Monday, June 1, 2015

Finding a Touring Bike {Part 2}: Early Thoughts on the Velo Orange Campeur

*Note: This is the second part on finding a touring bike. If you don't care to read about the back-and-forth process of finding the Campeur, feel free to read from here, but if you have interest in reading about what I was considering as possible choices, you can find the first part of this post by clicking here.

Once I calmed myself down and stopped the incessant searching, I realized that I had made a choice and I needed to give it a fair shake before I began another hunt. What sort of crazy person buys a frame and then continues to look? {Points fingers at self and says, "This gal."}

Anyway, with so many parts around the house, I had to buy very little to get the Campeur built up. I needed a crank, a bottom bracket, cables, and a headset to get it completed (In truth, we had a bb and crank I could've used, but I opted to go ahead and buy another regardless). As much as I wanted to blow every dime I had available to build this up with parts I could drool over, I wasn't ready to invest in new (nor expensive) parts when I wasn't sure the bike would work for me. I'd rather get it built up with minimal expense and then upgrade or change as things move along. Call me overly unnerved by this project, but I just couldn't bring myself to pony up the dough.
The day the Velo Orange Campeur arrived, I ripped into the box. I think the grey color is a wonderful choice. It's difficult to dislike anything that's fairly neutral and that can go with any color. It leans just a bit to the purple side of grey, but not enough to be noticeable in passing (or at least, this is what others have stated to me). I was immediately surprised by the lightness of the frame, but then quickly realized it was because the fork was not attached. As I grabbed the fork, I realized how long it had been since I'd separately held a steel fork in my grip. It isn't light, but lightness isn't its point either.
[As a quick side note, I've read in a few locations that the Campeur stickers along the top tube are under the clear coat; however, mine arrived with stickers on top, making them easily removable. This may have been an update to later versions at the request of potential buyers. I honestly don't know. I may or may not keep the sticker, but it doesn't bother me either way at present, so we'll see what develops. I haven't quite decided if it's kitschy or cute, but either way it is "different," and I tend to like the unusual.]
A couple of days later, the bike was assembled (I am seriously impatient - thank goodness Sam knows this and hopped to it with the build), and it was the first opportunity I had to see what it would look like in person as a whole bike. I felt it looked a bit a hodge-podge of parts, despite the fact that it wasn't built as oddly as one might think from random pieces sitting around. It was and is perfectly functional, even if I'd have preferred different choices had I been willing to drop the cash. Even the bar tape turned into a mix of three different colors; but it looked both stout and still kept a bit of a vintage, clean feel, I would say. I use stout in a hardy sense, not in a derogatory manner because this bike seems ready to take on anything.
An experiment with cloth bar tape - for me, I think the cloth would work better over something more cushioned.
I was concerned though that it wouldn't fit properly and I wouldn't have an opportunity to find out how it actually rides. Thankfully, that was not the case.

The first venture out was just on an errand in town. I was rather surprised by the Campeur's spritely feel. I imagined that it would provide more a dead ride, given that it is a touring bike, but instead I found it easy to pedal and maneuver, yet it wasn't twitchy or squirrely - rather non-specific descriptors, I suppose, but often used to describe some bikes. I enjoyed the stable feeling, reminding me somewhat, though not entirely, of my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. But I will get to that comparison in a bit.
At some point, the bar tape will all be the same color, but I couldn't find a single color - nor two single colors - in storage to make it all the way around these very large handlebars.
I have had a set of trekking handlebars sitting around for some time. I've not been entirely sure what I wanted to use them on, but thought this was the perfect bike on which to test them. We had flipped and flopped and tried to situate these to give me the most comfort since they can be used in whichever manner suits the rider. To date, I still don't know if these will stay or go on this bike, or if they'll get more adjustment, but the bars themselves will be a tale for another post. In short, I can say that I do like all of the hand position possibilities on these - particularly as I have need to move my hands frequently.

The Campeur was ridden for a few weeks around town and running errands before I took it out for more of a "real" test. It had easily passed the around town bike assessment, but I wanted to know how it would feel on longer rides. I have learned that I really do prefer to have bikes that can work for multiple purposes. While they may be "assigned" a task in the fold, I prefer having the ability to use a bike for more than one job.
It took a bit to be able to go on any length of a ride. Due to some physical issues I've been dealing with, long rides are not exactly on my to-do list at the moment. But, I needed to know how this bike would fare over distance and a longer time in the saddle.

So, one dreary day, I decided that even if I had to stop more than I'd prefer, I was going to take it out for a more duty-driven test, and thankfully, all went well. It was not the sort of test that an actual multi-day tour would provide, but it gave me comfort knowing that the bike is capable and that I am able to situate myself to maintain at least a reasonable distance riding the Campeur.

I am truly in awe of this bike's ability during descents. I haven't owned or ridden many bikes that felt so entirely stable, regardless of speed, while plummeting downhill. In fact, if it weren't for the little voice inside telling me to slow down before something unexpected happens, I'd have no reason to slow at all. But, that is my own hang-up, not the bike, so for those who enjoy their 40-50+ mph descents, I think this is a fantastic possibility.

What has struck me about this bike is how I feel when riding it. I mentioned earlier that I am compelled to compare it to the Hillborne, and there is good reason for that. They are similar bikes and intended for somewhat similar purposes, but I find a different feel and pedaling quality on each.
One of the first comments Sam made as he followed me on one of our rides in town was that I was pedaling around like a rocket. "I guess the new bike suits you," was his comment, after which he proceeded to further explain that he was pushing to keep up.

I laughed a bit, as I know he can easily out pedal me, but understood his point entirely. I felt faster on this bike than on the Hillborne, whether I was physically quicker or not. To be clearer about the speed element, after a few tests trying to directly compare velocity, I'm not sure that either is physically faster than the other. I realize this has much more to do with the engine pedaling than the bike itself, but I'm always curious if my speeds increase when using one over another.

However, I do feel faster on the Campeur, which is an interesting bit on its own. I'm nearly incessantly trying to figure out what it is that causes one bike to seem easier to pedal or quicker than another. Many will argue different aspects of a frame, components, or the geometry itself, but I will leave that to others to decide as I am by no stretch an expert in such areas. The one thing I came to realize during the comparison rides of Hillborne vs Campeur was that they each provide their own distinct ride.

I wouldn't say I prefer one over the other, but more that they are simply different. In some ways, I have likened it a bit to an on versus in feeling. A strange way to explain the differences, but in some ways it feels an appropriate means to describe just that. I struggle really to find a better way to provide descriptors of the way they each feel/ride.
My "hobo" Campeur, in all its glory.
While perhaps both bike options could be described in terms of a "Cadillac-y" feel, the Campeur, in my experience thus far, seems to have more ability for quicker pick up. There is more of an immediate reaction to effort than there is on the Hillborne, I'd say. I suppose this is in part why I feel as though I'm "on" the Campeur and have more ability to push it, while I feel more "in" the Hillborne, as though I'm kind of just along for the ride and pushing is a bit more effortful.

In regard to the actual build of the two (since I am comparing them), letting alone the physical geometry, there are a few items that differ. The Hillborne is built with 650b wheels, while the Campeur sports 26" wheels (I will note this is only true of the two smallest sizes as the larger ones have 700c wheels). They both have wide-set handlebars, though the Campeur's is the wider of the two (by a few centimeters). The Hillborne has bar end shifters, while the Campeur has thumb shifters. In respect to drivetrain, they have very similar builds and each has a triple crank (the Hillborne has a 26-36-50, while the Campeur sports 26-36-46) and 11-34 cassettes.

Neither of these bikes have been weighed recently, but when picking them up, it is apparent that the Campeur is far weightier than the Hillborne as it is currently built (as in, there is an audible grunt when I pick up the Campeur). Despite this reality, I still find the ride more lively.

I do feel as though I may lean over the handlebars a bit more on the Campeur (something I cannot do with the Hillborne because of its extra long top tube), but it has not been something that has bothered me, and in fact this is what I hoped for as a possibility with a shorter top tube (for reference, the Campeur has a top tube measuring 2.5cm shorter than the Hillborne).The leaning may partially be due to the handlebars selected as well. An extra tall stem was used in the build, believing that I'd need to get the bars up higher, but it's actually set at the lowest point possible for this frame (I may need to get a shorter stem at some point if this begins to feel too high).

It may seem a bit odd, as I mention my hand and wrist problems with regularity, that I would want a more leaned over position; however, what I appreciate about this bike is that I have the ability to both be upright and to change the set up to a more leaned over posture, if wanted and/or when my hands will allow it. I should also note that my "leaned over" stance is a far different position than most riders, as I still sit in a fairly upright position regardless of set up.

I stand at just slightly over 63 3/4 inches/162 centimeters with mildly shorter legs - for a female anyway (My PBH is 78cm for those who use this method) - and the 47cm Campeur fits me well. There is plenty of standover and I don't feel squeezed in, nor do I feel the reach is too far.

There was some experimentation that took place with handlebar stems. I have tried a 50cm, 60cm, and an 80cm reach. The 80cm, with the handlebars currently in use, was a bit too stretched for my liking. The 50cm seemed a bit short. Using the 60cm at the moment feels just about right, but again, I think this has more to do with the particular set up and handlebars selected.  If I were to set the bike up with handlebars (and perhaps more importantly, brakes) closer to the rider, a longer stem would likely be more suitable.

For some, I know there is a bit of a debate when it comes to threaded versus threadless stems (even in the first part of this post the subject arose), especially for a touring bike. I personally prefer the look of a quill stem to the more easily found threadless variety, but I also understand that there are pros and cons to either option. For me, my decision was not based purely on the quill stem, and I don't view it as a reason to pass over the Campeur as an option either; however, if it is important to the individual to have threadless, it is something to keep in mind. It is also possible to use a stem converter if this is truly a deal breaker.
In looking at the photos of the Campeur build, an oddity with the front rack may be noticed. Eventually, a front bag will sit atop the rack (if I can ever decide what it is that I'd like to see on this bike), but I didn't want to purchase a new front rack for the time being, knowing that I have a perfectly good one available. The problem was that the arms of the rack didn't quite reach the eyelets. While we could likely have taken this to a shop and had the arms bent (though I'm not sure even bending would have resolved the reach issue), we decided to go with a home solution.
Perhaps some of the sharp edges should be filed down, but they haven't caused any issues as of yet.
Instead of bending the arms, we added small pieces of metal to "stretch" the arms to meet the eyelets. If the front were going to be loaded up with a great deal of weight, I wouldn't use this method (nor this rack), but it is surprisingly sturdy for a home remedy and will hold the potential few pounds carried in a front bag.

Since I have yet to select a front bag, I cannot speak to how the Campeur will handle a front load, but I suspect it will do just fine from the few things I've traveled with attached to the rack.

One other point of note, particularly for this smallest sized Campeur, is that it actually does come with three water bottle mounts (something rarely obtained on small frames). I haven't as of yet mounted a cage or bottle, so I cannot confirm the size of bottle it will hold (though my guess is that it will be only a very short one, simply due to clearance issues), but I was thrilled to discover this as a feature I hadn't anticipated when I ordered the frame.

Over time, I will replace parts and pieces that are more to my liking, but I have to say it is a fine machine as it stands. Despite having other preferences for parts I'd like to see on this bike, I have found that because it is such a great ride, I am perfectly happy to wait things out and select pieces a bit at a time.

A good indicator for me when it comes to my enjoyment of a bike is when I choose it over another option. When a bike is new, it is sometimes easy to select it over another because there is a certain level of excitement, but I have had many bikes that, despite my fervor or infatuation with them, were ignored or avoided. I can already sense that this is not one of those bikes.

It is still early in our time together, but I find I almost have to force myself to ride something other than the Campeur. It just seems to do a lot of things well. It's not a race bike, but beyond that it is capable of handling dirt roads with ease, performing well over longer distances, and it does a great job of getting this rider around town in comfort. It's even seen me through a hail storm and several rainy days without issue (other than perhaps some squealing brake pads).

During one of my early trips running errands around town on this bike, I was sitting stopped at a signal waiting to make a left turn when a car pulled up on my right side to cross. A few seconds later, the driver rolled down his window to ask about my saddlebag, but then quickly took notice of the bike itself. "Looks like you have yourself a fine touring bike there," he exclaimed, interrupting himself mid-inquiry.

We finished our chat quickly as the signal had changed, but it's an example of the sort of reaction this bike seems to get. It isn't the first thing a person may notice, but after spending a few moments taking it in, the bike is recognized as a solid, good looking machine that is perfectly capable of a variety of tasks.
I am particularly pleased to find such a smooth bike frame for a reasonable price. I was willing to wait and even continue to save for a more expensive choice, but I am truly pleased that I took the risk with the Campeur. I haven't always had the best of luck with buying-before-riding, and it may not be the choice for every rider, but I continue to look forward to using this bike.

It should be a strong point to anyone reading that I have yet to actually tour with this bike. My opinions of it at this point in time are early and are not based on riding a loaded bike over long distances. I think it's important to point this out because after a loaded tour, my thoughts could change. However, if someone were looking for a bike to commute on with some panniers or a front bag, or to take on an overnight camping trip with minimal luggage, I think my tests thus far -at least for myself- have shown the Campeur quite capable.

As we have more time together, I'll likely have more to say about this bike, but in the meantime, it's a bike I wouldn't hesitate to recommend trying. If you happen to be close to Velo Orange or a dealer that carries built stock, take one for a spin and let me know what you think... or if you have owned a Velo Orange, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on their product(s) as well.  Additionally, if there's anything I may have missed, please feel free to ask away and I'll do my best to answer.


  1. Beautiful! That bike looks like it wants to go on an adventure, like you could be comfortable in the saddle all day following the road to see what's around the next curve. I think I can see a little bit of purple in the paint in the picture where it is next to the Sam H. and in the picture just below that. The red cable housing works well with this bike. Very nice.

    I do love canti brakes even if they scream like mad when the rims are wet or if they get even the tiniest bit misadjusted. (I just completed a bike overhaul class at the local co-op where I rebuilt my beater bike, which has cantis. I absolutely cannot get those suckers adjusted! I just think of it as a safety feature since they announce my presence as I approach an intersection.) I have them on my new road bike too. It feels like they give me really good power and much better modulation than the V-brakes on my old hybrid did.

    I'm eager to hear how you feel about the trekking bars as well as some of the more practical matters of touring like what kind of luggage you will use and what you find you need to bring along and what can stay at home. Do you have any plans for a test run at light touring? Have fun with the new ride!

    1. How cool to have the opportunity to take a co-op class to rebuild your brakes. It almost feels as though most bikes I end up with have canti's, with rare exception. Not that I mind this at all. Have you taken any other classes with the co-op?

      The trekking bars are interesting. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about them as they are different than many other handlebars, but we're starting to find a groove. I'll keep you posted on those.

      Luggage is overwhelming to me. I think there's even more possibilities for that than there were bike choices. :O) But, I'm sure I'll get it figured out.

      I have plans for a light tour in late summer with a friend. I am hoping to be able to test it out before then, but I need to have the ability to build up stamina (which hasn't been easy with the current hand issues), so I'm not sure how likely it is (but I remain hopeful).

    2. This was a seven-week overhaul class. We did just about everything: wheel truing (which I find weirdly satisfying), re-cabling and adjusting brakes and shifters, rebuilding/replacing bottom brackets and headsets, stems and handlebars, replacing sprockets, pulling cranks, and more. It was incredibly fun and empowering. You can also take individual classes (like one night on tubes and tires, another on brakes, and so forth). If you have the chance to do something like this, go for it.

    3. That is very cool, Kendra. I wish there were more classes like this available to everyone. It's always nice to have the confidence to know we can get things done for ourselves. I can see how wheel truing would be satisfying too. Sounds like a fantastic class!

    4. Firstly re quirky stickers. I had the same dilemma - shall they stay or should they go - with my Surlys, especially the Cross Check. They stayed. :)

      Re luggage. Like you, I've probably tried every transportational luggage option there is - seat packs, saddle bags, bar bags, panniers. I go through phases of using something, then it 'falls out of favour'. For multi-day touring though, it really does seem easier: do you need waterproof or will shower resistant do? Volume/capacity? Outer pockets needed or not? Pretty much it. I have two pairs of panniers I've used for touring: 20 liter waterproof Ortleib (used last year in Scotland), much smaller (technically front) canvas Carradice (used this year in France). Both were fit and forget.

      The more complicated and crucial decisions with regard to carrying stuff on tour will be your front bag(s) -- handlebar bag, top tube snack bag, etc. That's where personal preferences and convenience really come into play. My Goldilocks complex eventually led me to order a custom handlebar bag from Dill Pickle. It's spot on perfect... except for one feature which was entirely custom/bespoke at my request, which I did a poor job describing to Emily and which didn't come out at all the way I envisaged and doesn't really work but in fact works just well enough for me to tell that my design (the way I did envisage it) would not have worked either -- so fair play to Emily for trying and rap on knuckles to me for thinking I 'knew better'!!

      +1 co-op classes! I've done a few like that; they're brilliant. Well done, Kendra!

    5. I took off some of the Surly stickers, but not all. I also like that (at least here) it's fairly easy to find replacement stickers for Surly products.

      I'll be interested to see how luggage selection goes. I'm sure it will take more than one try to figure out just the right set up. I'm hoping to find some things second hand to try before deciding which features are needed and which are unnecessary.

      I've seen (at least via the web) many riders now with the Dill Pickle bags that really like them. It is a nice feature that they allow customization - I was not aware of this - and just assumed it was a pick-from-what-we-have type of selection. Good to know.

  2. One more thing (a weird question): Do you have trouble with your leg rubbing against the water bottle on the seat tube? I find that if I put my tall bottle there, my leg rubs against it constantly, which I find irritating. I end up putting the short bottle there, and then when I finish off the tall bottle that I keep on the down tube, I refill it from the short one so that I never need to put the taller one on the seat tube.

    1. Yes. But, I have very thick legs, so I've always presumed this was the major contributor to the rubbing. However, Sam has very standard size legs and says that there are times when his legs rub on the bottle on the downtube too... so, perhaps it's just something that many people deal with on bikes.

      You have an interesting solution - to use a shorter bottle. I'll have to give that a try sometime to see if that solves the issue for me too. Thanks for the suggestion!

    2. I don't think it's your leg size. Mine are on the skinny side, but it seems like my thighs hit the bottle on almost every rotation. I find it really distracting. The short bottle seems to do the trick. My spouse, who is 6'2", does not have this problem. Maybe it has to do with how far the saddle is above the bottle cage?

    3. Dang: I need an "edit" feature for my comments. If forgot to say that I'm about your height: 5'4".

    4. I wish there was an edit button too - for many reasons.

      Maybe the leg rubbing the bottle has more to do with height than width? I am definitely going to try the shorter bottle though to see if that helps.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. I have this problem also. I put up with it when wearing trousers or longs, but it's irritating against bare skin when wearing shorts. I too have not worked out yet why this happens.

      [re-posted to correct "bear" to "bare" - aarrgh.]

    7. Hmm... I'm thinking maybe it is something to do with shorter legs, possibly, or perhaps just overall height? I know you have longer legs than myself, Rebecca, but maybe not enough to escape the bottle drag? I think I'm going to start inquiring with taller people to see what they think, and if anyone here reading is taller and has this problem, it would be interesting to know.

    8. I have this same issue. I since have resorted to reusing those Smart Water bottles. They are more narrow. The Fanta one liter bottles taper just right too to fit on the seat tube of my 520. I've thinned out the bottoms of all my cages to get a bit more fit.

  3. Thanks for the thorough review (to date!) of the Velo-Orange Campeur! I continue to live vicariously through your bikes. :)

    1. :O) Happy to share the madness, in some small way.

  4. What a gorgeous bike! It really does seem to be a winner ... Stable, lively, good- looking and comfortable. The fact that you keep choosing it over the others says it all really. You mentioned that you have pared down the herd lately ... Does this mean you have three bikes now, the Rodriguez, the Sam Hillborne and the Campeur? All three are great bikes, you must feel that you have achieved bike heaven now :)

    1. Thank you. I'm excited about it (even now), so I think that's a good sign.

      In regard to your question - that is a more complicated answer. The simple answer is, yes, at the moment those are the three bikes (well, there is a mountain bike here as well that is technically mine, but that is a tale all its own and it really doesn't get ridden. Sam just has hope that one day I'll actually mountain bike with him).

      Overall, I am happy with the current bunch, but the more complicated answer is a long one. I will simply say that the Rodriguez and I are having a bit of a spat at present. I am hoping to work it out, but it's been one of longer-than-usual variety with a bike, so I'm not certain what will come of our quarrel (but I remain hopeful that there will be resolution).

  5. The eyelets on the front fork will be positioned to fit a "low-rider" type of rack, like the Tubus Tara. If you prefer to maintain the rack you have on it now, I would recommend using p-clamps fixed directly on the fork leg. (Nitto sells these, purpose-specific.) The kludge in place now will tend to function like a hinge, rather than a support, and will allow the rack to drop down onto the front wheel under touring conditions, with load and vibration.

    All the best!

    1. Admittedly, it is not the best solution and I do have some p-clamps on order. I wasn't sure they would resolve the issue, but hope they will. Eventually, a different rack will likely be in place, and definitely if it were going to carry anything more than a front bag. Thanks! :O)

  6. Thanks for the review! I had a Long Haul Trucker that I never toured on but HATED as an around-towner. People kept telling me that the bike really shines when loaded, but I couldn't get past the fact that I hated it as a commuter and couldn't imagine I'd hate it less when loaded up. And, it's possible that the bike was too big for me, as I wanted 700c wheels. Anyway, I'm really happy with my Cross Check(s) right now, but were I to go with another full-on tourer, the Campeur would be top on the list. Enjoy it and hope to see another review as you settle in with it.

    1. I'm always interested in thoughts on the LHT. Some people really love them and others really don't - and of course there is the in between as well. I think I feel somewhere in the middle - I didn't love it but I didn't hate it. When Sam owned his, he really enjoyed it, but I've spoken to others who wouldn't want to own one again.

      It's great that you have your CC to enjoy. I think it's another solid bike, and you could probably do some light touring with that one even, I'd guess.

      I will definitely share more as we get more time together. :O)

    2. The one issue with the CC is chainstay length > heel strike. My CC is size 50 so not a large frame and I wear a pretty average US size 9 shoe, but unless the pannier is either quite small or shaped/taped at the bottom, I always get heel strike. This is not surprising really as cyclocross bikes usually do have shorter chainstays, but it's a shame in the CC because, let's be honest, it's not a serious cyclocross contender (not really) and the heelstrike problem is the only flaw in what would otherwise be just about the most versatile do-anything bike out there.

    3. And but for that one flaw, yes, the CC would easily cope with touring. But heelstrike is a deal breaker when you need to carry full size panniers.

      (Sorry for Blogger issues, it's taken several attempts to get this posted... in 3 instalments!)


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