The idea of building a 650A Randonneur bike came about after reading articles in the US cycling press about 650B French Randonneur bikes. I have never liked the MTB 26” wheel size, as from my experience, I found they didn't roll as well as older British 26” wheel sizes. The French 650B size is not widely available in the UK or Ireland, but tyres and rims were available in 650A or 26 x 1 3/8. Could I build a randonneur bicycle with 650A wheels, with a Schmidt SON lighting system for under £1000? This was the challenge. I began by sourcing a suitable steel frame. It was tired as found and I had it powdercoated a pale blue colour. It was fitted with a new Tange-Seiki threaded headset. The frame was not to be altered as it was worth more in it's orginal condition, so this was the first compromise. I used SKS MTB muguards, with Brooks leather mudflaps front and rear. A new triple chainset for square taper bottom bracket was sourced and a sealed BB unit was also fitted.
I chose to use some Sunrace components as I wanted to see how they well they worked, when compared to the more expensive brand name parts. The front stainless steel rack is a Velo Orange 'PassHunter' which didn't fit the frame as received. It had to be cut and re-welded to make it fit.
The STI levers whilst comfortable, don't allow the use of a handlebar bag, because of the routing of the cables like Shimano. They do work very well though. The wheels were built with stainless spokes and alloy rims. Tyres are Schwalbe. I have received comment about Schwalbe tyres being heavy and not rolling well. (I don't believe the correspondent had actually used the tyres in question, but had obtained his information from internet forums). I have to say, I have found them great, they are 590 x 37, roll well, comfortable on our less than perfect road surface, offer some degree of puncture resistance and are a heck of a lot better than some of the tyres I have used over the past decades. I have no problem riding the bike on these tyres for day rides or keeping up with others on bikes equipped with 700c wheels. The lighting system with the Schmidt SON Klassic hub is brilliant. I use the hub with a B & M Cyo and B & M rear light and I have no problem being seen and more importantly, being able to see and ride safely on the rural roads of the area.
I was able to build the bike for less than £1000. Am I happy with it? Yes, I certainly am, but having built the bike up, I know the problems encountered and compromises I had to make, so a Mk2 version will address some of these shortcomings. I enjoyed building the bike and working out the solutions.
I am very pleased with how well the bike rides and intend to take it on a tour next year. This year in terms of touring, did not pan out, owing to a health problem requiring surgery. (I am now well into the post op recovery, but still not able to drive or ride the bike). I loaned the bike to a friend for his evaluation. He rode upwards of 500 miles on the bike in the autumn of 2012. His impression was favourable, particularly the lighting system. If you were to commission a custom made frame, then your bespoke frame could address many of the pitfalls of using an existing frame, however this would be at a significantly increased cost. My bike was built to test ideas, assess components and come in under a strict budget limit. There was always going to be compromises, as compared to a bespoke bells and whistles solution, with a budget for branded components. Has my idea worked and delivered a bike which is pleasant to ride and fit for purpose? I think so. Following his testing of the bike, my friend's comment was, 'You could ride round the world on it'.