I’ve been riding the Cycles Toussaint Velo Routier for a few days – have about 50 miles on it so far. I wanted to collect my thoughts as this is a new geometry and tire size for me. As for the rest of it, it’s very similar in size, weight, and materials (steel) to my A. Homer Hilsen. I’ve used a nearly identical build for the bikes, as well. Both have Nitto Noodle 41cm bars wrapped in cotton tape, both have the Rene Herse cranks, and both are within a few millimeters of dimension for fit. the main difference is the wheel size, tires, and geometry with the Velo Routier being a “low trail” and the Hilsen a “mid-trail” ride. OK – getting to the gut reaction first.
The Hetres really smooth out the ride on my rather bumpy commute. Although I’m on bike trails most of the time, my commute has a number of rough spots with roots pushing up the pavement on the trail, as well as general poor road maintenance in other spots. The Hetres feel smoother as you would expect. They have more air volume, and I have them pumped to 40psi rear, 30psi front. Comparing this to the Cypres tires on the Hilsen at 65psi rear and 45psi front, it should be more forgiving.
The bike feels just as fast. This is gut, so I will watch my commute stats over a longer timeframe. The first few rides are inconclusive as I’ve been more tired than usual. The ride times between bikes are within a few minutes out of an hour commute home.
I can really feel the handling differences in the low-trail – and it is not as disruptive as some of the lit I’ve read. The closest analogy I’ve heard is that “you steer with your bars” on the low-trail bike, whereas on the Rivendells, you “steer with your hips”. This seems accurate to me. I can ride this bike no-handed. It’s not easier to do this than the Rivendell – if anything it is just slightly more apt to wander around, but this may just be my lack of experience on this type of geometry. The interesting part is the feel with a front load. It is much more planted with a bag and a few pounds up front. It also wanders less when going slow, and of course there is much less issue with wheel flop when the bike is stationary. The ride feel is subjectively better with this setup for me. I really like having a front rando bag for longer rides. I can do nearly everything I need to do with all the gear within easy reach. This all said, I was doing fine with the Hilsen and the front rando. I just feel that the Toussaint “feels” more planted with this setup while riding.
As I said earlier, the Hilsen and Velo Routier are set up proportionally identical for my fit. Both bikes feel like a good steel bike should. Solid, compliant, light enough. Both are also beautiful in their own way. The Hilsen will win this battle, but the Toussaint is very nice looking in white with stainless Berthoud fenders and subtle red/yellow decals.
I haven’t had any shimmy issues with either bike. The Velo Routier tracked like a steam engine on a 30+ mph descent, and I rode shimmy-free no-handed from 15-25 mph. This seems to be the sweet spot for shimmy. I know the tubing on the Toussaint is double-butted 4130, with .9/.6/.9 top, seat, and down tubes on my size “large” frame. The smaller sizes are .8/.5/.8. This is not the “ultra-light” planing grade tubing that Jan Heine tends to like, and some of the Rawland bikes are built to, but I’ve ridden an rSogn, and it felt as stiff as this frame. Perhaps I need more sensitivity training. In any case, it rides really well, and I feel totally comfortable on this bike. A longer test ride is due, and luckily this is all set and ready for the upcoming brevet season starting next week!
Other comments on the build? I had no problems getting the build done – there were no flukey gonzo issues like misalignments, or gummed up threads. The hanger was straight, the fenders were already mounted, as were the brakes. I ended up tightening up the fender alignment to match up the Hetres as it originally had 38mm Somas on it, but that was the biggest time suck. I honestly had the thing built in a few hours, and I was taking my time. It helped that I had a cockpit set up from a previous build – nice not to have to wrap the bars. One note – I originally had SPD pedals, but put VP flats on it for the beginning of the season. I want to try these on longer rides to see if I have a knee issue that bothered me last year with the clipless pedals. I also migrated the 9-speed cassette and downtube shifters back to an 8-speed setup with bar-end shifters. Oh, I also put the B&M Luxos dyno light on this bike for the season.
One more item I forgot to add – I was very worried about what kind of front rack to use. The center-pull Dia Compe 750 brakes leave very little room and the normal rando-standard Nitto Mini rack wouldn’t work. Luckily, Cycles Toussaint has this figured out. They have a special rack made just for this bike. I exchanged emails (actually, blog comments) with Evan at Cycles Toussaint, and ordered it after I got the frame. It arrived a few days later just in time for my build. It fit perfectly with rear mounts that fit to the fork crown mounting screws. The rack holds my Tall Boxy Rando bag from Acorn at just the right height – the top even with my bars. Super happy with this. It is also possible to saw the rear arms off, bend the lower support arms, and mount the rack to the fender at two points if you want a lower platform and a more “constructeur” touch as Evan did with his personal bike.
Now it’s time to put some miles on this guy (and try not to forget my other bikes in the process).