Some say that the best bike for the job is the one you have. And for many things, I think they're right. You don't need something fancy for commuting for example. A mid 80's mtb is a great starting point for a commuter that is tough and ready to hit the urban streets. For other cycle-born adventures, something a bit more specialized is sometimes required for the task. Take for example a bike for randonneuring. What is randonneuring you ask? Well, check out my post about it here for a detailed discussion. But to sum it up, randonneuring is an "organized ride of a distance equal to or greater than 200 km (125 miles) along a set route with a series of check points (controls) along the way. Time limits exist for the rides."
The basic touchstone that I've always worked from for a rando bike is that the bike must be comfortable, efficient, and reliable. Going back to that blog post, a key aspect of brevets is self-sufficiency. You need to have a bike that doesn't break down and the parts are robust. And if something does break, can it be repaired roadside or commonly found in a bike shop?
As far as personal must-haves for a good randonneuring bike: solid and dependable drivetrain, comfortable handlebar and saddle, fittings for fenders, and clearance for wide-ish tires (28mm minimum) is a solid foundation. Hub-powered dynamo lighting, from-saddle accessible luggage, and electronic navigation would be the next step up - but not completely necessary.
Bike fit is absolutely paramount. You want to be comfortable on the bike for hundreds of kilometers. Super aggressive positions are rarely encouraged. An even saddle and handlebar position is a good starting point, with many opting to raise the handlebars a bit higher. We've always encouraged people to leave 5-10mm on top of their threadless steerers for future adjustment when building up their bikes.
Does it have room for fenders? While it may not be a necessity if you live in Southern California, brevets are held rain or shine and 200km (the shortest distance) is a long way to go with a wet bum. If you have room for fenders, I'd always suggest installing them, for peace of mind and protection against that rain storm or errant puddle splash that is sure to happen if you don't have them fitted.
Does the bike have sufficient clearance for a reasonable size tire? Again, take a look at what you have installed already on the bike. If your bike has something between 28-35 mm (for 700C tired bike) you're probably in good stead for staying comfortable on a brevet. If your bike has 25mm, check and see if there is room to put wider tires into it. Can you ride a brevet with 25mm tires? Yes, but it can be uncomfortable for some, particularly those of us over 40, whose hands and backs are more "sensitive" to bumps and such. For 650b, it seems like 38-42mm is the sweet spot for quality tires.
When we were designing the Pass Hunter and Polyvalent, all these questions came to mind. We wanted to have frames that had sufficient clearance and fender and rack fittings for different setups. I think a Pass Hunter with a set of cable actuated disc brakes, a solid 10 or 11 speed set up with a compact double crank would be all I'd need to get through a full set of brevets this year and for many more years to come.
There is a huge variety of randonneur bike styles, so by no means is this comprehensive, just my opinions from years of riding brevets. Some people ride electronic drivetrains and time trial bikes, others ride super traditional setups with big, boxy bags. Someone even rode PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) on a scooter back in 2015. It really comes down to what works for you and what you're comfortable with!
What is your favorite randonneuring bike? What makes it so special to you? Let us know in the comments and share it with the wider world.