First Impressions: New Albion Cycles Privateer Frame

New Albion Cycles is a new brand of frames and complete bicycles distributed by San Francisco-based wholesale distributor Merry Sales Company. While this new marque may not be a household word just yet, the company’s other brands–SOMA and Pake–have built loyal followings. New Albion Cycles looks to continue that success by offering affordable, classically-style frames and bicycles.

Sold as a frame only, the Privateer ($279.99 MSRP) can be built up as a medium-duty tourer, commuter, or all-roads explorer. The TIG-welded frame is constructed from Tange Infinity double-butted chrome-moly steel main tubes and tapered seat/chainstays. Our 54cm demo bike came assembled with a chrome-plated SOMA cross/trekking fork, and was rounded out with a mix of components from SOMA, Sugino, SunXCD, and Tektro.

The Privateer is offered in 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60cm sizes. The frames feature horizontal dropouts, extended head tubes, cantilever brake bosses, and fittings for racks and fenders. To make assembly easier, the Privateer is requires a 68mm bottom bracket, 27.2mm seatpost, 28.6mm front derailleur, 1-1/8″ threadless headset, and is compatible with 130mm or 135mm rear hubs. Geometry for the 54cm model that we tested was as follows:

Seat Tube Length (center-to-top) 540mm
Top Tube Length (effective) 560mm
Heat Tube Angle 72°
Seat Tube Angle 73°
Head Tube Length 155mm
Bottom Bracket Drop 72mm
Chainstay Length 435mm
Wheelbase 1022mm

That geometry, combined with the relatively upright handlebar position (tops level with the 73cm saddle height), translated to a comfortable, relaxed fit. Handling could best be described as neutral. Whether descending at 30-plus mph, or climbing in the granny gear, little attention was required to keep the Privateer headed in its intended direction. While we didn’t test the Privateer with a rack or panniers, we found that the bike’s handling didn’t suffer with the added weight of a Carradice Nelson saddlebag and Bagman support. Despite the New Albion’s relatively low price, the frame’s ride was reminiscent of SOMA’s higher-priced Saga frameset.

When pavement turned to dirt or gravel, the Privateer proved to be a refreshingly capable backroad explorer. The bike tracked predictably, and the Tange-bladed steel fork did an excellent job of soaking up bumps and trail chatter. Our test-bike’s 700×38 SOMA C-Line tires may not have the aggressive tread found on dedicated gravel or ‘cross tires, but the C-Line tires transitioned easily between paved and unpaved surfaces.

As mentioned previously, our Privateer came equipped with a mix of components supplied by the folks at Merry Sales. We did, however, swap out the saddle and pedals for our personal components. The Privateer’s mix of retro-inspired parts complemented the frame’s simple graphics and paint scheme. Our own bikes all feature indexed shifting, but we grew to appreciate the simplicity of the New Albion’s 3×9, friction drivetrain. If given the choice, though, we would have preferred mini-v brakes over the Privateer’s wide-profile cantilevers.

New Albion Cycles has successfully delivered an affordable, versatile frame with their Privateer model. With features found on frames costing much more, it’s an outstanding bargain that should deliver many years of service to recreational and utility riders alike.

Disclosure: Merry Sales Company provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

Things I Like: WTB Pure V Saddle

I am an unabashed fan of Selle Anatomica’s saddles. Three of my bikes are fitted with the company’s tensioned-leather saddles. That fourth bike–a rigid 29er–is ridden on much rougher terrain than its stablemates. For technical, off-road riding, my saddle-of-choice is Wilderness Trail Bikes’ (WTB) Pure V Team model.

What makes the Pure V such a capable off-road saddle is that it successfully blends comfort with unobtrusiveness. Measuring 148mm at its widest point, the Pure V is wide enough to offer plenty of comfort, but it’s not so wide that you can’t slide past the side for ultra-steep descents. The saddle’s relatively flat profile (side-to-side) helps support your sit bones, and the center depression (aka, Love Channel) provides soft-tissue relief without negatively impacting the saddle’s structural integrity).

One of the author’s personal WTB Pure V Team saddles. Nearly eight years old, and still in service.

Make no mistake, the Pure V saddle is not just about comfort. Combine the Flex-Tuned shell with the unique fore/aft profile, and the result is an effective platform for climbing or hammering the flats. On long, grinder-style climbs you can push against the raised whale-tail for a little extra leverage. When you’re struggling to keep the front wheel planted on those ultra-steep pitches, the drop nose makes it easy to shift your weight forward without feeling like you’re being skewered.

Over the years, I’ve owned several Pure V Team saddles. The oldest one (pictured above) is close to eight years old. It’s been transferred from bike-to-bike more times than I can remember, and yet, it’s still going strong. The cover and stitching are starting to show their age, but it’s been a part of so many adventures that I simply cannot bring myself to retire the damn thing. At $130 MSRP, it’s more than paid for itself in fun and memories.

First Impressions: Dumonde Tech Freehub Lubes

Freehubs are one of those components that many riders ignore when it comes to maintenance. Much of that hands-off approach stems from the time when Shimano freehubs were the only game in town, and servicing them required disassembling the hub and dealing with loose ball bearings and temperamental shields. But now that many freehubs can be removed sans tools (or with a couple of allen wrenches), there’s no excuse to ignore your bike’s freehub.

Choosing the correct lube for your particular freehub is essential for optimal performance. Using a lube that’s too thick or heavy can prevent the pawls from engaging properly, and lightweight lubes can be easily displaced (or migrate into the hub’s bearings). Whether your freehub requires grease, or an oil-type lube, Dumonde Tech has you covered with their line of freehub lubes.

Dumonde’s Freehub Oil is designed for hubs that use individual pawls such as those found on the BikeHubStore freehub pictured below. Unlike thicker lubes or greases, the low-friction oil is light enough that it won’t gum up the pawls or springs, yet still offers protection against wear and friction. We tested the Dumonde Tech Freehub Oil on hubs from BikeHubStore, HED, Mavic, Rolf Prima, and White Industries. In each case, the Dumonde-treated pawls ratcheted freely (even in sub-freezing temperatures). Inspecting the hubs after 200-300 miles of use revealed no degradation or swelling of the hubs’ seals.

For freehubs that require grease, Dumonde Tech offers their aptly-named Freehub Grease. While thicker than the company’s Freehub Oil, the lightweight grease has a flow point of -30 degrees, making it suitable for a wide range of operating temperatures. We found that Dumonde’s Freehub grease did an excellent job adhering to the star ratchets used by DT Swiss, but unlike more viscous greases, didn’t become thicker or stickier with use. It’s always best to follow hub manufacturers’ recommendations on grease volume, but we found that a little Dumonde Tech grease went a very long way.

Do these specialty lubes work better than conventional oils or greases? After months of testing, we’d have to say that they do. The Dumonde-treated freehubs ran smoother, quieter, and were consistently more reliable. But don’t just take our word for it, Dumonde Tech’s freehub lubes are used and endorsed by companies such as Crank Brothers, DT Swiss, Industry 9, Profile Racing, Ritchey Design, and Stans’s NoTubes.

Disclosure: Dumonde Tech provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.