Traditionally styled randonneuring bike Flickr
What is that crazy word? Randonneuring (pronounced ran-don-NAY [ing]) is long-distance, unsupported, noncompetitive cycling within prescribed time limits. This Randonneuring originally started as day-long events in late nineteenth century Italy called an Audax. Back then, “challenge” sports became popular and participants aimed to cover as much distance as possible to prove themselves audax (“audacious”). The first recorded audax cycling event took place on June 12, 1897, when twelve Italian cyclists attempted the challenge of cycling from Rome to Naples, a distance of 230 kilometers (140 mi), during daylight hours. Eventually the sport became very popular in France and the name became Randonneuring, which can roughly mean a long outing, trip, or a ramble in the countryside.
Imagine 140 miles in one day on this built in Chicago 1897 Gormully & Jeffery Rambler Light Roadster
The events—called brevets—are 200km (13.5 hour time cut-off ), 300km (20 hours), 400km (27 hours), 600km (40 hours), and 1000km (75 hours). Grand Randonnées are 1200km and riders must finish in 90 hours or less. There are also events called populaires, rides longer than 100km but less than 200km. Permanents are another type of brevet but they do not have set dates and can be done at any time the rider chooses.
Once a brevet begins, the clock runs until the rider crosses the finish line, no time chips or time starting once rolling across a start line. There are no allowances for inclement weather, mechanical or bodily breakdowns. Eating, resting, navigation, bike repairs, and of course, cycling, must be done efficiently enough that the rider finishes within the time limit. Because these brevets are unsupported, riders carry everything themselves: tools, food, lights — and if they get support anywhere but the official checkpoints, they’re disqualified.
Non-neutral support may only be taken at a contrôle (“control” in English), or checkpoint, which are typically about 50km apart. At a control, some of which may be secret, the rider has their brevet card stamped to show passage though the control within the prescribed time limit. The card shows that you have followed the route and completed the entire event.
A completed brevet card Flickr
In addition to a cut-off time for the event, each control has an “opening” and “closing” time and a rider must pass through the control between those times. These controls are used to keep the rider on a prescribed route which the rider must follow exactly.
The rough route is usually posted on a club’s website but most times the exact route is not known until day of the event when you are handed a cue sheet. The cue sheet lists each turn and road along the route along with its associated distance along with food and control stops. This means you will need a bike computer that tracks mileage such as a simple Specialized SpeedZone or even a Garmin. The cue sheet will also indicate the opening and closing times of controls. The cue sheet only helps if you can read it. You can put it in a zip-top bag and attach it to the bars or use a handle bar bag with a clear cover on top. GPS is allowed but should be used as a secondary navigation aid, not as a replacement for the official cue sheet.
Now that you know about how the ride works, what bike should you ride? The answer is any bike that is comfortable for you. You will see people on aluminum, carbon, steel and titanium bikes in race, comfort, endurance, sport, aero and touring configurations. ‘Typical’ randonneuring bikes have long been somewhere between dedicated road-racing bikes and a touring bike. Traditional bicycles usually have lightweight steel frames with rack and fender attachments, drop handlebars, relaxed, comfortable frame geometry, medium-width tires, broad gear ranges, and the capacity to carry lightweight luggage. Fenders and lighting systems are also common, and may be required for some events. Great Specialized bikes for this are the Roubaix and the Sequoia.
Specialized S-Works Roubaix. Photo by John Watson
There are a few ways to participate in these rides. There are clubs & rides all over the country, which can be found through the Randonneurs USA website search function. The closest randonneuring club to Amphibian Multisport starts in Delevan, WI. Most clubs require a membership, that ranges to $5-$25 for the year. The rides usually cost between $15-$25, much better than paying north of $80 for club century rides on roads you already ride for free. If you cannot do a planned ride put on by a club, there are rides called permanents. These permanents are like a brevet but you can arrange to ride it any time, not just on one specific date established by the organizer. You can also use a club website as a great resource to find new routes for your own enjoyment since these local clubs know the most bike friendly routes in the area. It also helps, and is more fun, to do these rides with groups of people, whether you know them or not. There is nothing in the rules against pace lines or riding in a group but eventually a group of people may split up based on rider fitness.
These brevets and the “sport” of randonneuring are great ways to get yourself some more miles this year, try new roads, see new scenery and push your personal limits. Now get out there and log some miles.