DC Randonneurs and Randonneuring

Monday, January 28, 2019

DC Randonneurs and Randonneuring

By Leslie Tierstein

Many years ago, in addition to ride categories such as “A”, “BB”, “B”, “CC” and so on, Potomac Pedalers rides also came in a category “R”. Say what? The “R” stood for “Randonneuring”.

Out of curiosity, I googled “Randonneuring”. A bit to my surprise, Wikipedia did NOT have the best article. Instead, a good introductory paragraph is on the page by Randonneurs USA (RUSA) (https://rusa.org), the USA-based national organization for this international sport.

Randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. …. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring.

Just reading that paragraph tell me a lot about why I enjoy randonneuring:

  1. It’s long-distance. No more same-old, same-old circular routes around the same-old, same-old roads. I can get out an explore a bit farther from home, without having to drive immense distances and violating my rule: “Miles ridden must exceed miles driven”.
  2. It’s unsupported. I don’t have to consult my schedule for a supported ride and then pay varying amounts of money to do it. Ok, a little planning is required if I want to ride with friends or fellow randonneurs. But I can just pack up the bike with what I’ll need for the ride distance, terrain, and weather conditions, and go.
  3. It’s non-competitive. Sure, riders faster than I complete, but also riders about my speed or slower. You only have to finish within a given time span (which is usually not a consideration if you can ride the distance) to successfully complete a rando ride. People actually talk as they roll by, or at rest stops. Or ride together, to keep each other company.
  4. It stresses self-sufficiency. But it’s not touring … I don’t have to carry a tent and toiletries, but I do have to be able to repair my bike and keep myself non-hungry and non-thirsty, either by carrying supplies or by stopping at pre-scouted (by route organizers) stores. Routes are typically designed so that you don’t need to carry more food and fluids than on any other ride. Hmm, doesn’t newly popular bikepacking also stress self-sufficiency?

Randonneuring got its start more than a century ago, in France, and the vocabulary still reflects its French origins: “randeonneuring”? “brevet”? “controle”? “populaire”? “fleche”? (Hmm, so does the word “pannier”, however you pronounce it.) But in addition to international organizations and RUSA, there are also local organizations. In this area, DC Randonneurs (http://dcrand.org/dcr/) organizes rides, usually brevets, of varying lengths. DC Rand members can help you get started in randonneuring, learn more, or just keep riding.

The shortest DC Rand ride is 100k – 62 miles. Brevets – a ride organized by DC Randonneurs and on the RUSA schedule – are listed on the DC Rand schedule, which is now being put together for 2019 (http://dcrand.org/dcr/calendar.php), with the next brevet March 23. Randonneurs often have “pick up” rides (“permanents”) of 100k or longer, which are typically publicized via the DC Rand Facebook page or listserve.

My Google search also brought up a wonderful article by Jan Heine, who edits a magazine (both print and online) called Bike Quarterly (https://www.bikequarterly.com/), runs a company called Compass Cycles (https://www.compasscycle.com/) and in his spare times does long-distance, randonneur rides, quite quickly. The article mentions Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), a 1200k ride that, duh, goes from Paris (ok, just outside Paris, to avoid city traffic) to Brest, near the Atlantic Ocean, and back again. Indeed, Paris-Brest-Paris is the dream ride of many randonneurs, often coupled with a more leisurely tour of Europe. (What the hell, you’re already paying the airfare for yourself and probably also for the bike.) 2019 is a PBP year, not to happen again until 2023. DC Rand organizes a full set of brevets needed to qualify for PBP.

But it’s not necessary to head for France to find a long, scenic randonneuring ride; indeed, DC Randonneurs sponsored the BRB (Blue Ridge to Bay) 1200k last year. I have to admit I didn’t ride it; I just helped out at the starting point, Leesburg VA, before the riders headed out to explore, among other regional highlights – the Blue Ridge mountains, the monumental core of DC, the Chesapeake Bay as viewed from Annapolis, and some Civil War battle sites.

The shortest DC Rand ride is 100k – 62 miles. The longest is BRB, but rides of that length are not annual events here. There are also two team events in 2019, the perennial favorites of many randos. One is a “fleche” – the French term for “arrow”. The fleche started as a uni-directional ride, with most of the French riders heading towards the Riviera. Nowadays, it is any ride where a team of 3 to 6 riders covers 360k in 24 hours. Many permanents are available to RUSA members, and our area abounds with ingenious routes of varying challenge levels. One unique aspect of randonneuring is “proof of passage,” which is the self-reliant rider’s way of showing that she completed the route in the allowed time. Rules for proof of passage vary with the ride, but one way is to get a store employee to fill out your “control card” with the time you bought a little something at their store. (This is also a great way to provide support to those little country stores we take too much for granted.)

I have to admit that I haven’t done much long-distance riding recently, because of a combination of factors – a new sport (triathlons! You can’t get much different than randonneuring) interspersed with injuries. I missed one of my favorite 200K’s last fall – The Flatbread, which goes across the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with a control on the ocean and other stops at some of the historic small towns in that area. But I hope to do two rides this coming spring -- one heads south and takes in some of the Civil War battlegrounds around Chancellorsville; the other heads west, through exurbs and farm country, and past Old Rag mountain. Better get those dates on my schedule.

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