I've owned any number of bikes over the years, but probably my favorite has been the Van Dessel “Country Road Bob” in its various incarnations. I got the frame used from a local racer seven or eight years ago, and had actually had it off the road for nearly a year, as some parts were worn out and others got scavenged to build up my Cannondale road bike, but recently acquired some new wheels, cranks and bars to build it up again.
|Not a bike for the shy.|
Van Dessel, for those not familiar with the company, Van Dessel is a small company based in Mendham, NJ that designs and distributes some unique – and uniquely named – performance bicycles. Most of their bicycles, such as the “Gin & Trombones” (cyclocross), “Drag Strip Courage” (track) and “All Systems Go” (time trial) are pretty race-oriented, but they've always had one or two models like the now-discontinued “Country Road Bob” and it's spiritual successor, the “Whisky Tango Foxtrot” that were a bit weird, but extremely versatile.
The Bob I have, a 2002 model, is a singlespeed-only frame, with horizontal track-style rear drop outs (“fork ends” for the purists), and features a moderately zippy cyclocross geometry, carbon fork and a very distinctive look brought about by a curved tubeset and bold green paint job.
|A 3-inch drop from saddle to bars makes for a nice sporty ride.||.|
The joy of the bike, other than it's “look at me” style, is that it's such a great go-anywhere, do-anything machine. I've normally had it set up as a fixed gear, and formerly had road bars on it, but would use it for everything from commuting and sporty pavement riding to cruises down the D&R Towpath to some light singletrack (sometimes I'd flip the wheel around to use it as a freewheeling singlespeed for my off-road jaunts, but more often I'd just keep it on the fixed side).
Not long ago, I was given the gift of a Surly “Open Bar” handlebar, which is a nice wide steel handlebar with about a 50-degree sweep, which is designed with singlespeed bikes in mind. I also acquired a set of fixed/singlespeed wheels and a few other bits and pieces, so I decided it was time to get the Bob back together.
|The curved parts of the bar also make for a surprisingly comfortable secondary hand position.|
One of the less-ideal things about the old build, with dropped handlebars, was that it relied on centerpull cantilever brakes, rather than mountain-bike style linear pull brakes. The rear brake, in particular, with its long continuous cable housing and too-low cable stop never quite had the stopping power a big guy like me was looking for. When riding fixed this wasn't a problem, but when the bike was set up with a freewheel, I never felt confident in the brakes when riding at speed.
The new build uses mountain-bike style levers and a set of Promax linear-pulls, which offer much better stopping power.
The swept handlebars and curvy tubes put me in mind of the path racers ridden by turn-of-the-century “scorchers,” as aggressive cyclists were known back then, so I decided to run with it and put on a leather saddle and cork grips.
|Cork grips after a quick dunk into Bullseye Shellac|
The saddle is a Velo Orange “Mod 1,” which the company is selling at a discount. I have a black version of this saddle on my road bike, and not only do I find it extremely comfortable for long rides at moderate effort, it has saddlebag loops which allow me to hang traditional-style saddlebags of various sizes on the back, rather than mounting a rack and panniers or trunk bag. For daily riding I just use a small tool bag, but for long commutes, day trips or touring I can add on my Carradice bag. I find that on bikes with sportier geometry, not only does a Carradice-style saddlebag look better but by putting the weight closer to rider rather than on the wheel, the handling is less affected.
|A Minnehaha saddle bag makes the perfect tool bag for day-to-day rides, a Carradice College bag works for bigger loads.|
I went with a honey-brown saddle this time, purely because I thought it looked cool, and shellacked the grips to waterproof them and make them match the saddle better (again, rubber grips work just as well, I just think the cork is comfortable and looks cool).
|32mm tires roll over most stuff with no problem|
42x17 gearing and 700x32c tires give me just shy of a 67-inch gear ratio, which gives me an on-pavement cruising speed comfortably in the high teens but still leaves me the leverage to get up hills and ride light off road. Right now the as-yet-unused freewheel side of the hub is also a 17-tooth, but I may find a slightly larger cog to give myself a better bail-out gear.
|Fixed on one side and a short freehub on the other, with hard-to-find 135mm hub spacing. The wheelset came from a Marin singlespeed.|
Since I've got good brakes and don't need to rely on back-pedaling to help me stop anymore, I no longer feel the need to ride it with clipless pedals, so I have a pair of big, grippy Shimano BMX pedals to keep my sneakers from sliding off.
|Truvativ cranks do the job with just fine.|
I've had it on a bunch of short rides and one 30-mile towpath jaunt, and it rides wonderfully. I intend to do a bit of light touring with it this fall, and look forward to seeing where my favorite bike takes me.
|Where are we headed today?|