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Stories and General Information

About randonneuring
About Randonneuring

Randonneuring is long-distance (endurance) bicycling. This style of riding is characterized by various rules and traditions.

Distances
Randonneur events are generally of at least 200km (125mi) in length. Other common distances are 300km (190mi), 400km (250mi), 600km (375mi), 1000km (625mi), and 1200km (750mi). The longer events are held over multiple days. One of the most famous of these longer events is the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris, first held in 1891.

Event types
Any sort of randonneur event is called a randonnée. The most common type of event is a brevet (pronounced breh-VAY), referring to the certificate (brevet) the participant receives signifying completion of a particular distance. Another sort of event is a flèche (pronounced 'flesh') -- a 24-hour ride of at least 360km done as a team. Participation in longer randonneur events may require that certain shorter brevets be completed as a prerequisite.

Control points
Riders must stop at control points established along the route to have their route cards ('passports') stamped with their time of passage. Control points are usually located at stores or restaurants where riders can obtain food before continuing. A final control point is located at the end of the route. Control points are the only places where it is legal for participants to obtain outside assistance.

Time limits
Each control point (including the final one) has opening and closing times that govern the minimum (and maximum!) speed of the riders. The formulas for calculating these times are complex but the minimum average speed that must be maintained is roughly 15km/hour (just under 10 mph). The overall time limits for the common distances are: 13 hours, 30 minutes for a 200km brevet, 20 hours for 300km, 27 hours for 400km, 40 hours for 600km, 75 hours for 1000km, and 90 hours for 1200km events. The clock runs continuously and riders must carefully budget their time for riding, eating, and resting.

Goals
Even though randonneur events have time limits, they are not races. The primary objective is to finish. There is no special recognition for being 'fastest', other than bragging rights. However, many participants endeavor to improve their times each year. Randonneurs who compete a 200km, 300km, 400km, and 600km in a single year are recognized as having achieved 'Super Randonneur' status. They are also eligible to participate in Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston, and similar events. There are other recognition awards for completing various combinations of events.

Mental and physical toughness
Randonneur events are generally run over scenic and challenging routes. They go under all weather conditions. The longer events require some amount of night-riding.

Self-sufficiency
Riders are expected to be able to ride between control points without assistance from others. There are no sag wagons or follow vehicles permitted on the course.

Equipment
Comfortable, reliable bicycles with sturdy wheels are preferred by most randonneurs. Panniers and/or handlebar bags are useful for carrying extra food, clothing, and batteries for lights. Night-lighting requirements can be satisfied with many different types of equipment and randonneurs discuss such matters endlessly. Bicycles are inspected for proper safety equipment before participants are allowed to start.

Training
In most regions, randonneur events begin in the early spring and continue into summer. Participants generally need to prepare themselves with long, slow, distance training through the winter. A good goal would be to ride a century (100 miles) in both March and early April in preparation for a local 200km brevet in mid-April.

What will I learn?
One of the most important things that randonneurs learn is how to interpret what the body needs. Food and fluid intake are essential on long rides and it is necessary to experiment with different approaches to determine what works best for you. You will also become a better and more efficient rider: any problems with smoothness or positioning on the bicycle will expose themselves on long rides, allowing you to correct them. On the longer events, you will explore the limits of your physical and mental endurance.

Is randonneuring for me?
If you have done a century and are looking for the 'next' challenge, this may be it.  You need not be fast to be successful; in fact, the best  randonneurs are steady and consistent and know how to budget their energy. It doesn't hurt if you're a bit obsessive about riding and perhaps a wee bit eccentric. Having a spouse/family/SO that is supportive of your training goals is also very useful.

This brief overview of randonneuring barely scratches the surface of the sport of endurance cycling. For more information, join Randonneurs USA, monitor the discussion group 'randon' (send mail to subscribe-randon@topica.com), or contact the local brevet coordinator.