How tiny? Consider this:
The Pennsylvania Randonneurs and the New York/New Jersey Randos stage their rides in the heart of the population dense Mid-Atlantic states. New York City has about 8 million people, Long Island has almost 8 million people, approximately 6 million people live in Philadelphia and its surrounding Delaware Valley. Together, that's well over 22 million people - conservatively estimated. A reasonably well attended average brevet in this area draws 20 or so riders.
This has been my second year in the sport. Getting to know some of these "one in a million" folks has been an unexpected bonus.
Hollywood central casting would probably overlook a room full of Randonneurs - not believing that this is a group who regularly ride ultra endurance events under all kinds of conditions with minimal support and even less fanfare.
What makes someone "rando" is not something you can see.The riders come in all shapes and sizes. Very few have the rail thin, hollow cheeked physique and 1000 mile stare you might think a steady stream of 125+ mile rides in all weather conditions would create. They tend to be middle aged and older. They looked like they enjoy their food and a cold one to wash it down. When they are not dressed in their reflective, spandexed, woolly supersuits, for the most part, they don't seem to draw attention to themselves.
As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd share a little bit of what I've learned about some of the folks I've met.
KR confessed to pre-ride jitters - serious pre-ride jitters. Loss of sleep. Trouble keeping food down. In prior years, rides were started and abandoned. KR was active and cheerful and present for brevets but the number of completed rides were a good deal less than the started rides. This year, KR faced the demons head on. At the end of the year, KR now has an R12 award, Super Randonneur Award and over 5000 completed RUSA kilometers. I don't know if the jitters are gone - I haven't asked. But I bet those demons are cowering in fear.
SB is strong and fast. From the outside looking in, SB makes the sport seem easy. As PBP approached, SB qualifying and then completing the 1200km ride seemed a foregone conclusion. Then, just days before PBP, SB got the news. The MRI showed that the lower back problem involved the spine. The limp was a real world reminder. PBP was now in doubt. SB decided to make the trip to Paris. Then he made the ride to Brest and then he rode back to Paris and completed PBP.
RC has done almost all there is to do in ultra cycling and randonneuring. A 5 year string of R-12s, PBP, brevets on fixies, mixtes and fat sand bikes, multiple 1200's including Alaska and North Carolina this year. Frequent first finisher. But when you look at RC's ride times you also notice that there are some rides RC finishes close to the cut-off margin. That's because RC is just as likely to ride a brevet or permanent with a rider that does not have his speed or experience. RC enjoys the ride in the front, the middle and the back of the pack.
TR rides, stages brevets, tracks stats and organizes.TR also remembers those who participate and quietly celebrates their achievements in a way that lets a rider know that what they accomplished did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. What TR does does not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
These four are just a small sample of the folks I've met. Whatever being a Randonneur may mean, L.A. had it right - its not about the bike.