Monday, January 9, 2012

The Randonneur Experiment: a Review

Randonneur, Charles River
Throughout the Spring and Summer of 2011, I collaborated with Royal H. Cycles to create a classic low-trail 650B randonneuring bicycle, then test rode it for 220 miles before it was delivered to the new owner. The project was inspired by Jan Heine, whose championing of this type of bicycle made some of us rabid with curiosity. This review has been long in the works. In parallel I've been preparing an article about the same bike for the Bicycle Quarterly, and needed to make sure that its content did not overlap too much with this write-up. Now that the BQ article is finally finished, I feel that the project is complete and would like to reflect upon it here.

If this is the first you are reading about this bike, then you may want to start here before proceeding:

Making Sense of Rivendell's vs Bicycle Quarterly's Philosophies
A Beautiful Experiment
Lovely Bicycle x Royal H Randonneur
650B Rivendell Sam Hillborne and Randonneur Compared

The posts above describe how the idea for the bike came about, as well as its construction and features, so I will not cover the same ground again here. At some point in the near future I will also write more about the project itself - what it was like to work together with a framebuilder and what I learned in the process. But here I will describe my impressions of the bicycle itself - particularly the aspects that were novel to me. Of course being involved in the bicycle's design, it would be somewhat absurd to either praise or critique its aesthetics and such. The point of this experiment was to form an impression of how this type of bicycle handles, and that is what I will focus on here.

Royal H. + Lovely Bicycle Randonneur

The Low Trail Mystique

To briefly summarise, the Randonneur is a lugged steel low-trail bicycle with 650Bx42mm tires, fenders, dynamo lighting, front and rear racks, and a handlebar bag - made in the style of the 20th century French constructeurs. "Low-trail" refers to the front-end geometry of a bicycle and it differs from the typical mid/high trail geometry of most roadbikes today. Among classic and vintage bicycle enthusiasts, there is definitely a mystique surrounding the low trail randonneur, and dramatic descriptions of its handling abound - made all the more dramatic, I suspect, by the fact that this type of bicycle is fairly rare and few have actually ridden it. Certainly that was one of the factors that made me want to try it. The other factor was that Jan Heine's description of the bicycle suggested a combination of speed, responsiveness, comfort, and all-terrain capability that I found attractive.

The biggest surprise about the Randonneur once I began to ride it, was how "normal" it felt. Based on all of the things I had heard and read about low-trail handling by the time the bike was ready, I expected to be blown away by a radically different handling, which I would either love or hate. Instead, the bike felt... like a bike! When I mentioned this earlier, some interpreted it as my implying that I was disappointed with the Randonneur. However that is not what I meant to express at all. I simply meant that I did not find low trail handling to be "difficult" or unusual. While the Randonneur did have some interesting handling characteristics, it felt intuitive to ride and I think that my experience of this is important to communicate. It seems to me that the mystique surrounding low-trail geometry needlessly intimidates people.

Randonneur, Charles River
So what did feel different about the low trail handling, even if I found it within the range of normal? Mainly, it was the way the bicycle behaved on turns. At slow speeds I found that I had to be slightly more active when turning than on other road bikes I'd ridden, to pay more attention to the act of turning if that makes sense. Interestingly, this made tight turns easier as opposed to more difficult: I felt as if I were more in control of the turn. I also noticed that on high speed descents along winding roads it was easier to keep my line of travel along the road's curvature; the Randonneur did not "resist" turning at high speeds as I sometimes feel typical roadbikes do. That said, all of this was rather subtle - at no point did this difference alarm or shock me. I would notice the unique behavior on turns and think "Oh neat, so it wants to do this and not that" - as opposed to feeling as if there was anything wrong. It's a different feeling is all, and I rather liked it.

Another outcome of low trail (though this is not about handling per se) is that it allows even small bicycles with fat tires and fenders to avoid toe overlap without the need for an overly long top tube. For me this is a huge deal, because I strongly dislike toe overlap and I ride small bikes. The fact that low-trail geometry automatically eliminates it as a concern is very appealing.

While yet another aspect of the low trail design is said to be its superior ability to handle a front load, in this respect my experience is unhelpful. I rode the bicycle with and without the medium Berthoud handlebar bag pictured here, and did not notice a significant difference. It felt fine with the bag. It felt fine without. Perhaps this lack of a difference is the point - meaning, you can add a full handlebar bag and the handling remains the same. However, some believe that a low-trail bike is meant to be ridden with a loaded bag at all times and will feel unstable without it. This I did not experience.

Randonneur, Woods

Best of Both Worlds?

The Bicycle Quarterly's descriptions of randonneuring bicycles suggest that they are essentially fully equipped, comfortable racers - thus offering the best aspects of touring bikes and racing bikes combined.

For me, the speed of the Randonneur was not quite on par with that of a racing bike (namely, the Seven Axiom I'd tried over the summer). However, the Randonneur was faster than my Sam Hillborne. It was also faster than various vintage roadbikes I've tried.

1st Randonneur Test Ride
The weight of the complete bicycle (including bottle cages, MKS Touring pedals and handlebar bag) was around 26lb (for comparison, my Sam Hillborne is 31lb with a similar setup), which is fairly light given all the stuff it is outfitted with, but not racing bike territory. The standard diameter tubing made it easier for me to carry the bike (my hand could close around the top tube, whereas with oversized tubing it cannot), which was much appreciated.

As far as comfort, the Randonneur was the feather bed of bicycles. While I have no complaints at all about the comfort of my Rivendell, the Randonneur felt even better, as well as less fatiguing at the end of a ride. In part this may be due to the flexible, standard diameter tubing. Of course given this lightweight and flexible tubing, bicycles like the Randonneur are not suitable for carrying as much weight as touring bikes.

Royal H. + Lovely Bicycle Randonneur

Notes on Components

I won't go over all of the components this bicycle is fitted with, but would like to highlight the ones that were new to me or made an impression.

As mentioned earlier, I loved the Grand Bois Maes handlebars with their flat ramps and parallel drops. I am addicted to Campagnolo ergo levers at this point, and the Veloce model here (also on my Rivendell) is an economical option that works perfectly well for me. I prefer the Schmidt SON dynamo hub on this bicycle to the Shimano hub on my own bike, and the Edelux headlight is the nicest dynamo light I have tried thus far. The Grand Bois Hetre tires I love so much - both on the Randonneur and on my Rivendell - that I cannot imagine not owning a bike fitted with them. I was impressed with the Nitto lugged stem, truly a work of art. The Berthoud handlebar bag intimidated me somewhat with its beautiful styling, but the multiple sizes it comes in might make it a more convenient alternative to the enormous Ostrich handlebar bag I have on my own bike.

Berthoud Touring Saddle
In the process of riding this bike I also discovered that I prefer the men's Berthoud touring saddle to the women's. I never wear skirts on roadbikes anyhow, and the longer nose and slightly narrower saddle feels even better here than the shorter, wider version on my own bike.

I am not certain what I think of cantilever brakes - not just on this bicycle, but in general. On fast descents, both the Randonneur and my own canti Rivendell are rather effortful for me to stop. These brakes are supposed to be very powerful and are the classic brakes to use with this style of bicycle, so I am not sure what the alternatives are. That said, almost everyone I know loves cantis, so I might just be an anomaly (I do have very weak hands).

If I were speccing out this bicycle from scratch today, the one change I would make would be to go with the new Rene Herse crankset (which was not yet available last summer). This would be a more aesthetically appropriate (albeit much pricier) option than the Sugino Alpina crankset we used, and its gearing versatility would have allowed us to use a short-cage rear derailleur for an overall more classic look to the drivetrain. None of this however would change the bike's functionality.

I was quite happy with how the Randonneur worked as a whole, including components and accessories. Nothing rattled loose or malfunctioned in the course of my test rides, which included road and gravel.

Randonneur, Sunflowers

Verdict

Based on my experience with the Randonneur, my impression is that this type of bicycle combines some of the best features of road-racing bikes and all-terrain touring bikes, but does not replace either. If I owned this bicycle, I would still want a pure road-racing bike in addition. And for those interested in fully loaded touring, the Randonneur would not be the right choice for carrying that much weight. But for self-supported long distance events, endurance events, recreational and nature rides, and anything involving off-road trails and mixed terrain I believe this would be just the ticket - both for competitive cycling and for pleasure. The standard diameter tubing, wide 650B tires, fast and responsive handling, fenders, lights and moderate luggage make it an option worth considering for those who feel that touring bikes are overbuilt for them, while road/racing bikes are unsuitable for real-world conditions. In my view, the low trail geometry is not nearly as quirky as some suggest, and has the additional benefit of avoiding the dreaded toe overlap.

A question I've been asked a number of times now over email, is whether I plan to get a bicycle like this made for myself and whether I would recommend it to others. The first part of this question is tough to answer, because if I did get a bicycle like this then it would replace my Rivendell - I neither need nor can afford to own two 650B road-to-trail bikes! So I just don't know yet whether I want to go through that upheaval. That said, I do think that a bicycle like the Randonneur is extremely appropriate for my style of riding, for all the reasons described in this review. If I did decide to replace my Rivendell with a lighter and faster bike with the same wide tires and handlebar bag, something like this would be it. As for recommending it to others, I don't even dare go there. We are all so different, and only you can decide whether a bicycle like this is suitable for your needs.

Randonneur Collaboration, Charles River

Afterthoughts...

An important aside here, is that when designing a bicycle like this, geometry and tubing choice are crucial. If you decide to have a classic low-trail randonneuring frame built, be sure the builder fully understands your request. It is popular now to refer to all bicycles fitted with fenders, racks, and tires wider than 23mm as "rando bikes," but the bicycle I describe here is a very particular animal and the builder needs to understand that - unless of course you can supply them with the full geometry and specifications. There is now also a number of ready-made randonneuring frames (though none of them fully lugged, as far as I understand) that may be suitable for those reluctant to go custom, including the Box Dog Pelican and the Rawland RSogn.

The length of this review makes me realise just how much information I have stored up about this bicycle. Stay tuned for the write-up about the project itself - including commentary on the framebuilder's work, detailed descriptions of the geometry and all that. And for those interested in the Bicycle Quarterly article (which will contain different content still), look for the Spring 2012 issue.

My sincere thanks to everyone involved in this project: Bryan of Royal H. Cycles, Jim A. of Harris Cyclery, and Jim P. the bicycle's owner - as well as to Jan of the Bicycle Quarterly for the inspiration and advice. More pictures here and here!

92 comments:

  1. Great writeup! It makes me really look forward to when the Vermont "ice season" passes and I can go out and enjoy some dirt roads on my Boulder Bicycle 650B. It's build is nearly identical to this one (I'm sure you've seen it on Flickr) and it's just a total blast to ride. Going from dirt to pavement and back is seamless. Bombing down dirt descents is so much more confident with the fatty Hetres underfoot. I get some strange look sometimes :-)

    One thing that's kind of funny is I had to learn to pace myself more than when I would ride the Cross Check... for some reason it makes me just want to spin and spin and spin and I would get winded sooner as a result because I'd end up pushing myself harder. With the Cross Check I've just got basically one effort level that I'll put out and I don't really tend to push any harder than that. Has that sort of thing happened to you when riding a faster/more efficient bike than you were used to? As far as I can tell it's due to the more flexible frame not "fighting" me, as I've read Jan write about many times.

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  2. Can you explain to the less informed how low trail gets rid of toe overlap? That sounds good to me! Can I convert my own bike to low trail for this purpose?

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  3. that bike is beautiful!!!

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  4. Generally speaking with low trail bikes, the front wheel is farther from the bottom bracket than a similar bike with mid/high trail. This is done by increasing the rake, or bending the fork blade to a greater angle and increasing their length. Generally, the more 'rake', the less 'trail'. Changing your geometry to low-trail is totally doable, but requires some looking at the geometry of your frame/bike and pairing with an appropriate fork.

    I use to ride on those Tektro cantis too and they're definitely a lot weaker than a lot of cantis I've tried. Try something with a more medium profile, those usually balance out the benefits of cantis a bit more.

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  5. Gennie - What Christopher said!

    Whether you can convert your current bike to low trail depends on your fork. It may be possible to bend the fork (i.e. have it professionally re-raked), or get a new fork made. This is a fairly big production unless you can disassemble and reassemble the bike yourself, and of course it is also crucial that the person bending the fork or making a new fork knows what they are doing.

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  6. On the subject of cantis, I have Tektro CR-720s on my Cross Check and on my Boulder I put a set of TRP Euro-X cantis; they look functionally identical for the most part, but for reasons I can't explain they TRPs are far easier to brake, requiring a lot less effort than with than the Tektros. Same pads (kool stop salmon), same setup/geometry.

    I have no idea why that is. Maybe it's the rims? The Cross Check has Mavic A719s and the Boulder has Velocity Synergy with non-machined sidewalls. I don't know enough about that sort of thing to know if there's a difference. Or it could be the Campy levers vs the Tektro levers on the other bike. Then again you've got Campy levers too... who knows! Sometimes this stuff feels like voodoo, doesn't it?

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  7. WickedVT - I could feel the flex in the frame from time to time, but I can't be sure what effect this had on the bike's performance. I do remember going insanely fast and getting winded a couple of times (which does not happen often on other bikes), but not sure I can connect it to the flex. My Royal H mixte is even more flexible and riding it feels nothing like riding this bike.

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  8. "TRP Euro-X cantis"

    Neat, never even heard of those.

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  9. Very good write up. I'll have to borrow someone's BQ and read your article.

    You also have a great aesthetic - or at least one that matches my taste! Your project bikes are all quite nice looking.

    I use my rando as my daily rider and two to four day trips staying at B&Bs, etc. It is the kind of bike that you just want to keep on riding no matter what.

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  10. How does it handle no-hands?

    Love the fat tires, too.

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  11. I don't ride no hands so unfortunately can't comment on that aspect!

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  12. Hey, I mentioned TRPs at least once!

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  13. Sorry it must have not sunk in!

    One additional problem is that some canti/rack and canti/pannier combinations don't work well together, so it helps to see them in person before buying.

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  14. Excellent post on a beautiful bike.
    I can't wait to read further about it.

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  15. There's also the inverse of TCO - Hell Strike on Canti Arm.

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  16. Not a fan of cantis. They work fine, and let you put on big tires easily, but they look ugly and are a pain to set up. IMHO of course.

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  17. I once tried a bike that had, simultaneously, toe overlap, heel strike, and the handlebars hitting the knees on turns. Really nice tubing though.

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  18. Did you ride this bike at the same time as you were riding the Seven and the Rivendel? Changes in fitness level could account for the differences.

    Gorgeous bike by the way, envious!

    Leonard

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  19. Leonard - Yup, I was riding all three at the same time. Well not literally, but you know, alternating between them.

    The difference in speed between the Randonneur and the Seven was not huge. If I stripped the Randonneur of the racks, bag, fenders, put narrower tires on it and perhaps a lighter weight component group, that may very well eliminate the difference. But then again it does not make sense to remove the things that are the very point of the bike.The Sam Hillborne's more hesitant handling on the other hand seems inherent to the frame.

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  20. I was going to save this, but here's how I envision a V rando/go fast bike, circa today:

    Seven Axiom f/f
    Campy 9-10 sp.
    Threadless stem
    Compact drops
    23mm wheels, preferably HED, 23-25mm Krylions

    Here's the versatile bit:
    Clip on carbon fenders, as narrow and useful as possible. Integrated look.
    Lightweight saddle bag, oriented front to back.
    The tinniest of front bags, if at all.

    Frame optimized for versatility, with minimum clearances for above.

    This'll git er done - go fast, go long, go strong.

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  21. The alternative to cantis was Mafac Racers or Weinmann Vainqeur. Cantis are more powerful and a lighter pull than those.

    Dual pivots are problematic in a lot of ways. They do have power and a very light pull. Sooner or later long descents will occur, then comes the pump in the arms and the cramp in the hands and the only brake you want is one with lighter pull than what you've got.

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  22. What you've described is similar to Pamela Blalock's bike. 26mm tires with Crud fenders, dynamo hub too. And couplers. She races and does 1000 mile+ events on it with equal ease.

    Me, I just don't see myself marrying the two types of bikes. I do not need dynamo lighting or fenders or bags or racks for a fast 50 mile ride on pavement, let alone on a 20 mile road race, if I ever get to do one. And if a frame and wheels feel good, wide tires are not needed for this type of ride.

    But once off-road trails are involved, or really bad roads in the rain, I don't like anything narrower than 35mm. Sorry, but I just don't. Oh and also if it's a leisurely ride then I want to carry my large cameras, and I like the weight in the front. So rack and roomy handlebar bag are a must. And if I ride the bike at night, then I need dynamo lighting, battery lights no matter how good just make me nervous.

    So I just don't see how I can combine this. Pure road/racing bike plus randonneur as two separate bikes seem to make more sense for me.

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  23. You're confusing rando/fast with Riv/fat tired bikes and you missed my versatility point. Think chameleon.

    Fast/rando:

    No rear rack necessary with a bike packing type saddle bag. Fenders, quick connect, light. Dynamo, quick connectors, separate wheel maybe. Or battery, why not for something less than 100mi?

    Your current fast road limit is 50, whereas a century is merely double that. Do you need an entirely different bike for that? I'd argue you need more light packability, that's all.

    As for off road, that's the Riv.

    Anywho, I see this is going to take more time.

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  24. In theory, I can put a large saddlebag, 25mm tires and clip-on fenders on the Moser racing bike. I thought great, that's what I will do then if I need to do a long distance event, this bike is plenty versatile. Then a week ago I strapped a saddlebag with my DSLR to the Moser and rode it that way for 10 miles so that I could take some pictures before a group ride with a proper camera, then removed the bag and left it with someone during the ride. The bike did not like having that bag strapped to it even for that short distance, so much so that it surprised me. I felt it tugging and ruining the zen weight balance. Slowed me down, too. There is no way I would want to ride that way for 50 or 100 miles!

    "As for off road, that's the Riv."

    Right. I am not suggesting that I need a randonneur in addition to the Riv, it would be instead.

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  25. Maybe a front bag on the Moser might work. DSLRs w/a big lens are heavy on a small gauge race bike in the back, that tail's gonna wag that dog.

    Also, you're pretty close to roadie annoyance with excess weight - welcome.

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  26. I am only sensitive to weight when I feel it makes a difference. At 21lb not including accessories the Moser is heavier than the carbon bikes of people I ride with anyhow, but I don't feel that this slows me down. It would be interesting to try carrying something on the handlebars, but I have a feeling he would not like that either. Right now everything is just so and the current weight distribution feels very right - including my position on the bike. I basically don't feel the bike when I ride it, I am not aware of it. Kind of neat actually.

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  27. A heavier bike will take more energy on an extended climb, but might not be slower. On the flat aero is more important. Suck that wheel.

    Might want to measure and record position on the bike for reference.

    Blogger is acting all funky.

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  28. A very interesting read and the bike looks beautiful. Regarding the cantis, sheldon brown has several excellent articles on cantilever brakes http://sheldonbrown.com/canti-trad.html
    and http://sheldonbrown.com/cantilever-geometry.html#ca
    As Christopher said a pair of medium cantis might work better. I have had cantis that give basically no breaking especially in wet conditions, but with some adjustments (trial and error for me unfortunately) will lock the wheel with little force applied (still not so good in wet conditions). Mini-v brakes can be an option with good breaking power, but it depends on cable pull of the handlebar levers. I had to put on a mini-v on the front wheel to be able to mount a light over the wheel.

    What kind of gearing did you use on this bike? It looks like a compact or maybe even slightly smaller, but it is hard to tell from pics. With the smaller wheels I'd imagine you'd be able of a higher cadence on this bike compared to say the Moser, which do you prefer?

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  29. 'For me, the speed of the Randonneur was not quite on par with that of a racing bike'

    I'm not surprised with those balloon tyres.

    Fit some good quality 28mm ones, or 32mm if you really want to do lots of rough off-road riding.

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  30. I've never seen the upper straps on a Berthoud bag actually used. Does the top still close properly? On the brakes did you experiment with straddle cable length at all? Very nice bike, I hope it gets ridden a lot and was not purchased to be a garage queen.

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  31. I must admit I ended up with the most gorgeous bicycle I could have ever imagined owning. I am not as knowledgeable about bikes, don't understand all the ins and outs of the parts, but I know quality and this bike exudes quality. It does everything I wanted it to do and expect this will be my final bicycle. It was great fun working with Velouria and Bryan at RoyalH on this project. Velouria was the Brains behind the operation and Bryan at RoyalH did a fantastic job building the bicycle. I am, of course, Very pleased with the end product.

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  32. what an exciting project, will you be making more of these?

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  33. Thank for the kind words JimP, I am so glad you like it : ))

    Johan - It is a 48/34 in the front with a 9-speed touring cassette in the rear (don't have the file with the exact gearing in front of me). I prefer this bike's gearing to what's on my Moser, but something like a 50/32 with a 12-29 10-sped in the rear would work even better for me for this kind of bike, or maybe even a triple.

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  34. It is a matter of common sense that a bike like this, as wonderful as it is, is not a racing bike replacement. Jan's insistence that these bikes can be faster than modern racing bikes with narrow tires and lightweight wheels is frankly puzzling.

    Great job though. I hope you get to own one of these in the future.

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  35. Anon 8:11 - I've been thinking about this, and am starting to wonder whether it could depend on the rider. Could be that for someone with experience and technique (like Jan himself) it is indeed possible to make a randonneur competitive with a racing bike, but for someone like me it is not. Perhaps he can use the randonneur's handling and wide tires as an advantage on tricky technical parts, for instance, whereas I would not be able to.

    patrick - At first I thought yes, but there are nuances that may not make it feasible to do this repeatedly.

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  36. Anon 8:11 - Stop puzzling and look up Jan's 2011 PBP time. And his Rando used vintage front and rear derailleurs.

    Velouria 8:22 - likely some combination of skill and technique but also as Jan writes on the topic, these bikes are more comfortable and less taxing to ride. It's Jan's opinion a relaxed body usually performs better than one that is beaten and shaken.

    I managed to find a set of NOS Mafac Raids for my Rando. Raids pull easily and stop well. While it seems to me Paul Racers would be an ideal modern substitute for Raids, Rando builders I have heard from say the fork position required for Pauls is not optimal with 650Bs. Mitch Pryor explained it to me once, but I fear it went over my head.

    Jan has mentioned in the past he would like to work with a high end component manufacturer on a Raid up date. Perhaps there will soon be a viable modern alternative to Cantis.

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  37. I think at least some of Jan's justification on comparable speed of fat tire (vs racing width) is that supple fat tires absorb vibration which would otherwise fatigue a rider during a very long event. The rider puts less energy into absorbing bumps and more energy into pedaling... Conversely, I agree that a racing bike on 23s would be faster in a sprint.

    btw, It's great how you compare the qualities of rando and racing bikes. It speaks directly to my varied interest in bikes.

    Re cantis: the Tektro CR720 are rarely as effective as higher quality canti's. IRD Cafam, Shimano CX70, TRP EuroX, Paul, Kore .... the list of better canti brakes is long. Set up is a huge factor too.

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  38. Just wanted to make a point about trail and toe clip overlap.

    It's not so simple to say that low trail = no TCO.

    Low trail is achieved two ways: extended fork rake and/or steep head tube angle. Low trail is not what eliminates the TCO in the absence of a long top tube, it's having a lot of fork rake that eliminates TCO. Fork rake is how far forward the fork extends perpendicular to the head tube, and the more rake there is, the less trail, and the less TCO. However, it's also true that the steeper the head tube angle, the less trail, BUT, the MORE TCO.

    So potential customers of custom frames should be careful not to demand low trail geometry as the means to eliminate TCO-- a high trail bike can be made without TCO and without a long top tube, either (my Trek with high trail geometry has zero TCO)... it just requires having a more slack head tube angle. Of course, a good frame builder will understand all this, but might not explain that it's possible to eliminate TCO without going the low trail route if the customer explicitly states they want a low trail bike for this reason.

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  39. The Moser seems a special enough bike that predictions may fail, still it's very unlikely a handlebar bag will work better than a saddlebag. It's a sturdy frame and will take what you throw at it, nothing bad happens. Just not fun.

    Ten years before your Moser was built racing in mountains meant unpaved roads. The pro calendar still included very long one-day events like Paris-Bordeaux. Journeymen racers assumed it was normal to race 200 days out of the year. The distinction between rando and race was internal wiring. There was a period of years where rando style and modern style bikes raced together. At the pro level it probably seldom made much difference. But we know which style won.

    When the layout of a criterium circuit or a style of racing means continuous hard accelerations and responding to relentless attacks short chainstays do work better than rando bikes. When cornering is like gymnastics a long frame that planes is no fun. Almost nobody rides that way except on race day. If a frisky youngster pulls that stuff on a club training ride cooler heads let the kid attack himself until he's done.

    Any race Jan might want to do he's got the bike for it. For an American style crit the old bikes fight to survive, they don't much race.

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  40. GRJ,
    I get the feeling you don't really understand rando bikes, or at least the Jan Hein philosophy of rando bikes. He has a strong preference for the classic French style rando bikes. According to him there is a reason these bikes all pretty much share a common set of features and these features are all ideal for self-supported endurance/rando riding.

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  41. As an alternative to a front loaded randonneur, I'm giving this rear bag system a try for brevets on my Ti Lemond road bike: http://www.distancebiker.com/store/index.php/bags/q680.html

    It doesn't solve the issue of not having a triple to climb, but allows a carrying option absent a dedicated rando rig. On-bike eating will have to be a little more planned, with transfers to jersey pockets during stops. We'll see how it goes.

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  42. Canti brakes may have a certain retro appeal, but in my experience, V brakes are a better solution--the mechanical advantage seems to be better (i.e., more stopping power for less gripping force on the brake levers).

    I agree with Jan Heine that a semi-high performance rando type bike that weighs 25 or so lbs. can be extremely competitive in fast, aggressive riding in groups--like the A Group weekend rides that occur in most major cities. But of course these types of bikes would NOT be ideal for actual racing.

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  43. Christopher, you've been commenting here for awhile so surely you've seen my comments regarding riders' ability vs. bike type. If you have a specific rebuttal by all means, but ciphering Jan ain't gonna cut it.

    "Anon 8:11 - I've been thinking about this, and am starting to wonder whether it could depend on the rider. Could be that for someone with experience and technique (like Jan himself) it is indeed possible to make a randonneur competitive with a racing bike, but for someone like me it is not. Perhaps he can use the randonneur's handling and wide tires as an advantage on tricky technical parts, for instance, whereas I would not be able to.
    "

    Have you taken all my past comments and trash compacted them? Yes, it's the rider, yes it's the bike.

    People, do we have to bring up Jan every post? Sheesh.


    I wish Blogger would stop eating my comments.

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  44. "...look up Jan's 2011 PBP time. And his Rando used vintage front and rear derailleurs. "

    Jan's PBP time is impressive. He is obviously a strong cyclist. But this says nothing about which bike is faster. What would his time have been on, say, a Seven Axiom SL? Only when we know this and can compare it to his time on his Rene Herse Randonneur, can we conclude that he is faster on the latter. Or not.

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  45. Since apparently I don't understand rando bikes, exhibit A, Chris Ragsdale: http://blog.seattlepi.com/velocity/files/2011/09/Ragsdale-PBP-2011a-2.jpg

    He finished 9 hours ahead of Jan on, gasp, a race bike. The french guy on the left? Race bike! Sure these guys aren't self-supported, have a crew yada yada.

    Please note people: a rando bike is not a good race bike, but a race bike can be a serviceable rando bike for mortals.

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  46. BTW in Jan's (him again!) Calfee Adventure blog post he basically states the bike is faster than his Herse.

    Gee, thanks for that.

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  47. Don't despair GR Jim, we'll switch to Grant Petersen soon.

    Your comments are duly noted, but as you know there are infinite points of view flying around. No matter what ends up being my own train of thought, someone here is bound to say "but I told you that months ago!"

    Anyhow. I think that many BQ readers get excited about these bikes because they take ideas such as "wide tires are faster than narrow ones" and "flexible frames are faster than stiff frames" and "planing" very literally, whereas in reality these are just hypotheses that are constructed to explain why for a specific, small group of people a particular type of bike seems to work.

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  48. This much is true: smooth can be fast but it can't have other things slowing it down.

    One does not need a Master to follow, only common sense and a feeling for the bike.

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  49. Velouria it is not my contention that Jan's impressive PBP times prove the Rando form superior for racing but rather disproves those who give it short shrift. Anon 11:12 I think states my thinking better than I. A Rando is optimal for some competitions, less so for others.

    GRJ.1 - as Velouria points out unless Jan were to attempt the PBP with a support crew and also gave up his real job in favor of year round racing and training the fact a supported professional bested him at the PBP does not prove a race bike is better than a rando style in distance events.

    GRJ.2 - you are not fully stating the point of Jan's blog and BQ articles on the Calfee. In fact Jan's theory is the Calfee Adventure works because it's geometry is closer to classic than many carbon fiber race bikes.

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  50. Must be challenging to write this type of review with Bicycle Quarterly as a sponsor. I am not being snarky, just genuinely believe you do a good job of stating your mind.

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  51. Anon - I understand what you mean, and thanks. However it is not at all challenging. It is written into my sponsorship agreement that a sponsor has no influence over my content, and also that sponsorship fees are non-refundable even if a sponsor chooses to pull an ad. But moreover, I doubt that JH wants me to be anything but honest in this kind of write-up; well-balanced feedback is ultimately better than the so-called puff piece and he knows that. Also worth noting is that Rivendell and Seven are sponsors as well. Each pays the same for a banner as BQ. So even if one assumes I am corrupt, there is no financial incentive for me to be biased toward either them or BQ in this comparison : )

    The funny thing is that my posts about cheeseburgers and bikes made in China/Taiwan upset more sponsors than anything critical I've ever written about their products!

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  52. Oh Matthew, what am I going to do with you? If I feed you fish, then you'll only want it again tomorrow. If I teach you to fish, you'll be able to eat it whenever.

    I think you just want to be fed, honestly.

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  53. Mmmm fish. Wouldn't mind some sushi right now actually. Or a fishburger...

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  54. Albacore tuna - the really endangered kind!

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  55. Nice review. The opinions about randonneuring bikes by commentors are interesting but leave me wondering if any of them have actually done any randonneuring.

    By the way you said, "There is now also a number of ready-made randonneuring frames (though none of them fully lugged, as far as I understand)..."

    The Velo Orange Randonneur is what I would call a "ready-made randonneuring frame" and it is fully lugged, though it doesn't use 650b wheels. It's pretty reasonably priced too.

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  56. Steve - I've heard good things about the VO Randonneur, and it's on sale for $500 right now! I did not include it here, because it is not 650B and will not accommodate tires wider than 28mm with fenders, so it did not seem relevant to this review. However, I am trying to convince the Co-Habitant to buy a frame for himself while the sale lasts.

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  57. Rando - isn't that where you ride long distances and carry stuff or not? Done it.

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  58. There is a huge discussion following this post (now almost a year old) re what constitutes randonneuring and what makes a bike a randonneuring bike... with the main thrust of it being that it's about the official sport of randonneuring, and about sanctioned events. If you just do long rides, you are not a randonneur. But if you do the sanctioned events with the goal to finish within the time limit, you are.

    Do I agree with this? Not so much. I think the term has now been culturally appropriated, and "randoing" can refer to pretty much any long distance-ish or light-touring type of ride. This POV angers some randonneurs though.

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  59. GRJ,

    Maybe Jan was slower than the guy on the race bike because he is a vegetarian.

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  60. Paul, where's a guy to get une petite salade in the middle of the night in France!

    V, there's some guy merely known as "Jim" in the thread, could it be...

    Maybe in a few more years you'll do a rando. I don't know what I wrote back then, but people around here do their own randos but if they are casual about saying it that way then no prob. Put it in your (often times) very precise blog and yeah, it's like your publishing BQ East.

    I've been through the Loire a couple of times; the thought of riding past all that food and wine is a sacrilege to me.

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  61. V @ 8:03

    You sure about 50x12? Your Moser has a top of 52x13, 50x12 would be an even larger gear.

    My current top is 50x14. No problems on club rides up to 32, 33mph. After that it's me, not the gears. I turn 60 in a couple days, can't make the speed in winter.

    At the low end readily available current production parts will get you to 34x28. Ride up those hills a few more times and the 28 will be held in reserve.

    Take a look at the IRD "Campy style" 110bcd crank.

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  62. All jokes aside, as of 2 days ago I am trying to return to vegetarianism. The hallucinations and tremors have almost subsided. Wish me luck.

    On a separate note, I find that there is a correlation between an interest in cycling and being named Jim, if you're a male.

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  63. As opposed to being a female Jim?

    Come on, spill the beans. Is this a "scientific" BQ East study?

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  64. Peppy (jims, how do they work?)January 10, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    What she means is if you're female and interested in cycling, not being named Jim doesn't count against it.

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  65. Totally scientific. Of all the male cyclists I know by name, probably over 25% are named Jim; no other name is more frequent. For females, the equivalent cycling name seems to be Sue or Susan (for males it is Jim specifically and not James). Not kidding.

    Anon 6:23 - You are probably right about the high gearing : )

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  66. !

    Verbal Jimnastics, mind-reading cat.

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  67. Peppy (the also, isn't it time to feed me cat)January 10, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    Among cat cyclists, usually you can refer to the male sprinters as Tom and female time trialists as Molly. It's really quite something.

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  68. As a women, technical details aside, this beautiful work of art encourgages me to ride this type/style of bike. A design that meets the needs of various forms of riding. How one can acquire such a bike without the high cost of a Royal H build? I went to their website and the price is pretty steep. Any suggestions?

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  69. Anon 7:42 - Royal H pricing is pretty standard for a framebuilder, but a different issue is that he does not generally make this type of bike - the geometry and design came from me. If you are looking for a bicycle with similar handling at a more affordable price, check out the Rawland RSogn link at the end of the post.

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  70. From Anon 7:42
    Thank you! Your blog is my very own encyclopedia for bicycling, wealth of information especially in comments.

    Thank you

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  71. Interesting discussion for someone who hasn't ridden long distances in years. (My last long distance ride was a 100 mile ride on my Peugeot mixte.)

    Anyhow, has anyone tried the woman's Electra Ticino as radonneur bike? (Probably the 18 or 21-speeds) If so, what did you think about it?

    (FYI, the current Electra website only shows the woman's 8D Ticino, nothing else. I am going to email Electra and find out what the story is...)

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  72. Velouria, I hope your cycling progresses over the year and you at least get in a 200k. I think you'll have a much greater appreciation and respect for randonneurs and randonneuring. I think riding long distances solo or in a group is fine and all but there's just something about doing an actual brevet that is challenging and inspiring that just isn't replicated by heading out on your own. I would suggest to ease into the experience of randonneuring that you do a local permanent (http://www.rusa.org/perminfo.html). I know this probably all sounds very critical. Sorry. You and your blog have come a long way in a short amount of time. I look forward to seeing where you go in the future.

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  73. Anon 12:51 - You don't sound critical at all. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for randonneurs and did not mean to imply otherwise.

    I am not sure whether I can ever be one of them myself. Given how long I've been cycling at this point, I actually think that my progress has been pretty slow. I mean, I know people who got on a roadbike for the first time and were racing or doing 200K by the end of their first season. Me? It took me a year before I could even manage to ride a bike with drop bars. Even now, my inability to master technique holds me back as my speed and endurance continue to improve. So... I have no illusions about my future as a roadcyclist or randonneur, but I enjoy riding anyway.

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  74. Anon 12:24 - In my opinion these bikes are not intended for actual long distance riding; what I have seen does not inspire confidence. I suspect you'd be better off with a refurbished vintage Peugeot mixte.

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  75. if you do decide to get a bicycle like this made for yourself, what if anything would you do differently?

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  76. gerald - Mostly I would get a smaller frame size (this one was 53cm and slightly too big for me) and a different drivetrain, simpler stem and smaller bag, but everything else very similar. For the drivetrain maybe Campagnolo Athena + Rene Herse crankset. Same wheels, tires, fenders and lighting system for sure.

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  77. Cool! I absolutely love that bike. :D

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  78. "Don't despair GR Jim, we'll switch to Grant Petersen soon. "

    The person who invents a computer keyboard totally immune to the effect of sprayed coffee will become very rich indeed.

    Illuminating comments in this thread.

    CK

    CK

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  79. Those lugs he used are pretty - did Bryan have to modify those?

    Apologies if it's been covered, but when I got a Raleigh One-Way - I kept reading horrible reviews of the stock Tektro Oryx canties. They worked great after I readjusted the straddle cable-hanger and the pivot angle relation after reading Sheldons take on them.

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  80. V @ 1:38

    No. Cycling is the most tolerant and accommodating sport there is. By tolerant I mean the physical activity itself, not the people. Over a half century in this sport I've lost track of all the riders who start out with tics, tremors, spasms, and palsies, missing limbs and deformities, auto-immune diseases, 60 pound stick riders dying of AIDS, and they turn into riders. Good riders. Riders who ride at even-steven with the naturally gifted. It doesn't happen instantly.

    It is also a phenomenally technical sport. There is just a lot to know and a lot to keep straight. It's easy to walk up blind alleys and get sidetracked. After all these years I still turn to other peoples' eyes for opinions and criticism and guidance on why this or that just doesn't feel right.

    On technique - Try putting the saddle down again. You look high in photos. Maybe not wrong, but high. When the saddle goes up you get a little edge and it's instantly gratifying, It makes little difference. Anybody has a range of 2cm where it just doesn't matter. Try sitting at the bottom of that range or even below it for a couple of weeks. The water bottle will simply be closer, The bike is more stable all on its own if you sit lower. Sean Kelly raced his whole career sitting notoriously "too" low and he admitted it himself. Won hundreds of races that way. Put the saddle low and be easy on yourself. JCW

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  81. JCW - My saddle is lower than standard; it has to be low enough for me to put a toe down or else I can't get off the bike
    : ))

    Kirsten-Erik - We used an Everest lugset called the "bikini," unmodified.

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  82. "Of course given this lightweight and flexible tubing, bicycles like the Randonneur are not suitable for carrying as much weight as touring bikes."

    I've often heard this, but what approximate weight would tip the scales of the light/flex tubed rando? 10, 25, 50, 100 lbs?

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  83. Good question, and I don't know for sure. It just felt like since the bike already felt flexible, it was a bad idea to overload it. I probably would not go over 25lb to be safe, 15lb in the front and 10lb in the rear. Jan Heine might have a more accurate figure. By contrast, on my Rivendell I've carried more than 50lb and it felt fine.

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  84. Velouria:

    I haven't posted here before but have been a frequent reader for a while. This is a great blog and I enjoy reading it.

    Two things: First, (and I'm paraphrasing) you state that the Royal H weighs 26 pounds and your Sam weighs 31 pounds with similar parts. Obviously they are not the same parts, but I don't think the Sam frame accounts for five additional pounds of weight. Where is the extra fat on the Sam?

    Second, when you say the Royal H wasn't as fast as the Seven, what are we talking about here? Subjectively "not as fast," comparison times over the same course? Is it .2 mph slower or 2 mph slower over the same course? Did the difference remain steady over longer distances where the frame and tires would ostensibly provide greater comfort.

    The allure of Jan's hypothesis about these bikes is that they promise optimization of both speed (i.e. performance) and comfort for long distance cycling with a light load. I ride a Sam Hillborne for commuting and touring. Its a slug but it can carry a load and the rider comfort it provides was substantial enough that I ditched my aluminum "racing" bike after I got it, even though the racing bike was almost 3mph faster on average over a 50 mile course. I then acquired a Romulus for faster rides. The Romulus/Rambouillet and other "sport touring" bikes are considered great choices for brevets because they are both comfortable and quick. The real question in my mind is how do these 650b rando bikes compare to traditional sport touring bikes for performance?

    Thoughts?

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  85. Darin - Regarding the weight, beats me. It is probably a little bit of everything. The frameset of the Riv certainly is heavier, maybe by as much as 2.5lb. The rest is probably due to a heavier wheelset, triple crankset, larger handlebar bag, heavier rack? Little by little it all adds up.

    The specifics of the speed I discuss in the BQ article, so didn't want to get into it too much here. But I guess on average the difference was around 1mph, and yes it was consistent over long distances. I did not find the Seven uncomfortable to ride for 50 mile stretches despite the narrow tires; it was comfortable but in a different way than this bike.

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  86. Nice article on the Royal H. I haven't read the blog in some time and was pleased to see this. As a fellow Hillborne rider who recently took delivery of an Ebisu 650b rando-style bike, I concur with your comments on the handling. I'm not sure if it's the low-trail aspect of the new bike or the relative slugishness of the Riv, but I've enjoyed the quick yet stable handling of the new bike. I also like the proportions of my 54cm, 650b level top-tubed Ebisu. I do understand the logic of the looong, sloping TT and long steerer tube on the Riv, but the proportions look a bit off when compared to the new bike. I am loath to admit it, but the 650b bike is just so darned pretty, well integrated and subtle.

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  87. Don't really understand the sport or the bikes but read this and get the feeling that it'd be an awesome experience...!

    http://gritandglimmer.com/from-the-what-was-i-thinking-files-126-miles-into-the-wind/

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for that link. I can relate to the article! It really is inspiring to ride with impressive women.

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  88. Hi. So, what was the trail measurement? Mid-40s? How long did you make the chainstays?

    Thanks!

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  89. I know this is an old review, but thanks for this and your comparison with the Rivendell, I really appreciate as I was considering a more traditional low trail 650b randonneur bike versus a Rivendell Sam Hillborne. Since I am short (51 or 52cm frames), I think the Rivendell would also be in 650b.

    Thanks - Chris

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  90. I recently took delivery of a Royal H randonneur bike with color scheme inspired by your creation. I have been riding it for the last month and am very impressed by Bryan Hollingsworth's skill in design and production. He delivered a fantastic bicycle (can be seen on his flicker photos labeled "John M's rando bike"). I used Campagnolo bar-end shifters that have a return to center feature, yet allows for multiple shifts like ergopower. The 11 speed group is well-behaved, and I am enjoying the 650b by 42 mm Hetre tires. The frame is large and oversized (as am I), but the ride is responsive, stable, and comfortable. The only difficulty was in the 36 spoke rear hub, no longer made by Campagnolo. We tried the Velo Orange Grand Cru but could not make it work. The 29 cog of the rear cassette rubbed on the spokes, and spacers did not do the job. Thankfully, Andrew and Tim of Yellow Jersey in Madison, WI had a NOS Centaur hub that worked great. Andrew also recommended the new Miche hubset or the Velocity rear hub. Having been a Campy nut for 30 years, I kept with the Centaur. The Athena equipped bike now works flawlessly.
    Thanks for the great blog, and keep enjoying cycling! John Myers

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  91. Addendum - the Flicker photo label is John M Rando bike

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