Monday, January 16, 2012

Randonneuring- The revival of cyclo-touring

Not Just for the Old guys anymore.

Randonneuring... this word may convey different images in a readers mind. To some it may bring to mind a group of 70 somethings with their gray whitish beards, riding on their steel framed, pannier loaded machines. Many in the younger audience are unfamiliar with this term and it's significance. Many yet don't realize that they don't need a cyclocross bike to be able to ride off the pavement. For those of you who are outside the loop, let me fill you in on what randonneuring is. 

Bicycles have been ridden on the dirt long before the invention of the mountain bike. In fact, since the early part of the 20th century, bicycles were raced mostly on dirt roads throughout Europe, as cars had not yet become as popular as they are today. Many people still rode on horseback and there was not alot of demand for paved roads during this time. The bicycles they rode back then were well designed and held up to a variety of road conditions and abuse. These were the steel road bikes of old, the same bikes many randonneuring bicycles are modeled after today. As racing became popular in countries like Italy and France, touring the countryside became a pastime of people living in the British Isles. Distances became longer and randonneuring was born.

The re-introduction of randonneuring bikes has come with a pretty hefty price tag; Many of these bikes are selling for  a thousand dollars and up just for the frame. Surly, PashleyVelo Orange and yip san bikes have become popular for introducing some models into the market. Randonneuring events such as gravel grinders are starting to become more popular. These distance events are unsupported, meaning no one to change your tire if you have a flat out on the road. These point A to point B races that go through back country dirt and loose gravel roads. The events are day long races held regardless of the weather or amount of daylight. 

I have been looking for a cyclocross bike for quite some time to get into this re-emerging form of cycling. Not being able to justify owning another bike in my garage. I have decided to convert my 1979 Schwinn Le Tour into a randonneuring machine. I have already ordered some of the key parts to making this change possible- a 9 speed freewheel, Panaracer touring tires, riser stem, fenders and suspension seat post for my Brooks-style saddle. I will convert my existing 10 speed to a randonneuring bike for around a hundred bucks, and I will show the reader step by step how they too can build a randonneuring machine while not sacrificing a whole paycheck to do so. Stay tuned for my documentary on my 10 speed to Rando-touring bike conversion.

Is a Schwinn Le Tour the best bicycle for this conversion? Before I hear from the critics I will be the first to say this isn't the easiest bike for this type of conversion. The reader will find it much more practical to go with a bicycle made from the mid 1980's and up. Much of the manufacturing specs and parts had become universal to every road bicycle by then. Schwinn's have quirky headtube, seatpost and brake hole diameters, but are not impossible to find parts for. Also, in many cases the rear triangle of the frame will require bending in order to fit a standard rear wheel with the larger freewheel (Velo Orange carries 126mm freehub wheelsets for around $280, bending is the more affordable workaround). I am choosing my Schwinn because it is initially cheaper in price, I have already invested in the initial restoration process, and because there were a surplus of these bikes made in the 70's bike boom, many hidden in the corners of people's garages.  My goal is to dispel myths that are associated with conversions like these, as well as myths pertaining to riding a road bike off road. This will be an interesting series of articles. I encourage the reader to subscribe and stay tuned for new developments. According to all the bike forums and information out there no one has done or recommends this type of conversion to date. It's a little disappointing, since there is a whole second hand market of mid 70's Schwinns out there. Most of these old bikes can bike picked up at a garage sale or craigslist for 50 dollars. So instead of buying another new bike, I will show the reader how to build a comparable touring bike at a fraction of the cost.

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