The Randonee

I went through half a dozen different touring bikes before I finally found what I had been looking for. Actually, I hadn't had that many different bikes since they were all basically light touring bikes like was so popular around the mid 1980s up into till the mid 1990s. In spite of the name on them, they were all basically the same bikes. They had lugs for two or three water bottles and for a rear rack but no provisions for a front rack. Also about 28mm tires were the largest you could get on it and no room for fenders.

While there are no REI stores in the area where I live, I do visit them when I get to Colorado Springs. I'd had a chance to look at the Randonee, which looked rather interesting, but they didn't have one my size so I sort of forgot about it. Then I received one of their clearance sales brochures which showed the 1998 Randonee on closeout for $499 which was $200 off their regular price. I called their 1-800 number and found they had no large size bikes left in stock at the mail-order center, however the lady checked store inventories and found the one in Framingham, MA.

I called that store and they assured me that they had one large size Randonee in stock and would ship it to me. However, they wanted $130 to pull it out of the box, assemble it, then take it apart and repack it for shipment, plus $60 for shipping charges. I told the sales guy that was ridiculous but he said it was their policy. I asked for the store manager and after a bit of negotiating, he agreed to ship it still in the box for actual UPS shipping charges only. However I would have to sign a release since they hadn't "checked it out and tuned it up". That was fine with me because I always went through any bike I bought before riding it. A few days later a guy in a brown truck delivered the box to my front porch.

It was the usual campstove green color but that can be an asset when trying to camp discreetly. I once camped where I shouldn't be and the lake police spotted my chrome folding bike from a quarter mile away. Fortunately they had to go some seven miles around the lake to get there and I was long gone. After checking all the bearings, which I found to be adequately lubed and adjusted, I came face to face with a headset of the sorts I'd never seen. It was one of those new fangled threadless headsets with a truly weird way of adjusting it. After a certain amount of reverse engineering and tinkering, my learning curve finally figured out how the double tapered rings worked.

It also came with a Brooks Comfort Saddle which looked and felt very much like the variety of gel padded saddles on the market. I'd ridden a Brooks Team Pro for years, moving it from one bike to the next, and was totally happy with it. However since this was a Brooks and supposedly built for comfort, I left it on. A few club rides showed that the stem was both too long and too low so I called REI and told them what I needed. A new stem of the correct angle and length was sent immediately at no charge. Can't get much better Customer Service than that.

I had perhaps fifty miles on the bike, mostly short club rides, when it came time for the Geezer's first tour from Memphis down the river delta to Vicksburg. My new bike was ready to go.

The first day was about 50 miles and by the time I'd done 30, I was getting very sore where the sun don't shine. Rearranging shorts and changing saddle positions didn't help. Joe DiMonico gave me a little green can of Bag Balm which helped a lot but the situation became worse. By the time we got to Tunica, I was in real misery. By slathering on the Bag Balm before leaving and at every opportunity along the way, I was able to keep doing our typical Geezer distances.

Greenville was the first town of any size and the likelihood of a bicycle shop. Sure enough one was listed in the phone book but it turned out to be mostly kid bikes and skateboards. The only saddles he had in stock were worse than what I had or one of those huge tractor seats which he tried to sell me as the cure for all ills. I decided to stick with what I had. The first thing I did after I got home was to install my trust old Brooks Team Pro. Never had a hint of saddle pains since.

This was the first bike I ever had that just felt like an old friend and it was a pleasure to ride. It's carried me on everything from the club rides to several tours. I don't know if it has been careful riding or just plain luck but I wore out the first set of 700c x 35 Avocet Cross tires without ever having a flat. I replaced them at a little over 2000 miles with the same tires along with new tubes and replace the rim strip with Velox. I might also say that after the initial tensioning and stress relieving the wheels, after some 2000 miles, they are still true and tight.

Photos  |  Related Story: Getting Started In Cycling

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Copyright 2004 by Jim Foreman