Randonneuring (My Forever Bike?)

Where does the time go?  I was reading Gerry’s blog post about Forever Bikes and resolving to follow through on his suggestion to write a post on Randonneuring bicycles, then I blinked and a month went by.  I guess I’d better get to it.  Hopefully this will provide a slight diversion from those of us who are trapped indoors and waiting patiently for warm weather and/or our vaccine injection.

Gerry was encouraging a debate about what kind of bicycle would be your “Forever Bicycle.” Many opinions were offered by people far more experienced than I. Undeterred by this,  I offered that forever was a quite a long time and it was not unreasonable to think a person’s riding preferences might change during such a period.  I find that my thoughts are increasingly turning to Randonneuring bicycles as they have a more forgiving geometry than road bikes. They also have several handy features that made riding more pleasant, if less speedy.

Gerry wasn’t precisely sure what a classy randonneuring bicycle was.  I find this to be troubling for two reasons:

  1. Gerry has forgotten more about cycling than I will ever know.
  2. Randonneuring is a French word and Gerry lives in France.

So if Gerry doesn’t know much about this, then there are certainly many others as well.  As a small service, I offer the following:

Randonneuring is a long distance cycling sport that got its start in Italy in the late 1800s when several riders decided to cycle from Rome to Naples (230km) in one day.  Back then, they were known as “audax,” (for “audacious”) and this term is still in vogue in Britain, Brazil, Australia, and other dark places.  The reason why its called randonneuring is because the French got involved.  The specific Frenchman was Henri Desgrange, who is better known in cycling circles as the founder of the Tour de France.  He also founded an audax club in Paris and sensibly named it the Audax Club Parisien.  Anyone who knows anything about Desgrange knows that he could be a difficult fellow to get along with and the ACP was no exception.  Before long (1920, to be more precise) a dispute broke out over club rules and a sizable splinter group formed an alternative organization which granted “Brevets des Randonneurs” to riders who completed their events.  This version of the sport eventually became known as randonneuring.

One of the early Paris-Brest-Paris races. Equipment has improved since then.

Randonneuring is a self-supported activity, so cyclists need to be able to manage their own affairs in all weather and light conditions.  The rides are long.  Short brevets go for 200km.  The crown jewel of the randonneuring world is Paris-Brest-Paris, which is 1,200km in length.  The bikes need to be more comfortable and time is less of a factor.  Most randonneuring events are more focused on the social aspects of riding then determining winners and losers.  Earning a brevet (meaning you have completed the course within the required time limits) is deemed to be a sufficient goal in itself.  The picture at the top of this article was taken in 2013, when Your Humble Author completed a 300km brevet with the DC Randonneurs.

A randonneuring bicycle (aka “randonneuse”) reflects the characteristics of the sport.  They are often equipped with fenders, lights, and front and/or rear racks to carry bags for equipment, maps, or food.  They are often made of steel, which tends to dampen vibrations and make for a more comfortable, if slower, ride.  The geometry is less aggressive, meaning riders tend to sit more upright.  This means they are slower with all the wind they are catching, but more comfortable with less strain on the lower back.

And a classic randonneuse is a work of art, as seen below.

Victoria Cycles Randonneur
Royal H. Cycles Rando
Fun and useful gadgets can be stored in the front bag. And look – a bell!

As I get older, I find myself less interested in smashing some speed barrier and more interested in enjoying the ride.  Small comforts, like not needing to carry everything I own in three small jersey pockets, or a fender to keep tire spray off my back, are increasingly appealing.  The notion of zipping off somewhere with a picnic lunch in my fender bag sounds lovely, as does the lack of back, shoulder, and neck pain on longer rides. And riding on a custom-built work of art sounds like a lot of fun as well.

Will I eventually break down and get a randonneuse?  Probably.  Will it be my Forever Bike?  Who knows?  When Forever arrives I’ll let you know!

10 thoughts on “Randonneuring (My Forever Bike?)

  1. It seems you know some stuff about cycling, too, Steve. I had no idea that Desgrange had his hands in the randonneuring cake, too! I actually used to have a bike that looked suspiciously like the ones you posted above, so there’s a chance that I go ‘full circle’ one day. In the meantime, I think you should go first and blaze the trail.

    And Happy Holidays, if we don’t talk by Christmas!

  2. My current bike (a Van Nicholas Yukon Rohloff) is definitely built for comfort and not for speed and very welcome that is. It may still not be my forever bike though as I can see an e-bike coming down the road when that time comes.

      1. I have a rear rack, mudguards and lights so I am well equipped. It’s just the engine power that is a bit short of quality for an audax. I have been tempted and might do one in the middle of summer.

  3. How long is forever? I’ve had a Bruce Gordon and a Davidson for 31 years (each) so far. I’ll probably never sell either – they’re probably worth more to me than on the open market. I am (self-proclaimed) too old for randoneurring anymore. Give me a truck to carry my gear!

      1. The Bruce Gordon got a new headset, rims and spokes but is otherwise original except for wear parts (chains, ball bearings, brake pads, cables; new BB spindle but the same as the original). The Davidson is original (including a tied-and-soldered rear wheel that has never needed truing). One is 3×6 (half-step plus granny) and the other 2×7. Having an 11 speed cogset on my new(er) bike is pretty luxurious.

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