First Impression: Soma Grand Randonneur

(the bike, not me*)

I’ve had a few questions about my Soma Grand Randonneur since @somafab tweeted a picture of it. If you aren’t familiar, it is a randonneuse frame designed for riding brevets and a product of cooperation between Soma Fabrications in San Francisco and Mike Kone of Rene Herse/Boulder Bikes in, well, Boulder, Colorado. My frame, one of the first, arrived on October 14, so I’ve been riding it not even three weeks yet. The picture above was from the first ride and taken, appropriately enough, in front of a race track.

the fork crown race seat non-event

Apparently the the crown race seat diameter was too wide on the first batch of forks. Bike Forums has started to become a very caustic place, and a thread started with detractors ready to pounce on it.

Too wide is not a problem, just machine them down. If they were too small, that would be a problem. We all know by now that fission (splitting) is easier than fusion (adding).

My advice, if you have the tools or want to use the fork with and older headset, buy from Soma. If not, buy it from Boulder Bikes who has fixed them already (as I did)… or wait for Soma’s second batch. Doom predictions on Bike Forums notwithstanding. Some people are just haters.

fender fit

The installed fenders are Berthoud 50mm also bought from Boulder Bike. They fit perfectly without any modification at all. Out of the box, with just a single leather washer at the mount points gives a perfect round fender line.




On the other hand, that will give you an excessively safe 20 mm of tire clearance even with Grand Bois Hetre tires (I have the Extra Legers). And yes, the wheel comes off without deflating the tire. I like a tighter fender fit than that, so I will be adding 8mm wine cork spacers soon. Because the GR sports vertical dropouts, even less clearance than that is possible without having to deflate the tire. [Insert appropriate fender clearance and safety issues disclaimer here.]

The point is, the fenders went on without any bending of the fender or struts. Of course, holes had to be drilled for the seat stay bridge (rear) and another for the rack-to-fender mount (front).

rack fit

I can’t really speak to this. I used a Nitto Campee rack rescued from another bike. I bent it to fit that bike, and then tried to bend it to fit the GR. Eventually it worked but the GR fork was designed with this rack in mind. It should have taken only splaying the struts wide enough to mount on the fork. That didn’t happen, and that’s my fault. Regardless, I’m happy with the final result.

Mike Kone helped me understand what happened there and after a few email exchanges, it became clear that one of trademarks is precise measurements.

design & construction

It’s a beautiful bike, with clean welds, and light tubing (my 61cm weighed in at 25.5 lbs with rack, fenders, and wheels). The color, which I expected to be an aesthetic problem for me, immediately grew on me. It’s unique, classic and even a bit sophisticated looking. Pump pegs, bosses for a third bottle cage, integrated rear brake stop are all nice features that add to the fit and finish. Decals are under the clearcoat.


The ride is more reminiscent of my 80’s Trek 560ex than my touring bike, yet it is at least as comfortable to ride. That is, as far as I remember… my other bikes have been collecting dust since the GR arrived. (Ah, new love!)

It’s my first 650b bike, so I am loath to make too many comparisons. I’m just having fun on it. Fun riding up the volcano, fun riding my favorite fast flat, fun getting my coffee in the morning. It’s even fun to look at while I drink my coffee.

One caveat. If you’re sniffing around Grand Randonneur as a touring bike, I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. The GR frame and fork are purpose built for randoneurring. The frame is light and sporty and I can imagine it being too lithe to handle a heavily load. Further, the rider is farther back towards the rear axle than on an intended touring bike. Even though there are rear rack mounting bosses, heel strike on the panniers would likely be a problem. I have not tried mounting a rack and panniers, nor intend to. Maybe that’s the chainstay length or maybe the seat tube angle. I’m no geometry expert.

Having said that, I’ve rode two long tours on a cyclocross bike and as a Warm Showers host, I’ve seen a several strange choices for touring bikes come through.

If you are a randonneur, this could be your purpose-built bike. But for a cyclotourist, not so much.

  • I just became a member of RUSA and haven’t completed a brevet yet. After I do that, I’ll call myself a randonneur. In any event, it’s doubtful I’ll ever use the term “grand randonneur”.

Update: I just posted this ride report where I touch on how it rides. [tldr AWESOME!]

2 thoughts on “First Impression: Soma Grand Randonneur

  1. Dave, Saw this after e-mail exchanges. Great site, and super pictures.
    1. Do you just add 8 mm of cork at each point to reduce the fender line?
    2. What type of decalluer do you use for the front bag?
    3 What rims did you use?
    4. Notice the bar end shifters. Did you route the shifting cables up the entire handlebar and out at the stem? Or do they come out at the end of the drops.

    I believe a Super Radonneur is one who does a complete brevet series in 1 calender year. Did my first 200k in late March on my 37 year old Schwinn Voyageur II, bought before I got married. Bike finally fulfilled its destiny.

    John Hawrylak
    Woodstown NJ

    1. Whew! I saw your list of bikes on BikeForums. The Schwinn might have fulfilled its destiny, but you certainly earned your colors on a it — you da man!

      1. Yes, adding the same amount of spacing at each point is the idea. In practice, concentric circles don’t work that way. The important part is the spacing at the chainstay bridge. With enough of a gap there the tire can come off without deflating it. (Of course if you’re removing the tire, it’s probably because it’s flat — just remember to inflate it after remounting the wheel, not before.) Once the fender is properly spaced there, I use the struts to position it correctly at the other end. The next step usually requires pulling the fender up a bit to meet the seatstay mount. I adjust these two points until the fender is under as little stress as possible while maintaining even spacing between them. Mark and drill a new hole in the fender there, and mount. A bit of foil tape covers any previous holes and stays put.

      2. I have the Berthoud decaleur. I like it a lot. People who know more about bikes than me think it’s too complicated. The VO is an inexpensive option and you’re likely to get many miles out of it like Randonoodler did. If one of the two parts break, you can just buy that part. There are more expensive options like those offered at Compass Bicycles who offer a 10 year warrantee to make sure you’re covered should a break ever happen. Someday I’d like to get a rack with an integrated decaleur, like this one does without having to resort to p-clamps.

      3. The rims are Velocity Synergy 32h, polished. They’re my first hand built wheels and I am cautiously optimistic. The latest Bicycle Quarterly has a detailed review on 650b rims suitable for randonneuring. The only games in town at the moment are the Synergy, Pacenti PL23’s (Pacenti works through Velocity), and the newcomer Velocity A23’s. The folks at Velocity tell me there is a shipment of reflective (black) Synergy rims with machined sidewalls (MSW) due in the next few weeks. I’ll be building my next set with a pair of those. Reflective A23’s can only be had if someone can convince Euro-Asia Imports to order a run (their exclusive rights to distribute the Velocity rims continues through next summer). Also, the folks at our Soma say their own 650b rims are in the works, we should expect to start seeing them “in a few months”.

      4. It (I only have one shifter, derailleur, and cable) comes out the handlebar where the drop starts to bend up. This weekend, I’ll be installing a granny and will add the left shifter at the downtube boss, like on my Rivendell. This configuration works best for me.

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