23 January, 2019

Randonneuring 101

By Scott

Randoneuring is a great way to get out and see new places and meet new people. We thought with the rando season either underway (you folks in So Cal are lucky in that regard) or about to commence, a brief primer on what is randonneuring would be appropriate.

We'll start out by saying that the best resource for randonneuring (if you are reading this in the USA) is RUSA. They are governing body for randonneuring in the US and have links to all the clubs who run rides around the US.  If you're outside the US, a quick google search will land you the name and contact details for the organizing group in your area.

So, now that we have that out of the way, what is randonneuring? I'd go with an organized ride of a distance equal to or greater then 200 km (125 miles) along a set route with a series of check points (controls) along the way. Time limits exist for the rides. A 200 km ride has a limit of 13 1/2 hours to complete it, which works out to an average speed of 15 km/h. As the distance goes up, the time limit does as well.

Rides start with Populaires - typically a 100 km (62 mile) event with one or two check points/controls to introduce cyclists to the principles of randonneuring.
Brevets are the traditional distances of 200 km, 300, 400, 600 for a series. Complete all four rides in one season and you get a lovely medal from France. Brevets also include longer events of 1000 km and 1200 km's all the way up to mega distance events like the Around Hokkido event in Japan that is 2400 km long! (If you want to know how to pronounce a word in the randonneur lexicon, just pretend to be Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies)

(Part way through the Inaugural Cascade 1200 in WA state in 2005)

Every fourth year is the grand daddy/momma of randonneuring events, Paris-Brest-Paris. PBP is a 1200 km event that attracts entrants from all over the world. At one point, PBP was professional road race, but transitioned in the 60's to a randonneur event. Lots of randonneurs plan their year(s) out in order to take part in this great event. I've never managed to get to France for PBP due to a variety of factors, but I certainly know lots of riders who have entered and all come away with a great deal of respect for the distance and an affinity for the French people who line the route during the event to cheer them on even in the middle of the night.

Randonneuring also has a team event called the Fleche (arrow in French). Teams of riders - at least 3, but no more then 5 bicycles - ride a route of their own choosing over a 24 hour period, with all the different teams arriving in the same end location, typically for a breakfast together. The ability to create your own route and the communal finish spot is one of the aspects of the Fleche that makes it very popular amongst riders.

The key with randonneuring events is that they are not races. There is no prize for the first finisher and everyone gets the same medal or pin celebrating the completion of that distance. The BC Randonneurs that I rode with for many years had new pins every year that celebrated various aspects of cycling or the Province. So there is a camaraderie between riders on brevets that would not exist in a racing situation. All the riders are the in same boat when it comes to the weather and the terrain and lots of riders work with other riders to overcome the issues of day and complete the event.

One of the tenents of randonneuring is self reliance. Riders are on their own to deal with punctures or issues with their bikes. A solid, reliable bike is valued by many over a fragile, ultra light weight bike. Also, riders must at some point during rides like the 300, 400, or 600 km events deal with riding in the dark. There is lighting and reflective requirements set down by RUSA and other governing bodies, but riders must come up with their own way to see the road as well as the route sheet that they navigate by.
(Scott's old rando bike during the Endless Mountains 1240 in PA in 2009)

So if this sort of event appeals to you, get in touch with RUSA or your local group and try out randonneuring this year. Has anyone already made plans for attending PBP this year? Let us know in the comments and come August we'll be dot watching the event and cheering you on.


seajaye said...

Myself and a few others in the Trophy Bikes squad / Philadelphia Dynamo Headlight Society are PBP-bound! We've already been reducing the mean age on PA brevets significantly :)

James said...

Good luck you guys! Have a great time.