After Atlantis sunk back into the ocean, the earth’s crust opened up and sucked the city into the upper mantle. Horrible earthquakes shook the briny depths, turning the ocean a distinct sea foam green. Cracks appeared betwixt the plates of the earth’s crust. The fissures searched the world, seeking the proper time and place. After thousands of years of waiting, the molten spirit of Atlantis shot to the surface. As the magma cooled, it took on elegant shapes. Ornate lugs, curved fork blades. And of course, there was the distinct sea foam green. The Rivendell Atlantis had arrived.
Ok, maybe that didn’t happen. But this much is true. There are very few touring bikes with as much thought and development behind them as the Atlantis. Rivendell has always been interested in the concept of development. Not new product development, although there is plenty of that, but rather development from an engineering perspective.
Products that go through development cycles are improvements and refinements on a concept. Most bike manufacturers do not develop concepts, they just chuck an old concept or model and come up with a completely new one for the next model year. When failures happen, or design flaws become evident, instead of fixing these and making the next model better, the product is resigned to the wastebin of history, and very little is learned.
Rivendell’s Atlantis has been in production since the late 90’s. It has undergone a number of changes to make the bike stronger, ride better, and more versatile. Tubing, lugs, geometry, braze ons, tire clearance have all been changed and improved on. Today’s Atlantis, although it looks quite different from the late 90’s Toyo built frames, is the product of 20 years of development.
There are more touring bikes on the market today than any other time in cycling history. But none have been made as long as the Atlantis while simultaneously being continually improved upon. Trek has made the 520 for a longer time, but it only changes every 10 years or so. It’s also whippy and prone to braze on failures. Surly has made the Long Haul Trucker for quite a while, but it’s only overgone one round of revisions.
What makes an Atlantis so great?
Besides the aforementioned development, the Atlantis is highly versatile, comfortable, strong and stiff. If I were going to head off around the world on a meandering bike tour, I’d pick an Atlantis, but it’s also at home on local gravel roads, overnight camping trips and commuter errands.
You can get the bars up super high on an Atlantis. The quill stem plus the extended head tube, plus the sheer size of the headtube, all mean you can get the bars level with or higher than the saddle easily, with no weird stem extenders.
Loads or no loads, the Atlantis behaves pretty much the same. Lots of touring bikes (Surly Long Haul Trucker for instance) only feel alive with a load, and lots of normal bikes feel like wet noodles with a load. The stiff frame, long and low geometry, and high trail fork all combine to make the bike handle well no matter what you throw at it.
Big tire clearance. The Atlantis isn’t a mountain bike, but you can clear 2” mountain tires on it, no problem. So if you like to ride the rough stuff, put big rubber on there and go all bounce house on it.
Lots of rack braze ons. Early Atlantis frames lacked lots of frame braze ons, but the current models can fit pretty much any style of rack on there.
Long Chainstays. They’re really long, but that helps with high speed descending on bumpy terrain. The bike reacts less to potholes, errant gophers, etc.
Pretty lugs. Rivendell uses only lugs they have designed. These make the frames stronger (lugs serve as external reinforcements) and more repairable, they just so happen to look great.
Reinforced seat binder slot + Hardware store replaceable seat binder bolt. Small things like this make Rivendell frames brilliant. Seat post binder slots can wear out and crack over time. Rounding the slot helps, but Rivendell casts a reinforcement ring into the lug, which is double protection. The seat binder bolt on a typical roadish bike is a proprietary and flimsy chromed steel bolt and nut. On the Rivendell, it’s just an M6 bolt and nut, the lug has a cast recessed hole that fits the nut so it doesn't spin. So if you break that bolt, you can just hope down to your local R.K. Miles and get a fresh one.
Really good graphics. Most bikes have regretable graphics. Rivendell pays attention to things like font design, paint jobs and head badges. It shows, the bikes look classic, not ‘current’, ‘hip’ or ‘vintage'. A classic bikes look good in any era.
Rim brakes: Easy to maintain and fix, strong enough for touring. Rim brakes are still a great option for most folks. Exceptions: folks who ride in the mud a bunch, or in the slushy snow. Everyone else is A-OK with rim brakes, don’t let the pundits fool ya.
Normal hub spacing and a threaded bottom bracket. No boost, press fit, or other weird standards. You can get replacement parts where ever.