randonneur bike

What is a randonneur?

Okay, so I have to admit the title of this blog doesn’t exactly ring a bell in most people’s heads. Ooh, what an artsy-fartsy French sounding gobbledygook term, they might mutter.

Well, allow me to explain…with the help of Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

The archetypal randonneuring bike: steel frame, drop handlebars, full-length fenders, handlebar bag. You can certainly complete a brevet with any bike, though. Photo from Jan Heine’s WordPress site.

A randonneur is a cyclist that participates in a ride event called a randonnee (alternatively called a brevet). A randonnee, in turn, is a self-supported, long-distance, mass participation cycling ride.

Randonneuring is a subset of audax, which is a non-competitive cycling sport of endurance riding, and randonneurs do everything on their own. In contrast, the men and women of the professional road cycling peloton usually have teammates and soigneurs (support staff) to hand them drinks and food, and a directeur sportif (sporting director or team supervisor) to oversee and coordinate general strategy.

A brevet card from an exceptionally long ride – the 1400 km London-Edinburgh-London brevet of 2009. Photo courtesy of yacf.co.uk.

One other characteristic of randonnees is their simplistic nature. Navigation is done via a brevet card handed out to all randonneurs at the start of the ride. It isn’t a map per se, but a list of checkpoints that randonneurs have to pass through as proof of completion. It’s similar to the manifest used for “alleycat” races held among fixed-gear bike messengers and enthusiasts. At each checkpoint, there is a stamp or signature made on the brevet card to certify participation and progress though the ride.

As long as their distances are, audax rides have an overall time limit, as well as a time limit for each checkpoint. Unlike audax, however, randonnees are more lenient with the pace and the composition of groups. Randonneurs are given freedom to ride at their own pace as long as they finish within the time limit, and may form or disband groups at will. As an example, for a 200 km brevet, the time limit is 13.5 hours. Completing the distance beyond this time will reflect as a “Did Not Finish” (DNF) status in the official results.

Official 2012-2015 finisher medals for each of the four brevet distances, given by Audax Club Parisien. Photo from Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

Under the Audax Randonneurs Philippines umbrella, there are four different distances for randonnees. The shortest is 200 km, working up to 300, 400, and finally 600 km. Completing any one of these distances confers onto the rider the title of “Randonneur.” After each randonnee is run, the organization gathers all finish results and sends them to the mother organization, Audax Club Parisien.

A rider who completes all four distances earns the title of “Super Randonneur.” Furthermore, he/she becomes “homologated” or eligible for entry into the premier randonnee event, the once-every-four-years 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris ride, when he/she completes the four brevet distances within the same calendar year as Paris-Brest-Paris. A handful of Filipinos did just this in the previous running as of this writing, participating in the grueling 1200 km ride on August 18, 2015.

Obviously, riding brevets requires a very different approach on the saddle. Unlike many races, there is greatly diminished value in crossing the finish line first; the only real aim is to finish the distance. Sure, speed is important, but what defines success is a sustainable average speed high enough to complete before cutoff, as even on a 200 km brevet you will inevitably require breaks to eat, hydrate, and heed the call of nature.

Rules and process

A completed brevet card from a 100 kilometres (62 mi) ‘populaire’. The pink stamps are from controllers and the rider has written in the answers at the information controls.

The majority of randonneuring events are classified as “brevets des randonneurs”.[7] In such events, riders follow a course through a series of predetermined checkpoints called “controls”; these are typically a few tens of kilometres apart. Each rider carries a “brevet card” which must be stamped at each control to prove completion. In some events, riders will be asked to supplement this by collecting till receipts in certain places and by answering questions about their surroundings at “information controls”, such as recording a distance from a milepost. At the end of the event, the brevet card is handed in to the organisers who will then check and certify the results. Riders are expected to keep within minimum and maximum average speed limits. For a typical 200-kilometre (120 mi) brevet, the minimum speed is around 15 kilometres per hour (9.3 mph) and the maximum is 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph). Riders who arrive early at controls will be made to wait before they can carry on. Riders can stop to eat and rest at controls, though no extra time is allowed for doing so. Riders are free to ride individually or in groups as they wish. A brevet is not a race, and no completion order is published. Riders are expected to be fully self-sufficient between controls and must carry food, water, spare clothing and tools to meet their requirements.

In addition to brevets appearing on a calendar date, there are “permanent” (or “raid”) brevets which may be ridden on any date by prior arrangement with the organiser, and “DIY permanents” where a rider proposes a specific route. In these events, the “controls” are predesignated places where a rider will stop and collect evidence of passage such as a shop receipt.

In addition to 200-kilometre (120 mi) events, there are brevets of 300, 400, 600 kilometres (190, 250, 370 mi) and more. These will typically involve an element of night-riding. There are also shorter events: in a “brevet populaire” (or simply “populaire”), riders follow a course of 50, 100, 150 kilometres (31, 62, 93 mi). These brevets are seen as a good introduction to the full-blown “randonneur” events, and also as a manageable distance for riders who want to maintain regular participation in the sport over a sustained period of time.

There are variations on the brevet theme including team events such as the “Flèche” or “Arrow”, which usually converge on a single end point from many starts, and 200 kilometres (120 mi) per day “Dart” events.

Bicycles and equipment

Typical bicycles at a randonneuring event in the United Kingdom.

Randonneuring bicycles are not subject to the UCI regulations for road-racing: a cycle is acceptable for randonneuring if it is solely human powered, uses wheels, and is no more than a metre wide.[citation needed] Tricycles and recumbents, therefore, are allowed.

Authors such as Simon Doughty describe a ‘typical’ randonneuring bike as being somewhere between a dedicated road-racing bike and a touring bike.[8] Such bicycles usually have lightweight steel frames, drop handlebars, relaxed (i.e. comfortable) frame geometry, medium-width tyres, triple chainsets, moderately low gearing, and the capacity to carry lightweight luggage. Mudguards and lighting systems are also common, and may be required for some events.

As of 2019, modern lighting (LED & Lithium Ion batteries), paired with a dynamo hubs are more prevalent; as well as a mix between equipment designed for bikepacking (aerodynamic, lightweight); or more traditional pannier systems particularly for longer distance events.

Randonneurs are expected to be self-sufficient between controls except in the event of real emergency. Riders are therefore expected to carry food, water, tools, etc. Some events require riders to carry specific equipment (e.g. lights, spare bulbs, reflective clothing), though this varies depending on the organiser.

Famous brevets

The majority of brevets are relatively small and locally organised, making for a busy calendar of events for enthusiasts. However, there are also some particularly well-known and prestigious events which attract participants from all over the world.

Paris–Brest–Paris

Sometimes regarded as the Blue Riband randonnée, Paris–Brest–Paris (PBP) is an approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) event held on an out-and-back course between Paris and Brest every four years. Begun in 1891, it is the oldest bicycling event still regularly run. It began as a race for professional cyclists, but is now a non-competitive endurance challenge. To qualify, a cyclist must complete a series of brevets within the same year. The series can be completed in any order (200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres (120, 190, 250 and 370 mi) is traditional), and any brevet may be replaced with a longer randonnée.

The PBP was the first popular long distance race, initiated in 1891. After 1931 the riders were separated into three groups: professional cyclists, and two non-professional groups known as the Allure libre club and the Audax club. Allure Libre consisted of individuals riding alone in the spirit of self-sufficiency, while Audax riders rode as a group and maintained a steady pace. As interest in long distance cycling had waned in favour of stage events like the Tour de France, the professional race part of the PBP was lost in 1951, leaving only the randonneuring part of the event.

The Randonneuring part of the PBP had been governed by Audax Club Parisien (ACP) since the 1930s. In 1975 the Audax and Allure libre groups split up and formed two different PBP events. Now the ACP runs the event every four years in their Allure Libre format, and the Union des Audax runs it every five years in their Audax format.

The most recent Paris-Brest-Paris was held in 2019 on August 18. In order to qualify for the event a randonneur needed to do a super randonee series of brevets (200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres (120, 190, 250 and 370 mi)) in the qualifying year i.e. by July 2019.

Randonneuring explained

Randonneuring is a long distance endurance sport where cyclists attempt brevets (bicycle rides) of 200 km or more.

The Audax Club Parisien (ACP) in France conducts the events called brevets. The Indian subsidiary of ACP, Audax India Randonneurs, conducts and oversees brevets in India in conjunction with regional cycling clubs under it.

To become a Super Randonneuer, one has to complete a set of rides of 200-, 300-, 400- and 600-km rides in one season (November-October).

While, it is not a race, the riders have to complete the ride within a time frame.

The Fork

The whole idea of the designed involved with a rando bikes fork is to accomodate a large bag up front but still ride comfortably. For a modern road bike with such a bag mounted there is a lack of stability, the weight of the bag and it contents. Would upset the handling of a standard racing bike. The goal is to have a well balanced bike. This is achieved by the bikes geometry up front, the bikes had average head tube angles but very large fork offsets or rake, a combination that is described as “low trail”.https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Trail length comparing Rando & Gravel bikes

For example when we take a look at one of the randonneur bikes from the list below and compare it to a more modern gravel/adventure bike. you can see that there is a large difference in the trail. 30mm less on this Masi Speciale Randonneur Elite compared to a Kona Sutra LTD.

Rake length comparing Rando & Gravel bikes

Also as you can see above the Rack number on the Masi Rando bike is larger then the Kona. This is common with randonneur bikes. You will see even larger number with some other options. https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The frame is also built with the accomodation to mount the small rando front rack to support the rando bag.

But anyway I have compiled a list of some of my personal favourite randonneur bikes and I hope it gives you some ideas for what to look for if you are currently in the market for one.

JP Weigle Randonneur

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Vivente World Randonneur Swabia

Soma Grand Randonneur

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Brevet Cycles The Flow

Masi Speciale Randonneur Elite

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Rose Backroad Randonneur Ultegra

Nobilette 650B Randonneur

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Bantam Bicycle Works Custom 650b Randonneur

Chapman Cycles Randonneur

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

La Fraise Cycles Randonneur 650b

Crust Lightning Bolt

Ultraromance’s Crust Lightning Bolt gravel bike. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

https://b66ee377a2dd2e4220997f38bb58568a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Velo Orange Polyvalent

Crust Bikes Bombora

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