The Background:

(Scroll down to the ‘review’ section below if you aren’t interested in my journey to find the perfect touring and all-season commuting bike)

I had been thinking about getting a good quality all-season commuting and long-distance touring bike for many years. However, variety and local availability of such bikes always seemed too difficult and restrictive compared to more mainstream sports and recreation bikes in Australia. What led me to really start hunting around for a reliable and capable commuting and touring bike was when I started full time work earlier this year with my offices located only 9.5km away from where I live. The best part was that 90% of the journey was along a rather nice, uninterrupted Principle Shared Path (PSP) that runs adjacent to the motorway connecting to the city centre.

I had originally considered buying a light and fast carbon road bike, however I soon realised the impracticality of this option as there were no free lockers available at my workplace to store my belongings, so I would need a bike that is capable to mounting a rack and loaded pannier bags each day. Additionally I would also be cycling into work all year round, not just in fair weather, so I needed a bike that was durable and had all the mounting points for a full set of mudguards (fenders) to protect myself and the bike from water and grit. I had also been wanting to do some cycle touring in the future, so it made sense to get a touring bike.

The challenge was on. I spent around 8 weeks researching and reading about a variety of different bikes and options on the market. As I had found earlier there wasn’t much of a market for touring bikes in Australia; the majority of well designed and good quality bikes were sold in the larger markets of the UK, Europe and America.

I looked into a variety of options available both in Australia and from overseas. I noticed that there  were many bikes on the market being sold as ‘adventure’ touring or all-season commuting bikes, being a hybrid cross between traditional touring bikes and cyclocross bikes with features such as steel frames, disc brakes and mountain bike influenced geometry. Examples included the Genesis ‘Crux De Ferr‘ and ‘Day 01 Alfine‘, the Salsa ‘Fargo‘ and ‘Vaya‘, the Singular ‘Peregrine‘, and also the Kona ‘Honky Inc‘. As I mentioned earlier these types of bikes seem to be on the rise, so there are probably a lot more options and examples out there, this is just a snapshot of some of the options I had considered.

However I decided that I didn’t want a bike that was racy or part cyclocross. Instead I wanted something that was easy to ride, comfortable, stable, reliable, and suitable for fully loaded touring and all-season commuting. This meant a bike with heavy duty tyres, stronger wheels, a lower bottom bracket, longer chainstays and wider gear range than what was provided on the hybrid ‘adventure’ touring styled bikes I had been looking at. With this in mind, I decided to go back to basics and look at more ‘traditional’ touring bikes. My first thought was the Surly ‘Long Haul Trucker‘ (LHT) which is an extremely popular and well-known commuting and touring bike in its home country of America. However I soon found that getting hold of a LHT was near on impossible through a local store as every store that I contacted did not stock the bike for test rides, and only a small number offered to order it in (if I paid for it in advance!). There were a few options for ordering in either a frame set or the complete LHT package from overseas or from stores in the eastern states (plug to the crew at Cheeky Transport in Newtown, Sydney for their valuable assistance and advice) however the issue regarding correct bike sizing and not being able to test ride the bike before purchasing was still unresolved. I also looked into the Kona ‘Sutra‘, however I experienced similar issues in regards to local availability as with the LHT.

I had almost given up all hope when I came across a mention of the Vivente ‘World Randonneur’ (VWR) touring bicycle which had been recommended to me by fellow member on a cycling forum who was aware of my search for a locally available quality touring bicycle. After a few phone calls and emails I found that a local bike store just out of the city (Quantum Bicycles, North Perth) actually had the latest models and a few varieties of the VWR in stock. Bingo! Finally I was in luck!

I test rode both the ‘trekking bar’ version and the ‘drop bar with STI’ version of the VWR and found that although the trekking bar version was quite comfortable and allowed a variety of hand positions I still preferred the drop bar version as my commute often involves cycling directly into a strong afternoon headwind throughout most of the year. Any way I could reduce my wind resistance would make the commute home much easier and more enjoyable. Also, as a personal preference, I prefer the traditional aesthetic of a drop bar bicycle. The RRP of the drop bar with STI lever VWR was $1949 plus another $50 for shipping. I would usually not be happy to pay full retail plus shipping on any large purchase, however, given the lack of alternatives and competition, I really didn’t have any bargaining power. In this situation I preferred to buy the bike locally so I could take it for a test ride and be fitted correctly.


The Bike (drop bar STI version):

Vivente World Randonneur 2012

Vivente World Randonneur 2012 – stock (drop bar STI version)

Frame 100% Cr-Mo tubing, double butted main tubes, 3 bidon mounts, spare spoke mounts, centre stand attachment plate, 700x35C (XS is 26×1.4″).
Fork 1-1/8″, 100% cr-mo steel, threadless, rack mounts, pivots, disc brake mounts, light cable mounts.
Attachments Full set of metric 5mm stainless steel allen head screws with washers.
Handlebars Nitto Noodle, silver, 140mm drop, 95mm reach, 420/440/460 wide
Handlebar stem Vivente 10 degree, 60/80/100/120mm.
Handlebar tape Velo Eva cork with gel.
Saddle WTB, She Progel (XS, S, M) and Speed V Progel (L,XL,XXL).
Seatpost Kalloy 27.2 micro adjustable alloy. 250/300mm.
Pedals Shimano M505, SPD, clipless double sided.
Rims Front-Alex ACE 19, 36H, CNC. Rear-Alex DH19, 36H, CNC.
Tyres Schwalbe Marathon700x35C (26×1.4 on XS).
Front hub Shimano Deore XT dynamo, 6V-3W, 36H, w/centre lock, QR.
Rear hub Shimano freehub, Deore LX, 36H, QR, 9 speed.
Spokes Rear-DT Alpine III 13/15/14G, Front DT Champion 14G, cross 3.
Tubes 700x35C, 0.9mm, Schrader. (26×1.4″on XS).
Shiftlevers Shimano Tiagra 9sp STI.
Crankset Sugino Alpina 600T 48/36/26T, 165/170/175 mm cranks.
Bottom bracket Shimano UN-54-113mm.
Fr Derailleur Shimano Tiagra for triple.
Rr Derailleur Shimano Deore LX 9 sp.
Chain Shimano CN-HG53 narrow for 9sp.
Cassette Shimano Deore 9sp, NI plated, 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32T.
Fr Brake Shimano cable disc, metal pads, 160mm rotor w/lockring.
Rr Brake Shimano cantilever (R550) w/severe condition shoe.
Brakelevers Shimano Tiagra drop bar STI system. Spacers for small hands.
Brakecables Shimano.
Fr Light Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ Fly RT w/standlight and sensor.
Rr Light Busch & Muller Toplight line plus for day night running.
Fr carrier Not supplied. Mounting kit and info supplied for Tubus Duo.
Rr Carrier Tubus Logo, black, cr-mo steel.
Mudguards Vivente, black, w/stainless steel adjustable mounts.
Horn 150mm black bugle mounted to custom headset spacer.
Bidon cages Black, 6mm alloy, 2 pce.
Centre stand Not supplied. Attachment plate for Pletscher 2-legged on frame.
Spare Spokes DT, 2 pce for each side of each wheel supplied.
Fr Hanger Fr cantilever hanger supplied for back-up on long tours.
 Specification list sourced from the official Vivente website here.
 

The Review:

Now that I have owned the bike for just over a month I believe that I am in a good position to provide a ‘first impressions’ review of the bike and it’s features. I intend on taking the VWR over to Europe with me in July to do some touring while I am there so I will be posting an updated review after completing my trip and using the bike for a longer period of time. So stay tuned for my updated review in September 2012.

1. Value for money

As a former full-time student I am still extremely conscious of where and how my money is spent. I don’t mind spending what some people would consider a large amount of money provided that I am getting good value and I will get many enjoyable years of use. The same applies to bicycles.

Although the VWR isn’t the cheapest touring bicycle on the market (the complete LHT can be had for around $1600 at some stores) it is known to be one of the best value touring bicycles available on the global market given the feature set, design, and quality of the bike. As shown in the above spec list, the VWR has a number of ‘hidden’ features not immediately obvious to someone not familiar with bicycle components that make it such good quality and value. Examples include the integrated Shimano XT dynamo hub, Busch and Muller light set (German made), wheels with heavy duty touring rims, stainless steel DT spokes and Schwalbe Marathon tyres, full mudguards, front disc brake, Nitto Noodle handlebars (a favourite for tourers), wide ranged Shimano Tiagra/Deore LX/XT groupset and a Tubus Logo rear rack.

I already owned a Tubus Cosmo rear rack (an improved version of the Logo in stainless steel) and a Brooks B17 Imperial saddle so the bundled  WTB gel saddle and Logo rack were automatically redundant. I have added these onto my other flat bar urban bike so they aren’t going to waste. I would have also liked to see the B&M Lumotec IQ ‘Cyo‘ front light come with this bike instead of the ‘Fly‘ version, as the Cyo is a marginally brighter light for only a moderate increase in price. Aushiker has a very comprehensive user review of the Cyo on his blog here. With this said the B&M Fly is still a very capable light and provides more than enough light output for most people for night commuting.

I would give the VWR a score of 10/10 if it was possible to order it without the saddle and rack, it came with the B&M Cyo light, and also if I didn’t have to pay the extra $50 for the freight.

Overall I give the VWR a solid score of 9/10 for value for money.

2. Aesthetics and design

Aesthetics is always a very subjective and delicate subject, especially when it comes to bicycles. My person opinion is that the VWR is not the prettiest bike out there that I have seen. The paintwork is good quality but essentially a boring gloss black enamel with a ‘Vivente’ logo on the down tube, and a ‘World Randonneur’ decal on the top tube which looks a little out of place. However, one could argue (as they have done on the official VWR website) that a touring bike is not supposed to be a pretty bike. It’s all about function and practicality! The black paintwork serves to protect the frame metal from the elements and not look too dirty from mud, grease etc encountered during commuting and touring (potentially handy if you are trying to convince a hotel owner to let you keep the bike inside!).

On that same note, a relative of mine who knows next to nothing about bikes recently commented that they were surprised that my VWR cost so much, and that it looked very understated. Some people might not like this considering they have paid so much and want others to appreciate it. I see the benefit in that it is less likely to attract attention from thieves and vandals. I’ve had a near new bike stolen before, it’s not fun. Anything that reduces the chance someone will steal your ride is a positive in my experience.

Concerning the actual frame, there are a few subtle integrated design features of the VWR which nod to it’s practical touring heritage. This includes the mounting point on the front fork for a regular cantilever brake if the disc break should fail (an unlikely scenario but it’s always nice to have a second option), a third bidon (water bottle) mounting point on the underside of the down tube (perfect for storing a fuel canister), an attachment plate on the underside of the bike for a kickstand should you desire one, a mounting point on the non-drive side chainstay for attaching a few spare spokes, and also attachment hangers for a traditional style hand pump on the underside of the top tube. These are all very nice features not usually found an a regular bike, you don’t have to use them and they aren’t noticeable. However if you are planning a longer distance, self-supported tour you will appreciate the extra time and effort Vivente spent designing these features onto this bike to make your life that little bit easier.

One aspect that I am not super excited about on the VWR was the multiple cables and wires that run everywhere due to the old style STI levers and dynamo lighting. It would have been nice to have an internal cable routing system rather than having to have zip-ties everywhere. However this would have added to the cost and complication of building the frame, in addition to making the bike look nicer and potentially more attractive to cretins as discussed previously.

So, given this consideration, I give the VWR a score of 8/10 for aesthetics and design

3. Quality and durability

I have been very impressed over the past few weeks with how solid and sturdy this bike is to ride. You really don’t have to worry about bumps in the road or that sneaker pot hole much, thanks to the strong, stable steel frame, 700c wheels, and wide, puncture resistant 35mm tyres that run comfortably run at 80PSI (I usually have the front tyre at 70PSI and the rear at 80PSI).

I am confident that this bike will last me many decades of enjoyable use, provided that basic maintenance and care is applied as needed. I’ll give an update on durability after I get back from touring in Europe later this year, which will involve packing it in a box and shipping it via plane, in addition to a few weeks of loaded touring over various terrain.

The VWR gets 10/10 for quality and durability.

4. Customer service and support

This is another area where the VWR excels, and was ultimately the reason why I purchased it. Not only was I able to find it stocked at a local store (of which has a good reputation in the local cycling community) but the advice and support from Noel McFarlane at Vivente was excellent. Noel replied to my various questions regarding the bike even while he was travelling in Taipei on business for a cycling convention. Noel is also always happy to take on any suggestions on how the VWR can be improved and he also uses each new model himself each year to test it and make improvements. Not many other companies are as dedicated to the cause of consistent improvement and customer support as Vivente.

The Vivente website is also jam packed with useful information about their bicycles explaining why it was designed a certain way, and also providing general information and resources about commuting and touring including how to package your bicycle for overseas transport.

I happily give the VWR a 10/10 for service and support.

5. Final thoughts

As an off the shelf touring bike the VWR is almost perfect and excellent ‘bang for buck’. Add this to the local availability, excellent support and customer communication, and that the VWR is owned and designed by an Australian company (led by Noel McFarlane), it becomes obvious that the VWR is one of the best options out there for anyone wanting a high quality bicycle ready off the shelf for long distance touring and all-season commuting. Don’t be put off by the slightly higher upfront cost; the small difference compared to some other options on the market will soon be forgotten once you see how well thought out a package the bike is and how enjoyable it is to ride.

The only changes I made to the bike was to replace the rear rack with a Tubus Cosmo (only because I already had it, the stock Logo rack is more than capable), replace the WTB gel saddle (which I found terribly uncomfortable – but I also appreciate that bike saddles are a personal choice) with my super comfy, broken-in Brooks B17 Imperial saddle, and I also added a pair of high powered LED Ay Up! V Twin Sports lights to add an extra element of visibility when riding at night (the dynamo lights are more than adequate, I already owned the Ay Up lights and figured that the more light the better when commuting at night). I also plan to add a Tubus ‘Nova‘ stainless steel lowrider front rack and some form of frame/handlebar mounted rear view mirror to the bike for when I go touring. As a small side note I’d also like to point out that, for reasons not explained by Vivente, the tubes on the VWR have Schrader style valves, this isn’t a major issue as most people have an adapter on their pump however it is unusual considering most other touring and road bikes use the Presta style valve.

Here’s what the bike currently looks like with the replaced rear rack, saddle and high powered LED bar lights:

Vivente World Randonneur 2012 - modified

Overall score: 92% (37 out of a possible 40).

Highly recommended!

I hope you enjoyed my review, please feel free to share it on your preferred social networking service or discussion forum if you think others will benefit from the content in this article. Just make sure you reference/link it back to me. More to come soon, please bookmark and stay tuned!

As always, happy cycling!

Karl

**UPDATE 06/10/2012**

After using this bike for over 4 weeks in Europe, over which I was on the road actively touring every day for over 2 weeks, I have to say that I am still impressed with this bike. I was comfortable and handled a full load extremely well. I had no issues flying down some downhill roads even with all my gear loaded up on the bike. I also took the bike across some very bumpy and rough dirt tracks with/without a load and it performed well in all occasions. However, one issue I did have was that the gearing was a little too high while fully loaded with ~15kg of gear, even in the lowest gear. This resulted in some knee pain (as I’ll discuss in a new post soon about my trip) due to having to crank up hills. I often got off the bike and had to push it up even moderate hills as the gearing wasn’t low enough. I will be looking into swapping the 26T granny gear chainring with a 24T instead which should allow that bit of extra assistance with hills without affecting the rest of the set up.

**UPDATE 11/04/2017**

Over five years later the VWR is still going strong as an all-purpose bicycle that I use for commuting, local trips, groceries and trips to the coast. I replaced the chain after about 10,000km of travel and had a wheel trued after another bike rider crashed into me while riding. I also had to replace the spade connectors for the dynamo hub to front dynamo light, as the original connection was crimped only and not soldered or heat shrunk, so it eventually broke. All in all, I maintain that any VWR you buy from Vivente will be bomb-proof and a highly versatile human powered freedom machine.