The Evolution of the World Randonneur
Our beginnings were in the mid-1970’s in the inner city of Sydney. A group, most of whom were students, became involved in bike touring.
There weren’t many bike shops. Bikes in those shops were mostly oriented towards racing or were poor quality. A “custom building” scene evolved for people who wanted quality bikes but who needed more versatility than racing bikes. The main operation was Man Powered Vehicles (MPV) in Bourke St Waterloo.
A high proportion of MPV bikes were being used for touring. The frame builders and customers learned that the same bikes made for long distance touring were well suited to city riding. The inner city roads were just as rough as country roads so very durable wheels were needed. Whether carrying shopping back from the markets, or books back from the library, the well-geared touring bikes that were made to carry loads came up trumps.
One of the students that had drifted into bike touring, Noel McFarlane, (pictured above with David Walton) started Calypso Cycles in North Newtown in 1979. He had toured much of Australia and had also done a six month tour in India and Sri Lanka. In the early years, most bikes sold at Calypso were built from scratch. But the crew there was constrained by what components and frames were available to them at a wholesale level. It was a lot of work to make each bike this way. They pondered how the bikes could be manufactured more efficiently and at a better price. Building bikes one at a time was costing the customers more than necessary.
In late 1981, Calypso, in conjunction with a fledging importing company, Gemini Bicycles, worked out how the bikes could be standardised so they could be made in a bike factory in Japan. The first model was called the Gemini Randonneur and its design arose directly from the custom built touring bikes in Calypso Cycles. A few years later came the World Randonneur.
Gemini Bicycles became committed to touring bike development. The staff all toured and commuted by bike. They road-tested new components prior to use on production bikes. Now, over 30 years later, the modern line of bikes has this strong connection with both city riding and touring.
Australia was not a world leader in these facets of cycling and new innovations were best seen at international bike shows. The Eurobike show, which started in the early 1990s became a major long term influence on World Randonneurs. Also, attending Eurobike allowed time for an annual bike tour in Europe where bike touring is a normal activity.
The driving forces in the mainstream bike industry became focused on the sporting side of cycling and on bike weight. Touring designers saw things a bit differently. Having to carry the weight for longer distances made weight important in touring bike design. But it wasn’t an obsession. Balancing efficiency and comfort was more central. And there were other issues. Bikes also had to be strong. They needed to be fit-for-purpose, ready for the road, serviceable, long-lasting, safe and value for money. Not having unique components that became obsolete was another developing issue.
Under the European influence, the World Randonneur range of bikes started to get components that had in Australia been treated as post-purchase items. Dynamo hubs, lights, racks, mudguards and kickstands. A decade of refinement followed. We were to discover that 80% of the total design work was in perfecting the selection and integration of these parts.