05 June, 2014

3000 Mile Pass Hunter Review, With Bonus Manifesto

Mike Ross, who wrote this review, is probably our favorite customer.  He's a philosopher by training and a cyclist by nature. It wouldn't surprise me if Mike has covered more miles by bike than anyone I know. He rides the 35 or so miles from home to VO world headquarters every couple of months to buy a few parts, hang out for an hour or so, and entertain us with his stories, rants, and quips. He also owns a Campeur, which he reviewed after 1500 miles. As I alluded in the title, there is much more below than a simple bike review. If you just want to read about the bike skip ahead, but that would be a mistake.

The Velo Orange Pass Hunter:
A Bicycle Review at 3000 miles

by Michael Ross

This a review of the excellent Velo Orange "Pass Hunter" frame and fork, as expressed in a complete bicycle. This is also a review about bike reviews, and how worthless they usually are.

Consider the following:

(This is an actual radio transcript released by the
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations (Oct. l0, l995):

Station One:  Please divert your course l5 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.

Station Two:  Recommend you divert your course l5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

Station One: This is the Captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.

Station Two: No, I say again, you divert your course.

Station One: This is the aircraft carrier Enterprise. We are a large warship of the U.S. Navy. Divert your course now.

Station Two: This is the Puget Sound Lighthouse. It's your call. (1)

Did you see the Lighthouse coming? The Captain didn't, and he's in charge of a large warship of the US Navy. Think he's compensating for something?...

I'll return to the moral of this little exchange in a moment, but let me me cut to my conclusion: the Velo Orange Pass Hunter is one of the best made and best designed bikes on the planet. There is not a bike made that is better than the Pass Hunter for doing what it is designed to do. There are plenty of bikes as good, but none better, and none better for the money spent, against the function, performance and quality gained. What the Pass Hunter does is cover ground at maximal efficiency, with maximal comfort, over all sorts of varying terrain, in all sorts of conditions, at a cost and with a quality that is unbeatable. It rides wonderfully, even loaded with moderate cargo (around 20 lbs.); with stout wheels or with (comparatively) lightweight wheels. How do I know? I know the same way anyone would making any meaningful assertion about anything. The key word here is “know." Meaning making is selective contextualization, after all: How high is up? How cold is frigid? If everything doubled in size last night, how would you know? If there's no context, there's no meaning, no knowns, and mysticism destroys science.

I think bicycles are important to the transportation culture in the USA; and that they could be an important tool in the reclamation of much larger democratic purpose in the USA. I'm not naive about the bicycle's role. I'm not hopeful; but I'm not exaggerating. How bodies move in space, and how space gets generated and defined, conserved and expended, is crucial to the quality of life in a meaningful democracy in 2014. Bikes could figure mightily on this front, if they are made increasingly meaningful.

Perhaps you laughed when you realized the Puget Sound Lighthouse -- an inanimate object -- had more "control" in the given context than the Captain of a "large US warship." The laughter the Lighthouse rejoinder generates is more than just logical expectation defeated…it's embarrassment made plain for unwittingly indulging Arrogance. Arrogance is a taskmaster, but it never likes being called out in the open where it can be seen for just how ugly and pathological its control is. It'll always scurry back into the noncognitive, social structural shadows, to preserve and reclaim its influence. Only Education can inoculate against Arrogance and it's buddy, Indoctrination.

Arrogance likes to masquerade, is always lurking, and like most addictive mob mentalities, it always travels with its leg-breaking enforcers, Authority and Power. It wrote the following:

"Bike of the Year: Italiano's MagicBike, with road vibration dampening Anti-vibro® technology, has been a bike of choice for pro riders and cycling enthusiasts since it made its debut last year. The MagicBike significantly cuts the road noise vibrations that contribute to pain and muscle fatigue while enhancing stiffness and handling.
What does this mean for you, the rider? Crisp and responsive handling, even on rough, patched roads. Faster acceleration and more power when tackling that once impossible hill. Being able to tackle tricky sections of pavement at higher speeds than you could previously -- or everyone else you now leave behind.
Combining the speed of a race bike with the comfort and geometry that better suits everyday cyclists, and packing some impressive carbon technology that genuinely works, the new Italiano MagicBike is in a class of its own. It's one of the finest riding bikes in this market.” (2)

Wow. Since I'm all about fawning, groundless appeals to Authority, I'm impressed that it's been a bike of choice for pro riders AND (lowly?) cycling enthusiasts. Moreover, at 51 years of age, I'd love less pain and muscle fatigue; and since I dislike most people, it would be great to leave everyone else behind.

But I don't want to be hasty. *This* bike seems even better:

“Designed for pro racers, the SmoothAsphaltZoomer has the lightness, stiffness, and agility to deliver elite riders to victory. But testers detected something more: a personality that both reflected and enhanced the riding style of whoever is on it. In hard cornering the bike felt relaxed and confident, but under the skilled guidance of a more experienced rider it was also capable of responding ferociously. “It is one of the best-balanced bicycles ever made – a historically great bike for the way it combines agility, reactivity, stability, weight, durability, and style,” said one reviewer.”

Can it get better than this? Yes!

They claim the SmoothAsphaltZoomer only costs $10,500, and weighs 3.9 lbs., in a 54cm size. I wonder how much lighter it would be if I could squeeze onto the 52cm? I'm not a “pro-racer” and I don't know if I have the “skilled guidance” necessary, but maybe since I'm older I would qualify as “more experienced” – because I sure could use a “historically” great bike...especially one that guarantees deliverance to elites. After all, in this culture, we surely could do with some more deference to elites. Of course, I am dubious about a historically great bike given we live in an ahistorical culture. Whatever. The clincher is that the bike has "a personality that both reflected and enhanced the riding style of whoever is on it." Dang. That sounds, well, "ferocious."

Maybe the people who wrote this should get in touch with the Captain of the USS Enterprise...and all the rest who read about the SmoothAsphaltZoomer and never questioned or contextualized it. Arrogance seems to have them all by the balls.

And I mean that. This bike-envy drivel was written by men and for men. The hope for the transformative power of bicycles in the larger culture will have to be more than male-driven if bikes are to become culturally meaningful as democratic tools. What, exactly, are all these fancy bicycle mystical words supposed to convey about the SmoothAsphaltZoomer? Noting the constant reference to “stiffness,” to conquest – always a topic of masculine insecurity -- is too easy. No, what is conveyed here is an implicit, perhaps even unintentional contempt for the intelligence of their audience...oops, I mean customers......although, it must be said, what audience is so clueless that it just blindly accepts such advice?

Question asking is at the heart of Education. To know is to be Educated, and I can only know what I can do, or learn from someone else's doing. ( I heartily recommend *Shop Class as Soulcraft,* by Matthew Crawford.) To just accept what someone else says, on the basis on their putative Authority, is to disable one's response-able self to Arrogance while preserving the appearance of having made a "choice." It is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic; to accede to some else's will by accepting it as one's own -- Plato's definition of a slave.

If the meaning of bicycles is meaningful it is because they are used; taken seriously in a discourse about them that is informative and generative rather then deferential and consumed. It is to describe the necessary background conditions constraining or affording bicycle expression in a visible, everyday kinda foreground. Doing so takes effort and can be messy: when claims are made, they need to be confirmed...or not. By other people. Using the same tools. Especially the same defined language. This is what "context" means. The Captain made assumptions that made him look like an, uh, you know...and the SmoothAsphaltZoomer "felt relaxed and confident" -- according to "testers." Testers? And everything doubled in size last night...and Jesus visited me in the my sleep last night. If a claim doesn't mark a difference that makes a difference, in practice, that someone else can confirm, well...no matter, and never mind...

I don't mean to ruffle feathers just for the hell of it; enough people dislike me already. But there is a pervasive tendency to get ruffled in this culture because there is such a high price put on control.
Bicycle culture is part of this tendency. To not be in control freaks people out; especially people who have benefitted from ossified, usually unjustified, ways of doings things. Go back and read those descriptions of the SmoothAsphaltZoomer...that bike is supposed to kick-ass and take no prisoners...it is in control, man...don't question it.

The minute anyone questions control, they become suspect. This culture is much more the fan of Lincoln than Jefferson; of order rather than invention. And we think we should be in control of...everything. Remember the "New World Order" led by the USA? I couldn't make stuff up like this that is this rich. Without a doubt the ridiculous efforts to gain secure "control," especially since 9/11, has resulted in measures every thoughtful person objects to, but no one can stop. Such is the power of Ideology ("You're either with them, or us"), coupled to Arrogance.

"Contrary to their self-image as a nation of rugged individualists, Americans are amongst the most normalized and monitored people in the world." (3)

Max Weber's justly famous identification of the pathological work ethic with divine salvation is still all too relevant in 2014, a hundred years on. We can get even more ruffled projecting that (erroneous) belief onto others, who, sure enough, are even less capable of living up to *our* standards than we are ("if you want it done right you have to do it yourself," or so we're told...of course, "right" is never contextualized...). It's certainly not the fault of a faulty personality if you get ruffled, just an indication of the indirect manner in which culture learns us all, whether we're aware of that “learning” or oblivious to it.

Most folks still think that the direct instruction we got learning long division in third grade is more important than those lessons indirectly learned concerning the appropriate manner in which to ask questions (hands up!), how to address the adult to which questions are posed ("Mr" or "Mrs" Teacher), use the toilet (permission for a hallway pass?), compulsory attendance, etc.. The lessons of the lessons-- why *those* lessons?; why *that* measure for the lessons evaluation? etc. -- THAT is the most important lesson of the lessons.

Control. It's a bitch. Or bee-atch.

The dominant authority cultures in the USA -- those regulating the distribution of income; of education; of transportation; the schools and the prisons (one and the same); food; healthcare; etc. -- don't like acknowledging the extent to which indirect social forces dictate and structure individual action. They fawn to Authority, to Order and Control, in the hope that doing so preserves control and order, while appealing to allegedly "intuitive" eternal principles that justifies such Authority, and that all "reasonable" people would accept. Mother Nature; the Market; Personal Responsibility; God(s); Your Inner Child; Your Chi -- the list of occult forces goes on. Native Ameri-Indians have a story to tell about the destructiveness of such "universal" "intuitive" principles, and it is told at the, uh, "other" Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the National Museum of the American Indian. (The third holocaust museum is currently under contruction...The Museum for African-Americans.)

Obedience has become a fundamental core USA value; criticism is not. It is not surprising that bicycle culture follows suit. So if the SmoothAsphaltZoomer is a great bike loved by "pro" "testers," well...who am I to argue? I've never won any races. Loser.

Culture is the word we use to to explain the tool it is, emerging as it does from practical activity. We like to think culture is our doing, under our control, a product we effect. This is incorrect. Culture is a tool that produces us; and rarely, if ever, do we get enough reflective distance to see just how and why it shapes us as it does. (4)

We think of problems as ones to be solved rather than re-solved and dealt with, as if the latter is accepting defeat, and someone or something is keeping score (more masculinist themes I realize, but its hard to outrun the influence of men...they've been in control for a long time). Assuming life is always some contest leads to a bad life. But there are better ways to proceed:

We all live prescribed lives. Culture wrote the scripts for us in advance. They constrain our possibilities and control our thoughts, feelings and actions. If we are ever to know ourselves...if we are ever to be free, we must become reflectively aware of the cultural scripts that prescribe the roles we play. If we are ever to know, much less re-create, ourselves, then we must intelligently critique those scripts. (4)

Did you really “choose” how you got around today? Or did the environment structure the choice for you? How about your "choices" for food, or your language, your partner and friends, your re-creation? Were all those a transparent choice?...Did you sit down with your legal pad and tally up the good and bad, pros and cons, before making any of those choices? How did emotion enter into them? Did emotion enter in?...should it?

So, the moral of this long story: don't be an Arrogant Captain. Be a humble yet stable Lighthouse, shining the way forward...by example.

And choose your bikes accordingly.

Now I am going to state what I think and know about the Pass Hunter. Assume that I am not accurate. Check what I say for yourself. Note the context. Check to make sure that if I make a claim, you can check for yourself, at least in principle, and that all claims are capable of confirmation (or not). I won't be offended if you don't believe a word a say. Quite the contrary...

It looks fairly traditional, so it won't stand out in a crowd of bikes.

I ride a 57cm, and I'm of average dimensions, 5 feet and 10.5 inches tall, and about 164 pounds the last time I went the Doctor. I ride 175mm triple cranks, and use a 3-cross, 32 spoke rear wheel with 135mm spacing and an off-center Velocity rim (19mm), with DT 14/15 double-butted spokes, and brass nipples. YES: a 135mm rear hub (mountain bike size) will fit, fairly easily. I use a 135mm rear hub because it builds a stronger wheel with less dish and there is no downside to doing so. The front wheel is a 28 hole with Velocity Aerohead rim (19mm in cross section), and DT Revolution spokes on brass nipples, laced 2-cross to a Schmidt dynohub.

I'd mention the tubing but the tubing is irrelevant: you don't ride tubes, you ride a whole bike. Durability is what's at issue, assuming the weight and performance of the tube-set is up to the purpose of the bike, which the Pass Hunter tube-set is.

The paint has no flaws and is of uniform good quality in bright sunlight. The color -- red (if you're not color-blind, and under normal white light...) -- is soothing, even if you don't like red...it's not garish, and deeper than fire engine red.

The 1 1/8 inch thread-less fork steerer is long enough to get the bars up high for comfort.

The bike has curves and nooks that make it interesting and lyrical to look at.

The fork is a joy to look at, as it sweeps low at the dropout. It has a so-called bi-plane crown that also never fails to bring questions or smiles. What a great whimsical addition! No, it doesn't make any difference to the ride quality. Although Angels can hang onto the bike easier on fast downhills. There is also a hole through the center of the fork at the crown, and a threaded fender boss for a fender under the fork. This makes adding a small front rack easier.

The cantilever brakes don't make any brake squeal. Jobst Brandt, my hero and an engineer and bike guy (find him on the Web), and others have discussed how brake noise is a function of a number of factors, far more than just the brakes themselves. Sometimes a bike has brake squeal; and it has nothing to do with the brakes but with the frame and fork itself. For what it's worth, this bike made no brake noise; I tried a few brakes, and a few different pads, with different compounds.

Speaking of Jobst Brandt, go read what he has to say about bike geometry on the Web. Seat tube angles and low trail and head tube angles and length of rear chainstays don't mean a thing in isolation. You don't ride angles per se; you ride a bicycle. Remember...meaning making is selective contextualization. What's the context?.... This bikes geometry makes for a powerful, comfortable, zippy ride. When you go really hard and stomp on the pedals while in the handlebar drops, you can't lift the rear wheel off the ground...as so often happens with "race" bikes and their stupid short wheelbases.

The fork has a single set of eyelets for fenders; and the rear seat- stays have a single set, with an under the brake bridge fender braze-on. Heaven.

The tips of the forks and the fork crown are lugged and brazed. It's a nice touch. Also there is a decorative ring around the slightly extended headtube that is nice as well. Fancy. I need quality aesthetics in my life. Most people who think and feel for themselves do as well. The idea that form follows function is a rule to be applied intelligently, not blindly. How any experience with any object (or subject) impacts the senses matters as much as function. You feel; you think -- don't denigrate the evolution of your species by privileging either.

The head-tube is about 10mm extended above the top tube. This is good! It makes the stack of spacers smaller when getting the bars up nice and comfortable.

Tire clearances: this is a zippy bike. It is not made for super huge tires or for touring. The Velo Orange Campeur is the bike for big tires and touring; I've reviewed this great bike here:

Here are the tires I have tried to best effect on this bike: A 32mm Grand Bois front (actual measure 30mm width) and a 35mm Schwalbe Kojak rear (actual measure is 32mm width). They fit with fenders easily. There is room to go slightly bigger, but my 45mm Schwalbe Marathon Ultra tire is too big with a fender.

The biggest fender that you can squeeze in is the 45 mm SKS; or the Velo Orange fenders of similar size. The 50mm fenders won't fit.

There is a pump peg on the head tube. But I like my pump behind the seat tube; and there is just enough room for a full sized pump behind the front derailleur, given the chainstay length.

The rear cantilever brake mount has an alloy adjuster built in! Terrific!

All the bolts included for water bottle mounts are stainless steel.

The seat-tube badge is simply delightful! I want a T-shirt with that picture on it.

Everything fits on this bike -- fenders, racks, decaleurs. The braze-ons are put in the right spots.

There is ever so small foot-front-wheel overlap during really sharp turning of the front wheel (obviously only at slow speed). With toe clips and straps it happens with my large-size toe clips and size 10 shoes. With clipless pedals and size 46 shoes there is less toe-wheel-overlap, but it's still there. It's not a big deal. But this is not like the Velo Orange Campeur where overlap is nonexistent or extremely small.

This bike rides excellently with and without and load. At about 20 pounds of stuff it doesn't waggle about; whether the load is distributed front and rear, or just in the rear.

It is straight out of the box and all the surfaces are prepped and ready for components to be installed. I didn't experience a single issue with the threading. Installation of everything is easy from bottom bracket to headset to fenders, etc.. There is no paint build-up in the threaded bosses for racks or fenders.

If you look closely the tig-welds on the frame are of uniform quality.

The Velo Orange Pass Hunter builds into a great bike, and is an incredible value for the money. And you'd be nuts not to outfit it with many excellent Velo Orange components. Many other frame and forks are available that are similar in purpose and construction, but none are as inexpensive. To my eyes none look as good. You cannot go wrong with this excellent frame and fork.


By the way, I really did see Jesus in my sleep. I had a dream where I was perplexed with a home building project, and my hispanic carpenter friend, Jesus, showed up to provide just the right insight. Now, after all my pleading here, you didn't *think* I meant the *other* Jewish carpenter from Nazareth, did you? Arrogance dies hard...don't be the Captain.


  1. From *How to Take An Exam...and Remake the World,* by Bertell Ollman (2001)
  2. The names have been changed to protect the innocent...and while this is real ad copy taken from real bicycle advertisements and “reviews” of actual bikes available in the marketplace, it is not relevant to identify these bicycles. I could go on and on and on with examples...
  3. From *Two Cheers For Anarchism,* by James Scott (Princeton University Press, 2012), page 127.
  4. Filled to the brim with examples is Daniel Kahneman's *Thinking Fast and Slow.* Cognitive psychological science is clear: our species primary orientation is not cognitive, constantly weighing pros and cons and acting on maximising utilities; it is attitudinal and habitual, basically noncognitive, unreflectively taking its cues from our culture. See also David Brooks, *The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,* 2011.
  5. Jim Garrison, Dewey and Eros, (Teachers College Press: New York, 1997), p. 141.


MSG said...

Shame I'm moving away from DC this month. Otherwise, I'd buy you a coffee for the treat of riding with you out to VO HQ one day.

Alan Braggins said...

Credit for putting in a source for the lighthouse story, but: http://www.snopes.com/military/lighthouse.asp http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_and_naval_vessel_urban_legend

Lisa Eaker said...

This sounds like a great bike! I wish all of my purchases could be informed by such thoughtful and enlightened advice. Thanks, Mike!

Jofus Braylor said...

The lighthouse transcript is clearly apocryphal, since the Puget Sound has 13 lighthouses, none of them eponymous. The most likely light would be Cape Flattery, which marks the entrance to the sound, but steering south from any heading coincident with this light would be a terrible idea, as you'd hit the state of Washington!

irishpunk59 said...

Best bike review ever

Mike and Sherry said...

If everything doubled in size last night, how would you know?

Well, radius of the earth would double, and the volume of the earth would have to increase by a factor of eight. Your own volume and, therefor mass, would also go up by a factor of eigth. g = m/r2 so gravity would likely double.

Ask your local elephant if it can jump.

Jim Townsend said...

The bike review part of it was fine, and thorough. His opinions on other things, masquerading as some sort of social science fact, not so much. Is he the same guy who implied in another review that he thought what Lance Armstrong did was okay? Finally, don't use "it's" with an apostrophe unless it's a contraction for "it is".

A said...

Spelling and grammar nitpickery is the lowest form of internet commentary.

jonathansmith68 said...

I noticed that the reviewer transferred some of his components over from the Campeur. I have a hypothetical question for the reviewer: given the type of riding that you do, if you had to choose between one of these frames (Campeur or Pass Hunter) to be your only bicycle, which would it be and why?


John Hurley said...

"Only Education can inoculate against Arrogance and it's buddy, Indoctrination."

Education is no guarantee of immunity from arrogance. If ever there were a pair of buddies, they would be Education and Arrogance. Education gives knowledge, and knowledge, according to a very ancient and reliable source, "puffeth up".

As for indoctrination, this is what education largely consists of, which is not a bad thing so long as the doctrine itself is valid.

JBHoren said...

For those of us who ride without fenders, what are the widest tires that fit (usefully) -- front and rear -- on the VO Pass Hunter? For example, can I run 700x38C tires?

VeloOrange said...

We've run 700x38 tires on the Pass hunter. Definitely the largest we would recommend.