It’s somewhat hard to put the Privateer into a specific category, because there are many ways to dress it up for the prom. The Tange steel frame and fork are stout, strong, and riddled with braze-ons and fittings galore so loading it up with fenders, racks, baskets and three water bottles makes it ideal for a touring adventure. I opted to keep it light and simple as a get-around-town bike.
New Albion chose Tange Infinity double-butted chromoly tubing for the frame, with double rear eyelets, horizontal dropouts, and rear rack braze-ons. The lower case “j” fork is made from Tange Infinity chromoly blades with a sloping fork crown, has 50 mm of offset, uses a long 350 mm, 1-⅛-inch steerer and has double eyelets and lowrider braze-ons.
Many of the classic `70s road bikes were built the same way, which is why we see so many of them still in use: room for fatter, more versatile tires, longer wheelbase for stability and comfort, and the ability to bolt things all over the frameset.
The Privateer rolls on 700c wheels. The high, swept-back handlebar position makes cruising downtown and running errands less of a chore than riding a drop-bar bike. Thumb shifters are popular again due to their simplicity and ease of use. I’ve never stopped using them since the `80s because they always work.
Performance on this around-town bike is rather impressive for something that looks retro; stepping on the pedals for a burst of acceleration always delivers, and the bike feels stable riding on rough asphalt or on light dirt roads. My 22-year-old daughter borrowed it to make a deposit at our bank, and came back all smiles.
The Ahearne/M.A.P. handlebars offer a nice grasp of things with 570 mm of stability, capped off by Cardiff cork grips. Many components that came on our tester are made in Japan and distributed through New Albion’s parent Merry Sales in south San Francisco.
The bike has a nice vintage aesthetic, with the black steel frame and fork, white tires and silver components, but the performance is a treat, starting with the Interloc Racing Design (IRD) XCPro thumb shifters, continuing with the smooth sealed cartridge bearings in the Suzue hubs laced to Ukai rims and ending with the Dia-Compe Gran Compe GC999 cantilever brakes.
There were times I felt like I was riding my friend’s old Specialized Rockhopper from the late `80s! And like most bikes from the late `80s, parts were built well and made to last, just like I experienced on the Privateer.
The Privateer reminds me of all the fun bikes I’ve ridden the past 30 years. Grab the bars, swing a leg over the saddle, push off the ground and onto the flat pedal, and away you go. Steel is enjoying a renaissance lately, much like vinyl records. Ten years ago steel bicycle were hard to find in bike shops, but now there are so many stock frames and bikes available — even from large companies like Trek, Specialized, Raleigh and Jamis — it’s almost like someone set the calendar back to 1988. To that we say “more please!”
- New Albion Privateer
- Price: $400 frameset; $1,970 complete
- Weight: 24 pounds (complete)
- Sizes: 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58 (tested), 60 cm