More on Handlebars: Randonneur Model

My all-time favorite handlebar shape is the old AVA Randonneur:

The Randonneur shape makes the “behind the hoods” position even more comfortable than the Philippe Professionel. When you look at your hand as you hold the bars, your palm forms a cup-shape. Well-designed Randonneur handlebars curve upward to fit into that shape perfectly. When we rode PBP on a tandem with these bars in 2003, my hands were in great shape after 52 hours on the road, even though I held onto the bars pretty much the whole time. Here is a photo of the position “behind the hoods” with the Grand Bois Randonneur bars:

The tops are not horizontal, but slope up from the stem, making the hand position on the tops (next to the stem) a little less comfortable. It’s a compromise: If you ride a lot behind the hoods, choose the Randonneur bars. If you climb a lot on the tops, the Professionel (or its modern incarnation, the Grand Bois Maes) may be better. I use both positions, yet I prefer the Randonneur.

In the 1920s, even racers used this handlebar shape. By the 1940s, it was specific enough to long-distance cyclists that it was called “Randonneur.” When you look at the best bikes in Paris-Brest-Paris, at touring bikes equipped for long trips, or at tandems of that era, you usually see them equipped with the AVA Randonneur handlebars.

The Randonneur handlebar shape is very subtle, and it’s important to get it just right. Nitto’s Randonneur handlebars copy the general shape, but they do not support the hands well. In fact, I find the Nitto’s model (slightly) less comfortable than standard bars. The Grand Bois Randonneur handlebar is based on careful measurements of the AVA, and Grand Bois went through a lot of effort to get the shape right.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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12 Responses to More on Handlebars: Randonneur Model

  1. Colton says:

    Thank you!

  2. superfreak says:

    do u have pics of these bars from the front. im having trouble vizualizing them.
    y are yer bars so NARROW. i prefer wider bars. luv my 46cm drops. but wonder if some of those details (curves & ramps) might help.
    thx superfreak

  3. Brad says:

    I’m with Superfreak. Wide bars were a revolution for me. I got rid of all my narrow bars. They felt like I was ridding with my shoulders pinched together. Maybe has something to do with being 285 lbs I don’t know. I only know wide=comfy. Now I ride 48cm wide drops and 52cm wide mustache bars.

  4. Rob says:

    I’ve noticed that the Philippe model is mostly used on 700c randonneurs, but they appear on some 650b bikes as well. These “Randonneur” type bars however seem exclusive to 650b machines, I can’t remember seeing them on 700c wheeled bicycles.

    Thinking about comfort I can guess why this happened, but it’s remarkable that the interchangeability of these bars doesn’t seem to go both ways.

    • Your observation matches mine (with a few exceptions). I think this is easy to explain: By the early 1950s, racing influence was making itself felt among randonneur bikes. Riders who were influenced by racers preferred narrower tires (and thus 700C wheels). These riders also preferred the “Professionel” handlebars used by so many racers. Riders influenced by Vélocio and the Technical Trials continued to use wider tires (hence 650B wheels) and whichever handlebars fit their riding style (with a preponderance of the “Randonneur” model).

      Of course, there are no technical reasons why you couldn’t use “Randonneur” handlebars on a 700C bike, or “Professionel” bars on a 650B bike…

      • Rob says:

        On a 700c Dujardin bike that was missing its original handlebars, I mounted some period correct Philippe Randonneurs. It looked somewhat odd, as if the curvy handlebars required puffy tires to go with them. I realise this is nothing but cognitive dissonance.

  5. Chris Lowe says:

    I was among those skeptical about “narrow” bars. For years I’d ridden wide bars starting with the Nitto Dirt Drops that came on my ’87 B’stone MB-1. From there I went to 46cm wide bars on my road bike so as to better accommodate clip-on aero bars (I was big into triathlons at the time). 44-46cm bars became my normal for years after. In 2007 I started doing brevets in earnest and discovered that after 100 miles or so I’d develop a sharp pinching pain between my shoulder blades. I toted with various solutions to no avail. Eventually I picked up a pair of the GB Randonneur bars for a bike I was building up. I was skeptical about the narrowness and for a while was reluctant to take the bike out on longer distances. Eventually I started doing some 100+ mile rides on the bars and noticed the pinching pain was gone. The more I thought about the more I realized it was the wider bars that caused my discomfort. As you move your hands further apart your should blades get pressed closer together. Now I swear by my “narrow” bars – especially for longer rides.

  6. Russell Marx says:

    I was taught that handlebar width should equal collarbone width. A wider width will cause your upper body to lean more forward. Distance from colorbone to handle bar decreases as hands move outward.

  7. Stuart says:

    Jan, since the Grand Bois Randonneur bars have a 20mm rise, do you set the stem 20mm lower to get the same effective ramps/hoods/drops position as compared to a non-rising bar? At first blush, it makes sense to me to do it that way (and maybe this is a dumb question) but I’m curious if there’s something I’m not taking into account. Of course the final determinant of the height is what it feels like on the road, but I’m thinking about finding a sensible starting point.

    Thanks!

    -Stuart

    • There are many factors that determine bar height and stem length. The rise of the Randonneur handlebars make them higher, but they also have more reach, so when you ride on the hoods, you are more stretched out. Since you have more hand positions with these bars, I find that bar height isn’t so important. I also don’t shorten the stem for these bars to compensate for the longer reach…

      Most of the time, I ride in the relatively upright position on the ramps. If I want to go a bit faster, I move forward onto the brake hoods. If I want to go even faster, I go down into the drops. If that is too low, I slide my hands backward toward the rear end of the drops. (Shortening the reach brings my back up.) There are lots of positions which are very different, and I usually find one that works well. On many modern drop bars, the drops and on the hoods position are very similar with regards to the inclination of my back, so I really have only one position, plus the tops, which I use only when climbing.

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