Randonneurs are something of a French Classic. As the name implies, they are for Randonées, a type of sports cycling also known as Brevet or Audax riding. The French term Randonée itself is rather general, literally meaning ramble or trek. The Randonnee style of riding evolved in early 20th century France, and consists of organised rides over long distances (200km or more). Riders are expected to be self-sufficient and Randonnees may involve an element of orienteering, however there is no competitive element.
The Randonneur bicycle evolved around the requirement for a sports bike that could be ridden all day long, and carry everything a rider would need. As such they are generally relatively lightweight, with full mudguards, provision for lights and panniers. The resulting machine is something akin to a cross between a road bike and a touring bike, and as such they are very practical everyday bikes, leading to their recent resurgence in popularity. They could be described as the ‘original hybrid’, and make a great commuting bike for those who prefer a retro aesthetic. Able to handle a variety of terrain and riding styles, they are a good choice for those looking for one bike that fits all.
Randonneurs had to be able to cope with anything old European roads could throw at them, with surfaces varying from dirt tracks to cobbles. They generally have 650B wheels, which are halfway between modern 26″ mountain bike and 700C road wheels. This allowed them to use fat tyres which would cope on anything from grass to gravel. Lauded by many as a happy medium, 650B is now making a comeback on mountain bikes.
I found this example at a charity sale, I was instantly drawn to it’s super ’70s orange paint job (reminiscent of Eddy Merckx hour record Colnago – to me at least). It’s actually a youth bike, with a 50cm frame and 650A wheels. 650A wheels are slightly larger than 650B, but take a skinnier tyre , meaning the overall size is very similar (around 650 mm – hence the name). It was in excellent condition and only needed cleaning and servicing before moving on to its next adventure – even the tyres were still in good condition – which was good news for me as 650A tyres are a pain to find these days!