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