Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On being a Randonneur

As sports go, Randonneuring is a tiny nook in the niche sport of cycling.

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.


  1. Nigel New Jerseys population is 8-9 million, guess how many went
    to PBP? If you guessed 1 in a million you are correct sir.

    And I'm guessing your gonna be one of those going in 2015.

    BTW it isn't always easy :-)

  2. Shane - There's a lot of time between now and 2015 and I plan to make the most of it.

    Doing something that is not easy is one thing - but making it LOOK easy is another thing altogether.

    Bonne Route!

  3. Shane, I'm pretty sure Nigel is a PA resident and he counted himself in the 6 million people in the Delaware Valley. Still, that 6 million includes maybe 2 million New jerseyans. I'm pretty sure Nigel's math omitted 6 million other New Jerseyans. :)

    More seriously, I don't mind randonneuring being so obscure. Rides seem to get less fun as the crowds get larger. (But now that I think about it, I suppose PBP is an exception to that rule.) Maybe it's just that people who select rando as their hobby are just really nice people.

  4. Nigel,

    Meeting you was one of the highlights of my 2011 brevets. We rode together for what-an hour? The memories of that time and our subsequent connection sustains me to this day.

    Bonne route, indeed.

  5. I just have to say that I love your descriptions of the people you ride with. I don't know who they are, but I like how you talk about their accomplishments and proclivities.

  6. Nigel,

    You eloquently put into words what many are thinking but don't always know how to express in writing as you do so well. You have been a nice addition to the group. There is ironically something very attractive about a sport where there are relatively fewer participants. While we welcome all with open arms, if our events had the numbers seen in one of the benefit rides for example, I'd be outta here. I do those every once in a while just to appreciate rides with fewer cyclists.

    Thanks for being one of the few.

    Rick Lentz

  7. Thanks Rick and Rambling Rider.

    And Rick, Thanks for the pull back to the group after my second "emergency." Look forward to riding with you next season.

  8. Hello, this is Yiping. I participated brevets mostly in PA-Eastern and NJ Rando in 2011.

    I didn't know Shane had that problem before PBP. He did very well. I also agree with Roy's "serious" words.

    It's my great pleasure to ride with you. I will always remember these brevet rides.

  9. Ah Yiping. Thanks for reading and CONGRATULATIONS on becoming an Ancienne! I hope to have chance to ride with you again.

  10. I have been a long distance self contained rider since the mid-80s but have never understood what Randonneur and Brevet really are about. I seem to be missing what is obvious to you, can you clarify some for me?

    Thanks ... Roland

    1. That's a tough one. I think the best answer might be to give it a shot and see if you like it. The sport has lots of sides to it and different people take and bring different things from the experience. So that answer to what its about may depend on what you're about.