Friday, August 28, 2009

Randonneuring is an achievable hobby

Would you like to try randonneuring but are a little overwhelmed about getting started or unsure you can do it? Well, fret no more. All it takes is a reliable bike, some impunity, and a little fitness. I know this because I was able to do it, which means that you can do it too. So here is my story and my advice, while I am still a newbie.

My story

I am not an athlete. I never was. I am a 50-something office geek. Over the years, I did the obligatory 30 minutes of cardio at the gym now and then, and an occasional 5K racewalk, but that was it.

A few years ago,
several events converged. A nice rail-trail opened along my route to work, my wife brought home an old 12-speed bike from a dumpster, and I started bike commuting. I enjoyed it. It became the best part of my work day. And then a friend and I started riding together on weekends.

Every week or so, we would search the internet for leisurely bike rides out in the countryside. I kept happening upon extremely long routes, along with dramatic ride reports from a few crazy guys who rode them. I had never heard of randonneuring. At first, I thought the routes and reports were spoofs. Then I found RUSA and thought it was a massive, organized spoof. I tried to ignore them.

As we biked, our distances kept increasing. Over a few months, we learned about food, drink, flats, chains, and chemical toe warmer pads. Eventually we rode 100 miles. And then did it again. And finally, I did the math and realized we were within reach of the RUSA 200km distance and 13+ hour time limit. Maybe randonneuring wasn't so crazy after all. My eyes sparkled and I was hooked.

So I started seriously inhaling randonneur blogs and newsgroups. All the blogs were dramatic, humorous, and eloquently written, which held my attention. But most of the advice was intense.

First, it's all about the bike. Carbon fibre or titanium, custom fit frames, clicky pedals and shoes, fat tires or skinny, air pressure debates, number of spokes, lightest weight tool kit, fenders, dynohubs, designer luggage,
a GPS with audible autorouting, and more. Who were they kidding?

And then the training. You have to do intervals, hills, long runs, night runs, rollers indoors, rain and snow outdoors, and taper before the event. And you've got to have the right clothing, smear goop on your butt, and expect occasional vomiting. Doh, is this torture or a hobby?

'Balderdash', I said. I don't need all this to get started.
I realized that most of the information in the blogs and newsgroups is written by highly accomplished randonneurs, pushing for the ultimate in performance. There isn't much written by newbies, since successful newbies naturally don't stay newbies very long.

As I studied the rules, I also realized the RUSA rule-makers were pretty smart. They set the entry level event at 200km and 13+ hours for a reason. It is short enough to be achievable by mere mortals with determination, yet long enough to be tantalizing and to provide a sense of accomplishment. It is the perfect level to entice new riders.

All of which led to my own ideas about getting started...

My advice

Start riding today. Ride whatever bike you've got. Ride whatever fitness level you've got. Wear whatever clothes you've got. You will soon learn everything you need to know. If you bonk, eat better. If your bike breaks, get better parts. If you feel unsafe in traffic, ask for help. If your joints hurt, get them checked. If your butt hurts, well, I still haven't figured that out. Your equipment, your impunity, and your fitness will steadily improve. Your distances will increase.

Start practicing on permanent routes. Get the cue sheets. Practice as much distance as you can in one day. Do the remainder on another day. Eventually you will be able to do the whole thing. And when you finally do it for credit, you will already know the route.

Choose permanents as your first official events rather than group brevets. Focus on finishing your own ride, and don't compare yourself to the uber racing set. You can join group rides after you build confidence.

Start by selecting flat permanents. The credit is the same as hilly routes, and you can learn to adapt to the unexpected (like dealing with cattle on the road) without killing yourself on hills.

Start in nice weather with lots of daylight. I like riding in the rain, and I love riding in the dark, but don't abuse yourself more than necessary.

Share the load. Find another newbie, support each other, and share the ancillary tasks. One navigates, one is the mechanic, one brings food, one worries about the checkpoints and receipts.

So take the plunge and start riding. I guarantee that you will be doing official 200km events before you know it. You will soon call yourself a randonneur. Your name will be on the RUSA website. You can buy yourself medals. You can wear a randonneur T-shirt. And then you can start writing your own blog and dispensing your own advice.

Don't wait. Don't obsess. Start riding today, and be amazed at how far you can go.


bullcitybiker said...

Awesome post and right on the money. Great advice for all randonneurs!

dean furbish said...

Some great "required reading" for the person who might be considering randonneuring!

tom said...

Welcome to the club. Sage advice for a new guy. You earned the right to give advice. Even race across America veterns have problems with their butt getting sore. Keep going and you'll keep high blood pressure,obesity diabetes,and O'bama care away.
Tom Florian

Lin Osborne said...

Do what you can with what you have and do it now is excellent advice for all, IMO. Hope to ride with you soon.

lynnef said...

Super post!