Randonneur bikes are on a bit of a tear right now, as evidenced by the “rando row” on the Philly Bike Expo floor inhabited by builders like Johnny Coast and J.P Weigle. Although rando bikes aren’t deliberately designed to be anachronistic, with the fenders, lights and greater tire clearances required by randonneur rides such as Paris-Brest-Paris, they hearken back to the days when such design characteristics were de rigeur.
This presents a bit of a problem for ride participants and the builders who make these bikes. There’s much to be said for modern components, which work so well and incorporate so much intelligent engineering, but which may have abandoned compatibility with things like wider tires and fenders and 650b wheels. The result can be a mongrel hobbling together of old and new components from various manufacturers, with little recourse for finding replacement parts on the open road, should your 1972 Mafac centerpulls suffer a broken spring.
Into this breach between old world tradition and modern technology comes Velo Orange. The Annapolis, Maryland-based importer of bicycle components with classic designs and applications gives ample warning at its website: they are an “unusual business offering diverse products that may not run parallel to what you’d see from many mainstream companies and shops.”
The staff at Velo Orange are active riders and enthusiasts themselves, and so when a part doesn’t exist to suit their needs (or which is no longer being produced), they’ll step up to the plate with a design, find a builder to make the parts, and import them to the U.S. for all of us to use and enjoy.
The active randonneur or cyclo-tourist will find their needs met by Velo Orange. A good example of a product that bridges tradition and modern innovation is their newly released Nouveau Randonneur handlebars. Designed with a shallow drop and gently swept back to accommodate a randonneur’s chief concern, comfort, these bars are also designed for aero brake/shift levers – an innovation far from the purview of many designers of original, classic rando bars.
Another Velo Orange offering that fills a modern need for a classic design are the Dynasis downtube shifters made by Dia-Compe. With the growing popularity of Eroica-style vintage events and their equipment restrictions, these specially designed levers allow the rider to use a larger, wide-range rear cogset of 10 or even 11 speeds without indexing (most component manufacturers stopped making downtube indexed shift levers after 9-speed). With their old-school “analog” design, a wide range of numbers of rear sprockets can be used without concern for spacing and compatibility issues that largely prevent cyclists from using parts from different component manufacturers in our modern age.
But you’re also never far from outright, unabashed nostalgia at Velo Orange, which warms the hearts of those of us of a certain age: You can buy sharp-looking gum rubber hoods for your neo-retro downtube shifters, or genuine leather toe straps (remember those?) with elegant Gran Cru toe strap buttons.
Velo Orange manages to exist firmly in the modern age while simultaneously evoking the class and elegance of a bygone era of cycling. It’s a balance that’s not easy to maintain, but perhaps it’s not surprising from this iconoclastic company whose motto exhorts cyclists to “Enjoy Life.”