Masi Speciale Randonneur Update

I went on a mixed-terrain 96 mile ride over the weekend. For those local to the Atlanta area it was most of the Dirty Sheets route down near Chattahoochee Hills, GA. Mostly smooth roads and smooth gravel – I rode this route several times on a road bike with 25s years ago and had no issues so it’s pretty mild. The gravel sections were a little tacky due to the ice/snow from the prior week but overall in good shape.

The main takeway from this ride was how stiff the front fork is. I think the designers may have used stouter fork blades than necessary to provide additional durability and avoid issues as seen with the Elephant NFE fork. In that case; thinner supple fork blades, an aggressive bend and short ISO mount combined to cause durability issues that manifested as cracks in the fork blade. Masi has also used a short ISO mount but with much larger diameter tubes and a less aggressive bend. There is also much less taper down to the fork ends that I expected. Possibly this design choice may also be an attempt to handle front loading as well as prevent shimmy?

However, overall the bike rides really well. The frame feels much better than the fork and I had less shoulder and arm soreness than usual when riding my aluminum/carbon forked gravel bike. Low wheel flop and low trail make the bike ride intuitively on the road and much easier on gravel where you can steer more when the ground is loose without leaning quite so much. Fenders are stiff enough that there was no vibration or rattle issues but do need some mudflaps as the bottle bracket was caked with dirt after the ride. No shimmy but there is definitely some oscillation that can be felt at certain speeds when riding no handed and not pedaling. Could be position related but I’m still getting data as I ride more.

So I like it quite a bit, not as supple as I think it could have been but overall pretty good for a production bike. Here are some pictures compared to a 2016 Soma Double Cross Disc. The Soma definitely “planes” for me and has obvious visual fork flex when riding very fast on gravel or singletrack.


Mechanical Failures

Many years ago I had the nds side of a nutted crankset loosen up while in the middle of a long ride. I managed to pedal mostly one legged to an Autozone where I begged to borrow a 14mm socket and ratchet – tightened things up enough that the crank stayed on until I replaced it months later.

I sorta didn’t learn my lesson with that experience though. The next year I had the same thing happen on a different bike – I had put a tiny ratchet and 14mm socket in my saddlebag but the cranks I was riding were 8mm hex fixing bolt. I was so ready, had the bike locked into a stop sign and my tools all laid out when I went to tighten the fixing bolt and felt like my brain missed a shift on seeing the 8mm hex. I was training for my first century and was several miles between towns in the rolling green veldt between Atlanta and Athens, GA. No cellphone signal, the only businesses I had passed had been abandoned service stations and I hadn’t seen a house in a while.

I had a cheap performance bike brand multi-tool but it only had 6mm hex, I fussed around with different combinations of jamming the tool into the 8mm opening but couldn’t get good torque. Eventually I realized I could jam everything together using the 6mm and a bunch of tiny pieces of gravel. It worked well enough to get me home wherein I bought a torque wrench and have not had any issue since then.

Lately I’ve been having issues with the NiMH batteries in my lights failing. I was out riding around south of Dallas Georgia where there’s pretty much nothing. Late autumn makes for long and very beautiful sunsets in this part of the state. As it gets darker I’m rolling along and switch on one of my two headlights – get a very dim beam. Hmm I had just taken the batteries off the charger 3 hours earlier before I left. I make the incorrect assumption that the batteries are bad and have self-discharged in the short time off-charger and unused.

I try my other light and it’s the same thing. Well hell now I have to try to ride the next 4 hours with minimal or no front lights. My rear lights are fine so I decide to just keep going with my weak, ineffectual front lights. After about half an hour the lights suddenly flip to full brightness. I’m scratching my head here but that’s fine with me I guess. I make it home and after some reading it seems the cold weather affects the batteries and reduces the ability to output high-draw power. Running them in low mode allowed the internal resistance to heat up the cell enough to start putting out the higher pull for my lights to go into high mode. I could have done the same thing by putting the cells next to my body and heating them that way.

This is my third fall/winter season on these batteries and I had not had this problem previously so it seems to be an age/quality issue. I replaced with better batteries and added some lithium batteries as backups as well as another light, just in case.

Once I had the pedal eye of a FSA Vero Cross crack 8 miles into a planned 130 mile ride. It was a stressful, mostly one-legged ride back to my car and then a wasted day getting it fixed before bailing halfway through the ride.


Other than that I’ve only really had spokes and three frames cracking but those were closer to home and although stressful, fairly simple rides back.

Masi Speciale Randonneur Update

It’s been a rough 6 weeks for riding here with some unexpected snow and ice. I did manage to get two rides in and really like the bike so far. It comes as close to planing as any other steel disc bike I’ve ridden but does have a slightly stiffer fork than I’m used to. Not nearly as stiff as a carbon fork but stiffer than other steel disc forks like from Soma or All-City. So I’m very excited to put in some long rides once the weather clears. The bike rides much more neutral than expected, no shimmy so far with 8-11 pounds up front in a rigid bar bag. Low wheel flop makes turning the bike easy and cornering is much less of an affair than the higher trail bikes I’ve been riding that do the fall and catch style cornering. My previous bike had 26mm flop/75mm trail so I’m still acclimating to the Masi but it handles much more intuitive than I expected. I don’t have enough data but so far the only speed differences I’ve seen have been slightly faster.

I feel the bike misses some small things. The seattube and front downtube bottle bosses are very high. This impacts mounting a frame bag and limits front water bottles to 20 ounces or smaller. The brake housing to the rear runs along the downtube and is mounted at a degree that prevents mounting a minipump under the bottle cage. There is no good front platform rack mounting options, the user is left to double-up bosses on the drop-out or is limited to one rack from Compass made to fit the low-rider boss. I think the bike should have either come with a front rack or had a specific rack designed and sold by Masi available. I emailed the product manager and they specificly recommended the Compass UD-1 rack, which is $180 plus shipping. Right now I’m using a $40 Soma Lucas rack and that will probably be the only rack I use. The rear fender should have been attached through the fender to a boss on the underside of the brake bridge instead of being the typical side through-bolt that clamps to the fender body. I also think this kind of bike makes more sense for being sold as just a frame and not a complete build but whatever.

The components are surprisingly very very good. 4700 Tiagra has a very light action with extremely crisp shifting for both the front and the rear. Much better than 5800 and really indistinguishable from 6800 IMO. The brakes are also surprising, they seem to work very well despite appearing to be a low-quality OEM design. I need to get some rain rides in but for now I’ve shelved my plans to replace with Spyres. The brake housing is typical squishy OEM nonsense so I will be replacing that at some point but it works fine for now just obviously not the best. I replaced the 50/34 Tiagra crank with a Shimano RS500 46/36 crankset from Merlin Cycles for $72. I looked at the Ultegra 46/36 crankset or even just the 4-bolt 46t chainring but both options were extremely expensive. Shimano 4 bolt is not something to which I can afford to convert. I also replaced the handlebars as they have a ridiculous flare that is more appropriate for dirt bikes and not a primary road bike like this.

I will add that if anyone is on the fence about running 650b as a tubeless set-up, go for it. The difference in ride feel is shocking. Replacing the weight of a tube with sealant makes climbing completely different and mounting the wheel in a truing stand and spinning by hand it is very obvious the difference in power required to spin the wheel without a tube. It’s really great. Of course not 30 seconds into my second ride I ran over a nail or something that blew out a hole that would not seal and I had to remove all the sealant and put in a tube so I could ride. I’ve patched the tire and it seems fine now but it sure was a kick in the pants. True punctures have been rare for me as the only flats I’ve had for the past 16 months have been slow-leak glass flats that happen hours or days after running over the glass as it works its way through the tire into the tube. So I’m hoping this will be an exception.

I like the bike and will be riding it as my only road bike once I get it completely set up – I’m trying to tune the fit to match my other bike that I can easily ride for 10+ hours and it’s taking a bit with the weather. It’s the most expensive bike I’ve ever purchased and as most of my bikes have been from the Raleigh/Diamondback corporate discount program the Masi’s price was staggering. I can’t help but feel it should be priced closer to $1000 but that’s probably a bit unrealistic for what seems to be niche geometry/design.

Bike Geometry

Overall, the handling of a _good_ randonneur bike with a front load
and wider tires is remarkably similar to the handling of a racing
bike with no load and narrow tires, as Phil mentioned. That is the
beauty of a _good_ randonneur bike, as you get the speed of a racing
bike with added versatility.

Both have steep angles (usually 73 degrees), but the randonneur bike
has much more fork rake. There are some minor handling differences as
you approach the cornering limit, which you may or may not feel:

– the racing bike reacts more to leaning, because it has more wheel
flop. It reacts more quickly to your input. The bike first falls into
the curve, then goes straight after you “caught” it, rather than
cornering on a constant radius. This is great for 90-degree turns,
for example, in criteriums. Hairpins are a bit more “hairy,” because
you’ll have to correct more to keep the bike on a constant radius.

– the randonneur bike is steered more into the corner, but once you
are cornering, it will be on a more constant radius, yet easily
adjusted. Hairpin turns are easy, whereas a criterium would be more
difficult, as the bike does not react before you do. Basically, you
set up the bike for the corner. The randonneur bike handles more
precisely – you could hit a quarter lying on the road in mid-corner.

– under a tired rider, the randonneur bike will be more easy to keep
riding straight (reacts less to leaning).

By the way, most classic racing bikes before 1965 had a “randonneur”
geometry, because they were designed for long races over challenging
courses in small groups, rather than riding in a huge pack jostling
for position. (Tires were wider, too.)

The mechanics behind this and the exact geometries for various tire
sizes, etc., have been discussed in Bicycle Quarterly, most recently
in Volume 5, No. 3 (“How to Design a Well-Handling Bicycle”).

2017 In Review

January 2017

The year starts with 6 dark, rainy hours. It’s warm enough that these hours are easy and distance comes with a smile. The second week of the month I am forced to travel to Oklahoma for work. I hate it and miss my bike. I come back depressed and tired to a winter storm that coats everything in ice, temperatures in the teens and twenties, it’s a struggle to ride and even to leave the couch. I rest and relax and come back with a 15 hour week spent exploring Mableton and the West Side of Atlanta. The month wraps up with fast, easy miles on my road bike and fast fast miles on my mountain bike. A well-fitting steel 29er is a great bike. I crash and scrape up my right leg but the injury is minor and doesn’t prevent any riding.

February 2017

I spend the first two weeks in shorts and a t-shirt. The weather is warm and distance continues to come easy. I’ve been taking creatine and it seems to help recovery. I’m resting and riding well and close out a seventeen hour week, my second in the previous six weeks and only my sixth ever. The month closes out with the Assault on Mt Currahee gravel grinder, I stop to render aid to a racer who crashes in front of me so my race ends there but I continue the route and have a great recreational ride.

March 2017

Racing season continues as I race Southern Cross and Payne’s Creek. I have a good time at both events and find I really enjoy mountain bike racing. Youtube videos are great skills builder for me as I watch and take notes.

April 2017

Every weekend is a race. It starts with the Skyway Epic, a caffeine fueled romp around east Alabama. The next week I go to Blankets Creek and have a hard, rough ride. It’s my first race on a new bike and I’m not quite settled in yet. The rest of the month is gravel, I finish in the money at Shake ‘n’ Brake and then suffer immensely at the Big Frog 65. This month exhausts me with all the racing and driving. I rode 44 hours, 20 of which was racing.

May 2017

I crash hard (mentally) from the prior month. I don’t really notice at the time but I need a mental rest. I barely make it to Fort Yargo but I manage to make the foggy, rain threatened drive and have a great race. Road riding feels extremely boring so I mainly stay in the woods and don’t venture very far. But I start hiking and fall back in love with the National Park behind my apartment. I end up hiking at least an hour a day for months on end. It helps keep me in shape and improve my on the bike posture.

June 2017

I roar into June with a mixed terrain 109 mile ride. I nail down my bike set-up and have a blast. The next weekend in a monster 151 mile ride that takes me all across West Georgia and East Alabama. I lose my mental focus again and tone down the rest of the month. Taking weekends off to spend time with my family and riding close to home during the week. I try some morning rides and am not really that enamored with them.

July 2017

A Garmin GPS makes it’s way into my inventory and my distance rides are re-invigorated this month – no more puzzled navigation piecing together mileage markers and road signs in the dark or getting lost due to lack of signs or poor marking. I manage three weekend centuries and then a magical Friday night ride to Dalton, GA. I climb Chillhowee Mountain twice, the gravel side and then the paved side. Next I take on Fort Mountain and find the climb wonderful – steep enough to make it challenge but flat enough to feel good the entire time.

August 2017

The Silver Comet reappears, I come back after a several month break and find riding it enjoyable and useful as a connector to longer riders and less trafficked roads, as I always have. Distance comes back and I start riding on the west side of Atlanta again as well as doing the Sope Creek/Big Creek double on my gravel bike. I ride around gathering muscadines for my mom to make pies and muffins and start experimenting with a front rack again.

September 2017

A mixed-terrain century starts this month. I map an enjoyable route and have a blast on the gravel near Cochran Mill. I am invigorated and the next day I follow it up with a 75 mile ride, the highest two day mileage I’ve done yet. I continue my routine of early, long Sunday rides exploring the West and Central parts of Atlanta. Mid-month I participate in a shorted Fools Gold 60 – I have a good ride but have not been maintaining my equipment and have issues descending with a low pressure fork and eating poorly. Still a good experience and a lot of fun. The next week I map a wonderful century near Douglasville. Riding at night for so long and far is invigorating. The month closes out with the Big Ring Challenge, I have some issues with my bike and nutrition directly before the race. I do ok but get crushed by sandbaggers, again.

October 2017

A fill moon century opens the month as I get more comfortable riding at night in new places. A headlamp makes all the difference when riding at night out in the country, I install one on my helmet and take it on every ride. I race at Allatoona and have a hard, unforgiving ride due to not maintaining my fork pressure and not eating or drinking enough. I feel better once I see the results but overall not a good ride for me. My year is capped by an amazing experience at the Standard Deluxe Dirt Road Century, I race well and finish strong and cherish the experience.

November 2017

I race Sac o’ Suds do well once again, I have peaked for gravel racing the previous two races. I’m not sure what I did (slept well, ate well and rode hard) but I have been riding strongly on gravel this fall. Otherwise distance comes easy and riding is a joy. I win gloves and a Jagwire cable kit at the Turkey shuffle, pushing and struggling up Windy Gap was fun and frustrating. I try the Sasquatch 125 but quit early. Riding with a social group was fun but I am used to a higher more aggressive pace so I peel off at the lunch stop and after struggling for a few miles into the wind I turn back and head for home.

December 2017

The Cohutta Death March is an amazing experience. Every time I ride there it changes me, the struggle and challenge crush me and force me to change to survive. I value the character building that comes from riding in the most remote area of the Southeast for 8+ hours at a time. The ride breaks me so much I cannot sleep and jolt from bed the next morning, riding hard for three hours is the only thing I can do and afterwards I crash into a deep sleep for most of the rest of the day. For the first time since January 2013 I take a full 7 days off. I hike I sleep, I read, I play videogames and have a good time in the snow. I come back to three weeks of 15 hours+ and cannot ride anything but longer rides. I have one week where I do three rides of at least 5 hours only. It’s warm and fair and amazing. I use a front rack to carry extra clothes and am equipped with lights and batteries to ride for hours after the sun sets.


Winter weather clothing guide

For myself, need to figure out how to ride at temps well below freezing.

0-28° ???

28°-45° cycling cap, safety glasses, gloves w/handwarmers, glove extenders, dhb thermal vest, paradox merino/synthetic blend pullover, cotton t-shirt, regular bib shorts, wool overshorts, leg warmers, shoe covers, plastic layer, toe covers, regular socks, aerogel inserts.

46°-54° cycling cap, safety glasses, gloves, paradox merino/synthetic blend pullover, cotton t-shirt, regular bib shorts, wool overshorts, shoe covers, plastic layer, toe covers, regular socks, aerogel inserts.

55°-60° cycling cap, safety glasses, cotton t-shirt, regular bib shorts, wool overshorts, regular socks, aerogel inserts.

60°+ (after acclimation) cycling cap, safety glasses, cotton t-shirt, regular bib shorts, wool overshorts, regular socks.