy's case). Our Rambouillet has a brake reach of 55mm, and uses the next step UP brake, a so-called "long reach" sidepull. That is much more versatile.

Rear dropout spacing: 135mm.

Bottle mounts: Two or three. We go back and forth on this one. Usually two, though. It's not a loaded touring bike for desert crossings, and for anything else you ought to be able to drink before you ride, and get by carrying 56 ounces or so of water during it. If that doesn't work for you, see your doc about your sweating problem, seriously, no joke.
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