Review: Masi Bikes Speciale Randonneur

masi speciale ranodnneurPerhaps better known for their competitive road bikes of the ’70s and track bikes of today, Masi also creates some fine around-town city bikes and a long-distance roller. The Speciale Randonneur is a classic-styled touring bike marketed as being "built for the long haul" with a gentleman’s burgundy paint job and subtle graphics wrapped in bands that are pleasing to the eye.

The shiny candy wrapper covers a double-butted and lugged chromoly steel frame that provided one of the stiffest, yet most comfortable-feeling rides I’ve experienced from a steel bicycle. Braze-ons for two water bottles and front and rear racks, semi-horizontal dropouts, and an included fender set make the Randonneur a diverse platform that should be able to adjust to multiple cycling adventures, or to just riding around the city.

Masi’s geometry for the 58cm Randonneur includes a 22.64" top tube and 73° seat and head tube angles. This head tube angle is slightly steeper than their cyclocross bike and not as steep as their road bike, which made it pleasant on long and flat rail-trails, yet the steering was snappy enough to use as a commuter. I swapped the 110mm Ritchey Comp stem for a 100mm stem and exchanged the leathery toe straps for clipless pedals and was ready to roll.

The quicker steering front end was countered by the slower rear end, which has long 18.3" chainstays—overall the bike has a 41.7" wheelbase. For comparison, my personal everyday bike is a Surly Cross-Check, which has 16.73" chainstays and a 40.55" wheelbase. The longer proportions of the Masi should provide stability and heel clearance when riding with loaded rear panniers and a rack.

masi speciale ranodnneur

The Randonneur rode smoothly on the road and muted damaged asphalt and cracks, but transmitted enough feedback that I could adjust to changing pavement conditions and keep the rubber side down. Riding no-handed, the bike tracked true with no meandering or drifting to one side. On gravel, the same shock-absorbing quality was present. If the tires began to drift in the stone, I could counter-steer to keep the bike on my intended course and know that the long wheelbase provided me with a cushion for error.

Slow rolling or descending down the long hill in my commute, the Masi always felt stable and balanced with no shimmying coming from the frame. This stiffness inspired confidence when carving wide turns and provided a naturally compliant and calm feeling with no surprises. Zigzagging through stopped traffic and sharp or slow-speed turns made the long chainstays noticeable, but I became used to this handling characteristic and ended up enjoying it. I also came to trust the Dia Compe dual pivot brakes, which stopped me every time. They worked quietly most of the time, wet or dry, but during extended braking down long hills they emitted a high-pitched whine.

masi speciale ranodnneur

TruVativ’s Elita C2.2 double crankset has the standard 175mm crankarms that allowed for plenty of mashing leverage if need be for extended or steep climbs. Off the saddle and really cranking I perceived no flex from the bottom bracket or head tube areas. Remaining seated and spinning uphill was pretty easygoing and laidback as the scenery rolled past at whichever speed I traveled, often slow to enjoy summer.

Non-indexed Dia Compe bar-end shifters operate the 10-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain. It took me a few rides to get used to the shifting, but the actual changing of the gears felt clean, although I had some ghost shifting when riding over rough terrain. Masi’s gearing, with an 11-25-tooth cassette and 50/34-tooth front chainrings, was adequate for topping the hills and cruising the rolling terrain I encountered. A rider using the Randonneur for long-distance, multi-day touring with loaded panniers may find the gearing steep and might want to consider a triple chainring crankset or at least a 28t cassette.

Formula’s high-flange front hub is bolton style—not a big deal if you remember to add a 15mm wrench to your repair kit. The rear is quick-release. Both are laced in a three-cross pattern with 32 spokes to Ritchey Girder XC rims. Each wheel required a truing before use and a subsequent tensioning after a few rides, but have remained straight otherwise. (Your local bike shop usually offers this service for free during a bike’s break-in period). I’ve been surprised by how well the wheels have held up to unseen potholes and the occasional railroad rock-bed detour they’ve encountered. Some grease protruded from the rear hub’s seal, but better too much in there than not enough, I suppose.

masi speciale ranodnneur

I really wanted to load the Randonneur with panniers to experience how the frame would react, but encountered a roadblock when trying to mount my Tubus Locc rack: the rear Dia Compe brake obstructs the braze-ons needed to install the rack. Someone with the inclination to bend mounting brackets could probably get a rack to attach, or try a rack that mounts to the center brake post hole, which would limit the amount of weight you could carry; I just rode with a backpack instead. Another bit of funkiness in the rear is where the fender connects to the seatstay bridge. With the stock fender attached, there isn’t any extra space for using a tire greater than the supplied 700x32mm Kenda Kwick Trax without it rubbing against the bottom of the fender. If the bridge was welded at a higher point and long-reach or cantilever brakes were used, these two issues might be solved. Phillips slotted screws are used as the fender mounting hardware and are prone to stripping while tightening. They also rattled loose, which dropped the fender enough to rub against the tire on a few occasions during the four-month test. Threadlocker helped but wasn’t a complete success.

At $1145, the Speciale Randonneur is an affordable option for entry into bicycle touring, if you don’t mind the double crankset, but it is suited for and comfortable enough to use as a primary commuter. The Randonneur is such a nice-handling and comfortable bike with classy looks and a solid frame, but I can’t help to think how amazing this bike would be if my rear rack would have mounted hassle-free and the seatstay bridge would afford more fender/tire clearance. Mid-2010 models will have an updated rear-end that addresses these issues. Masi offers a lifetime warranty on the frame. Company website: www.masibikes.com.

[Ed notes: This bike review by Shannon Mominee originally appeared in print in Bicycle Times issue #4. Photos by Shannon Mominee. Subscriptions make these web reprints possible. Please consider clicking here and subscribing to Bicycle Times.]

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