My Next Stunt

I joined a bicycle club.  The club is called the DC Randonneurs.  As you may have guessed, they enjoy randonneuring.

If you didn’t guess that this club enjoys randonneuring, that must be because you don’t know what randonneuring is.  Randonneuring is a cycling discipline which combines elements of racing, touring, and ultra-long rides to form a unique cycling event.  Randonneuring is a French word which means, “cyclist who doesn’t know when it’s time to stop riding,” – at least that’s what it should mean.  These guys go on seriously long rides, some as far as 1,200 kms.  The authors of four blogs listed on the right are already members of the club: Rev Rider, Porta-John, Iron Rider, and Chasing Mailboxes.  They all cycle long distances.

Very long distances.

There are many similarities between randonneurs and traditional road cyclists, not the least of which being an affinity for the French language and the metric system.   Official rides are known as “brevets” and in April the group will be competing in a unique form of race called a “fleche” in which teams start in different locations but converge on a common finish line.  Riders often hail each other with perky French phrases such as, “Bon Route!” and “Allez!”  The Paris-Brest-Paris race (which occurs in France, you will be interested to learn) is the grand randonneuring event that many serious riders aspire to participate in.

Annoyingly, all rides are measured in kilometers.

I have already discerned a few differences between randonneurs and traditional roadies.  Probably the biggest shift is the randonneurs’ fondness for lighting and reflective material.  Lights (front and back) and reflectors (both on the bike and on your ankles/torso) are required.  Randonneuring events are so long that they almost always involve some riding at night and they take the safety issues attendant to that fact very seriously.  Another difference is the practice of using bags on the front or back  fender (oh yeah, they use fenders) to hold the items required to complete their journey.  There are no support vehicles in randonneuring and riders are expected to be self-sufficient.

click for details

This Saturday, the DC Randonneurs are heading out to my neck of the woods for a ride which starts in Bristow, a mere 15 miles from my house.  Since it is early in the year, they’ll be going on a “short” route of only 200 kms.  This is one of the shortest rides the club will do and is the minimum distance one must complete to be considered a “randonneur.”

200 kms is 124 miles.

The location of the start point and its eventual destination of the Civil War battlefields of The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Chancellorsville cinched it for me.  I paid my $10 annual membership fee and the $5 ride registration fee and was ready to travel 18 miles further than I ever have before.  I traded emails with the ride leader, who informed me the actual distance was 130 miles, so now I’ll be breaking my personal best distance by 24 miles.  Yippee.

So I’m going to ride 130 miles this Saturday, Lord willing.  I’m looking forward to meeting my new club mates who (despite the French and metric issues) seem to be a fantastic group of people.  I suspect I will have something to say about this event and I shall regale you with the tale sometime after I recuperate.  Wish me luck!

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48 thoughts on “My Next Stunt

  1. You’ll love it! We call those rides “Audax rides” here in the UK, which has the same French birthplace as randonneuring. My favourite distance used to be 400kms (250miles) which was almost a 24 hour event, and through the night of course. My baptism of “fire” was, in fact, a baptism of rain, when I did one in Scotland, and it rained heavily for 22 hours! But you get over it…….
    The UK has its own version of Paris-Brest-Paris(1200kms), which is 200kms longer: the London-Edinburgh-London (LEL for short). A gruelling 1400kms/850miles non-stop event, it’s nor surprising that some never make the finishing line.
    Enjoy your first 200kms!

    • Thanks, Frank. My internet research informs me that there is a slight difference between Audax and Randonneuring, in that the former allows teams to work together and the latter requires cyclists to work alone. Of course, your name is less French-sounding, so it has that going for it as well!

      • While Audax UK has “audax” in the name, I think they mostly ride the same kind of “allure libre” rides that Randonneurs USA does. Audax Club Parisien (ACP) also rides “allure libre”. Not many clubs actually run “audax” rides where everyone has to ride together at a fixed pace, stop together, start together, etc. I wonder what you’re supposed to do when you’re desperate to pee and it isn’t an official stopping point? Does the whole group have to stop and wait while you duck off into the woods?

  2. Brilliant Steve! Sounds like a lot of fun. I like the distance riding and so should probably check out some local Montreal club for this style of riding. Good luck this weekend – what a terrific way to kick off the 2012 season.

    By the way, measuring in km is the way to go. All the serious cyclists do it this way, even Frank I am sure in the still imperial UK! Welcome to the metric system! 🙂

    • ….I always measure in kms…..it’s the way to go. In the UK, we still can’t make up our minds if we are really members of the EU, whether we are still imperial or metric. It’s the mentality of an island nation!

      • Yes, and lord knows the English are quick to use the “island” as an excuse to stay separate, but we do sure like some of what Europe has to offer…then we’re part of Europe!

    • I’ll say one positive thing about the metric system – the numbers tend to be higher and thus your self-esteem rises. Just think, I’ll be doing a DOUBLE CENTURY on Saturday!!!

  3. I’m looking forward to using my bags, lights and reflective gear for this ride! you may have signed up for DCRand before I did, so I think we are both still juniorRandos, or maybe rando-in-training? The challenge of a long ride, with motivating time factors (but not a race) over new and interesting ground is what drew me in. Hopefully I won’t be regretting the choice come 7pm on saturday!

    • Looking forward to seeing you there, John. I’ve bought my ankle reflectors and my reflective vest. Hopefully they are up to code, along with my blinking tail light and my headlight. I’d hate to be held at the starting line until day break!

  4. Congratulations, Steve, but you’ll need to do some shopping to fit in with the randonneur crowd, I’d imagine. A Brooks saddle and leather panniers come to mind. Oh, and anything tweed. That’s also a must. But wait! Judgin from the insane distances you are talking about I think my image of the randonneuring scene is a little off. Looking forward to seeing how wrong I am after your ride.

    • I’ve checked out several pictures from the club’s website. It’s a very ecclectic mix of cycling fashion and machinery. However, I do believe my Madone will be somewhat out of place.

      • I think lugged steel is preferred, but I saw plenty of carbon-o-philes at the January populaire. Still learning the ways of these folks.

    • Merci beaucoup, ma mere, mais je ne suis pas un “randonneur” jusqu’à ce que je terminer l’épreuve. (I am not officially a “randonneur” until I complete the event)!

    • Thank you very much and I apologize if you are a member of the DC Randonneurs – I didn’t mean to omit you. I know you are a big randonneur but I wasn’t sure if you are a member.

      • Absolutely no apologies needed. Although I am technically a member of DCR, I primarily ride in PA and NJ. Also I am far from a “big” Randonneur, (unless you mean physically big in which case I would certainly qualify) in fact, I still consider myself new to the sport and learning as I go.
        Its been quite interesting to read some of the comments you’ve received on this post. I think this sport may surprise you and your readers in more ways than you can imagine right now.

      • I am looking forward to the experience and hope to learn a great deal!

        BTW, I’ll be adding your link above when I get home tonight to give proper credit to you. Sorry for the oversight.

      • Steve, there’s really no need to add my link but I appreciate the thought.
        Good luck on Saturday, I’ll be off on solo 200 permanent . . .

  5. Yippee! You joined a great club! I’m proud of you. Some suggestions for this your first brevet: (1) eat and drink regularly, if you don’t, you will bonk and it will take twice as long to recover and be able to ride again to complete the rest of the ride. (2) ride at a pace you are comfortable with. 200k is a lot longer than 100 miles … a lot longer (more than 30 miles longer … or so it seems). (3) eat and drink regularly. (4) Enjoy the ride!

    • Glad to be aboard! I’m glad to see your advice is precisely what I have been ruminating on. In my experience, nutrition and hydration become factors on anything beyond two hours. I can only imagine their significance on a ride approaching (or surpassing) ten hours. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind at each and every control and I’ll be stuffing my jersey pockets with goodies for the spaces in between.

  6. Good luck with that then Steve. I look forward to reading about it. We have a similar organisation here, Audax and there are lots of rides every week for randonneurs but here they range from 100km(60miles) up to Lands End to John o’Groats something over 1000 miles.
    On another matter, sorry if I have been lacking in my comments here. I used to get an e-mail every time you made a post but I haven’t had one in ages and I thought I would just take a look today. I see you have been very busy posting away and I have had an enjoyable time catching up with your Events.. 🙂 some investigation is required!

    • I’m not sure what the problem with the subscriber service may be, Brian. If others are experiencing problems, please let me know and I’ll send a nasty note to WordPress!

      Just keep checking the site every day, Brian. It helps drive up my counter! 🙂

      • All is well again, i found a box that needed a check mark in it.. it obviously got unchecked in one of wordpress’s up dates i am guessing..

  7. How long does it take to complete such long trips? Are they distance travellers plus “speed demons”? I’d probably need lots of vacation days to join such a club!! Self-sufficient would mean finding accommodations (or even tenting!). On the race where riders start at different locations, would it be fair if some riders ride on flatter terrains than others?

    Can’t wait to hear of your ultra-adventures! By the way, what’s wrong with measuring in km? 😉

    • I’m by no means an expert on randonneuring, but I’m pretty sure they’re not “speed demons.” I’ve read several admonitions along the lines of “slow and steady” is the way to go. The fleche race I mention is 24 hours long and the longest permitted rest break is 2 hours. Not much time for sleeping on that one! I’ve read stories of people staying (briefly) at a hotel for Paris-Brest-Paris, others sleeping on the side of the road and still others cycling straight through in about 90 hours. Good times.

      There’s nothing wrong with kms, in general. I just don’t see a need to use them when I am in a country that chooses to use another system of measurement. It’s the same rationale I use for not speaking Swahili in my home. Besides, it’s kinda fun to be a bit xenophobic in my posts! 🙂

  8. Allez, bon courage et chapeau!

    And I see from these comments that you are a secret French speaker!

    I think you and your handsome new bike will have a blast, it will be a hoot and you will both “fit right in.”

    Call them endurance cycling, randonnées, cyclosportifs, audax, or whatever, despite the differences … is signing up for them some virus traveling the East Coast? When you’re finished, waft some of the success you are sure to have north towards New England, eh?

    By the way, WordPress keeps refusing my comment….??…

    • A few years of high school and college French in my youth continue to linger in my subconscious…

      I’ll try my best to ensure my success – and ONLY my success – wafts northward!

      I’m not sure what the posting problem might have been. Brian mentioned above that he wasn’t getting email alerts any more. Perhaps WordPress is suffering some sort of system-wide failure as I type these words. Let us hope not.

  9. Ah, randonneuring. Good clean fun. I think. I haven’t tried it yet although I plan to. Perhaps next year. It seems like the natural next step for you. Good luck.

    Jumping on the kilometer conversation..

    The real reason for metric /SI units is ease of conversion. Converting between miles and feet? Multiply or divide by 5280. Convert between kilometers between meters? Just move the decimal place. When I was studying engineering in university we appreciated how that made solving equations simpler.

    Although Canada adopted the metric system quite a while ago common usage is still a combination of both systems. One has to be numerically bilingual here, I guess.

    • Esperanto is supposed to be a superior language to English but look at us, stuck in our antiquated ways!

      I hope there is a nice randonneuring group for you to join in Edmonton. I suspect I will learn a great deal on endurance riding from the DC group.

  10. Your Madone will fit right in. It’s the same bike that I ride. And you will possibly be pleased to see that, while the ride length is listed as 200 km, the turns on the cue sheet are written in miles! But please put your tail light in steady mode, if possible since the blinking mode annoys other riders. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

    • It will be easy to tell which Madone belongs to me – it’s the one with the silly handlebar bag I borrowed from my wife for the occasion! I have already availed myself to the cue sheets and have neatly stored them in my brand new cue sheet holder (a need I had reinforced to me at the recent Vasaloppet Ride). My lights shall be on steady mode and hopefully I won’t violate too many other rules of etiquette. I’d like to make a good first impression! 🙂

  11. I have often thought about setting my Garmin up in kms, as it always sounds so much further in distance and faster in speed, but then altitudes in metres don’t sound as high as in feet.. 🙂
    The problem being that I am forever doing conversion calculations in my head, as need to know in mph. But I guess i should stick with it.
    All the continental bike races i see on TV are in kms, even the ones from the USA !!

    • Exactly my point, Brian. We’re bending over backwards to fit in and it is unseemly. Oh well, some things can’t be helped I suppose. C’est La Vie.

  12. Glad to see you making connections and getting in a group. There is no doubt in my mind that Randos make some the of the best and most experienced riders and by the far the safest riders on the road.

    I have considered Randoneuring but there are a couple of issues I can’t get over. I don’t have any desire to ride farther then 100 miles, and I don’t want to fill out a card to prove I did the ride. If my rear end was stronger I would probably do one just to say I did.

    GOOD LUCK MAN!

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