Second Time’s a Charm: The Smaller Rivendell Clem Smith Jr 45cm L Style

This bike review is a follow-up to one I did previously for a Rivendell Clem Smith Jr “H” style 52cm. A post which has since I made it become oddly popular, and which I’ve gotten several emails about. And which became somewhat awkward when despite my glowing love of that Clem, I stripped it down and ordered a smaller size in the formerly-called-Clementine “L” style. So, I figure I need to make this second review just to keep my conscience clear on the other one. I’ll update this periodically, check the headings.

  1. Backstory
  2. The Build
  3. 8-30-2018: 100 Mile First Impressions
  4. 4-25-2019: Time Off, Fitting, Going Crazy

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Backstory

A little story before we get into the review. About six years ago I was commuting on a more mainstream typical ‘performance’ hybrid with flat bars I swapped out eventually for Velo Orange’s Casey’s Crazy Bars, indexed shifting, disc brakes, the usual. It really fit me absurdly well though and for the first time using bikes I’d really gotten the bug. So, I started a series of project bikes where I tried to convert an old road bike into somewhat more of a touring machine. It was a fun (if costy) project that very quickly lead me to becoming quite familiar with Velo Orange and Rivendell’s catalog of components… and their bikes. Having a Rivendell became the sort of end game dream, but at the time their cheapest frame (the Sam) was still well outside what I could spend on a bike.

Then one summer while my project bike was currently an old Fuji Sagres with an Albastache bar and a 650b conversion Rivendell announced a preorder for a new even cheaper frame, the Clem Smith Jr, and its step through twin the Clementine. They were cheaper by merit of being mostly tig-welded, but promised the usual Riv attention to detail and some relatively radical notions about all-upright all the time and much longer than typical chainstays. They seemed to tick all the boxes I had in mind after my projects and the pain points I had hit with them: made for upright bars (I had accepted I did not prefer drops), plenty of room for fenders and fat tires both, boss points out the wazoo for racks.

I was smitten. The middle sized one was nominally a 52cm, but with Rivendell’s ‘expanded’ frame concept that meant it would ride bigger. It took 650b wheels, which I already had. My wife helped me measure my PBH and we got 80 several times, which suggested a saddle height of 68cm which was more than the 64-65cm I was riding but I figured, hey, I’ve probably just been riding it too low. You hear all the time how people do that. So, I raised my current bike saddles and tried it and it seemed OK. So, I preordered a frame, spent a summer reading the old Rivendell Readers, and built a bike just in time for winter.

And that’s where the other review comes in, and things get complicated. I experienced a long string of fit issues on the bike, but they mostly didn’t stop me from also loving it so much I put 7800 miles on it. Eventually though, it became clear that my persistent knee tendonitis was directly linked to riding with a saddle too high, so, I went back to about a 64cm height and my knee shaped up. But then my wrists started hurting, a lot, and one of my fingers started to feel like I spent the whole ride brushing it with a cable. I had intermittent issues with my butt rubbing, sometimes to the point of more annoying complications. I started taking more time off the bike to heal, and started being unable to ride other bikes that normally fit.

So, eventually I took about a month off entirely, and then went back to my classic old hybrid. And after several weeks of commuting I… had no pain. Wrists stayed healed, no finger nerve damage, knees were fine. So, after two years and a lot of heartache, I admitted to myself the expanded frame concept was not for me, and a 52cm that fit like a 58cm was just too big. I stripped the frame and ordered what I needed to switch to a smaller 45cm Clem. Since I had to order a new frame, I took the chance to switch to the L style as well.

And now here we are. Whew. Sorry for that wall of text, but, the context on this bike was important. I did in fact dearly love the previous Clem and what it represented, but somewhere between the idolization of Riv frames and the sticker shock I let myself stop listening to my own body and had a very rough time with that bike in a lot of ways. The new Clem starts with more than few slices of humble pie and a lot of not wanting to say anything for sure because I don’t trust myself. So I’ll be reviewing it largely based around one simple question: can I ride it for long periods without relapsing into any body problems?

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The Build

I started the previous Clem review with a build list, and since this is a custom job as well let’s repeat that practice here. A lot of this is reused from the previous Clem, but I took the opportunity to switch my racks up to match my usage needs better.

 Frameset & Bars

  • 45cm Clem Smith Jr “L”
  • Included square taper bottom bracket
  • Included FSA headset
  • Included 26.8mm seat post
  • Nitto Technomic 100mm 25.4 quill
  • Rivendell Billie Bar (currently in the ‘up’ position)

Wheels

  • 26″ 32 spoke Deore hubs laced to Sun Rhyno Lite rims
  • Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 559-50 tires

Drivetrain& Brakes

  • Sugino XD2 wide/low 40t/26t crankset, 170mm arm length
  • Shimano FD-2303 front derailleur
  • Microshift RD-M85L rear derailleur
  • Dia Compe ENE micro ratchet bar end friction shifters (bought them before I knew Riv was why they exist, if the Silver 2 shifters ever materialize I’ll switch over)
  • Velo Orange Grand Cru Mark II wide profile cantilevers
  • Shimano R550 brake levers

The Other Stuff

  • Brooks B67s saddle
  • MKS Sylvan touring pedals
  • SKS B65 fenders
  • Rawland Raidoverks Demiporteur rack
  • Tubus Logo Evo rear rack
  • 2015 Acorn Rando bag
  • Rivendell Sackville Saddlebag Medium
  • Butterfly and angelfish spoke beads with spokey-dokes

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8-30-1028: 100 Miles +

So yeah this has been a long road full of many mistakes. But I do mean it when I say the Clem was the best bike I ever had, routine injuries notwithstanding. So far, a lot of that is carrying over. The small frame is smaller, and the chainstays aren’t as long, so, there is a bit of difference in the ride. The small one feels more nimble, the big one felt more float-y. They both have a sort of hard to define magic wherein they do not ride like giant heavy upright bikes whose main triangles are all 31.8 oversize tubes. Maybe it’s ‘planing,’ probably it’s just really good design, but like the bigger frame the small one feels spring powered. At a certain point you begin to feel the weight of it trying to go faster, but by the point I hit that I’ve usually passed 3-5 people on more ‘aero’ friendly bikes so, whatever magic sauce went into the Clem it was some serious stuff. None of that has changed.

So, how’s my pain?

So far, better. My knee is still really sensitive to height, but, I can feel the tendon inflammation going back down again, despite being able to still hit my normal riding speeds. On the 45cm frame, my saddle height of 64cm lets me have some actual seatpost showing. On the 52cm I literally had the seatpost bottomed out and was considering cutting it to lower it more yet. The current way seems more correct. Bonus, it also means I have room for my saddle bag again, and I do love that saddle bag for commuting.

On the front end, I did have to raise the tall Technomic almost entirely up with the bars in the ‘up’ position to have enough height. So, that was close. If I’d needed more I might have had to go back to the Boscos, but, looking at them still brings back twinges in my wrists so I’m not sure I’m up to that yet. I know it’s not their fault, but, I still can’t clear that bar psychologically. Plus, I like the wider flare on the Billie better anyway. Playing around with the frame diagrams and numbers I’d say I probably shortened my reach by about 2cm vs the previous build. I imagine since I was using a 100mm stem i could’ve just gone to an 80mm, but I feel with the slammed seatpost, slammed stem, and going from 4″ of bar rise to -1″ I was already obviously doing more than I should have been to make the bike ‘smaller.’ It was definitely contrary to the proper spirit, anyway. I think what I have now is more karmically correct, in addition to seeming to fit better.

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As they say, so far so good. I’ve done a few 12-13 mile rides without any pain on the bike or after, and no issues with bar palsy. It gives me hope. I’ll report back after a thousand miles and see if that hope holds out during the transition to fall and the windy season.

I haven’t really gotten much benefit from the loop frame as far as the step through itself goes yet. I’m still trained to swing a leg and I haven’t hauled anything that’s made that awkward. But the loop frame has had some other benefits already. It is much easier to carry, using the loop as a handle. And the lack of top tube means I haven’t had to worry about my bar ends chipping the paint when I get some parked wheel flop. Similarly, my turning radius is a lot tighter now because I can flat up jack-knife that front wheel if I want to without slamming into a tube. I’ve been really digging that.

The Rawland rack had an odd effect when I put it on where it notably affected the steering balance, and I could actively feel the wheel gyroscoping in turns. Maybe due to it triangulating the fork? I dunno. It calmed down as soon as I put the handlebar bag on though, and went back to a pleasantly neutral ride. Clems handle their load very well. That seems constant.

That’s all I’m confident in at this point. 100 miles and two weeks isn’t remotely enough time to get to ‘know’ a bike, so, all I have are general impressions. But they are positive, and so far I’m loving it and my pain is either gone or fading. I’m starting to get back to waiting excitedly for the next chance to get on it, instead of vaguely dreading having to, and that seems like a good first step.

4-25-2019: Time Off, Fitting, Going Crazy

So. I was still getting some intermittent pain all around the board, so, I made myself do the hardest thing any bike guy can do: I took three whole months off. All bikes, entirely. Time to heal and reset. And then, I got a pro fitting from my local LBS just to make sure. And, sure enough, one problem was my saddle was too low. Judging only by eye the movement of my legs and my cadence, the fitter put me at 70cm, higher than the 67cm I’d tried previously on the Clem H, and much higher than the 65cm I ended last year riding at. Right on spec for my original measured PBH of 81 too, and right in line with Riv sizing methods that say I’m at the very top of the fit for this 45cm and would still fit right on the 52cm. The fitter’s best guess? The 52cm likely didn’t let me get the saddle forward enough. Go figure.

To be safe on the bars, I decided to reduce variables and go back to the Velo Orange Casey’s Crazy Bars, which were my go to haulers on my commuter hybrid for years and were a nice, safe known for me when getting back into the habit. Switching to them also needed a threadless adapter, and I went ahead and switched to thumbies as well so I wasn’t putting weight on my wrists reaching out with the other to the bullhorns every time I shifted. The final fit needed a 130mm stem, about as long as we could find, and maxed out the 110mm of the adapter.

Blah blah numbers. Long story short, I do indeed have the poor 45cm maxed up. I could still have fit my old 52cm frame, but I would have had things much more slammed down.

I still prefer, I think, riding the smaller bike more up. I like a slightly less upright stance in my upright stance, and this way works better for that. Also, with as much saddle post showing as I have now, I can finally use my saddle bag in full while also having a touring rack on. It’s dreamy.

I’ve got 500+ miles on it now since the fitting (plus a smattering on my other rides all set up to the same fit numbers). That’s enough to have some impressions, but not enough to commit to yet. Not after all the mistakes I made in the last review. Give me until a thousand, if I still haven’t touched an adjustment by then I think we can call it a winner. But, to answer some questions I keep getting emailed:

Is the fit better? I am more comfortable now. All my physical pains have gone away either entirely (wrist, sitting areas) or are improving constantly (knee tendonitis). I’ve also been seeing a personal trainer to help me fix my form and correct the overuse habits I had picked up. The first two weeks back on the bike made me feel like a novice all over again, but my strength is building back up and I’m enjoying riding as often as I can again.

How do you like the Crazy Bars? Do you dislike the Boscos?

Everything about the Boscos I said stands true, they are great bars once you learn to ride with them. I think now with the shorter, lower fit on this bike if I went back to them I would have no further wrist pain, and I’d be happy enough. But, they’re also somewhat backwards for how I ride. The Boscos (and Billies, really) are a parallel grip in the upright, and a bar grip in the spirited. The Crazy Bars are a bar grip in the upright, and a parallel in the spirited. For my riding style and needs (the Clem to me is still a do-it-all tourer/commuter, rather than a laid back cruiser), the Crazy Bars put my wrists in the angles I want them in those different positions more. The bar grip when upright carries my weight better (good for getting tired), and the parallel grip in the bullhorns encourages me to not carry my weight on my wrists. For me, win-win.

The biggest difference, in some ways, is the Boscos offer one more upright grip, whereas the Crazy Bars offer one more go-fasty one. The both offer about the same amount of range, it’s just where they put it that differs.

I still have the Billie and Boscos though. I don’t dislike them, they’re just not what I want this my main bike to be. The Billies are incredibly likely to end up on my roadster, actually. And I may yet experiment with the Boscos on the Clem again late this summer, so, stay tuned.