Saturday, December 26, 2015

SOMA Grand Randonneur: My review

The post sounded promising: “FS: SOMA Grand Randonneur complete, 65cm.“ I had had my eye on the SOMA Grand Randonneur earlier, especially during the 20%-off sales that SOMA runs once or twice a year. At $400 retail for frame and fork, the GR is a great deal. Much to my surprise, Jan Heine also reviewed it rather favorably in Bicycle Quarterly, at least in terms of ride quality and handling. I had just started a new job, providing some disposable income. My Gunnar Roadie 650B conversion had been quite the success. Which on the hand provided a good reason to not buy a similar type of bike, but on the other hand had convinced that the low-trail fat-tire 650B thing worked well for me. And the SOMA would allow for fat tires and fenders, something not possible on the Roadie. I gave it some thought and discussed it with the SO, but ultimately didn't bite. When the seller lowered the price by another hundred dollars, however, I couldn't see myself saying no any longer.

The build as sold was already very nice: Old Dura Ace hubs laced to Velocity Dyad rims, Nitto stem, bar-end shifters, Nitto Noodle handlebars, CR-720 canti brakes, 36/48 Sugino cranks, Nitto Campee Mini front rack, Compass Babyshoe Pass tires, Miche roller-bearing headset. After throwing on a saddle and pedals, the bike was ready to go. On the first test rides the bike felt okay but quite different from my Gunnar, despite having a similar geometry. I didn't think much of it and just kept riding. On a particularly rainy ride I overshifted, breaking a spoke in the process. In addition, I noticed a grey sludge on the headtube, right under the upper headset cup. From the beginning I had had a hard time properly adjusting the headset, and the sludge incident motivated me to investigate further. The previous owner had told me that the frame and fork had been prepared by Mike Kone of Boulder Bicycle, theoretically ruling out bad frame prep as the cause of the headset issues. Eventually I figured it out: The headset parts had been installed in the wrong order, with the cups and bearings slowly being ground away. Well, that certainly explained my difficulty in adjusting the headset and why the bike handled differently than the Gunnar.

Some 105 DT 7-speed shifters I had in a box, set to friction

Origin8 Classique drillium aero levers: Cheap but pretty good looking

The frame is borderline short for me, requiring a long stem even with long-ramp handlebars

Fender stays, bent the Peter Weigle way (he no longer seems to do this these days)

PDW safety fender tabs

Velo Orange decaleur: So far, so good.

With two coats of clear shellack, the color of the Newbaum's tape came out great

Patch from Falls Creek Outfitters

Unfortunately, shortly after replacing the headset (with another Miche), I had a bad crash, which took me off the bike for two months. And by now, non-studded tire riding season is mostly over. First impressions from riding with the fixed headset: Rides much better but still different from the Gunnar. Whereas the Gunnar feels very precise, going exactly where I want it to go, on the Grand Randonneur I've found myself occasionally running over things that I intended to steer around. In terms of performance, I don't have enough riding in yet to make any definitive claims. It certainly doesn't seem slow, but who knows... I'll follow-up on handling and performance in a separate post after I've gathered more data.

Also topic for a separate post is the wonderful custom rando bag that you can see in the pictures.

Build list:
Rims: Pacenti SL-23, 32 holes
Rear hub: Shimano Ultegra 6600
Front hub: Shutter Precision PV-8
Spokes: Sapim 2.0/1.8/2.0mm spokes
Bottom bracket: ?
Cranks: Sugino XD-701(?) 48/34t
Rear derailer: Shimano RSX?
Front derailer: Shimano RSX?
Front rack: Nitto Campee Mini (front tab removed)
Brakes: Tektro CR-720
Front light: Busch & Müller IQ Cyo Premium T senso plus
Rear light: Busch & Müller Secula Plus
Fenders: Velo Orange Zeppelin, with Portland Design Works safety tabs
Pedals: Shimano XT Trail clipless PD-M785
Seatpost: ?
Saddle: Brooks B17 Imperial
Stem: Nitto Technomic(?)
Handlebars: Nitto Randonneur B-132 (44cm)
Brake levers: Origin8 Classique
Handlebar tape: Newbaum's Lime green, clear shellacked
Headset: Miche needle-bearing
Decaleur: Velo Orange

Weight as shown but without the bag: 12.3 kg (27 lbs)


  1. Great review!

    Question: I'm 5'11 with a seat height of 72.5cm.

    Would you go 55 or 58... I feel like I'm right on the either or of sizing for this ride?

    1. It seems that the general consensus for this bike is to go up in sizing if you're in between sizes. As you can see, I have the bike set up with a lot of seat post and stem showing, plus a long stem, even though I do have quite a bit of saddle-to-bar drop. But I'm no expert in fitting.

    2. What’s your height and if you know it, you pubic bone height, or what’s the saddle height from the bb to the saddle?

    3. Tyler, I'm a little over 6'5", with a cycling inseam of 35 1/2"