New Bike! My Rivendell Sam Hillborne

Rivendell Sam Hillborne

While doing some cleaning and maintenance on my Surly Long Haul Trucker after this fall’s Toronto-Montreal tour, I noticed that quite a few parts on my trusty bike were nearing the end of their usable life. Both rims needed to be replaced. The crank arm, which I slightly bent a few years ago, was becoming a safety and ergonomic issue. The headset was feeling gritty and needed some servicing…

Before I knew it, I had talked myself into buying a new bike. The adventure / touring bike market has exploded in the 12 years since I built my Surly, so for a few days I fantasized about all the options available to me. But really I always knew what I was going to ride next.

It had to be a Rivendell Sam Hillborne.

Grant Peterson and Rivendell Bicycle Works have been a big influence on the way I think about bikes. Their “Just Ride” philosophy and contrarian viewpoints are refreshing in a sport where everyone (at least in North America) is encouraged to ride like a sociopath. The Sam Hillborne is their model that checks all the boxes for my favorite types of riding. Unfortunately the Sam seems to either be retired or temporarily on hiatus between production runs right now, but luckily I was able to find the last new frames for sale in my size through The Psychic Derailleur in Indianapolis.

My ambitions for this bike are to ride long and far with it. Tours, coffeeneuring, bike camping, some brevets hopefully. Here are highlights of the build, with a full spec below.


One area I assumed would receive an upgrade was the drivetrain. My Surly was built with a 3×9 setup - a triple crankset paired with a 9 speed cassette. This was the standard for touring bikes before the whole 1× revolution started in the mountain bike world. For this bike I assumed I’d either go 1×11 or 2×11, but surprisingly I ended up going with a 2×9 setup.

The wide range and super low climbing gears on my Surly were great, but there were a lot of overlapping gears in the 26/36/46 tooth chainrings. By going to a 26/42 double crankset, I kept most of the range with less overlap. I lost a bit of range at the top end of my gears, which may force me to switch from a 42 tooth to a 44 tooth big ring, but we’ll see. Keeping the 9 speed drivetrain also lets me continue to use friction shifting, the joys of which I finally discovered last year.


My #1 piece of advice for anyone building a bike is to get good hand-built wheels from a human wheel builder. They can cost more than machine-built wheels purchased online, but the quality is almost always worth it. For this set I knew I wanted a SON dynamo hub, but other than that I trusted my local shop Hoopdriver with the rest of the details. I put the widest René Herse tires I could fit (44mm Snoqualmie Pass) and then had Hoopdriver put on Velo Orange fenders with special Berthoud fender stays that are flat at the attachment points to reduce toe overlap with the pedals.

Anodized purple components

While getting a nice pair of hand-built wheels is my first piece of advice, having something on your bike that is completely anachronistic with the rest of the build is a close second. There’s nothing worse that a bike so flawlessly curated that you suspect the owner doesn’t actually ride it. On my Surly I had titanium bolts because they were humorous on a 35 pound bike with racks and panniers. For this bike I finally fulfilled a childhood dream and blinged it out with some anodized purple parts.

If you weren’t super into mountain bikes in the early ‘90s, you missed out on the craze where everything had to be anodized purple (cf. this beauty). I was a broke teenager, so the only anodized parts I could afford to stick on my bike were some bar ends and water bottle cages. Now, as a not-broke grown man, I finally have some purple anodized Paul Components parts. Hell yeah. They don’t fit the lugged steel Rivendell aesthetic at all, which makes it all work perfectly.

Full build table

Component Part Notes
Frame Rivendell Sam Hillborne 55cm
Front Derailleur Shimano CX70 Works well with the big jump in my chainring sizes.
Rear Derailleur Shimano XT M771 I’ve been using this derailleur for over a decade, and it has at least another decade left.
Cassette Shimano XT M770 9 speed, 11-34 teeth
Chain SRAM PC-991
Bottom Bracket Shimano UN55 Smooth, bombproof, cheap.
Crankset White Industries VBC 42/26 chainrings
Pedals Crank Brothers Stamp 7 Also use Speedplay SYZRs when I want to go clipless
Shifters Shimano SL-BS77 bar-end shifters Running in friction mode.
Brake Levers TRP RRL
Brakes Paul Components Touring Cantis Best cantilevers ever?
Headest FSA 1” threaded
Stem Soma Sutro I got this stem just because it has an engraving of Sutro Tower on it.
Handlebar Nitto Noodle My favorite handlebar of all time.
Bar Tape Newbaums Medium gray color with 7 coats of shellac.
Bell Crane Brass
Seatpost ??? Resisiting the urge (so far) to replace the generic one that came with the frame.
Saddle Brooks B-17 Special This came over from my Long Haul Trucker, it’s perfectly broken in for me.
Front Hub SONdelux wide body ⚡️ Dynamo!
Rear Hub White Industries MI5
Rims H+Son Archetype 36 hole, polished
Tires René Herse Snoqualmie Pass 700C x 44, endurance casing
Skewers Paul Components Quick Release This one was a total indulgence.
Fenders Velo Orange 52mm Zeppelin
Light SON Edelux II
USB Charger Sinewave Revolution
Front Rack Nitto Mini 34F
Rear Rack Nitto Campee Not pictured above, but it’s a beatiful rack.

My only mistake

Everything turned out better than I could have hoped, but I made one fatal mistake. I finished the build at the end of December, which is not exactly ideal cycling weather in Toronto. I’ll have to wait a few months to really put this bad boy through its paces.

Mark Allen

Written by Mark Allen, a product manager and designer currently based in Toronto. Say hello on Twitter.

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