Last month in this feature, I gave a brief overview of randonneuring. If your curiosity is piqued, here are some thoughts on how to get started.
Typically, people interested in randonneuring have ridden quite a few centuries and some harder hilly rides like RAMROD or the Death Ride. But that’s not a requirement. The shortest events are 100-200 kilometers long, and a rider should be comfortable with that level of challenge. If you’re not quite there yet, consider the Cascade Training Series and some supported events first.
Randonneur events are quite a bit different from supported group rides, and these differences really add to the challenge. At the core of the sport is self-sufficiency; the desire to become self-sufficient is a requirement. More than any other group I’ve encountered, randonneurs are wonderfully supportive, but come prepared to be on your own.
Riders carry everything they need with them and can only receive outside support at predetermined control points. In practice, this means one is probably carrying a couple of spare tubes, a spare tire, a patch kit, some other bits and a pretty comprehensive multi-tool. One also needs to bring along all the food, water, clothing and emergency gear to be self-sufficient. How much to bring obviously depends on the conditions and the risk you want to accept.
One must pay attention to the conditions much more than on typical supported rides. Riding at night adds a bit of complication, as do remote or hilly courses. You just don’t head into the mountains at night with inadequate options.
I almost DNF’d the Cascade 1200 with hypothermia when I underestimated mountain weather conditions, and that was during summer in the daytime!
Navigation is key; there are no markings on the road on randonneur events. You will need to carry the official cue sheet, perhaps a GPS, and you’ll need to pay attention to the course as you ride. If you miss a turn, you won’t be the first person to get “bonus miles” if you go off course.
One thing you probably won’t need to worry about is your bike. If you have a bike that you have been using for regular rides, then you have a perfectly good rando bike to get started. Sure, you can geek out on low-trail forks and generator lights later, but don’t let any of that prevent you from starting. You can sort that out as you see what works for others. And you may soon realize that pretty much everything well maintained works for randonneuring.
You will need a way to carry your essentials, good lights, fenders (almost certainly) and a way to keep your cue sheet in front of you. Fancy can be nice, but your gear doesn’t need to be fancy.
Joe Platzner is a randonneur and Cascade board member.