Tales From the Tarmac: Randonneuring 101

Tales from the Tarmac is the weekly home of the stories, insights, opinions and occasional rants of Art’s Web Content Editor, Kevin Rouse. Read at your own risk, and please don’t ever take him seriously—it might just go to his head.

This handmade randonneuring rig was built by Renold Yip of Fort Collins, Colorado and pictured here during it's break-in ride, the 1400-kilometer London-Edinburgh-London brevet

There are always plenty of questions.

Is that even possible?

Why would you want to do that?

Are you insane?

It’s a tough one to explain, really. Though it’s a discipline of cycling that’s been around longer than the Tour de France, randonneuring (yes, of course it’s French) is a form of cycling that caters to the more adventurous (read: deranged) cyclists on the spectrum. Who else would regularly embark on 200, 400, 600, 1200, even 1400-kilometer rides?

Now, before you think it’s a segment of cycling full of a bunch of mentally unstable cyclists parading around the countryside, let’s get one thing straight. It is. Kind of.

It's sunrises like these that keep you riding through the night on a long-distance randonnee.

It is indeed a crazy offshoot of the sport, but it also serves as the root for one of the most rewarding cycling experiences of my adult life.

I’ve always been a bit of an endurance junkie (read: deranged) so the idea of riding extremely long distances in an unthinkably short amount of time naturally appealed to me.

More specifically though, in the realm of randonneuring, riders ride a predetermined course, stopping at established controls, spaced throughout the route. Each rider carries a “brevet card” (brevet is another term used for a randonneé) that is stamped at each control, then turned in at the end of the ride to serve as proof of completion. Riders can ride at their own pace, but must stay within the time cutoff for their results to be certified. Riders are able to ride individually or in groups, and no placing order is recorded.

But before you start thinking there’s nothing more to randonneuring than being a glorified charity ride, all riders must be self-supported. This means carrying everything you think you may need and can’t pick up at a roadside store during the course of the ride.

Extra spokes, tubes, tires and all the accompanying tools all are considered basics when it come to the standard packing list for a long-distance brevet

While still a fringe discipline at its largest, randonneuring has a dedicated following in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, the United States and Canada among other countries.

Serious athleticism is required to complete a long-distance randonneé (for example, the 1200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris randonneé must be completed in 90 hours or less), but by no means is the world of randonneuring stuffed to the gills with serious athletes. A decidedly down to earth bunch, in your next brevet you could find yourself riding next to a mother of four or the CEO of a multinational corporation (I did at least), what you won’t find are folks talking about heart rate, lactate threshold or whatever else it is serious (read: agressively Type-A) athletes ramble on about. Instead stories of past travels, adventures and fantasies revolving about what one will eat next dominate the chatter during a randoneé.

An assemblage of the calories I brought along with me for the 2013 edition of London-Edinburgh-London

As for the range of emotions such an adventure is capable of inspiring, adjectives lose their utility rather quickly, I’ll simply describe the experience as, at times just short of transcendental, while at others downright miserable. All I can say is that if it’s even remotely within the realm of possibility, one owes it to themselves to experience what it’s like to cover distances seemingly impossible under their own power.

Note: For more on Kevin’s YiPsan Randonneuring bike, check out its Bike Check column here.

Kevin Rouse may have been a bit late to the bike-riding party, but he’s certainly making up for lost miles. Having discovered cycling while studying journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, he enjoys long days in the saddle whenever—and however—he can get them. You can usually find him on two wheels, but if not, you’d be well served to check the nearest coffee shop.