What We Ride (Part 1): Mark’s 6-Hands

Editor’s Note: We’ve been thinking about our role in the response to Covid-19. Here is what we can do: If there is a way we can positively influence the situation – like advocating social distancing and wearing face masks before these practices had widespread support – it’s our responsibility do so. If we can do something to help directly, we will also act: We are working with our suppliers to make masks. And we also realize that the relentless (and mostly bad) news is taking a toll. One thing we can do is inspire our readers. We’ll try to remind you (and ourselves) that there is a beautiful world out there, waiting to be explored. We’re all in this together – let’s stay strong and positive!

And with that, we’ll start a mini-series of posts about the bikes of the BQ Team. We all love testing the latest wonder machines, the featherweight carbon bikes and the gleaming customs straight from NAHBS, but these are the bikes we’ve bought with our own money (or built with our own hands). These are the bikes we ride when we head out, whether it’s a fast spin around the North End of Lake Washington or a multi-day adventure to explore the forgotten passes of the Cascade Mountains. We ride these bikes because they work best for us.

The photos you see here were taken during our last pre-social-distancing ride on March 1. It was a gorgeous morning, but it had rained all night. This was a typical Saturday ride: We started in Seattle before sunrise, for a 100-mile gravel-and-paved, mixed-surface loop.

The bikes you see here are no show queens. They are well-worn and, 60 miles into our ride, they are splattered with mud. The photos show what we ride and how we ride them.

The oldest of the bunch is Mark’s 6-Hands, built in 2007. It’s one of the first modern 650B randonneur bikes in the U.S., with a superlight steel frame, low-trail geometry, 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass tires and compact cranks – long before these features became commonplace. It was originally built by Curt Goodrich. A few years later it had an accident and was rebuilt with lighter-gauge top and down tubes and a new fork. Curt, Mark and our friend Hahn all worked on the bike, hence it’s now called the ‘6-Hands.’

A few parts have been changed over the years, most notably the Rene Herse cranks and our Randonneur handlebars, but the rest remains as it was 13 years ago. The 6-Hands is still one of the fastest bikes we’ve ever tested, and it often serves as a benchmark during Bicycle Quarterly’s bike tests.

The biggest change has been the frame tubing. When it was built with a standard Reynolds 531 tubeset, it performed quite well, but not as well as the fastest bikes we were testing for the magazine. After Bicycle Quarterly’s famous double-blind tests of frame stiffness, Mark rebuilt it with a lighter tubeset, and that transformed its handling. It’s now much easier for Mark (and me, when I ride it) to get in sync with the frame when we pedal – the 6-Hands now planes beautifully for us.

The age of the bike is apparent in its components, like the old SON generator hub. This one is a SON20, originally designed for 20-inch wheels. The smaller wheels spin faster, so the hub doesn’t need to put out as much power. Way back, we figured that using the small-wheeled hub in a standard-sized 650B or 700C wheel results in less resistance. When we first suggested this, SON was skeptical, but it worked well as long as you keep your speed above 5 mph (8 km/h). Then came modern LED lights that use less energy, and SON introduced the Delux and got it approved for all wheel sizes.

Mark’s old hub is still spinning smoothly – it’s one of the first that have SON’s pressure compensating system that prevents moisture from getting sucked through the bearings during temperature changes. (Generator hubs have a large air volume inside that contracts when it gets cold.)

The extra screws you see on the dropouts are for attaching a low-rider rack. When Mark designed his bike, he planned to keep his old bike for loaded touring, so he didn’t ask for extra eyelets beyond the fender mounts. Then he found that he enjoys the 6-Hands so much that he built a low-rider rack for it, and it’s the bike he now uses for camping trips – and pretty much everything else.

The bike is almost a prototype for what we’re riding now. The taillight is a battery-powered light J. P. Weigle made at the time, converted from a boating light. This was long before we developed our Rene Herse taillight. Mark also made a generator-powered taillight that looks like a Supernova (but predates it by many years). It’s mounted underneath the left chainstay.

Most of the parts on Mark’s bikes are pretty standard now – centerpull brakes and 650B wheels are no longer exotic – but there are some unique touches. Mark mounts his bike computer on the fork crown (with a special braze-on). Down there, he can see the information he needs for navigation (and even check his speed), but the numbers aren’t distracting him from the ride and the landscape he enjoys.

Another neat part is Mark’s saddle. It looks like an old Avocet O2 with titanium rails, because that is how it started out. Mark was riding Brooks saddles, but he got frustrated with their variable quality. So he took his last, prematurely-worn-out Brooks and made an impression of its top. He took the cover off the Avocet and carved away the foam until it matched the shape of his old Brooks. Then he glued the cover back on. The result is a supremely comfortable, lightweight and surprisingly durable saddle.

Here’s the full parts spec of the 6-Hands:

  • Frame: 7-4-7 top tube, 8-5-8 down tube, standard diameter
  • Fork: Kaisei ‘Toei Special’ fork blades
  • Rack: custom
  • Cranks: Rene Herse 46×32 with SKF 107 mm bottom bracket
  • Derailleurs: Shimano Ultegra 9-speed with downtube shift levers
  • Pedals: Shimano A520 single-sided SPD
  • Front hub: SON20, 28 hole
  • Rear hub: Shimano Ultegra 9-speed, 32 hole
  • Cassette: 13-27 8-speed (9th cog is replaced by a chainrest)
  • Rims: Pacenti Brevet
  • Tires: Rene Herse 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass Extralight
  • Tubes: Schwalbe SV14A Extralight
  • Brakes: Mafac Raid with Rene Herse hardware and Kool-Stop salmon pads
  • Brake levers: Tektro
  • Headset: Miche needle-bearing
  • Stem/decaleur: custom
  • Handlebars: Rene Herse Randonneur, 40 cm
  • Seatpost: Ritchey, de-anodized and polished
  • Saddle: Avocet O2 modified
  • Headlight: SON Edelux I hanging (prototype)
  • Taillight: custom (2x)
  • Fenders: Rene Herse fluted H79
  • Pump: Zefal hpX2, de-anodized and polished
  • Handlebar bag: Berthoud GB28
  • Weight: 11.5 kg (25.3 lb) including pedals, bottle cages and pump

Mark sums his bike like this: “When I get on this bike and head out, from the first pedal stroke it feels like I’ve been riding it all day. It’s like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in years, and feeling like you’ve never been apart.”

It’s remarkable that the 6-Hands – which went into uncharted territory back then with novel features like thinwall tubing, low-trail geometry and wide tires – has aged so well: After more than a decade and 10,000s of miles, it’s still a joy to ride, and the things Mark would change, if he was building a new bike today, are details that don’t really affect how the bike rides and performs. There aren’t many bikes that remain cutting edge, 13 years after they’ve been built!

Further reading:

Coming soon:

33 Responses to What We Ride (Part 1): Mark’s 6-Hands

  1. Jim S April 3, 2020 at 7:28 am #

    Thank you for this informative writeup. I am especially intrigued by the 7-4-7 top tube and 8-5-8 down tubes. I have experimented with 8-5-8 top tubes with 1″ diameter and 8-5-8 down tube at 1 1/8″ diameter. The result on my 60cm frame was a bit scary. I could not take my hands off the bars because because the front end would wobble so badly. With any weight on the front randonnepuring bag and the problem became much worse. I suspect the 6 Hands is a much smaller frame? What are the tube diameters? And finally, what is the fork rake and trail number? Thank you.

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 9:42 am #

      Mark’s frame has a 59.5 cm seat tube and 58.5 cm top tube, both standard diameter, yet the 6-Hands doesn’t shimmy. In our experience, two things are helpful in preventing shimmy on tall frames with low-trail geometries and wide, supple tires: Good frame alignment and a headset with needle bearings that adds a little damping to the steering. We’ve ‘cured’ shimmy on several bikes with a new headset and/or better frame alignment.

  2. kai s April 3, 2020 at 7:43 am #

    maybe you written about it before, but would be nice to hear about why you all seem to prefer downtube shifters. simplicity, on-the-road repairs, stability and brandt-endorsed comes to mind:) or is it tradition?

    myself i been preferring shifters on the handlebars since the 80s. and my road bike which has pinarello ergo shifters working charmfully, is about 10 years older than mark’s bike.

    for easier emergency repair, i sometimes leave a spiral of extra cable down at the derailer. when the cable breaks always at the shifter i just feed some of the excess cable through the system, knick the cable just north of the shifter a hard 180 degrees, make a knot, adjust the gears and on i go. a par of small waterpump pliers is needed to tighten and shape the knot, and also to straighten any knick down at the derailer.

    on the campa ergo from the 90s it is easy enough to feed a new cable from above so there this trick is not really necessary.

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 9:48 am #

      Most of us prefer downtube shifters for ergonomic reasons. We hold the handlebars in multiple positions, and the downtube shifters are within easy reach of all of them. Simplicity and light weight are also factors. If you want to disassemble the bike Rinko-style, downtube shifters eliminate the need for cable splitters, saving time during disassembly.

  3. Nathan Wright April 3, 2020 at 8:07 am #

    I love it. As the owner of an allroad bike that I have built and rebuilt since 2000 to meet my needs, I really appreciate this bike.

  4. Mark VK April 3, 2020 at 9:04 am #

    One minor note — the battery-powered taillight on the seat tube was based on a Peter Weigle design but built by Curt Goodrich. It used to be shiny but I’m lazy about washing and polishing.

  5. Keith Gaunt April 3, 2020 at 9:21 am #

    Wonderful bike. I read with particular interest the part about the Avocet O2 saddle. I have one exactly like it, but don’t use it because it is terribly uncomfortable for me. Too soft. Thanks for the idea of removing the cover and carving some of the foam out. Did Mark find the foam easy to carve? Dried out or still soft? I would like to try this. Looking forward to the next bike in the series!

    • Mark VK April 3, 2020 at 2:22 pm #

      Carving the foam was tricky because the rubbery foam (still soft) grabbed the knife. I ended up doing a lot of the carving with a coarse sandpaper tube on a dremel tool. Made a mess, but allowed a lot more control. The basic outline of the Avocet O2 is similar to a B17 but the topography of the surface was much different. I carved it to match the asymmetrical surface of my broken-in B17.

      • marmotte27 April 4, 2020 at 12:11 am #

        Why not make the transition to another maker of leather saddles? Luckily there’s at least two now whose quality is above doubt.

        • Jan Heine April 4, 2020 at 9:57 am #

          When Mark built his bike back in 2007, there really were no good options for leather saddles. If Mark were to build a new bike (or if his saddle wore out), he’d probably install a Berthoud saddle.

          We usually run parts until they wear out – we don’t upgrade just because something new comes about – unless it offers much-improved performance. So we’re all on Edelux lights, because they were a game-changer, but we’re not replacing parts that still work. For Mark especially, it’s all about the ride, I get a clear sense that he’s not really getting excited about new parts any longer.

  6. Nick April 3, 2020 at 9:31 am #

    It’s great to see the 6-Hands up close after reading about it so much over the years!

    In the future, I’d love to see a write-up and more photos of Hahn’s bike he entered in last year’s Concours de Machines. I may be mistaken, but this blog and BQ have been surprisingly silent about what appears to be an innovative take on a classic design.


    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 10:24 am #

      We’re working on it.

  7. Jason Marshall April 3, 2020 at 10:04 am #

    I am very interested to know about the chain-rest which replaces the 12t cog. can you include a photo and description?

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 10:24 am #

      I forgot to take a photo of the chainrest. It was a cool feature when it was new, inspired by the chainrests on mid-century Alex Singers with Nivex derailleurs. The smallest cog is replaced by a ‘tooth-less cog’ that is brazed to the dropout. Before you remove the wheel, you shift the chain to the chainrest. Then you can take out the wheel without touching the chain. When you get going again, you mount the bike cyclocross-style (pedaling doesn’t work at this stage, as your chain is spinning on the tooth-less cog) and shift back onto the cassette. These days, we get so few flats that the feature isn’t really that useful any longer. You can see photos of the chainrest o a classic Alex Singer in this post.

  8. Richard April 3, 2020 at 11:04 am #

    I’m amazed that Mark uses essentially an 8 speed cassette while riding in the mountains.
    Very impressive.

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 11:40 am #

      Too many gears or too few?😉 His small gear is a 32×27 – that is pretty small by most standards.

  9. john hawrylak April 3, 2020 at 11:40 am #

    What were the original TT and DT wall thicknesses?

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 11:41 am #

      I think it was 9-6-9 for the down tube and 8-5-8 for the top tube, so the rebuilt frame has 0.1 mm thinner walls.

  10. singlespeedscott April 3, 2020 at 11:50 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

  11. Phil Brown April 3, 2020 at 11:53 am #

    I built a very similar French inspired low trail bike 25 years ago but because 650B tires were hard to get I used mountain bike wheels, like some of the French builders at the time did.

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 12:18 pm #

      Mark’s bike was originally built for the 38 mm Mitsuboshi Trimlines, which were the only reasonably supple 650B tires at the time. It was a bit of a gamble, and many of us still have extra stocks of Mitsuboshis that we bought when Mitsuboshi left the bicycle tire business. Fortunately, that problem no longer exists! Now it’s your 26″ wheeled bike that would have difficulty getting new rubber if it weren’t for our support…

  12. Jon Steinhauser April 3, 2020 at 7:12 pm #

    How do you do your de-anodizing?

    • Jan Heine April 3, 2020 at 9:07 pm #

      I think Mark just used sandpaper. I’ve used lye (for cleaning drains) to strip the anodizing off some parts.

  13. Bill Stekl April 4, 2020 at 6:17 am #

    Where can a one inch threaded roller bearing headset be purchased? Are they still being manufactured by anyone?

    Very good idea to include a discussion about these machines. Thank you.

    • Jan Heine April 4, 2020 at 9:58 am #

      There used to be old stocks of the Miche headsets at Euro-Asia – any bike shop can order from them. We’re thinking about making a needle-bearing headset that is also Rinko-compatible.

    • Owen April 4, 2020 at 11:21 am #

      IRD still sells roller and hybrid ball/roller bearing headsets made by Tange in Japan. I know folks have had reliability issues with some of IRD’s products, however my personal experience with Tange headsets has been outstanding, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. For the record I have no stake in either of these companies.

  14. ZigaK April 4, 2020 at 11:23 am #

    Looking at the bike, the trail seems very close to zero. Do you perhaps have the exact number?

    • Jan Heine April 4, 2020 at 11:48 am #

      It’s got 30 mm trail.

  15. Kern April 4, 2020 at 2:10 pm #

    Great post! I’m new to your company, but infatuated with your products and philosophy. I just finished installing a set of Snoqualmie Pass tires on my Riv Sam Hillbourne that you sent out this week. Mounting was easy and my first ride felt great! You’ll be hearing from me again when it’s time to upgrade my crank set. Thanks for the speedy shipping!

  16. Anthony M April 4, 2020 at 4:28 pm #


    Can we have the geometry of the bikes you have and going to feature. You often provide a diagram in BQ, and I find it very helpful in understanding the design choices.

    • Jan Heine April 4, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

      I’ll see what I can do. We have the original geometry of the 6-Hands and also the Mule, not sure about the other ones…

  17. Owen April 5, 2020 at 12:23 pm #

    I’m curious about the drivetrain and your or Mark’s thoughts on long-term durability. In my experience Shimano’s 9 speed components are excellent in this respect, is Mark still running the original shifters and derailleurs or did these ever need to be replaced?

    • Jan Heine April 5, 2020 at 6:25 pm #

      Mark is still running the original derailleurs and shifters. They’ve been extremely reliable. He did swap the crank – originally, the 6-Hands ran a TA, but he had some issues with chainsuck.