Some Polyvalent Thoughts

Two things occurred to me on the ride to work today:

  1. I’ve been riding the VO Polyvalent for a little over a year. It’s mostly seen commuting and errand-running duty, but there have been several short, relaxed day tours and one S240–and it’s become the go-to bike for the weekly coffee-outside ride.
  2. It’s exactly what I want in a utility bike–almost. To be precise, the very thought that ran through my head was “I want a bike just like this one, only different in a few key ways.”

2015-04-25 09.15.32

The Frame

The biggest problem with the Polyvalent, unfortunately, is the frame itself. While the geometry of the Mk1 Polyvalent is very good, it’s also one of the most flexible frames I’ve ever ridden. This provides a certain amount of comfort, but it also means that a 200-pound sometime-masher like me can easily cause an auto-shift when pedaling hard in the smaller cogs, especially when I get out of the saddle.

The Mk1 Polyvalent frame also lacks certain niceties that VO added in later editions: mid-fork mounts, downtube cable stops, a third set of bottle cage braze-ons, and a rear cantilever stop. At one point or another, I’ve missed–and wished for–each of these things.

Solution: a different frame with the same geometry, a stiffer bottom bracket, more braze-ons, and a few other things I’d require if I was going to switch (vertical dropouts, internal cable routing, etc.). Not immediately likely, but something to keep in mind.

The Drivetrain

I’ve become a big fan of 1x drivetrain configurations. Losing the front derailleur as well as a shifter and a cable saves weight and complication while providing as good or better function (as long as the gearing is well-chosen).

The biggest problem with the current setup isn’t actually the drivetrain itself (though I wouldn’t mind a type-2 derailleur), but with the shifter. While the friction Retroshift mounted to the stem works well in most circumstances (not to mention looking really cool), there are some crucial times–especially when riding in the city–when being able to shift and brake with both hands is very useful. This is especially true when riding a frame that does not necessarily behave well when pedaled in masher-mode.

Solution: I’ll just move the shifter (or another one) to the handlebar. Perhaps I’ll even move into the modern world and indulge in some kind of indexed shifting (as long as it has a friction option).

The Brakes

The VO Grand Cru cantilevers sure are pretty–but they were an absolute bitch to set up and the front brake continues to be a little fiddly, now and again. It also turns out that wide-profile brakes don’t play nice with mounting panniers on the Soma Porteur rack–something that I’d like to be able to do for short tours and heavy-duty errandizing.

Solution: narrow-profile brakes such as Paul Touring Cantis or Paul Mini-Motos for lots of stopping power and no interference with the rack/baggage.

The Racks

The Soma Porteur rack works well for the most part, but it does have a few foibles that make for some minor annoyances. The mounting tangs are very thick and square and very nearly interfere with the front hub QR. And, because the rack mounts to the braze-ons at the axle, instead at mid-fork, it prevents the fork from flexing as it should under load and sometimes transmits impacts through the rest of the front of the frame.

I also sometimes think that a regular front rack (e.g., a Nitto 34F or a Surly Nice Front) with a large platform and a big Wald basket would work better–especially since I’ve become totally enamored with my large Rivendell ShopSack.

I just haven’t gotten around to figuring out what rear rack would be suitable. I want something small, low profile, and little more than a saddle-bag support (I loathe carrying panniers in the rear) but that also allows hard-mounting to the fender.

Solution: A little bit of milling on the mounting tangs of the porteur rack would go a long way. As for the rear, the VO Constructeur seems a decent solution, if a bit more than I want. Other front rack options require other braze-ons and mounting points, so I’ll have to leave that for another time.

All the Rest

The rest of the bike–saddle, cockpit, wheels and tires, pedals, etc.–are all just about where I want them to be.

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