Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Brevet Season

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
Over the weekend, local bike shop and cycling club Ride Studio Cafe hosted a group ride followed by a Brevet Season Kick-Off Party that lasted well into the night. Organised by the RSC and cycling legends The Blayleys, this event included food, drink, a bike show, and an information session about various aspects of randonneuring.

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
This event struck me as significant on a number of levels. It was a coming together of the worlds of road racing, randonneuring and casual cycling, which rarely happens in other communities. It also showed just how much local interest there is in randonneuring. The room was absolutely packed and by the time things got started it was almost impossible to move. No one expected such a turnout.

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
Though many beautiful and unusual bicycles were brought in for the bike show and contest, it was impossible to photograph them due to their sheer proximity to one another. Frames bearing the marks of Weigle, Vanilla, ANT, Rawland, Rivendell, Sketchy, Gunnar and Seven were a common sight, as were refurbished vintage mystery frames. The glitter of hammered fenders set the room aglow. Saddlebags swayed to the soft French music that played in the background. Map sleeves glistened. Leather saddles of at least 4 different makes flaunted their rivets and cut-outs. Light and heavy, racy and sedate, with integrated lighting and without, rando bikes filled the entire room and spilled outside. Waist-deep in a sea of lovely bikes, yet unable to photograph them... oh how I suffered! The winners of the bike contest were a stunningly crafted JP Weigle, a refurbished vintage Raleigh, and a customised Seven rando bike (this one).

New England Ranonneurs, RSC Brevet Season Kick-Off Party
Last year it took me a while to understand what randonneuring really was, and I suspect many readers might like to have it explained. French in origin, randonneuring is defined as a "noncompetitive, timed, endurance cycling sport." It involves riding in organised long distance events, with the goal to finish within a specific time frame. The rides are unsupported (no van with supplies and mechanical help to follow riders around) and take place regardless of weather conditions. Control points along the way ensure participants cover the entire route.

Official randonneuring events (aka randonnées) are sanctioned internationally by the Audax Club Parisien and in the US by Randonneurs USA. Our local organisation here in Boston is the New England Randonneurs (NER).

The shortest type of randonnée (petite randonnée?) is called the Populaire, and it is 100km - a metric century. But the prototypical randonnées are the brevets - rides 200km or longer. Local organisations will usually host a brevet series starting in spring, consisting of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km rides spread out through the season. Hence, the Brevet Season.

Other types of randonnées include the Flèche (a 24 hour team event, described very nicely here), and the so-called grande randonnées, the most famous of which is the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris (for some time there was a local grande randonnée Boston-Montreal-Boston, but sadly it appears to have been discontinued). The schedule for all the local randonnées this season is posted here

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
A number of well known local randonneurs attended the Brevet Kick-Off Party, and it was a pleasure to see them in person. 

Emily O'Brien, RSC Brevet Season Kick-Off Party
It was particularly excited to spot Emily O'Brien - a woman known for riding long distance on fixed gear, eating pickles, and making custom bicycle bags named after pickles.

Cris C., RSC Brevet Season Kick-Off Party
I also finally met a few people whom I'd previously only corresponded with - including Cris C., who arrived on his well-loved ANT.

Matt Roy/ MM Racing, RSC Brevet Season Kick-Off Party
Presentations were given by Melinda Lyon of the New England Randonneurs, Pamela Blalock, and Matt Roy of MM Racing. Matt was at a disadvantage in that he went on last and it was already quite late. But I am so glad I stayed for his presentation, because he is an extremely engaging and charismatic speaker. At 10pm, Matt's talk made me want to immediately get up and ride a few hundred miles - whilst meticulously following his instructions of course.

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
While I find the idea of randonneuring exciting and romantic, I doubt that I can actually do it. The routes are hilly and challenging, and the people who do these things are extremely strong riders, no matter how much they might downplay it in conversation. Randonneurs tend to make a point of being inclusive and assuring others that "anyone can do it," and they honestly believe it. They also have a habit of describing rides in a way that makes it seem all about the scenery and camaraderie, conveniently leaving out the part about it being difficult! But in fact it is very difficult, and I am not a sufficiently strong cyclist at this stage. It is also a must that participants be able to fix their own mechanical problems, since there is no support. While I have the know-how, I cannot physically work on my bike and that presents a problem. Finally - and I hate to say this, but it's true - I am simply not committed enough. Though I ride a lot, I do it on my own time instead of planning my life around rides that take place on specific dates. When push comes to shove, personal things have priority and in the past it has been very difficult for me to commit to organised cycling events. For serious randonneurs, their lives basically revolve around the brevet season, as a great deal of commitment is required to both take part in and train for the events.

Some day I would like to take part in a brevet (or a flèche - those sound like so much fun!), and I certainly do not mean to discourage others from doing it. It's just that there has been such a tendency to romanticise randonneuring and to contrast it with racing, that the popular image of the activity does not, in my opinion, adequately reflect how challenging and demanding it actually is. It's good to go into something with realistic expectations. 

Brevet Season Kick-Off Party, Ride Studio Cafe
As you can see, the Brevet Season Kick-Off Event has given me a lot to think about. More than anything, I am still overwhelmed by how significant it felt to be there. We could practically feel a new era dawning as more and more people filled the room (several of us mentioned that independently so I know it wasn't just my overactive imagination!). While it doesn't mean that the local population will now rush en masse to join the New England Randonneurs (though it's a great idea to support them), I do think it's indicative of a growing interest in a particular type of cycling: long rides on bikes that are fast yet practical, and without an overt competitive element. It's the kind of cycling I like best so far, and I appreciate that it is so well supported locally. More low-light pictures of the event here!

100 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for describing the event so well. I felt much of what you shared - including the challenge of riding 200k. There has been a strong contingent of brevet riders in the Boston area for many years – thanks to dedicated riders like Melinda Lyon, The Blayleys, Emily O’Brien, Matt Roy, and many that I’ve only just met - I agree that distance riding is recently becoming interesting to a wider range of riders of diverse cycling backgrounds. I'm excited to see how the randonee movement grows in the next few years. The Boston area has an amazing cycling community. I'm glad you came to the party and documented it so well.

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    1. From what V has documented elsewhere it sounds like your shop rocks. Wish we had that kind of thing here.

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    2. Rob's shop does rock, even if I miss every ride. The bikes are fabulous, the expresso just as good, and my little boys even like it.

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  2. THANK YOU for explaining what randonneuring is so comprehensively and for providing all the useful links. The fact that the words "endurance sport" are in the definition does put a different spin on it from what I previously thought!

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  3. You nailed it - a lot of commitment, endurance, strength. Brevets take place no matter what the weather conditions will be.

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    1. If any parent randos want to share their life balancing strategies...I am listening.

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    2. I rode a 400 and 600k in 1983, had 4 kids, the youngest graduated HS this year. I started brevets again this year. While I think any strong century rider can and should do the 200 and 300 distances, going overnight presents an element of risk that parents of young children should avoid, IMO.

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  4. I just rode my first Populaire on Sunday. Given that it sounds like you probably ride about twice as far in a week as I do (it's a very good week if I break 100km), I have no doubt you could do a Populaire.

    You're right though: it's a long haul, and I was surprised both by how fast the overall average speed is (~25km/h), and by how fast I can ride for long periods when riding with faster riders (I averaged ~23km/h).

    I'd like to ride a proper brevet 200km or longer, but it must require much more dedicated training than I've been putting in--I was pretty much spent for about the last 18 or 19 km.

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    1. I am sure that I can do the Populaire in theory, but already I have a scheduling conflict and now have to choose. With the longer rides it would be even more difficult - aside from the physical challenge issues of course.

      Congratulations on your first Populaire!

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  5. Great post. I finished the SFR Populaire Saturday. Yay! I agree about the time commitment of Randonneuring, it's challenging to balance time spent on the bike with all of the other things in life...

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    1. Congratulations on the Populaire, that's fantastic!

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    2. Awww thanks! My next goal is 100 miles in a day, then maybe a 200k later in the year.

      Getting ready for this event felt like traveling, complete with a spreadsheet. It was a learning experience, for sure.

      GRJ, are you in the Yay Area?

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    3. Heard you might have got a little bit wet last Saturday...

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    4. Yep, it was pouring most of the way out to Point Reyes Station. My feet were soaked and I had a hard time not focusing on that. :)

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  6. If you read the account by one of the fastest finishers of the 2011 PBP, you'll discover that it is much more like a race at that end.

    http://blog.seattlepi.com/velocity/2011/09/02/ragsdales-paris-brest-paris-report/

    I was also amazed at the fact that most of the participants bikes do not match those seen at your presentation.

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    1. The guys at the front have support crews and don't view PBP as a ride. It's an all-out race so they use the appropriate weapon.

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    2. Anon - Well keep in mind that this was a bike show and contest, so of course the classic and artisanal bikes are going to come out. But also there is generally a strong culture here of custom built bikes. Many ride locally made bikes instead of Trecialized. That doesn't mean lugged and all that necessarily, but lightweight roadbikes by the likes of IF, Seven, Firefly, Geekhouse, Sketchy, and so on.

      Jim - How do they manage to have support crews if it isn't permitted? It is true that the strong riders see it as a race. There are now endurance teams doing the brevets as teams and posting their times as evidence of success.

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    3. I don't mean on the road per se.These guys carry only the bare minimum like they're out for a training ride. At the rest stops someone grabs his bike, gives him a warm rag, gives him food so he doesn't have to wait in line, I don't know maybe wait in line for the loo as a place keeper. If the weather's bad a quick change into clean kit in a van.

      It's the little things like waiting that take up huge chunks of time.

      Ragsdale did it in 36 hrs.; others come in at 90. Hard either way but the sharp end of the stick is superhuman.

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    4. I don't care for organized events and avoid them like the plague.

      However, if I ever were to participate, I would at least have enough respect for the event and the organizers to follow the rules.

      It means nothing to get a good time in an unsupported event using a guerilla support crew. If people want to show how fast a bike can travel from Paris to Brest and back limitations be damned, do it another week.

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    5. Ah, Matthew again.

      So you are determining the rules for PBP now. Why don't you tell Ragsdale that he interferes with your enjoyment of the event, even if you're not riding it.

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    6. BTW PBP has been a race for a very long time for many people. Google Societe Charly Miller for a primer.

      Also Tom Kellogg, of whose bike you're getting, has the utmost respect for all riders. Please note the world championship stripes on the frame as you ride it in good health.

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    7. Velouria,

      Here is the scoop on the PBP support.

      Article 17 : Support Vehicles

      Support vehicles are forbidden on the riders’ official route. Riders who wish to have a support vehicle (even for only one control) must specify it at registration. A special route has been provided for support vehicles. Riders canmeet their support vehicle only at the checkpoints and within 5 km from the checkpoints. Both the rider and the driver of the support vehicle must sign a solemn pledge, whereby they say that they have been informed about the level of support to be provided to the rider, and that the support crew must absolutely comply with the present regulations, otherwise penalties will be attributed.

      I know several local participants from Seattle and Olympia, WA who have done PBP. I was fully expecting to see more Rando style bikes like what was seen at your show, but the pictures and reports from PBP make it clear that the Rando bikes, with full fenders, integrated lighting etc. were much in the minority. If you do get the time, I would recommend reading the link.

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    8. V: Support crews ARE permitted at PBP and many/most other brevets and randonnées, however they may only assist their riders at the checkpoints / controles and must drive on alternate routes. Bicycle Quarterly did an article about this a year or two ago: at PBP more than half of the thousands of riders have a support crew! It's kind of the dirty little secret of the rando scene (though Jan let the cat out of the bag with his article). My brother crewed at the 1991 PBP for the eventual second place female. He drank 18 Cokes to stay awake.

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    9. Oh I see what you are all saying now. I know that support vehicles are allowed at controls. I do not see how that is different from having family members who live nearby meet you at each control and bring you stuff you specify in advance, which is also allowed.

      Initially I thought what was meant is that some riders figured out how to secretly have vehicles follow them along the route. The roads are not closed to motorized traffic after all, so if one is subtle enough about it I am pretty sure it is possible to do that without getting caught.

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    10. Anon - Had a chance to read that article about the Seattle cyclist. It is insane.

      Also, unless I am mis-reading, he did have his support crew follow him at least at one point of the ride:

      "About two blocks through town my crew drives up next to me all apologies: “Sorry man, you were way faster over that leg and we didn’t make it in time. What do you need?” I asked them to replace a water with a coke. I stopped for a minute then took off again determined to catch the leaders."

      Huh?..

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    11. Sounds like it falls under the 5km rule cited above. The vids in the story are good too.

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    12. Oops, you are right. I was surprised to read that rule actually.

      Jan Heine had an interesting article in one of the 2011 BQs about the history of how PBP went from an event where finishing as fast as possible was very important, to an event where it was just about finishing before the cutoff. Though I think it might be coming back around now.

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    13. It's fine to treat the thing like a sporting event but a lot of guys miss all the cool little things in their haste. I've read a bit and a friend who has done it have confirmed this. It's the little town kids that have little food and drink stands in the middle of nowhere, old people cheering in the middle of the night, socializing with riders from other countries that some guys ignore. Same as with the Tour - without the non-riders the event is nothing. That's just my opinion.
      Little rando scheduled for this Sunday - Paris-Roubaix.

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  7. I think that I would be intimidated or at least uncomfortable if the typical randoneur showed up in color coordinated Burberrry outfits.

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    1. a different anonApril 3, 2012 at 3:48 PM

      people with pre-conceived notions of what outfits should and shouldn't be worn would make me far more uncomfortable...

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  8. These are the riders you want to be with when your bike breaks down a million miles from nowhere... Give the 100k a shot.

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  9. So you see why some people got mad at you last year for using the term "rando" loosely.

    What, aside from explaining what randos are, were the interesting things said during the talks?

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    1. That is a whole nother topic. The word *is* used loosely, both as a bike description and as an activity description. That is precisely why for me the whole thing was so confusing.

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    2. Damn, prorated content.

      Strange. People here don't use the term unless it's for reals. "Race" also means one thing only. Sup with that?

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    3. The first time the term "rando" was explained to me was by a framebuilder.

      I asked what kind of frame he was working on, and he replied "a rando bike." I said "Oh, what's a rando bike?" And he replied "Oh you know, for randoing around. Riding around on dirt trails, with a handlebar bag to keep your stuff in. It's European."

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    4. Oh re the talks: They were straight-forward but interesting info sessions about randonneuring, with pictures shown from various events. One talk explained brevets and PBP, another was about the Flèche, that sort of thing. Matt's talk was about training, planning and nutrition. It resonated with me the most, because the other stuff I already knew and because his approach would probably work well for me.

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    5. Yes, training, planning and nutrition is the next level up from jra.

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    6. I can see where the confusion lies, after reading the definition in the RUSA member's handbook:

      Randonee: A long ramble in the countryside, by foot or bicycle. In common cycling usage, it means a touring ride, often somewhat strenuous, at least compared to commuting or running errands around town. In the United States 100-mile "century" and 200-mile "double century" rides would be considered somewhat similar to the French events, but compared to an official randonneur event, they lack the strict time controls. To be precise, one could go for a low-key randonnee or ramble, or it could be on a formal randonnee like Paris-Brest-Paris. On the other hand, a brevet would always have time controls.

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    7. "a touring ride, often somewhat strenuous, at least compared to commuting or running errands around town."

      Yes, there you go.

      The whole paragraph suggests that there is such a thing as a randonneuring style of riding, which is epitomised by, but not limited to, the officially sanctioned events.

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    8. Ah, good clarification. Randonee as a ride or walk didn't make it this far west. Must've got stick somewhere around Ohio.

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    9. I think it's also an issue of language and terminology. In French the words randonner/ randonnée/ randonneur refer to rambling. They are not technical terms referring strictly to the activity sanctioned by the Audax Club Parisien and its subsidiaries. This is what I tried to explain last year when some insisted that randonneuring was a strictly defined sport.

      This has been further confused by the American shortening of the word to "rando" and that word taking on a slightly different shade of meaning IMO.

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    10. "training, planning and nutrition"

      Yep, that pretty much sums up the stuff one needs to learn to do this type of riding.

      I've been 'training' :), researching the fuel, practicing with different clothing...and yet there are still things I need to figure out.

      The talk sounds great, also I found this tip sheet on the Seattle Randonneurs site to be helpful: http://www.seattlerandonneur.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10:tips&catid=7:faqs&Itemid=25

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    11. Yah, swat I was saying.

      You shoulda pulled at the handbook, "it says right here, it says..."

      Anyway, these things are great. What is not great is riding in the middle of the night on the weekend after the bars close. The dark side of the longer events.

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    12. The bicycling scene is full of pedants, as is the internet. When the two intersect, watch out! Those who argued with you last year (What post was it? I couldn't find it) think they know everything, but they don't. What else is new.

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    13. Ah, right on cue - a hateful troll.

      V, why is this kind of comment allowed?

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    14. Pretty sure the post was this one.

      I know, the handbook! Thank you April : )

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    15. Really? My moderating software classified that as a benign troll, or pseudotroll. Which kind are you Jim 01:52?

      God the wrong time stamps get to me.

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    16. Yeah, it goes down the path of non-productivity and non-info into finger pointing. Surely you can see that.

      Troll Jim is going back in time to gather evidence right now. So boring.

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    17. It's fine for now given what else I've approved. If it comes to evidence gathering... then jeez, some people have too much time.

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    18. Peppy (la randochat provocateur)April 3, 2012 at 5:21 PM

      mrrrr... miaw... *spleaunk* *hairball*

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    19. Vocabulary words for today:

      randonesia
      trolleur
      randochat

      Not bad.

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    20. Chuckle. I am not a troll, that I know of. I merely opined that cyclists are a pedantic lot, yours truly included. I wanted to read the post, because I remembered reading it last year and it was a nice post. I am not sure that the one you linked to was the one I was thinking of though.

      Adieux to all cats and humans present.

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    21. As fascinating as discussions on semantics can be, it becomes frustrating when the central subject is a loanword that has been used the world over for decades before being adopted by francophile American cyclists, who like to get very creative and opinionated on their blogs and in public places while wearing tiny little riding caps.

      I think April brought up a good point above, that there is a difference between general "randoneuring" and official, RUSA/ACP sanctioned events. The latter are specific events with well-defined parameters. The former is just a fake-french way of saying "riding around".

      The term "rando", by the way, seems to be yet another Froggie/Yank term designed by purveyors of fat-tire bikes with dropbars to help them move more of their wares.

      Let's be honest here: when you're just riding around, you're just riding around. Even if your bike has 650b wheels, a Berthoud saddle, Honjo fenders, and a fancy-pants euro bag (complete with an esoteric French name for the thing the bag mounts to), you're just riding around when it isn't part of a RUSA event. Even if you packed a picnic lunch. Even if you choose to ride a metric. Even if you know the proper French terms and their pronunciation: just riding around is just riding around. Regardless of the ride's length, the bike you use, or your own delusions, it is daft to refer to it as a "randonee" unless it's an official event. Referring to lengthy-yet-disorganized fake-Franch LARP-rides by needlessly French terms is just as obnoxious as when your crazy Aunt Theresa refers to wine as "vino" because she wants to prove she knows the Italian word for it. I suspect the motivation is the same.

      English is a living language, with a long-standing tradition of borrowing terminology from other languages. I applaud that, especially if we didn't have a word for the concept (eg, "feng-shui") or if the other language has a better word for the concept (eg, "cabron" vs "cuckold"). But do we really need a French word for JRA? I don't think so. "Randonee", outside of Montreal, France, and possibly Haiti, should only refer to an official, organized event. That's just my opinion, but I think it's pretty well thought-out.

      -rob

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    22. LOL at this discussion!

      I know that I was using the term "randonnee" and "brevet" and "rando" to mean the same thing, which is how it seems to be done here in Portland, and I know I've argued that randonneuring is specifically timed distance rides--when that is more accurately a brevet.

      Hmmm. Not sure if I stick with the official definition (per the handbook) or go with the usual usage around here.

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    23. I like Screech's comment. That is all.

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    24. Screech/rob - I think that's a reasonable way of looking at it.

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  10. I would love to be a randonneuse, but it will be some time yet, if ever, before I'm in that kind of shape. I'm pretty sure I could ride a Populaire, today, if it weren't for the pesky time limit, or it were mostly flat. Since the routes are hilly, and time limited, for now I'll just cheer on those that can.

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  11. I'd love, love to see all those great bikes in one place....drool. Also seems like a awesome crowd of folks to hang out with. I've never done one of these but it does seem to attract those who like a physical challenge, with a bit of adventure added to the mix. Truly, I wish I were that type :)

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  12. I think for me personally, a huge part of the appeal of randonneuring is the folks who do it--they're all so cheerful and friendly and encouraging to newcomers.

    I'm hoping to do my first 200k at the end of June. I did my first Populaire last November, and found out the hard way that my four months of touring was not enough training, because my touring speed is so slow, with lots of breaks. Pedaling hard for over an hour without taking a substantial break still feels weird to me! That, and my touring bike is a bit on the heavy side for randonneuring. Alas.

    I need to get my RUSA membership. And start volunteering at events.

    Hilarious term I heard from a randonneur is randonesia: Forgetting how bad a ride was. No matter how much any given rando sucks, you find yourself looking forward to the next one. And it's true--my populaire took place on a day where the temperature never got above 43F and it rained steadily all day, and I got a flat near the end, and I was so sore and tired, and yet the second I was done I was trying to decide when to do another one....

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    1. "I did my first Populaire last November, and found out the hard way that my four months of touring was not enough training, because my touring speed is so slow, with lots of breaks."

      I think that is very telling that, after your touring experience you found the Populaire difficult. Looks like you did it though!

      Agreed that the people involved are friendly and welcoming; it's a good environment all around.

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    2. *nod* Well, here's the thing: when I'm touring, I go at a steady pace I know I can easily maintain all day (which is pretty slow, seeing as I was carrying a lot) and I take breaks all the damn time, whenever I feel like it. The whole idea is to be able to do it again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that...and meanwhile take in the sights and really enjoy myself and not be too tired at the end of the day. There were some days where we went further and I was exhausted at the end, but I still went slow (knowing I had all that distance still ahead of me) and often we took the next day off. I don't think we ever went over eighty miles in a day without a rest day (or several rest days) following it.

      On my populaire, it felt like I was pushing myself speed-wise for the whole ride, and all my breaks were "get food and/or liquid down, pee, go." And I was just so much slower than I hoped and it was much more tiring than I expected. When I do a true brevet, I fully expect to spend the next day resting, even if I've trained for it.

      They only things that touring and brevets have in common is long-distance riding and self-reliance. (And that they're not a race, I suppose.) The riding itself is much more different than I had expected.

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  13. I'm in my 40s, seriously overweight, and busy, and an RUSA member. I joined for the advice and the community, because I'm interesting in long-distance cycling, but because of other commitments, I haven't done an organized brevet. I signed up for one once, but three days before it, I hurt my leg (getting out of bed--now that was ignominious!). What I found during training, though, is that as long as I eat regularly (more often than I want), I can go quite a long ways on my bike. And while I DNS'ed my only organized brevet, I went out the next week and did 200K, mostly on the same route, by myself. (I started from home, and rode halfway to the starting point, then did the official route until I reached the point I had joined it, at which point I rode home.) I even stopped in the controls, mostly because they were the best places to refuel. Since my goal was to ride a self-supported 200K within the time limits, not necessarily to do it as part of an organized ride, I was satisfied with what I did.

    There are randonneuring events that are not group brevets--not just the populaires, but also permanents. Here in France, where I'm living for the year, there are the "flèches de France," rides that go from central Paris to various points on the French border. I hope to do at least one before I leave, though once again the busy thing is getting in the way....

    Since my schedule was pretty full during the week, my "training" for the 200K was to start with a long ride on the weekend, then do 10 miles further the following weekend, and so on until I had reached a century. I did it rain or shine. I figured that was far enough to prepare the 200K, especially since most of my training rides took me into the western Massachusetts hilltowns and, on the longer ones, the Berkshires. I think the 80 mile ride into the Berks, and the century north into Vermont and New Hampshire, were both probably harder than the 200K. The least pleasant was 50 miles in 40-degree rain.

    My point is that it's challenging to ride 200K, but not too challenging, and it didn't take too much work to get to the point of being able to do it (at an average 11 mph, I might add). What it did take was patience and one free weekend day for the 2 months before the event. I'm thinking of starting a SR series next spring, when I'll be back in Massachusetts, to see if I can not only do the 200K but face the subsequent challenges of 300K (substantial night riding), 400K (dealing with fatigue), and 600K (which seems like sheer lunacy right now).

    By the way, I did this riding on a touring bike (Surly LHT) wearing my Poseur-Charlatan jersey and shorts....

    On preview: what April says about "randonnesia" fits my experience, both cycling and as a backpacker and runner earlier in my life!

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    1. "Poseur-Charlatan jersey and shorts"

      Oh is that the new English manufacturer that uses t-shirt weight cashmere? Do post a link.

      Thank you for sharing your story, both interesting and encouraging.

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    2. No, it's polyester from ElevenGear: http://www.elevengear.us/poseur.html

      If you really want to see what it looks like in real life, it's my current FB profile picture:
      http://www.facebook.com/bwogilvie

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  14. As a somewhat experienced randonnee, I often liken it to running. Most people can jog for a long time (longer than they might think) but can run for a far shorter time.

    As far as training is concerned, I ride 5 km to work, 20 - 30 km home, four or five days a week. My secret is weekends. I try and ride 50 - 80 km BOTH DAYS. This is key. Even the week before a 400 km brevet, riding 80 km on both Saturday and Sunday are plenty of miles. Then Monday and maybe Tuesday I would ride 5 km to work, 5 km home (rest days).

    Another vital aspect is learning to eat on the bike and training your body to eat a meal, wait 10 minutes and then ride away. Most folks can do it with practice. As far as hill go, I just find a gear I can turn and toodle up, there are no KOM points up for grabs so if it takes an extra 10 minutes who cares? My average on-road speed is between 22 and 23 km per hour. Pretty pedestrian.

    I always tell people that my strategy is riding the first 100 km without breaking a sweat and riding the last 2 hours at the same pace as the first 2. It keeps me reined in and the pace sustainable.

    Happy trails Lee
    Vancouver Island Route Coordinator
    BC Randonneur Cycling Club

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  15. Peppy (la randochat provocateur)April 3, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    Did I mention my record PBP (pillow bowl pillow) time?

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    1. sliding across the floor on your tummy does not count

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    2. Peppy (la randochat provocateur)April 3, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      No lapping for you.

      (That's right. Lapping is an earned privilege. I don't just sit on laps for my health.)

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    3. Okay enough. It's one thing to shun my lap in favor of the cranky bearded guy's lap, but another thing entirely to taunt me about it publicly. No fishes for you tonight if you keep it up.

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    4. In Randonesia, the French Randochats greet the trolleurs with a hearty 'miaou'.

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  16. I was wondering if you knew Emily! I've known her for several years (mostly online, I've only met her in person when she came down to NJ to race during her college years). She's both a total sweetheart and a complete badass on the bike.
    I also really wish I could afford one of her bags!

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    1. I hadn't met her before the event, and was too shy to really talk to her there : ) She does seem like a nice person.

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  17. "Randonne" actually means "hike" or "trek" in French. So, when randonneurs downplay the speed aspect and insist they're not racers, the are being true to the meaning as well as the spirit of the word.

    Sometimes I think I'd like to do some of those rides on my own terms, without the crowds. At one point in my life I was in shape for them, and was probably logging as many miles as most randonneurs, if not more. Perhaps I could get to that point again. But I still don't really want to do such big organized rides, but I'd like to do the kind of ride that a randonne/audax is.

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  18. Randonneuring is easier than you think, and harder. It really boils down to two things: [1] convincing yourself it's possible, and then [2] not thinking about it when you're doing it. You're just riding your bike, and if you stay in the moment all is well. If you think about the fact that you'll still be riding your bike in eight hours, or twelve hours, or twenty-four hours, you get into trouble. Training is all about convincing yourself you can do it--"if I did 40 miles, then I can do the 100k". Then, having done the 100k, you can do the 200k, and so on. But you also need to learn to achieve some sort of steady state on the bike, eating and drinking enough to keep going (the hardest part, and where experience counts most) and staying comfortable and happy. Speed has almost nothing to do with it. The time limits work out to around ten miles per hour; the horror and the glory is that the clock is always ticking. You can be fast and stop a lot. If you're slow you need to be more careful. I'm very slow by roadie standards, and always get dropped on local club rides. But I can stay ahead of much faster people on brevets, just by not stopping much.

    But there's nothing like being on a bike ride that started two states away, or watching the fireflies light up the fields as you ride through the night, or feeling perfectly adapted to 50 degrees and rain (an important skill for the New England Randonneur). The world seems so full of possibility, when you know your bike can take you anywhere, any time.

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    1. " The world seems so full of possibility, when you know your bike can take you anywhere, any time."

      Love that feeling!

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  19. I'll do my part: Dreaming of owning an Alex Singer - although I would probably spend more time looking at it than riding.

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  20. Good for you! I fell much like you do about randos. I tried the Princeton populaire, which is 120k. I figured it's only 75 miles or so and gave it a shot. That was a few years ago and I hadn't built up the base I have now; I had no idea what I was in for. All those stinking' hills! About 50 miles in both quads were cramping and I had to call my wife. Now that I have a better idea what to expect, I may give it another try. I'm glad you had the nerve to give a more accurate, less romanticized, depiction of what it takes to do a rando.

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  21. I found the 100k ride and the following talk and party inspiring. It started 2 minutes into the ride, when I noticed that the reflective vest in front of me said 'Paris-brest-paris 2011'. I introduced myself and started talking to the guy (steve) and he didn't come across as a super hardcore crazy cyclist or anything. okay, maybe a little crazy, but certainly an acceptable crazy, as I know I am. He made it sound like with a little bit of training, I could be doing 600k overnights soon enough. I had the chance to meet a whole bunch of people who were really into this kind of riding. Another woman was telling me that her racing friends don't ride below 60 degrees, but when they do ride, they just hammer -- she had to get used to our, ahem, 'leisurely' 16mph pace. It was also a new experience riding in a group like that, only knowing one other person. great fun!

    The talks and the beautiful bikes were also great, and it was nice to chat with you again Velouria.

    Easily the best was at the end of the night, after a bunch of free beer, riding with my friend and our double dynamo lighting down the Minuteman bike path at 10pm, and I was able to wrap up my 100 miles in the day.

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  22. Just a note about the rules. Self-sufficiency is valued and personal support from your very own personal support team is only allowed at checkpoints. Your fellow randonneurs are allowed to assist you with basic mechanicals at any time. There might be times when they are not willing to offer assistance and they are not required to but in any ordinary brevet you will not be abandoned at the side of the road for a flat tire.

    You might want to get tires easier to change than Krylions. I can imagine a group of willing riders at 250km in the rain just giving up on Krylions and leaving you for the sag. You could even find that with better wider tires and good levers you could change a tire yourself.

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    1. Unless my riding companion is related to me, or really doing the ride just for kicks and would fancy a flat-fixing break, I would feel very uncomfortable about others having a slower time on account of dealing with my mechanical. I would rathe abandon than put anyone in that position.

      Krylions are not the first or only tires I've owned. My other tires include 28mm-42mm widths. I know how to change them and can technically change them, but it takes me over a half hour, saps my strength, and who knows how good the result will be.

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    2. We havehad help with flats, with exploded tyres etc and have done the same help to others: it doesn´t matter because the time doesn´t count like in a cyclosportive.
      When you can find the time to enjoy a short brevet you should try it - build up the distances and take care about intensity.

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    3. In my experience of randonees, other riders are always very willing to help out if requested and they are able and I've never seen anyone express resentment the hold up. It really isn't treated like any kind of race by anyone but perhaps the small set of very strongest riders, but most will never see them beacsue they're already miles ahead. For many this is exactly the attraction - they're turned off by some of the uglinesses of road racing - or just feel past it. You're not holding someone up unless you're really down to the wire on time and near the finish. There's good reason that results are published in alphabetical rather than time order. In some European randonneuring organizations finishing times aren't even published in the results, just a list of finishers' names.

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    4. I've been changing tires quite a bit longer than you've been alive. There are stubborn tires that take half an hour when you have to do it roadside in less than optimum conditions. Many many roadside changes lead to pinched and poked tubes and then you start all over again. Or patch the tube you just ruined and try again.After 50 plus years of practice it is very possible to feel like a dork but that's just the way it is.

      I can't tell you how many "experienced" riders I've rescued because I always have the Silca/Campagnolo pump and they've used all the CO2 or broken the mini.

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    5. Velouria, you wouldn't be holding anyone up if they offered you help. Helping another rider is simply part of randonneuring. On a 200k brevet (brevet means certificate and has it's origin from the early days when riders who completed the ride got their "cert") I came across a rider with a broken shift cable. I was able to mcgiver the derailer into a middle cog, so he had at least 3 gears. Stayed with him the last 120kms. We finished last, but first in friendship. It's like Christmas...you don't give a gift because you expect to get one.

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  23. In Oz our Audax Assoc. Starts @ 50km rides. I think that's a lovely inclusive idea for any newbies wanting to dip a toe (and possibly get bitten by the bug).

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  24. Great article and photos!

    However, according to Merriam-Webster,
    Legend:
    a : a story coming down from the past; especially : one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable
    b : a body of such stories (a place in the legend of the frontier)
    c : a popular myth of recent origin

    We have been around a long time, which makes us old, not legends ;-)

    I also think you under-estimate yourself. You absolutely can do the upcoming 100km populaire. You've ridden this distance. The time limits are well within your reach.

    Remember one of the big things Matt Roy talked about was the reset button. Break the event down into achievable sections. The controls work well for this. On the local 100km populaire, there is a control halfway. So it's just a 30 mile ride, then another 30 mile ride - or two 50km rides if you don't want to mix units!

    I usually recommend that folks make sure they are comfortable with the idea of doing a century before doing a 200km (124 miles). So the 200km is just a century, which you know you can do, followed by a 24 mile ride, which is no problem at all - or you can think of it as a 100km, which you do regularly, then another 100km. Then the 300km is a 200km which you did a few weeks ago, followed by a 100km which you do regularly. As Dave Cramer said, don't think about the big picture. It will overwhelm you. Break it up into smaller achievable segments.

    Also don't think about a 300, 400, 600km or 1200km in your first year. Or even your second year. Remember you've really just recently started this thing you call road biking. Build up gradually.

    I do agree that it is important to get a bit more comfortable at least with fixing a flat, and would also suggest a tire/rim combination that is a bit less tight than what you have now would help. There are also different tire levers that are great for folks with less hand strength. Now all that said, if you are riding with a group, folks are often quite willing to chip in and help out. As Matt pointed out in his talk, there is a distance where your group sticks together and helps each other out. Not everyone is so gracious, but many are. The important thing is to be good company!

    So hopefully we will see you out on a populaire or brevet at some point in the future.

    pamela

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  25. As humbling as randonneuring can be I never find it humiliating. I've had some of the best times of my cycling life on brevets. I realize it's not for everyone but really, with some miles in the legs and good company, the seemingly overwhelming distances can be completed. Don't sell yourself short. Don't think you need a special bike or special gear. I really only ride 3 to 5 brevets of varying distances a year and find it an experience that cannot be replicated on my extended overnight bike camping trips or long rides. I will say that because of randonneuring going out for a 100 mile ride doesn't seem like such a big deal and so I get to see more roads and spend more time on the bike without it being painful.

    If the idea of riding a brevet is not your cup of tea, maybe look to doing a permanent with a friend. Check the RUSA site for a list of permanents and rules for completing them. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the cue sheet and understand the differences between different types of controls--info vs open. Everything is on the RUSA site--www.rusa.org

    Allez!

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  26. The Victoria Populaire was just held in Victoria BC with modest 25km and 50km distances to start the brevet season. More my speed, and if I do actually move to the Victoria area, I hope to get involved in the randonees. But, I have been suffering from an illness that affects my balance and have terrible vertigo and have not been able to ride for a month and it just keeps on going. It sucks since I have been working on 2 major bike rebuilds and may not even be able to ride in the foreseeable future.
    But it sounds like a super exciting night, and people of all ages getting down for some long distance riding.

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  27. Hello Velouria - As other people have mentioned, it's not as difficult as you think. Really, you are just thinking too much about it.

    For the last few years I've done only 1-2 long distance cycle rides per year distancing between 70 - 120 miles. Then last year I did a crazy 255 miles in 36 hours with a couple of friends: http://karlmccracken.sweat365.com/2011/07/20/three-go-mad-in-east-anglia/

    I'd only done a few 20-30 milers as training in the weeks leading up to it, and I foolishly did it on a city hybrid bike. Sure, I was pretty bad tempered by the end of it (weather was atrocious) and I ached for a few days afterwards, but it didn't kill me.

    And as for cycle maintenance, as long as your bike is in good condition before you start, the worst that is likely to happen will be a puncture - and you're unlikely to get one of those if you use decent puncture resistant tyres.

    No need to think too much about these things, or over plan them. You are definitely tougher than you might think. Just do it! It won't kill you..

    Your blog is great by the way :-)

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    1. "No need to think too much about these things, or over plan them. You are definitely tougher than you might think. Just do it! It won't kill you.."

      Exactly! If you're intrigued by randonneuring, love riding a bicycle and want to maybe go a little further than you would on your own on a ride, go do a brevet.

      Like anything else there can be some uptight folks at a brevet but overall I have found them very welcoming and encouraging.

      I was an armchair randonneur for about 9 months before I actually went and did an event. For some reason it seemed complicated and like you needed all this special crap, but really you don't.

      I would say, sign up for a ride, show up with your bike and some food and just ride. Stay away from the Google Randon list and put away Bicycle Quarterly until you have done a brevet. As good a resource as both of those things can be, they can also make randonneuring seem overly complicated.

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  28. Having just done only my second 200km ever, I can say that it really is as much of a mental test as a physical test. I truly was physically not well prepared for this brevet, but something clicked in my mind and I was in a zone where I was determined to finish the ride- and I did, although I was disqualified.

    You're so lucky to be in a region where you can have good riders (dare I say, living legends?) as mentors. If you decide to give a populaire, permanent, or a brevet a try, you will be in excellent company.

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  29. You could also try the Audax style: a captain in charge of his peloton lead the group through the landscape and thorugh the towns. Tha captain know the way - all start together and have to finish together - speed is usually set to 22.5 km/h. There are breaks to be held which is not times, but a puncture is timed... you could have help from the group with a puncture.

    Do a 200 km one day og another with randonneur style riding og Audax style, then you become a randonneur!
    If you do 200, 300, 400 and 600 km you become superrandonneur!

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  30. Sketchy sighting! Yay!

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  31. My only problem with brevets is that I ALWAYS want to deviate from the fixed route and truly ramble. Riding them has improved my riding a lot. I used to take a break every 20-25 miles on longer rides, the brevets got me usedd to 40-50 miles between stops, unless I really need water.

    Velouria, you'd probably be able to pull off a 200k brevet. Try a populaire, ride a couple 50-75 mile rides on nice weekends with company - fun rides - and then try a 200k.

    Or just ride as you do.

    Screech, the fixed route, time limits, and longer and specific distances makes a brevet distinctly not JRA. IMHO.

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  32. I've only completed one "rando", a 100k Populaire in November 2011 (the same one April was on.) The biggest fear for me before riding was completing it. I knew that I could ride 100km as I've done it numerous times on tours (fully loaded!) But having a time constraint was new to me. Thankfully once I got into the rhythm of the ride, it didn't matter and I did complete the route in time.

    My other fear was that everyone would have awesome 650B low-trail vaguely French looking bikes, as these were "true" randonneuring bikes. I would be the odd duck with my gangly LHT and its 700C wheels. This was far from reality. About ten people (10% of the riders) had LHTs. And the dominant bike type: standard modern road bike in its crabon glory.

    And yes I'm going to do more! Just need to get ready for it, and do some serious work on the Long Haul Trucker.

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  33. Enjoyed your article and the comments almost as much as a brevet. :-o)

    I've told people the Yogi Berra rule for randoneuuring: "50% of completing a brevet is 90% mental." If you think you can...you probably can.

    You said you're not a strong rider. Welcome to the club. On just about every brevet I've come in last or he who is known as the "rouge lantern".

    One thing for sure is that if you enjoy long distance riding and challenging yourself, a brevet fits the bill nicely.

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