Vivente World Randonneur ‘The Gibb’


Rohloff hub gears, hydraulic disc brakes, a dynamo-powered USB outlet and refinement in every feature make this Australia’s premium touring and transportation bike. Simon Vincett reviews.  

I want to tell you that I won’t rave excessively about this bike but that would be a shakey promise. I have admired the Vivente World Randonneur (VWR) range for many years and have watched with avid interest their refinements. This latest iteration takes in numerous desireable upgrades and the result is a suite of near perfect touring bikes. I tested The Gibb, which is outfitted with Rohloff hub gear and trekking handlebars.

VWR bikes are available from good bikes shops around Australia but I tested the overseas-customer experience of receiving the bike boxed, direct from Vivente. The box was enormous, in order that both wheels could be left in place. It arrived standing on its end, despite the clear instruction on the side, but the bike inside was well protected by copius packing and careful arrangement and bracing.

Instructions were clear and comprehensive, if a little challenging to the eyesight due to the tiny font size. I had no problem following the process and completing the reassembly. In fact, I kidded myself that I was a skilled bike builder when actually the comprehensive instructions and near-complete pre-assembly made the process was more akin to colour-by-numbers. The satisfaction of seeing it take shape was real, however, reminding me of the theory that IKEA customers are more pleased with their furniture by virtue of having built it themselves.

The bike comes with a kit of tools and spares meant to stay with the bike for repairs. The comprehensive kit contains three spanners, a triad of hex keys, two torx keys, two spokes for each wheel, a pair of barrel adjusters, numerous different bolts and washers, a selection of cable ties, extra brackets and clips. There’s also a maintenance schedule and notes for a mechanic, instructions on stem attachment and headset adjustment, manuals for the brakes and Rohloff hub, and warranty information (15 years from date of purchase for the frame and fork and limited warranty on components). The Vivente website is also a treasure trove of information, about the VWR bikes and maintenance advice but also about best-practice cycle touring. It’s reassuring to know that all this back up is provided.

The frame shared by all the VWR models is made from 4130 chromoly steel, double-butted in the main frame tubes and as light as possible in the chain and seat stays. All sizes are made for 700c wheels, except the XS, which comes with 26 inch wheels to avoid toe overlap with the front wheel.

Chromoly steel is a popular frame material for bicycles because it is stiff but can be made into thin-walled tubes that are quite light and with ideal elasticity. But it is the best choice for touring bikes because it is not easily damaged. Major dents that seriously weaken frames of other materials are not a structural problem for a steel-framed bike.

The geometry of the frame and fork—which determine the ‘character’ of the bike—in The Gibb favour stability and comfort for a long day of riding. Features aiding this include fork trail greater than 60mm on all VWR sizes, making the bikes particularly easy to steer. You don’t need to hold on so tightly which makes a noticeable difference if you are riding for hours. Additionally, the bottom bracket is relatively low, providing better connection with the bike and less of a feeling of being perched on top of it.

In aid of looking around and enjoying your bike-borne exploration, the steerer of the fork is left tall to allow the handlebars to be at seat height or above. If you want a lower riding position you can cut down the steerer to the right height for you. A spare star nut to anchor the top cap is provided with the bike.

The sophistication of the VWR design stretches to integration of the rack with the rear disc calliper in a way that avoids needing to space the bottom mounts out. This avoids having long bolts through spacers, which weakens a rack mounting. The rack provided is chromoly steel, with a load capacity of 40 kilograms.

With The Gibb VWR model, gearing is provided by the Rohloff SpeedHub 500, a 14-speed hub gear. Designed in Germany, Rohloff is generally regarded as finest hub gear available. No other hub gear offers the range of gears or the same bombproof durability or the same smooth and sure performance.

On the negative side, they are expensive, retailing for about $1,500. So a bike equipped with one carries considerable additional cost. Also its smooth operation relies on operating in an oil bath, like a motor vehicle transmission, making it heavy (1.5kg).

So why would you cop this weight and cost penalty? Some argue that taking all parts into account, a comparable derailleur system is not that much lighter. But the main argument must be that Rohloffs are supposed to get you through 100,000km without failure and only require an oil change every 5,000km by way of maintenance. Originally designed for northern European mountain biking, they are impervious to water, mud, dust and grit, and have no fragile external parts that can get damaged. I’d rather ride than work on my bike, and I’ve done enough maintenance in my time to prefer to keep it to a minimum. This is why the expense of the Rohloff seems reasonable to me.

There’s also the performance of it. Being a hub gear, you can change gears without pedalling, which handy with a heavily loaded bike. With the twist shifter you can change multiple gear at once, though you do have to reduce the pressure to change between 7 and 8 or you end up in 14 (top gear) through a quirk of the planetary gear system. The gear range is equivalent to that offered by a 24-speed derailleur VWR models, with equal steps between the 14 gears.

There is more friction in the Rohloff than a derailleur system but this actually reduces over time. I was wary of this strange claim when I heard it but I was offered an effective way to test it: I started test riding The Gibb with a new hub and swapped to a hub with more than 5,000km of breaking in to compare.

I thought the first 200-odd kilometres made a difference in breaking in the new hub—I felt it had become smoother in that time—but on the swap to the fully broken-in unit, I appreciated that there was definitely reduced friction in the older hub. However, it was only when I swapped back to the new hub that I really felt the resistance in the new hub and the easier spinning in the old one. Apparently the broken-in feeling comes after 4,000–5,000km—so that’s an added prompt to get out and ride.

I was pleasantly surprised how straightforward it is to remove the rear wheel and replace it. The Rohloff hub has a quick release skewer and the gear shift cables disengage by simply loosening a bolt which is only finger tight.

As well as the Rohloff hub, many other aspects of the bike promise low maintenance too: the straight chain line means longer chain life and the Heebie Chainglider is there to keep the chain clean as well; the Schwalbe Marathon tyres promise minimal punctures; the dynamo means battery-less lighting; hydraulic disc brakes offer a longer time between pad changes and servicing.

I had concerns that the Heebie Chainglider created a lot more friction but interesting results reported online of a test found that a dirty chain had more friction that a clean chain with a Chainglider. After a very positive experience of the Gates Carbon Drive belt system on the Breezer Beltway 11+ I think I’d prefer a belt on this bike.

The pair of Schwalbe Marathon tyres on The Gibb has a 32mm front and 35mm rear, because the bike comes set up for quality sealed roads and the front can be skinnier because it takes only 35–40% of the load. You could fit 28mm tyres if you prefer and for gravel grinding and other off-road adventures there is clearance for tyres up to 50mm wide (2 inch), though for some knobby versions of 2 inch tyres the mudguards may need to be removed. For lighter tyres with comparable performance you might like to upgrade to Schwalbe Mondial.

There are so many well-thought-out aspects of the VWR bikes that it’s impractical to go into them all, however, a few deserve a mention. The mudguards are superior in adjustability—so often these essential accessories rub and rattle annoyingly. The Humbert trekking handlebars offer a range of grips and riding positions and are close to ideal ergonomically. The Axa Luxx70plus dynamo light intelligently adapts to low- and high-speed riding, meets the German StVZO standard and provides a USB outlet from which you can charge your devices while you ride.

Most of all, I trust Vivente’s designer Noel McFarland to build and spec a bombproof touring bike with the best components for the reasonable price. With his constant touring, it’s highly unlikely that I can think of an issue that he hasn’t encountered and resolved already. That is the confidence that trumps all other offerings for me and makes the VWR my choice of touring and do-everything bike.

Frame and fork                4130 chromoly steel

Gears                                    Rohloff SpeedHub 500 14-speed internal with 16T rear, 42T front

Drivetrain                          Genio internal expansion eccentric bottom bracket, KMC chain with Heebie Chainglider

Brakes                                  Shimano M395 hydraulic disc, 160mm rotors, M396 levers

Wheels                                 DT rims with DT Champion/Competition spokes

Tyres                                    Schwalbe Marathon 700×32/35

Lighting                               SP PD-8 dynamo hub, Axa Luxx70plus front, Axa Riff rear

Extras                                   Tubus Logo Evo rack, Atranvelo kickstand, Shimano A530 pedals with cleats, bugle horn, two bottles and cages, spares and tools

Weight                                 16.8kg (56cm, accessories as pictured)

RRP                                       $3999


Function             38/40

Quality                 40/40

Price                     9.5/10

Appearance       9/10

More info and to buy

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

One thought on “3”

  1. In relation to the VWR The Gibb, or others similar in the VWR selection of bikes, I love them and a VWR will be my next bike. I currently have a Malvern Star Oppy S1 as a Malvern Star was my second ride after a Speedwell when I was a teenager some 45 years ago. I like the Oppy, it is set up well for touring, although its only a compact, it is a good start back to bikes for me.

  2. I just purchased a VWR Gibb, last week. I’ve done a mere 100kms on it however I’m in love with this bike. I did a lot of research and comparisons and I think it is clearly the best bang for your buck in the whole world of touring. The Rohloff hub is exceptional. I really like derailleurs, especially good ones. Love the sound and feel of them popping in to place. The Rohloff is a completely different animal. While I thought it was amazing, I had some dissonance during the first 20kms or so. Somehow, it felt like I was riding a mountain bike. I’m happy to report that this dissonance was short-lived. I just needed to be reasonable and not “expect” an apple to be an orange. Now I love the simplicity of Roloff life. I am still getting used to backing off a little, when dropping down in some gears gears , under load.

    I do a 34km return commute to work and there has been no difference in the time it normally takes me on my Specialized AWOL. Interestingly, it seems somewhat easier on the Gibb as compared to the AWOL. I wonder if this is due to the trekking bars as compared to the AWOL’s drop bars??

    The brakes work wonderfully. I am one who likes the best of things and I wondered prior to buying the bike whether the specs of the brakes were adequate….silly me!
    The bike looks so bullet-proof for touring but what really surprised me is that aesthetically, it is a very attractive bike. Looks very much better than a LHT, in my view.

    Lights are very effective and always on. It’s my first hub dynamo and I love it. I’ll probably use a rear USB flasher as backup, mounted on my helmet.

    The VWR “The Gibb”is my dream bike. It comes with virtually everything needed for touring, is wonderful to ride and looks very classy. One cannot help but admire Noel McFarlane’s vision and philosophy. I am sincerely considering purchasing a Gibb or an Anatolia for my fiancé, in the future.

    I still love my Specialized AWOL x Poler, which is a damn fine bike and which I have updated with TRP HY/RD brakes, mudguards, rear rack and quality pedals however, if I were to ride off into the eternal sunset, it would be on my VWR Gibb.

  3. There’s a Swabia on my 2017 to-buy list – I’m too vain to ride trekking bars! – and can’t wait. Glad to hear you guys have had such a positive experience. It will complement my 5-year old Specialized Roubiax that I’ve done about 25,000 km on and still love, but I now need some serious artillery for future plans. See you on the road!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *