15 April, 2011

On Randonneuring

 A guest post by Alec Burney

Spring has finally come to the Mid Atlantic, and Spring for us means that the local cycling clubs are getting into the real swing of things once again. There are clubs out there for all kinds of riders, but randonneuring groups hold a special place in our hearts here at Velo Orange.

Randonneuring is centered around endurance cycling - riding comparatively long distances. The events are timed, and in order to qualify, a rider has to prove that they completed the ride (brevet) within the time allotted. Riders are seriously interested in qualifying, because the rides are preliminaries to a Grand Randonée, and this year Paris-Brest-Paris overshadows all others. Americans seeking to participate in a 1200k ride like PBP will need to complete a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet within the time limits.

These rides are the original form of “credit-card” touring. Riders pack light to travel as easily and quickly as they can, allowing them to see far away places with relative ease, and requiring that they stop periodically to sample local food and spend the night at an inn.

Like most randonneuring clubs, our local group, the DC Randonneurs, is a cycling club that emphasizes the social aspect of group riding. Even though events are timed, the reason people keep coming back is to see their buddies, sit down and chat over a mid-ride lunch, and laugh about the last time someone took a nap in a ditch.

Even though many folks in the club try to push themselves to faster times and farther distances, the rides that enjoy the heaviest attendance are those with the best scenery. The sport for many is more like bike touring than it is like a stage race. Camaraderie, exploration, and the experience of a day spent riding are the dominant priorities and no one feels the need to ride harder than they want to, or to “beat” anyone else. There’s no “A” group or “B” group, only various social groups. Civility is absolutely required, collaboration is encouraged, and everyone is looking for a pleasant day.

Our next ride will be the 24-hour Flèche; though the rules are very complicated, the spirit of the event is rooted in camaraderie. The Flèche is a very social team ride, with a common goal - to get every member of the team to the finish, together. Teams will start in different locations, design their own routes, and on Saturday morning they’ll head towards Washington DC to meet over breakfast at the finish. Most teams select easy routes and take advantage of the 24 hours as social time to chat, get to know one another, and celebrate the shared challenge. It’s also a good time to sample restaurants, with plenty of time to sit and eat. Each team will see the sunrise and sunset before their ride is over, and the time in between the start and finish will prove to be a memorable one for all.

In case you're interested, here is the link to RUSA (Randonneurs USA) which has more information and links to local groups around the country.


Anonymous said...

I often wondered if the average cyclist knows what randonneuring is? Do they have any 50k rides ;<)

Steve said...

Chris said:

These rides are the original form of “credit-card” touring. Riders pack light to travel as easily and quickly as they can, allowing them to see far away places with relative ease, and requiring that they stop periodically to sample local food and spend the night at an inn.

Yes, except that for many the "sleeping accommodations" on the longer brevets (sleeping for a few hours in a ditch wrapped in a space blanket) is a far cry from the luxury of "spending the night at an inn..."

Anonymous said...

No 50k rides, but populaires are becoming more popular! 100k - 200k - a short day!

Velo Orange said...


Alec, not I, wrote this post.

Credit-card touring is another form of randonneuring. Not all randonneurs ride in organized events. The word means to hike or wander, what the British call rambling. And that's what it is, a long ramble, only on a bike. With a club, a few friends, or alone, and no matter if you sleep in an inn or under an overpass, it's still randonneuring.

Anonymous said...

Nice piece. Glad to learn of the DC Randonneurs, too. I live in NoVa, so will look forward to the opportunity to join a few events.


Vienna, VA

Riggs said...

I read a lot of the randonneur sites. I noticed the sections on newsletter that were basically obituaries. Shocking how many randonneurs are killed by cars or have heart attacks on rides. Most of those were in their mid 50's.

Anonymous said...

Depending on who you ask, the leading cause of death for Americans is heart disease. The second leading cause of death is automobile accidents.

This is a problem with our diet, lifestyle, and transportation
Infrastructure, not with randonneuring. If your hobby was crossword puzzles, and you spent all your free time doing crossword puzzles, it's likely that someday you'd have a heart attack while doing one. That doesn't mean that crossword puzzles are dangerous.

Meanwhile, aerobic exercise can help combat many, many of the problems caused by desk jobs and motorized transport. In fact, exercise reduces your risk of untimely death rather dramatically. Despite the risks posed by the occasional numbskull driver, your much safer riding your bike than you are staying home and getting fat.

Velo Orange said...

Recent research into exercise and health leaves little doubt that "ultra-endurance" events do not make one healthy. In fact there is considerable evidence that they cause the body harm. And some put you in a bit of danger. That can also be said of climbing and offshore sailing and drinking a bit too much wine, all activities I occasionally enjoy. So randonneur for the challenge and camaraderie, not for health.

masmojo said...

Moderation is unfortunately what I prescribe to more by necessity then choice, but in my early to mid thirties I did some randonneuring; I jusy did not know there was a name for it! ;-) Now as I quickly approch 50 it's something I WISH I could do. Over the last 15 years getting married to a non-rider and raising a family, my condition took a slide to the point that it is doubtful I can ever get in good enough shape to do that. I am afraid I would be one of those dying of a heart attack or something!. I'd probably O.K. for a while and then I would take a big bite and inevitably have one of those day where the wind gusts up & pounds you for 5 hours. I would probably just keel over!! :-) Still, I can dream!

Riggs said...

The problem is that as folks cross over the 50ish line the max heart rate decreases, and even those in good health will have some atherosclerosis. Nerve conductivity changes over time as well. Extra long endurance can lead to stress.

As for the infrastructure argument, yes and no. Outside of trails or bike lanes in the city, there are just roads. Regardless of why a car smacks you, if you engage in an activity that involves risk that is endogenous or exogenous to the sport matters not, its still risk all the same. Scuba diving is dangerous both wrt drowning and sharks!

Alec said...

In case ya'll were wondering, I did I did look incredibly ridiculous at the finish

Steve is absolutely right that long rides can be rough. The 200k might be the most pleasant ride there is, because you can pop into a little hotel and have a nice night, ride the next day, be back in time for dinner, spend another night and go home in the morning.
Or, as chris suggests, not everyone wants an organized, paced ride - a person can find their own comfort leven on a short tour.

And, as for the rest of the discussion, i think lots of things are dangerous, but they always seem most dangerous to me when i'm warm and cozy at home...

There's probably a fine balance between quality of life and safety, but I supposed that's based on my own definition of quality of life.

And yes, I have been diving with sharks. They're not all ravenous man-eaters.

masmojo said...

Maybe all this talk of the danger of long distance cycling will get people interested in it as an "Extreme" Sport (rightfully so!) When Mountain biking started the public had this perception of it like nature lovers calmly rolling along manicured trails communing with nature, then when they saw saw people hurling themselves down mountains suddenly it was out there and everybody wanted to get in on it. Distance riding is extreme and that in and of itself could promote it as a past time. While we are at it we could promote Extreme commuting!! :-)