One Merry Fellow: John’s Balloon Tire Rivendell Bombadil 29er

It’s no secret Rivendell Bicycle Works pulls inspiration from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Grant Petersen is a big Tolkien fan and, over the years, many of the brand’s bicycles have adorned names from Tolkien’s writings. When it comes to beings of power and mystique, there are none more significant than Tom Bombadil. Older than Middle Earth and more powerful than any, Bombadil was omitted from the Jackson-envisioned big-screen movies for several reasons, but that didn’t keep Grant from naming Rivendell’s first mountain bike after the most powerful being in Middle Earth.

A Bombadil is a rare bird. Perhaps as rare as the fabled Legolas, Riv’s ‘cross bike, so I never expected I’d find one in my size, a 60cm. Then, one morning, an eBay alert popped into my email; there it was; a sunny Bombadil just begging to be purchased…

“Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow! Bright Blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow!”

Who or What is Tom Bombadil?

Readers of The Fellowship of the Ring were undoubtedly upset at the omission of Tom Bombadil in the film adaptation. The lore behind Tom goes deep. He claimed to have inhabited Arda before the Dark Lord, and many believe he may have been alive even before the coming of the Valar. While unclear (there’s a theme here), it is understood that Bombadil may have been the first living creature to inhabit Arda.



His knowledge and power are unmatched, and he is unaffected by the Ring of Power, making him the perfect red herring for the Hollywood film: “Why not just give the One Ring to Tom Bombadil?” This mystery makes the character so interesting, and perhaps this intrigue inspired Grant to name Riv’s first proper mountain bike after him.

Gotta love the Todd Zimmer-designed graphics!

The Rivendell Bombadil

Rivendell might be the furthest thing away from a modern mountain bike brand, yet their bikes pedal just fine on fire roads and singletrack. Maybe not as fast as a modern mountain bike, but they’ll get the job done. Riv’s philosophy on what a mountain bike should be was clearly a continuation of Grant’s work with Bridgestone in the 1990s. As evident in this Bombadil blip from a Riv catalog in the early 2000s:

The proliferation of the plastic motorcycle is real, and the Bombadil is the antithesis to this movement. These frames were made by Toyo in Japan or Waterford, from the best I can tell. Since there’s not a lot of information on the Bombadil frames, (even Will at Rivendell didn’t have much to share) it’s hard to tell where this one was made. What I do know is the typeface denotes the second generation of Bombadil frames, and the diagatube, or bi-lateral tube to borrow from tandem terminology, only appears on the size 60cm frames.

Back to the above clipping from Riv, I’ll agree that mountain bikes have changed, yet there’s a place for bikes like this in everyone’s collection. It’s still fun on some singletrack, but I wouldn’t want to take it to a mountain bike park. Yet for swoopy, XC 1-track, fully-loaded touring, and inner-city trails, it’s a real hoot to ride, particularly with this funky build kit I assembled from my parts bin.

Early 1980s Breezer-Inspired Build Kit

My love of late 70s and early 80s klunker, balloon-tire, and mountain bike design has blossomed over the past few years. Working on all of our vintage features has invigorated my love of friction shifting and the mismatched part kits many of these bikes donned before the advent of Shimano’s Deer Head group. As such, I have quite the collection of vintage parts kicking around my office, so a light bulb went off when the Bombadil showed up.

A Breezer Series I from The Pro’s Closet Museum I shot last year…

I can’t see myself owning a Breezer Series I, the most unobtainable trophy bike in the vintage mountain bike realm, so why not recreate one? Or at least use a Series I as a launchpad for deconstruction. We’ve seen some of my early Ritchey builds (notably, the 1908 No Serial, 1982 Tam, and 1983 Everest) and these parts came from my “spare” kit. Yet, rather than hodge-podge together derailleurs and shifters, I used one of my Deer Head shifters and derailleur groups.

Mafac Tandem Cantilever brakes, Magura Dog Leg levers (the long ones!), and WTB grips inspired by the Magura “Diamond” grip Cunningham and Potts would machine the flanges off of, all adorn the Wald 898 cruiser bars, mated to an SR stem. I filed down a Mafac cable hanger for the steerer tube on the Bombadil, and Bailey at Sincere Cycles built up my NOS Bullseye hubs to Velo Orange Voyager 29er rims. Campy QRs tie the room together.

Continuing with the Breezer theme is a Campagnolo 27.2 seatpost with a Breezer Seat Sandwich that allows a single bolt post for mounting a Brooks B72. Unfortunately, the leather ripped on my ride before this shoot, and the expansion/tension hardware fell off. It might be time for a B66 to replace this well-used (read: bent) saddle.

So… How’s It Ride?

With such a large frame, a third tube with a massive lug wrapping the seat tube, and old parts, you’d expect this thing to be quite stout. But, the truth is, it weighs only 29lbs on the nose, which is about 15% of my total weight as a 190lb human. For the terrain I like to take this bike on and the riding position it offers, the weight is honestly negligible.

Riding a mountain bike like this is worlds apart from a modern rigid 29er. Rim brakes, swept-back bars, no dropper post, snug standover, and mid-low trail front end means the Bombadil careens like a boat rather than a snappy, responsive XC machine.

Then, with the friction shifting, you must be more mindful of how and when you shift. Once I hit the trails, I usually downshift to the 26t chainring and then glide between the 5-speed Suntour freewheel. Even on the steepest pitches, this 40+-year-old build kit suffices. After a few rides on a kit like this, you begin to prefer the smooth shifting of friction. The only time it can be an issue is riding under load; if you’re not dead-center on a gear, it can slip.

In terms of stiffness, the bike rides a lot like my Hunqapillar. Yet the chainstays are a bit more pinched on the Bombadil, requiring me to remove the side knobs on my Ultradynamico Mars 2.22″ tires. Talk about a good way to eat a few hours of your day! The frame flexes into corners providing a solid traction, and the wide Wald 898 bars keep your weight centered while allowing for leverage when you need it.

Overall, these old klunkers, or balloon tire bikes, are a great way to mix it up on your local trails, and the Bombadil has already mixed itself in with my daily rotation of vintage bikes. I love this bike as I do my Hunq, but having both might persuade me to put drop bars on the Hunqapillar. We’ll see!

I hope you enjoyed this quick rundown. Notes? Thoughts? Comments? A Bombadil of your own? Drop ’em in the comments!

Build Spec:

Year: c. 2007?
Frame: Rivendell Bombadil
Fork: Rivendell Bombadil
Bar: Wald 898
Stem: SR
Grips: WTB Diamond
Headset: Chris King 2-Nut
Shifters: Shimano Deer Head
Front Derailleur: Shimano Deer Head
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Deer Head
Cassette: Suntour 5 Speed Freewheel
Brake Levers: Magura Dog Leg Moto
Front Brake: Mafac Tandem
Rear Brake: Mafac Tandem
Cranks: TA Cyclotouriste 46/26
Pedals: MKS XC III
Hubs: Bullseye
Rims: Velo Orange Voyager
Tires: Ultradynamico Mars 2.22″
Seatpost: Campagnolo Record 27.2 with Breezer Seat Sandwich
Saddle: Brooks B72