Randonneuring (also known as Audax in the UK, Australia and Brazil) is a long-distance cycling sport with its origins in audax cycling. In randonneuring, riders attempt courses of 200 km or more, passing through predetermined “controls” (checkpoints) every few tens of kilometres. Riders aim to complete the course within specified time limits, and receive equal recognition regardless of their finishing order. Riders may travel in groups or alone as they wish, and are expected to be self-sufficient between controls. A randonneuring event is called a randonnée or brevet, and a rider who has completed a 200 km event is called a randonneur. The international governing body for randonneuring is Audax Club Parisien (ACP), which works with other randonneuring organisations worldwide through Les Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM). Randonneuring is popular in France, and has a following in The Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, United States, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, India, Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Rules and process
The majority of randonneuring events are classified as “brevets des randonneurs”. 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
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
London–Edinburgh–London is a 1400 km event that takes place in the United Kingdom every four years. The event typically starts in north London, taking a route through the east of England, to Edinburgh, usually returning along the same route.
The event last took place in July 2017.
Boston–Montreal–Boston (BMB) is also a 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) out-and-back between Boston and Montreal. BMB is sometimes regarded as the North American equivalent of PBP. It was held every year except when Paris–Brest–Paris was held.
Other 1000 km brevets across globe
- Kittur Express 1000 km (Bangalore, India)
- Celtic Knot 1000 km (Offaly, Ireland)
- Jog Falls 1000 km (Bangalore, India)
- Noida Dasuya Noida 1000 km (India)
- Deccan Queen – CCD start finish 1000 km (India)
- Brevet LOC (India)
- TN 1000 (India)
- BRM Ek Hazaar (Lucknow, India)
- Riding Mountain 1000 (Canada)
Other 1200 km brevets across globe
- Granite Anvil 1200 km brevet (Canada)
- Herentals – Cosne s/Loire – Herentals 1200 km (Belgium)
- Mumbai–Indore–Mumbai 1200 km (India)
- BGB (Bangalore–Goa–Bangalore) 1200 km (Bangalore, India)
- Bliss In The Hills 1200 km (Bangalore, India)
- Big Tour of Bavaria 1200 km (Germany)
- Big Wild Ride 1200 km (Alaska, USA)
- BMB Boston–Montreal–Boston 1200k (USA)
- Cascade 1200 (USA)
- Colorado High Country 1200 km Randonnée (USA)
- Coulee Challenge 1200 Brevet (Minnesota/Wisconsin USA)
- Gates of Heaven 1200 km (Bangalore, India)
- Gold Rush Randonnée (USA) 1200 km
- Great Southern Randonnee (Australia) 1200 km
- Korea Grande Randonnee 1200 (Korea)
- Last Chance 1200 km Randonnée (USA)
- Lowlands 1200 km (Netherlands)
- Madrid–Gijon–Madrid 1200 km (Spain)
- Míle Fáilte 1200 (Ireland)
- Perth–Albany–Perth (Australia) 1200 km
- Rocky Mountain 1200 (Canada)
- Sofia–Varna–Sofia 1200 km (Bulgaria)
- Super Brevet Scandinavia 1200 km (Denmark, Norway, Sweden)
- Sydney-Melbourne (Australia) 1200 km
- Texas Rando Stampede (USA) 1200 km
- Taste of Carolina 1200k (USA)
- VanIsle 1200 (Canada)
- Ultimate Island Explorer 2000 km (Canada)
- Vologda–Onega–Ladoga (Russia) 1200 km
- Silk Route (Uzbekistan) 1200 km
- 1200 km BRM across Rajasthan, Mahro Rajasthan By Delhi Randonneurs (India)
- 1200 Chuiski tract (Russia)
- BRM Tour of Hungary – BRM 1200 (Hungary)
- Lviv–Karpaty–Lviv, 1200 km (Ukraine)
- Noida–Jammu–Noida 1200 km – Jammu Express by Noida Randonneurs (India)
- Hokkaido 1200 km (Japan)
- Tapi to Aravalli 1200 km (India)
- Ranbanka Ride BRM1200 v2 (India)
- KODANAD – 1200 km (India)
- Rivers–Mountains–Beaches 1200 (India)
- BRM-1200 (Power it Up) MUM–MAHBLESWR–MUM–DHULE–MUM (India)
- Goa 2 Kanyakumari 1200 km (India)
- Psyclepath 1200 – Kochi–Bangalore–Kochi (India)
- Södertälje–Falkenberg–Södertälje 1200 km (Sweden)
Other 1400 km brevets across globe
- Dalhousie 1400 km Noida Dalhousie Noida by Noida Randonneurs (India)
- Danube Road Randonneur 1440 km (Romania)
- Bangkok–Phrae–Bangkok 1400 km (Thailand)
- Dutch Capitals Tour 1400 km (Netherlands)
- Giro Central Greece 1400 km (Greece)
Other 1400 plus km brevets across globe
- Hamburg–Berlin–Cologne–Hamburg 1500 km (Germany)
- Uppsala–Trondheim–Uppsala 1500 km (Sweden & Norway)
- 1001 Miglia 1630k (Italy)
- Wild Atlantic Way, 2100 km (Ireland)
- Sverigetempot 2100 km (Sweden)
- Maraton Rowerowy Dookoła Polski 3130 km (Poland)
Long Haul Bicycles
“After a long day on my bicycle, I feel refreshed, cleansed, purified. I feel that I have established contact with my environment and that I am at peace. On days like that I am permeated with a profound gratitude for my bicycle.”
What do they look like?
There are many different opinions as to what constitutes the perfect randonneur bicycle, or randonneuse. Indeed, some randonneur bicycles aren’t strictly bicycles at all, as entries to the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris marathon-cycling event illustrate.
These run from the sublime to the ridiculous: classic, restored Rene Herse tandems, sleek racing machines—from classic steel to the latest composite featherweights—recumbents, trikes, and even push scooters have been seen. Perhaps the most-photographed machine at PBP ’07, was Drew “Onion Johnny” Buck’s 80 year-old retro-drive 2-speed, replete with onion garlands. Without any apparent detriment to her performance, for PBP 2011 Sophie Matter of France traded in her drop-bar road bike for a 20 kilo Dutch bike, festooned with flower
What all cycles must share, at least those entered in official events, is the requirement—dictated by Audax Club Parisien rules—that they be safe and, on longer brevets, outfitted with reliable lighting systems; for this is where marathon cycling really diverges from bicycle racing: when night falls, the randonneur just keeps on going, and going.
The rest is a matter of personal inclination and idiosyncrasy. Mudguards (or fenders), for instance, are no longer de rigueur, according to ACP rules, and BC Randonneurs deem them “optional.” Riding naked in the “temperate zone,” however, is a pleasure I’ll personally leave to Paris-Roubaix racers, assorted ascetics and self-flagellates.
Depending on the degree of support (allowed only at designated controls), a randonneur will also need to carry a variety of gear, such as spare clothing, to survive cold nights and inclement weather, as well as a basic tool kit capable of solving common mechanical problems. Most riders will also pack along “fuel” to keep the tank topped up between roadside “carbohydrate stations,” otherwise known as convenience stores. Hence, the need for some sort of luggage and support/rack.
Attaching both fenders and racks will be simplified by making sure frames have both threaded eyelets on dropouts and braze-ons on seat stays.Variety is the spice of PBP (Velomobiel)
My personal approach to the rando bike falls somewhere between “retro grouch” and gram-counting racer. I believe it is important to acknowledge the wisdom of pioneer cyclotourists, taking careful note of the bicycles and accouterments they chose. Some things—like appropriate geometry—simply can’t be improved on. On the other hand, I believe it is foolish to let nostalgia stand in the way of innovation.The minimalist randonneur
However, I must address problems some recent “improvements” in bicycle technology present, which do nothing to solve the particular issues faced by randonneurs. A distance cyclist’s first requirement is reliability—we aren’t followed by a team car full of spare parts, bikes and mechanics.
In what might be considered the closest adherence to cycle racing’s original tenets, we are required to be entirely self-sufficient. While today’s rando rules aren’t quite as stringent as those Tour de France competitor Eugene Christophe fell afoul of in 1913—he was penalized for allowing a child to work the bellows of a blacksmith’s forge he’d commandeered to repair a broken fork—we are expected to “be prepared,” and the “randonneur spirit” echoes that wise Scouting dictum.
And so we are concerned by the trend toward modifications that do nothing to add longevity to bicycle components and in some cases compromise overall strength and reliability.
Perhaps the starkest example of such unwelcome “improvements” is the trend toward “integrated” headsets (PDF). We are now beset with a new approach to bottom bracket bearings, which also bring similar questions of durability. Perhaps these are “teething troubles” and the technology will eventually prove claims of user-friendliness and greater strength with less weight. For the time-being though, long-distance riders are rightly dubious.
Another, perhaps less critical, yet no less irritating, trend among leading manufacturers is toward shorter reach brake calipers (and associated cramped frames and forks). Caliper brakes are appreciated for their light weight, superior stopping power and fine modulation. Recent introductions of dual-pivot and “differentiated” calipers are welcome innovations and 49mm brakes are fine for fenderless racing machines with 23C tyres. But why must the industry abandon the cyclist who wishes to install mudguards and still have clearance for a wider profile tyre?Nigel Press shines on his
traditional chromed “randonneuse”
I have addressed this last point with the latest addition to my stable, by having a “sport touring” frame built around long-reach (57mm) caliper brakes, enabling the use of wider, faster, more comfortable tyres. Bicycles incorporating cantilever or centre-pull brakes (see right) do not encounter this problem.
In conclusion, I believe most marathon riders will benefit from a bicycle that resembles the great cyclo-touring bikes of the past, but judiciously take advantage of modern advancements.
Every randonneur welcomes technological advances that deliver improved durability and easy field maintenance. Most often, this goes against the present obsession by major manufacturers with cutting weight. The primary desired characteristic of the long-distance bike remains comfort. This is best achieved with a plush, wider tyre and geometry akin to a touring bicycle.
For information on bicycle fitting, see the Bike fit page.
The question of appropriate lighting for marathon cycling stands only second to bike style as the most contentious issue in rando circles, providing fodder for endless bike forum debates.
The decision hinges on the question: To charge, or not to charge? A high percentage of randonneurs refuse to suffer the outrageous fortunes of lithium and NiCad, preferring the generator option. Battery boosters argue that generators are heavy and their magnetic drag slows you down. OK, let’s move this argument over to the Lighting Page
Yet another source of Internet flame wars, “correct” gear ratios are intensely personal, perhaps irrational. My Cinelli cap goes off to the steel-kneed souls who attack the hills of Brittany on a 40X17 fixed gear!
Most mortals will be trying to decide between a “compact” double and triple chainrings up front and how many teeth their biggest cassette cog should have. All these questions and more, answered on the Rando Ratios page.
Some might say long-distance cyclists by nature are carrying enough baggage without fretting about how to transport the kit needed on 400 kilometre days. While we don’t worry about carrying the same volume as the touring cyclist, the demand for a variety of quality bags is similar. As with all randonneur choices, there are gram-counting minimalists and there are true scouts, prepared to open up a roadside repair stand, should their rando brethren need a new bottom bracket. Discussion of rando bags here