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Randonneuring Tip Sheet

This page was originally established to provide new Randonneurs with a source of information about our sport. If some of this information sounds contradictory it only reflects the evolution of our sport and the differing experiences of the contributing Randonneurs. Check for current recommendations and tips on the SIR and RUSA randonneuring email list servers.

Randonneuring - a style of cycling in one or more events called brevets. Brevets conform to a set of guidelines defined by Audax Club Parisien (ACP) in France and amended for Americans by Randonneurs USA {RUSA} in Middleton RI, and International Randonneurs {IR} in Syracuse, NY.

Brevets - are formal events that are something in-between a race and a tour. They are usually run as a series, each brevet graduates in distance from the previous starting at 200 kilometers (Km) up to 1200 Km. Each brevet has a specific time limit to finish in that is based on the overall distance. The minimum average speed to successfully complete a brevet is just under 10 mph. A detailed set of route navigating instructions (Que. sheet) is provided by the brevet organizer along with a passport or control card that must be validated at specified points (controls or check points) along the way and defined on the Que. sheet. The organizer may also set one or more hidden or secret controls to further insure compliance to the defined route. Support is not allowed between official controls. Traditionally, brevets are training and qualifying for entry in the Paris Brest Paris (PBP) event but not exclusive to this end, especially in non qualifying years. Brevets also test the reliability and effectiveness of your equipment and preparation.

A typical scenario might be: after the start you ride in a group to the first control (an AM/PM station.) Jump off the bike and dash inside to get your control card time stamped and signed. Find the toilet, buy enough food and drink to get you to the next control. Jump back on your bike and catch up with your group that left you behind for being poky. A few variations might be: taking a short nap, have breakfast with your buddy, sit staring into space until the next bunch comes through, and dancing around a source of heat trying to get feeling into your shivering body.

This summary of a brevet may sound like all work and no play, but there is something special about the challenge of randonneuring that makes the struggle worthwhile. Certainly, the challenge and sense of satisfaction of riding long distance unsupported puts each of us in close touch with ourselves. But the best thing that you will get out of randonneuring is the camaraderie of joining in the challenge with like-minded cyclists, of receiving a word of encouragement from a fellow rider who knows exactly what you are feeling and of being able to offer the same type of encouragement to other riders.

Randonneurs - have been categorized as "Super Tourists."

Nutrition - fuel for the body is not discussed because of the complexity of what we like to or don't consume. It's just too personal a subject to generalize. A phrase worth remembering is "Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty." Let it be said that you can't get too many calories on a rondonnee and you usually don't.

Bicycle - There is prevalent today an urge to go for the lightest weight possible - often at the expense of durability. There is nothing wrong with light weight bikes and components, but in choosing components be careful. During a brevet, you are not permitted to receive assistance outside of controls. Randonneuring can be hard on your bicycle. If a lightweight bike or a bike component breaks during a ride, it may signal the end of your day.

Give yourself every advantage, go for comfort. After 40 or 80 hours of riding you'll never regret it.

Frame - fits your body size and is properly setup for comfort. Carbon fiber is an excellent shock deadening material.

Wheels - rims, spokes and tires. A set of high quality wheels built for comfort and durability is one of your best investments. Large profile tires (23 c minimum 25 -28 c are better) preferably with soft sidewalls give a more comfortable ride, reducing the numbing effects of road vibration. With the larger tires 100 lbs of air pressure is sufficient to protect from pinch puncture and affords a luxurious ride. It's pure fallacy that ultra hi-pressure reduces rolling resistance. Mr. Tuffy tire inserts do work especially against glass punctures but add weight at the very worst place. You must still inspect your tires periodically for cuts and imbedded debris.

Seat - very personal. Hopefully it includes some shock absorbing characteristics... i.e. rubber mounted rails.

Handle bars - should afford a variety of hand positions to reduce fatigue. The anatomic style 6 or 8 bend work well.

Handle Bar tape - the purpose of handle bar tape is twofold. It affords a degree of padding and provides a tactile gripping surface.

Tri-bars - are legal in the US but discouraged, they are illegal on PBP. They do offer some relief from pressure on the hands and allow for an more aerodynamic body position. The controversy is that they are dangerous when used in a pack or pace line. Always use extreme care riding a pace line especially when with unfamiliar riders.

STI/Ergo shifters - very desirable. Chances are you'll shift into the proper gear if you don't have a long reach to do it, especially when your energy is most precious. Being able to shift while standing is another nice feature.

Lighting - What kind of lighting to choose for randonneuring is the most frequently discussed question among Randonneurs. There is no one clear answer. The needs of randonneuring are unique, lights must go through the entire night, then the next, then the next. And you may not have time to recharge batteries at the overnight control.

Regardless of what you choose for your primary lighting, ride with a back-up light, both front and rear. In the back, choose a version that allows a steady mode as well as a flashing option. Flashing rear lights are not permitted in France and your fellow riders will thank you if they do not have to ride behind to the annoyance of a flashing strobe. Again, be sure to bring extra batteries and if possible and extra bulb.

Headlamp: In Europe flashing lights are illegal, make sure you can switch the to a steady glow if you go.

Fenders - a must in the northwest. Remember, they are not meant to protect you as much as those behind you. Novel concept. Don't forget the flap extension, this is where the real protection come from. Attached with a plastic zip tie. One gallon plastic milk containers are a good source for extension material.

Pump - if you carry one make sure it works. Most of the mini-pumps are useless. The When you're tired and get a puncture, you want to make getting back on the road as easy as possible.

Pedals - Randonneurs spend more time than we admit to off the bike schlepping about. Cleat/pedal float is a personal preference. SPD pedals are fine for many riders but some complain of hot spots during long rides due to the small platform of the pedal. If you use SPD's, make sure that your shoe has a very stiff sole. Knee problems can also arise during a long ride, if your pedals do not have sufficient float. Time pedals offer a large platform for comfort and also feature lots of float. The cleats do wear out while walking, and you will have to replace them more frequently than you will with SPD's. Always check your cleats before an important ride.

Bottle cages - 2 is the minimum, more is better unless you like carrying 7 lbs on your back.

Gearing - once again a personal choice. Remember that the hill you can power up at the start of a brevet looks like a mountain towards the end of the brevet. A 39 X 24 low is a reasonable minimum in the northwest. A triple is swell.

Computer - which ever one you use make sure it's reliable and accurately calibrated to the wheel you're riding. Change the batteries before they fail. Don't forget to re-calibrate if you change the tire size i.e. use your folding spare and it's a different size.

Bags - a handlebar bag keeps stuff (food, camera, ointments, face towel, etc.) reachable. A good rule of thumb is to distribute additional serious weight evenly between front and back (balance, something we should strive for in life). If you use a rear mounted rack the tendency is to overload it which effects the bicycle's balance and can make handling dangerous. Move some weight up-front. Lower (low riders) is better but compromises accessibility while riding.

Front handlebar bags are particularly useful if they feature a map window to place your route map. If you do not use a handlebar bag, consider using a map holder that attaches to your handlebar.

Some riders find that handlebar bags affect handling and also obstruct headlights. If you are not carrying too much weight, some riders use a rack trunk and a rear rack. Also, some manufacturers make large capacity seat bags, which can be combined with a small fanny back to haul your gear (if you aren't prone to back problems).

Reflective tape - put it every where, you want to be seen.

Clothing - Your clothing must protect you from a range of weather between wet and cold when descending a mountain pass in the rain with a wind chill factor of below freezing to the hot and dry of eastern Washington in July/August, 100+ degree heat. Keep in mind that you must carry what you use and if you don't have it you can't use it. Versatility is key as is compactness and light weight. With experience comes refinements in your cycling software. Multiple light layers work better than a single heavy one. They give you more flexibly in adjusting to the prevailing conditions.

A good combination for a "normal" ride might be, in addition to a short sleeve jersey and shorts, leg warmers, a long-sleeve wicking undershirt or long-sleeve jersey, rain shell, arm warmers, light-weight long-fingered gloves and a reflective vest. Sometimes, it can feel like a nuisance to carry this much stuff, but if it starts to rain, gets cool and gets late in the day, you will be glad you brought it along.

Helmet - helmets are required. Reflective tape is advisable for night rides.

Reflective gear - Reflective garment (vest) - must be worn after sunset. The purpose is safety, too be seen at night. The large reflective triangle commonly used is very effective but not a substitute for a vest. Reflective ankle bands are very effective due to foot movement. I would emphasize that a reflective vest or similar reflective gear is mandatory.

Eye protection - is suggested for both day and night conditions.

Rain jacket - A high quality jacket is indispensable and also serves as windbreaker. Burley makes a great one for under $100.

Shorts - bibs are wonderful, their comfort far out weigh any inconvenience. Choice of chamois is as personal as food, funny how that works.

Tights or leg warmers - necessary, especially at night.

Balaclava/Skull cap - handy for napping out of doors, genius in the extreme cold. We lose 80% of our body heat from our head. Although a butt warmer may serve a few better.

Booties - recommend in cool rainy conditions. They provide a degree of warm comfort and help prevent Achilles tendon injuries. Some don't agree that booties are a necessity. They are nice to start off with on an early spring ride or if it's raining when the ride start, but they are a pain to carry. I also prefer lightweight socks of polypro or similar material - they do not bunch up or create painful spots when riding - again a matter of personal preference.

Socks - wool is warm when wet and cool in the heat.

Long and short fingered gloves - good palm padding is desirable but not so much that your hands will be uncomfortable or cramp when clinched.

Other - I carry a small damp face towel, it's handy for wiping a sweaty face while riding and nothing refreshes better on a hot day than a cool cleanup at a control.

First Aid Kit - This is the most important article we don't carry. At a minimum it should contain sun block, anti-inflammation/pain pills, various size Band-Aids and gauze pads, tube of antiseptic cream, antiseptic wipes, triangular bandage (many uses, most common to immobilize a dislocated shoulder) and a card with any personal medical alert information (if any) and an emergency contact w/phone no. and address.

Extras - There is a balancing act each of us must do between the gear we think we will need on a brevet and the amount of gear we can carry on a brevet. The more gear, the slower you will be on the hills, on the other hand that one extra piece of equipment may be what is necessary to prevent you from DNF'ing or having a miserable time. I work from a spreadsheet that I use to check off the gear for my ride. Here are some possible extras that you might want to carry.

  • Space blanket - is one of the more important items you hope never to use. They are light and compact. Can be used as a shelter in hot or cold conditions or cut to fit under your clothing in an extreme emergency.
  • Small light - One that can be held in your teeth (leaving hands free) to assist in night repairs or reading the Que. sheet
  • Spare tire - (folding type) and 3 tubes.
  • Spokes - extra for front wheel and both sides (which are different lengths) of rear wheel.

Lots of riders use compact tools. Generally, I find that a set of the Allen wrenches that fit the Allen screws on your bike, a small screw driver, spoke wrench and small penknife work better and are not that inconvenient to carry along.. Compact all in one tools often compromise on performance for the sake of convenience. If you insist on one of these types of tools, though, I think that the kool tool is the best.

  • Knife - the tiny Swiss Army classic is a monster tool with ultra sharp knife blade and scissors. Tooth pick and tweezers included.
  • Tape - hunk of electricians (black plastic) or duct tape. Handy for emergency repairs
  • Mobile phone - can be a life saver if not a convenience. The best use I've seen is calling in an order for pizza while on route.
  • Energy gel - very handy for a short duration picker upper. Carry lots.
  • An alligator type clip zip tied to your handle bar stem makes a convenient route sheet holder.
  • Timex Iron Man Wrist watch has a useful continuous count down timer feature. Set it to how often you want to eat or drink and the alarm will remind you.
  • Especially useful on PBP is a small helmet mounted light. The route direction arrows are placed above the normal beam height of your head lamp to deter pilfering.
  • A shock mounted handle bar stem like the Girvin is effectively deadens road vibration. It does take time adjusting to the free movement when standing but it's a small inconvenience weighed against the comfort.

Kevlar cord emergency spoke. Compact, one size fits all, it really works.

Chain tool - the Cyclo mini-tool compact, light and could save your bacon. The Topeak's too "the Alien" is a 20 pc "all in one tool that is also highly recommended.

Things that fail

The Brain - usually the first to go is good judgment. An endearing quality of virtually all Randonneurs is persistence. When you are bumping along well into a brevet with little or no sleep, it's difficult to make good decisions. It may be best to get off the bike and rest but you don't realize that, you're zoned-out and running on auto pilot.

Tires and tubes - this is where the rubber meets the road and bad things are expected to happen. Carry extras, you will use them. On one brevet a rider had 9 flats. Not all were attributed to road junk. It's always prudent to resolve the reason for flatting or you'll be into Deja vu again. Avoid riding through a disintegrated radial truck tires, the super fine steel wire is frustratingly difficult to find when imbedded in your tire.

Fork - a 15 year old steel front fork blade was within a millimeter or two of catastrophic failure. Luckily the rider noticed eccentric handling and got off before a crash, his brevet was over. Regular frame inspection is advised.

Spoke nipples - alloy spoke nipples are prone to failure. In this case two failed nipples caused the wheel to collapse on route. Persevering, the rider was able to get a complete wheel rebuild at a control and finished the PBP.

Chain Wheel - sparing no expense on hired gun maintenance and best of show in equipment the large chain wheel bolts loosened stripping the spider threads. Again perseverance and money were the solution to replacing the crank assembly which allowed him to finish PBP. An equipment check prior to the start may have detected the loose bolts.

Cassette hub - it was the best money could buy. The free wheel mechanism froze turning his machine into a fix gear. Limping into a PBP control a new low tech wheel was purchased and he continued on. The damaged cassette hub was abnormally noisy out of the box and should have been suspect but the manufactures name was trusted, erroneously.

Bearings - randonneuring is tremendously hard on headsets, hubs, and bottom brackets. Check these for loss of grease frequently, especially after rainy rides. One experienced randonneur neglected to check his bottom bracket before PBP, had his bottom bracket seize during the event and lost so much time getting it repaired that he finished outside of the time limit. A sealed bottom bracket minimizes maintenance but should still be checked periodically. Chris King headsets cost more than their competitors but wear so much better that they are cheaper in the long run..