For the past two years or so, I've been reading about these randonneurs who ride incredible distances for no apparent reason. But their stories have fascinated me since the time I first learned that they existed. And the live amongst us, quietly going about their biking odysseys.
What first appealed to me about the sport is the sense of adventure. Being out there on a bike, self-supported and in the elements. Flat tires and other breakdowns are the responsibility of the rider to mend (he or she has to fix the problem or there is no other way back). There are no sag vehicles, there are no sag stops.
The other thing that appealed to me are the bikes. Bikes like I used to ride in the 70's and 80's (actually, I still ride them). Sturdy, steel-framed, and with fairly fat tires compared to most road bikes found in bike shops today. And these bikes have racks, bags, lights and are comfortable to ride. Plus they are useful in everyday life, like commuting to work, going to the grocery store (within reason - hauling milk for me requires panniers), riding to church, going to play disc golf. Oh, and they just look really cool.
Lastly, like most new things I try,I am interested in finding out about the people involved in the organization. Are these people with whom I want to associate? Are they friendly, inviting, or cold and determined only to look out for themselves and screw everybody else who might be in their way. All of the randonneuring stories I've read on the web indicate they are warm and inviting. Could this be true in real life?
In January, I joined RUSA, because I wanted to try a brevet or two. Well, yesterday, I did one, sponsored by the Ohio Randonneurs. The first brevet of the season, it was a 200K ride, starting in Springfield, OH and heading north to Urbana, then south through Yellow Springs, Xenia, and around Caesar Creek Dam and resorvoir, then back north to Springfield.
It was cold and windy the entire day, so I kept my camera with its worn out and cold-sensitive battery tucked beneath several layers of clothes, and I kept my thick gloves on. But I did take just a few photos.
We started at the motel right at 7:30 am, just as the day began to get light enough to see without lights. We headed north through the streets of Springfield, then we hopped on the Simon Kenton trail, a rail-trail stretching between Springfield and Urbana.
The more I am around people, the more I am convinced we are genetically related to sheep. Several times at street crossings, the group would ignore the stop signs and zip across the street, and the stragglers at the tail end of the group would struggle with the decision to stop, or go, and incredibly all of those straggling strugglers decided to go. I blow through stop signs myself, but not until I slow down enough to look for oncoming traffic. And if I see a vehicle, I stop. Stopping with the strugglers behind is risky, too, as I was side-swiped by one. Fortunately, neither of us was injured, although I did run through my ABC (airway-breathing-circulation) checklist from my Ski Patrolling days when that guy was almost creamed by a car.
Aside from that brush with undeniable tragedy, I met and rode with some very cool people. Several people from the Ohio club have ridden Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), and many of them have ridden it more than once. I could not believe my good fortune to find myself surrounded by experienced randonneurs, whom each sincerely congratulated and welcomed me to the sport.
I had the privilege to ride the entire ride with this fellow, Rick Smith, creator of Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery.
A new journey is always defined by the people with whom you share the experience, and I'll remember always the fun that Rick and I had discovering some of the idiosyncrasies of randonneuring. This was Rick's first brevet also, and he pointed out several things I would have otherwise missed. For example Rick said, "what other sport requires you to carry a pencil?", and "this is like a game of Alley Cat that never ends". I had a great time riding with Rick and getting to know him and about his tremendous love for biking and bikes. He is a very observant fellow, too, who is good at following cue sheet directions.
I enjoy Rick's comic strip, but until last night, I didn't support it. But I do now, and I suggest you (and you know who you are) go to his website and subscribe. Rick is dedicated to helping us all learn to use our bikes more and to integrate transportational cycling into our society.
This is south of Yellow Springs, the large groups have disintegrated. Ahead is Nicolas, from France, but living in Muncie, Indiana. This was what I would see of him for many, many times during the brevet - speeding away. But I caught up to him several times at the control stops and when he would get back on route after turning the wrong way.
I must confess that I, too, wandered off course many times also. The standard guidance system for randonneuring is not a map, but a cue sheet, with the intersections and turn direction indicated. I kept my cue sheet in one of my seven back pockets (two jerseys and a wind vest) for much of the ride. But decided to pull it out to help take some of the burden off of Rick for following the cue sheet.
When in a large group, very few people follow the cue sheets, and several times the group missed a turn, and these missed turns really added up. I rode and additional 12 miles. I also learned that randonneuring is not about a matter of following. We all follow. Just make sure to follow people who actually know where they are going.
One of the rail-trails. While the hardy and experienced randonneurs in the group didn't like the trails and thought we should be on the roads 100% of the time, I enjoyed them because they were a reprieve from the traffic and they offered shelter from the suffering headwind.
As for my equipment, my bike performed very well, with the exception of a bearing in my bottom bracket that barked a few times. Those rides in the rain this early spring take away the grease. I think I'll just stick a cartridge bearing assembly in there and be done with it.
I bought some new pedals from Dick Jr. at the Country Bike Shop, and these were perfect for the brevet. The width was perfect for my feet with foot covers, and the pedal seemed to spread pressure across more of my foot.
Here she is, my 1986 Trek Tri Series in all her randonneuring glory.
This is a fairly comfortable saddle, although I much prefer my Brooks saddle I have mounted on the Tricross. I didn't want to change saddles before the ride, since this is adjusted to the perfect height, tilt, and position to accomodate my finicky knees. The saddle bag is stuffed with a spare inner tube, chain tool, spoke wrench, multi-size allan wrench tool, CO2 inflater with 3 16g cartridges, some loose change, and two patch kits.
The cockpit, with camera bag affixed to the stem, plus my NiteRider light. I stuffed the bag with 3 Clif bars and an extra cue sheet. While the bag was very handy, I still had to put my camera, cell phone, spare money, driver's license, insurance card, debit card, extra Clif bar, 5 Gu packets, brevet card, and helmet rain cover in my jersey pockets.
My Nite Rider light is plenty bright to see at night, but the battery is very heavy and it only lasts for two hours. There is only one setting, so I can't make the battery last any longer. I did order a new Busch & Miller Ixon IQ battery-powered light from Peter White Cycles. It is scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday, and I think this might be a good randonnering light for my limited cycling budget.
I brought this pump along with me, and it rattled in the holder over every stinking bump. I think I'll not bring this along on the next brevet. I used this pump to pump up my 3 flats on the Ride Across Indiana last year. Just the pumping alone wore me out. I can get the tires to 50 psi with no problem. But the effort required for every ten psi after that expands exponentially.
My new (fairly new) 28mm Continental Gatorskins. These are the wire bead, non-foldable. No problems at all with the exception of a harsh ride on bumpy stretches. Rick had mounted 42mm Grand Bois Cypress tires on his Rivendell Saluki. Pumped to 55 psi, he said he really liked the ride.
What does my randonneuring future hold? More brevets, although the 400K and 600K scare the hell out of me. But the people I met on this ride made it a great ride - by far the most enjoyable long ride I've ever done. I'm signed up to do the 300K in two weeks, and I look forward to that. But I'm waiting before I commit to the 400K.