Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rivendell's Clementine - A Brilliant US Market Move?

Rivendell's Clementine, a solid, tour-ready, step-over bicycle,
designed for those seeking long-term comfort on and off-road.

Intentional or not, the Clementine (aka Clem-L) is uniquely poised to capture folks that desire a reasonably priced (1500.00), strong step-through (or step-over) bike that can handle wider tires.

In my opinion, of course!

I believe there's a market for aging baby boomer cyclists, or for those with discomfort on a diamond frame. But only someone who is committed to research, will wade through US options and come to a similar conclusion.*

My own search for a step-through touring bike started with knowing I liked the frame geometry and low gearing of 1980's steel mountain bikes. There were a handful of models specifically marketed to women - Ross and Peugeot come to mind - but try finding those models today, especially in sizes larger than 19". Most are rarer than hen's teeth! So it was time to look beyond our borders...

The Swedish Pilen Lyx. Photo credit: Pilen Lyx


The stately Canadian Urbana. Photo credit: Lovely Bicycle

Intrigued with the Pilen Lyx, and to some degree, the stout Urbana, there was comfort in knowing that other folks were desiring a strong step-through commuter machine, if not a touring bicycle. This was in 2011, long before the Clementine's arrival in 2015, and just when I began to formulate the idea of transitioning to a step-through touring bicycle.

A couple years later, commuting regularly on Ross Mount Saint Helen's, and enjoying the ease of step-through design, this cemented my decision to seriously research my options. In early 2015, the Clementine model was pre-sold to buyers, some waiting nearly 6 months for arrival. I was skeptical of the pre-ordering concept, considering I couldn't test ride the bicycle, so I looked elsewhere, but still followed with interest the Clementine and eagerly waited riders' first impressions.

The Ross outfitted for a simple overnight camping adventure.
I looked into a custom built step-through, but as I suspected, models could not compete with my 1500.00 budget. (Calculating a "budget" based on the Clementine's pricing was a starting point - the last new bike cost me 350.00 in 1986!) However, it was interesting to note European options - none of which made sense within my price-point - but confirmed growing interest in the style, at least for Europeans.

Grant 's Clementine. Photo credit: Rivendell
It's no surprise that I eventually gravitated to the Clementine. Glowing feedback, unavailability in regional bike shops, and with much research and angst, I followed suit ordering the bike - sight unseen - and I'm now a proud owner of a Clementine. I don't regret my decision, but I'm still fine-tuning the fit and need to test the machine on hilly touring miles - a plan for 2017.

Rivendell is offering colors to please both genders, and indeed there's a growing male contingent (even Grant Peterson himself - I realize it pays to promote your own products!) who are finding the Clementine (or Clem-L) a versatile and practical machine. However, I had an interesting conversation with a Rivendell sales person who confirmed that only 1 of 5 Clems sold are the Clementine (or Clem-L) model.

Whether the Clementine becomes a sought after machine is another story. Rivendell's principles are built on producing small quantities, creating beautiful and practical bicycles, "bucking trends and making friends" without all the marketing fuss. There are only a handful of  US dealers, and unless you live in California or near Portland, Oregon, forget counting on a test ride - a deal-breaker for many people. Order online and taking a leap of faith may be your only option.

And I wonder if the model suffers from the stigma associated with a "womens'" frame, especially in the US. Baby boomer riders could benefit from this style, but it may be a big pill to swallow. And new bike riders wouldn't necessarily spend 1500.00 when they can purchase a beginner bike elsewhere for 500.00.

But for those aging regular cyclists, I believe the Clementine is the best of both worlds: a sturdy, comfortable frame with ample clearance for front and rear racks plus fenders, that can haul camping gear, water bottles. etc. - all for a reasonable price. I suspect this may be the last new bicycle I buy - at least I hope so!

*Is the Clementine the only candidate for this unique role? If not, let me know in the comments. 

28 comments:

  1. I'm not in the market for an old step through MTB frame (alas), but another issue with them besides scarcity is that they usually only offered the "entry level" models in a step-through, not the nicer ones. While mediocre components can be upgraded, I've seen some of them (the Raleigh "Mountain Tour" series one in particular) to use not cantilever brakes but those meh "wide and long" reach caliper brakes, the type that were stock on department store mountain bikes.

    Also, I think you meant to say "geAring", not geering. Geer is a town in Belgium. ;-)

    -Shawn
    http://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/

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    1. Thanks for the word correction. Noted and fixed. :)

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  2. Envious of youe Clementine. The UK proves that it has nothing to do with Europe by resolutely refusing to sell sensible quality step throughs, even custom is hard to find even if you had the cash. Like your initial thoughts, a test ride could sell it to me in minutes...

    Just retyred my diamond framed bikes for the time being but the crossbar is becoming a pain.

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    1. I never thought I would be able to get rid of my diamond frames because there are too many memories involved, but I'm slowly letting go emotionally. I can still ride them of course, but nowadays I much prefer stepping through the frame and definitely is a bike I should be able to ride much later in life. If someone presented that option 10 years ago, I would've given them the hairy eyeball!

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    2. Coline, look up Mercian bikes in Derby. They do beautiful custom work. I'm sure he will make you a nice one.

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  3. Besides our drop bar bikes with a diamond frame, my wife owns two step through "city bikes" - one for each of our two homes. A Retrovelo Paula and a Work Cycles Secret Service. Both are made for carrying heavy loads from the market. Especially the Work Cycles, which is a true Dutch Bike and is built to last three lifetimes.

    What is cute is to see my wife come to a stop. With thousands of miles cycling under her belt, she is highly skilled in the dismount. Her foot shoots through the step through and she has "landed" next to her bike in one big impressive whooshing motion.

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    1. Interesting dismount...it sounds like she stands next to her bike rather than straddling the frame. I checked out both of your wife's bikes styles and perhaps there's less cockpit room so when she comes to a stop it's easier to stand to one side. I'm a straddler myself.

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    2. Ha, just talking about a dismount before positioning for a lock up. She'd straddle if at a stop light.

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  4. 'And I wonder if the model suffers from the stigma associated with a "womens'" frame'

    I would say yes. I was reading up on mixte style frames, thinking about getting one someday, and one piece of advice I read was "Dude, don't bother. Just get a guy's bike." This sentiment was echoed over and over by many. And the mixte isn't even a real step-through. I don't know why the step-through it still thought of as primarily a woman's bike -- I mean, didn't you women start wearing bloomers for bicycling years ago?

    Doug

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  5. Very interesting post. I'm hoping to write a post soon on the step through that was made for me last year by Oxford Bike Works - but which I didn't keep ( I got my money back ). I'm still wondering what to get instead. Interesting too what you say about buying without a test ride, as one make I might consider is Fahradmanufactur, but there are only two stockists in the UK, both quite far from me.

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  6. I know what you mean abput the ability to actually test ride Rivendells. Gravel & Grind in Frederick, Maryland, is a Riv dealer and you can actually test ride a Clem there if in the area...

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  7. While the bike is VERY nice, I'm not sure I'm ready to consider $1500 to be "reasonably priced." Our last bike, with a similar frame from Trek, cost under $300, or about $400 with the add-ons needed to make it ready for serious use. For $1500, I think you can get a very nice used Brompton.

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    1. For a nice touring, step-through frame, I've found it very reasonable for a new bike. Fit and the ability for wide tires is the key here. I cannot find an older frame that's larger than 19". I need a 20" frame. Diamond frames from the 80's are everywhere: step-through, not so!

      If you've found a Trek that meets these requirements, do tell!

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    2. I think the Clementine/Clem Smith Jr/Clem L/what-have-you is reasonably priced, when you think of it being in the same category as an LHT. There are many step-through frame bikes available, but step-through tour-able bikes are pretty scarce. The only lower-priced bikes I've seen that sort of fit the bill is some of REI/Novara's urban bikes with more a mixte frame than true step through. Unfortunately, REI doesn't seem to know how to sell them, and they're always dropped from the lineup.

      -Shawn
      http://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/

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    3. Shawn, I wanted a step-through Surly. That's the quality and price point I was aiming for. It seems you understand what I was striving for.

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  8. I'll be very curious to hear your impressions of the Clementine while carrying gear and climbing hills. I have a step-through Dutch bike (well, mine is Belgian -- an Achielle), which I love, but it really, really does not like to go uphill! It looks like the geometry on the Riv is set up for a zippier ride, though.

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    1. This was another prerequisite, that the Clementine come with ample easy gearing for hills. I am not getting any younger, plus I know the value of high cadence when struggling up a long or steep Vermont road. In that regard, the bike compares with my Trek Antelope - nice low gears. However, Miss Clementine is a little heavier and definitely has a longer wheel base so the true test will come later this year. I did my homework for this purchase, at least everything I could, baring a test ride.

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    2. As far as gearing on the step through (or mixte) bike, the first thing to be aware of is whether the bike has derailleur vs. an internal gear hub (IGH). The latter (IGH) is pretty popular on step through bikes, which are often sold as city bikes. Derailleur style gearing will typcially give a wider gear range, but not necessarily a lower range. However, it is easy to adjust the derailleur gearing by swapping out the chainrings or cogs. An IGH can be altered too, by the same method. We left our IGH city bikes (Retrovelo and Work Cycles) with stock gearing in Tucson, where the terrain is flat.

      In mountainous Seattle, we had to go from a 42T chainring to a 39T and the cog was increased from a 20 to a 24 tooth. (Note, the IGH manufacturers place a specified limit to the gear swapping ratios - which we have exceeded with no issues.) We now have IGH's with low gearing, but the top end speed is reduced. The low gearing helps with carrying a heavy load back from the market. My wife's step through Work Cycles has heavy duty front and rear racks that can carry a lot of weight. Anyway, we feel the reduction to top end speed is a non-issue for a city bike, as no one is pushing a heavily laden city bike with fat tires around that fast.

      We also upgraded the Shimano roller brakes (common brake type on step through bikes) to a larger version - an easy task. The roller brakes are super low maintenance but the smaller versions are better for flat terrain, and can get over taxed on long downhill descents. With the larger roller brakes, the bike brakes well on the long, steep downhills.

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    3. Hey, while I'm a big fan of IGH's, I just wanted to point out two things:
      1) It's a lot easier to get low-low gears with derailleur systems than IGHs. Hitting the mid-20s (gear inches) is about as practical as you can get on an IGH, unless it's a Rohloff. Fine for around town, but with loaded touring and mountains, it's nice to be able to get into the mid-teens with a derailleur system.
      2) There is indeed a real risk of going beyond the manufacturer's specified limits with IGH's. The general rule of thumb is to not dip below a 2:1 ratio (which you definitely are.) Now, I've heard many reports of folks doing this and never having problems. I have also heard several reports of folks doing this and destroying their gearing. Will it happen to you? Hard to say. I think weight of rider and style of riding have a lot to do with it.

      -Shawn
      http://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/

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  9. Annie I am curious as to how often people ask you "what kind of bike is that?" or comment "nice bike" ..? I agree that the Mixte or step through frame would be a good solution for many boomer riders but with the exception of Soma and Riv you don't see many higher end frames here in the US. VO briefly had a nice lugged mixte but apparently it didn't sell so well so they dropped it after about a year. I get the sense you are on to something but well ahead of the curve. Hope Clementine tours well for you.

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    1. Ryan, I haven't ridden this bike a lot, yet, and rarely lock it to bike rack where I might encounter other riders and possible conversation. I rode with my friend on a 3-day Canadian adventure, then for maybe 5 fall rides, including a coffeennering outing.

      I looked at the Soma mixte when it was available, but if my memory serves me, it was advertised as a "sport" bicycle, which means shorter wheelbase and I think, skinny tires. I love the looks of the mixtes, quite a bit, but I preferred a lower step over. My commuter Ross "spoiled" me or convinced me that's the avenue I would follow for my next touring bike.

      I may be ahead of the curve for a minority of aging cyclists. A few women have contacted me wanting my assessment of the Clementine, so I know there's interest. It's easy for women to make this jump, but for the male population, well, it's apparent they have a stigma to overcome before they could ever consider a step-over (The US bicycle culture cannot compare with with the Netherlands). The mixte style may see a better following because it's not as big a leap from sloping top tube bicycles but only time will tell.

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  10. After experiencing a week island hopping between Denmark and Germany on a hired stepthrough both me and one of my cycling partners were convinced that was the way to go.

    Being European the bikes had sensible protected drivesystems with internal and brake in the hub, very neat. Most stepthroughs have a tortuous cable run to place the rim brake exactly where it is placed with a crossbar, mixte frames often had a neat and nicer arrangement with brake between the two sloping tubes with nice straight cable run. Picky I know but a bike should be a thing of joy.

    A nonny mouse suggested "Mercian" in a previous comment, before some serious household work became needed they might have got my money since I had got as far as emailing them to ask why their "Miss Mercian" had slipped from their new website. They never replied! As well made as that frame would be it would never have the lifetime convenience or grace of a stepthrough and something made me doubt that a request for a rear disc brake might just give them a heart attack...

    One day I shall find a quality stepthrough, I know I will...

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    1. Rivendell can ship overseas! - mas

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  11. It's important to note some of the major differences to most "ladies" bikes and the Clementine(Clem -L). Most ladies bikes in addition to having a step trough frame also have a different geometry; typically a more compact front center and are designed to ride more upright then their Male oriented siblings. The Clem-L on the other hand has the same geometry as the regular Clem! For someone used to riding Diamond frames this is a major distinction from most step through frames and precisely what makes it NOT a ladies frame. $1,500? well, that is a bit hard to swallow, but honestly most of my bikes cost that much or more (especially if adjusted for inflation, BUT you get a lot for your money!
    First, well, there's the bike itself; The cost does not seem too high when you consider what a small number of frames are produced. Compared to Trek for example you are looking at low hundreds, Vs. Thousands!! Also, as discussed above you are getting a VERY specialized machine that is designed outside of the common commercial mind set and prevailing mainstream fashions. I find most bikes of this style today are sold to people who are essentially NOT bike riders; they want a bike, they run down to the nearest big box store or Dept. store and pick a color. They don't do research, they may be familiar with a brand name, but mostly they are going to go with what the salesperson suggests or what's cheap. As you can imagine the most likely result of this is a bike that is not going to get ridden or ridden for a short time and then collect dust in the Garage. A Rivendell on the other hand is going to generally be sold to someone who is already a bike rider and is buying for himself or for someone they care about.
    Then there's the community; when you buy a Rivendell, you become part of an extended family whether you like it or not! LOL! This family is your support network, cheering squad and Inspiration, you are not going to get that with too many other bikes and it's free pretty much.
    Lastly, If that is not enough, the people that work at Rivendell can tackle just about any problem and again are sort of extended family, So . . .
    If you couldn't tell I have a Clementine and Even though I had an Original Bridgestone XO-1, it was my first actual Rivendell and yes, I did wait 6 months for it. So, it probably should not be a surprise that I now own several Rivendells!
    I refer to the 'tine as my Old man bike, because I typically keep my bikes for many years and I was looking for something to take me into my twilight years. When I am too old to swing my leg over the Atlantis, I should still be able to straddle the Clementine!
    For any other guys considering a Clem-L and are afraid they might be too gurly, I suggest a black one (if they are available)! Even in the L frame the black looks pretty sinister! ;-) Except for the handlebars, mine is a spitting image of Grants - Masmojo

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  12. Annie, I don't know if you saw this, but ironically enough, step-through touring bikes are a current topic on Bikeforums:
    http://www.bikeforums.net/touring/1099650-step-through-touring-bikes.html
    Which led to this link:
    http://www.cyclingabout.com/a-complete-list-of-womens-touring-bikes-step-through-mixte/
    Which unfortunately highlights bikes that are pretty much only available in Northern Europe. They do list Rivendell's Cheviot, but don't have the Clem on there.

    -Shawn
    http://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/

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  13. I did see the European options, and linked to that article in this blog post. I was amazed at the options for Europeans - and my husband and I saw many Europeans (male and female) touring on these rigs 25 years ago - but it's too bad our culture can't overcome the step-through stigma. I presume that's why the Clementine was reclassified as Clem-L.

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  14. At my age I'm gravitating more toward swept back handlebars, though having more weight on you sit bones long distance is not comfortable. I personally need a bike that has the best of both worlds - a strong but lighter frame [like double-butted cromo steel], more weight distribution on the bike more city bike geometry [longer head tube], and a handlebar position slightly higher than the saddle. For more distance 28mm tires work better for me, plus a triple crank and 8-9 speed cassette. That's what it takes for me to get up our hills and you need to be fit on top of that. Some hills, I walk.

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