Review: Brown Jersey Divvy Van

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, this shit nearly rides itself.

The Divvy Van from Brown Jersey felt almost effortless as I glided along the Gold Coast foreshore and the bike fell into corners just by thinking about them. 
The Divvy Van had a “just right” feel. (I hope Kellogs haven’t trademarked that. I’d hate Brown Jersey to get sued.) Jumping on the bike for the first time it was like the bike was saying, “Welcome home,” and I was swinging the bike comfortably into corners in a way that would suggest we were  already acquainted with each other.    
But first, the assembly:


Assembling the Brown Jersey from James Pollock on Vimeo. Shot on Isaw.

Assembly took about ten minutes and required a couple allen keys, a pedal spanner and a 15mm ring spanner. 90% of the assembly time was in the un-wrapping. If this is indicative of how Brown Jersey deliver their goods then I can confidently predict your purchase will arrive to you in good shape and you won’t need to be a mechanic to put it together. Not even a mechanic’s daughter.

Back to the ride.

Perhaps the way a bike steers and corners is subjective and that what suits one person will not suit another. That may be true to some degree but I’m also pretty sure that this bike has more confident handling than any I have ridden for a long time, that the rake, trail, seat angle and all the other quantitative measurements that add up to bike magic are more correct in this bike than in others I have ridden. My own bike feels so very right to me and I know how it corners and how far it can go. The Brown Jersey didn’t steer like my bike and the instant rapport I had with it wasn’t from a feeling of similarity with the Mojo. The bike felt like it steered just right because it did steer and corner just how it should.
The Brown Jersey team are aiming to shoot a little higher than the average single-speed/fixie distributor. Below them is a market crowded with bikes so finely honed for price and so well turned out that you could easily mistake them for more expensive bikes. The thing is, for the average punter the Divvy Van wouldn’t stand out from that crowd. In fact, with its understated blue, silver semi-deep-dish rims and white bar tape it might easily slink into the background at a fixie party* and go unnoticed by all except those with a eye for detail.
(Some detail. Check out those tidy welds.)
(*Note: a fixie party is where fixies get together, drink martinis and talk shop. For fixies keeping up appearances is important and despite heavy drinking obvious signs of drunkenness aren’t well tolerated in fixie circles. Even so, inevitably one fixie has a little too much to drink and loosens up the sprockets a bit too much and has to be wheeled home by its owner.)
The Divvy Van will reward those with an eye for detail but it is the frame that is the heart of any bike and alchemy that invests rides with a touch of magic is apparent in this bike. Alchemy is the pursuit of turning base metals into noble metals and obviously in olden days they wanted to take something crappy, like lead, and turn into something they could mint into a coin and spend, like gold. Thankfully the ancient arts have been perfected to the point where we can combine steel, chromium and molybdenum  and draw them into tubes for bicycles, an outcome infinitely more promising than some shiny yellowish metal. The magic you get in a proper high-end frame will be elusive in a market where you’re getting the whole bike for well under a grand but there’s a little touch of it in most bikes I’ve tested and with the Brown Jersey there’s enough so you’re aware of it without having to go looking for it. 
(The difficult bottom bracket area finished off nicely on the Brown Jersey.)
It was a perfect summer’s afternoon when I first rode the Brown Jersey into a slight breeze along the Gold Coast foreshore. The Brown Jersey just loved the conditions and glided along with an effortlessness that later had me returning to my bike to see what it lacked. Two beasts so apparently similar yet one glided along like it was riding itself and the other, now in comparison, suddenly felt like it had a hub filled with custard. 
My intention was to ride down to North Burleigh, have a dip and return. Thing was I got to North Burleigh and the pedals were still pretty much turning themselves so I continued on to Burleigh figuring I’d get a swim on the return leg. Problem then was I got myself a puncture. I think I get a puncture on average 75% of test rides (though these figures are yet to be audited by appropriate authorities and committed to the bell curve of puncture statistics). In this instance I’d had several delays on departing for the ride and rode off knowing I should put a bit more air in the tyres but was reluctant to stop and do it. I probably only had 60-70psi in them when I hit a pothole and pinch-flatted. Thankfully I was carrying tools and was back on the road soon enough. It did make me think though that this bike was gliding along so effortlessly and I hadn’t even fully inflated the tyres.
(The cockpit. White tape doesn’t stay white for long. Feel free to replace with an appropriately dark colour when it wears out. Or clean it.)
My second ride almost ended in disaster (or a nasty knee graze) when the patch I’d used on the puncture gave out and I lost air while hooking it into a round-a-bout on the way to the bottlo. I kept it upright (this was before the drinking commenced) and thankfully it wasn’t a long walk home from the bottle shop because this time I had no spares. I swapped bikes and there the mystery of the custard began. I’m not sure where the custard got into the bike. The Reid wheels still spin as smoothly as ever. The Mojo frame is a fine beast. The brakes weren’t rubbing. The position is a bit sit-up-and-beg compared with the Divvy Van and the handlebars still stupid wide for a fixie but none of it seems to explain why my own bike seemed to require actual proper effort to propel it and the other rolled along in a frictionless world.
I’ve done a second ride down to Burleigh since then. It’s a 40-odd km loop so it’s a good length to evaluate a bike like this. It was into a stiff headwind this time so the physics of the exercise couldn’t be denied. The Brown Jersey rolled into the headwind without busting me up, keeping a tempo of around 28-29km/hr. The gearing feels spot on for me. It’s at a point where you can ride into a headwind without bursting your knee cartilage but still maintain a steady 35-40km/hr on the way home without spinning out. I’m often complaining about gearing being too high (either because I’m a whimp or because I’m nearly always caught doing a one hour break into a 30 knot headwind at some time during the test) so it’s nice to have a bike where the gearing suited me. I don’t ever really care too much for numbers but for the sake of my audience (that’s you, thanks) I counted them and found that at 46×18 it’s identical to many other bikes I’ve tested. Just goes to show there’s more to a bike than can be explained by numbers. (Or it’s further proof that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.)

Something that I only noticed after returning to my own bike is that there is no vibration coming through the bars on the Divvy Van. I reckon I’ve got poor circulation or something because on pretty much every bike I’ve ever owned or ridden I get numbness and pins and needles in my hands. I recently changed the old carbon bars on my Mojo for some alu ones and the numbness nearly drove me crazy. I manage it by changing hand position and giving them a rest and a squeeze at regular intervals. I did none of the on the Brown Jersey and I never even felt close to getting numb hands. What I put this down to is a frame that takes away most of the road vibration. It does that while still feeling responsive and lively. It encourages you to get out of the saddle (especially with the drop bars giving your hands a more forward position for climbing) and responds by sprinting up hill. (And by sprinting I mean not-very-fit-guy sprinting…kind of a dawdle really.)
The ride of the bike is refined and comfortable. It has the qualities of good steel. I’ve said many times before that this whole “steel is real” mantra is trite and over-used. Poorly designed steel bikes can be much more abrasive, less lively and whole lot less real than a well designed aluminium bike. In this case the ride is good and makes you aware of what it means to own a bike that has been conceived and built by those who know how to put the real into the steel. It’s double-butted too, which means it took two arseholes to construct it.
The saddle is nothing remarkable but was quickly forgotten, which is its job. I don’t ride with those padded panties favored by proper cyclist so a saddle wants to be decent if my bum is going to be comfortable with it. My bum did not complain.
(A nice touch, good looking set of cranks with Brown Jersey etched into them.)
I was given the choice of bikes from the Brown Jersey and chose the Divvy Van because I’ve seen a few fixie with drop bars and I like the traditional look of it. It’s a funny choice for me though because I know I’ll never use the drops. I barely ever stooped down there in my youth and now I’m advancing in years I really can’t see myself using the drops. They’re there for purely cosmetic reasons, at least when I’m riding it. One thing about the drops though they necessitate the use of road levers and here enters one of my few gripes about the Divvy Van.
The brakes never inspired confidence. The effort required to stop was always more than I was comfortable with. You could lock up the brakes if you really wanted to but I never really felt like the brakes would be there for me when I need them. I know many of you don’t share my obsession with brakes so you can feel free to skip this paragraph. To me the better the brakes the greater the fun because I can ride faster and take more chances knowing I can stop fast when the next moron cuts me off. I never felt that confidence with the Divvy Van and I moderated my riding accordingly. It seemed to me the problem was with the leverage provided by the brake levers and I’d be curious to try the same brakes with levers on a flat bar or bullhorns. Those levers might work better and be a better option if you’re wanting to dodge traffic (and this of course assumes you actually use brakes).
Apart from that I was loving the Divvy Van. There was an impressive level of detail down to the smallest items. The brake cables had a little Brown Jersey embossed cable/frame protector thingy on it where it met the frame. The cranks where nicely polished and have Brown Jersey etched on them. The hubs on the wheels had those nuts that have the spinning washer bit incorporated into them. (You’ll know why this is important if you’ve ever tried to line up a wheel and the washer kept making an arse of itself by getting in the way.) And there were a tidy set of drop-out with guides too.
I’ve enjoyed riding some of the more showy bikes I’ve tested but for me the understated look is the I’d go for if I was buying. I like the idea of owning a bike that only other bike connessiuers will appreciate. If they like the bike they’re pass a test. It shows a certain amount of class. The guy down the road with massive fins on his multi-coloured car, he has no class. He has no way of knowing or judging the qualities of this bike. He can’t pass the test.
I’m glad that bikes like the Brown Jersey’s Divvy Van exist because it’s adding a bit of class to a field already filled with bikes finely honed to their price. The Divvy Van is here to offer a ride for anyone who wants to step out with a little class and doesn’t mind that their less informed mates won’t understand the value in their purchase. If you’re self-assured and bike aware you should take a look at the Divvy Van.

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