2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

Why Ride Brevets?

Randonneuring requires a certain level of commitment (no, not that kind of commitment). Early rises, car rides, bike maintenance and tuning, convenience store dining, and long days and even evenings in the saddle are all part of the randonneur lifestyle.

Photo by Bill Beck
Photo by Bill Beck

Given that most of us do not have unlimited leisure time, what is it about the brevets that appeals enough that we’re willing to dedicate so much of our spring and summer (for some, even more) to it?

Pre-planned weekend escapes. You know those conversations “What should we do this weekend?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Sign up for brevets and you will significantly reduce the frequency with which you have these kinds of talks. Instead, you will have an immediate answer that covers many weekends from late February through June, either “I’m doing a training ride” or “I’m riding x brevet. See? Here’s the cue sheet.”

Training rides require some planning, but go for some rides, hit some hills, and get your miles in and you are set when it comes time for the brevet. Follow whatever the cue sheet says until it tells you that you’re done. The brevet drives the planning for you.

Many of the brevet courses I’ve ridden have been quite scenic and pleasant. We have some gorgeous riding in our area, including the Catoctins and the Blue Ridge. Brevets give me an excellent excuse to explore them a little more.

Strength. Successful completion of brevet distances requires both mental and physical strength. Over the last several years of doing brevets, I have seen my strength build as the year goes on.

Over the winter, I was talking with one of my riding friends about the surreality of knowing that your body is capable to doing a 400K distance when, in January, you’re happy to stop after grinding out a century.

Every year, though, I see my body’s response to the increase in miles. The early wake-ups never get easy, but eventually they become another part of the event. Going longer seems less of an overall effort. My ability to mentally break down the ride into manageable pieces becomes easier.

There is also something about the steady effort of a brevet that makes other parts of life seem more manageable. Maybe randonneuring imparts patience, helps us expand our limits, or teaches us strategies that apply to other facets of our lives.

Camaraderie. It’s always interesting to see who you will end up riding with on brevets and what types of conversations you’ll have. Randonneur conversation potpourri!

Often I end up discussing rides gone by or current randonneuring and riding plans with others, but you never know what interesting topics may arise. Randonneurs are a rather eclectic bunch.

2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck
2011 D.C. Randonneurs 400K finish. Yay! (c) Bill Beck

Time with my randonneur spouse. I ride almost all brevets on tandem with my husband. I suppose this is somewhat unusual, as I hear stories of people who have to negotiate time on the bike with their non-randonneuring partners.

Over the years Felkerino and I have become pretty in tune with each other. He’s more of an early bird. I like the later miles.

I often wonder if I would ride brevets solo if Felkerino and I had not met. Maybe, but I am not generally the type of person who likes to do solo rides longer than a century.

I prefer a social component and Felkerino’s and my team of two works quite nicely in that regard. We like sharing the ride experience and spending the weekend outdoors together.

Figuring out the puzzle. Even though I have been riding brevets off and on since 2005, I still find myself tweaking my system. For example, what I used to eat on brevets (lots more sugary food) my stomach no longer tolerates. Over time, I have become better at riding longer without a break and have learned how to take active breaks on the bike.

In a weird way, I like seeing how my body has changed over time. What works to successfully complete a brevet is never an exact formula.

Customization. In her On Writing & Riding interview, fellow randonneur mmmmbike! discussed how randonneuring’s non-competitive foundation allows people to interpret it in their own ways.

You can ride a brevet like a race. You can treat it as a long group ride, or you can approach it as a more solitary experience. In the end, it’s all randonneuring.

I know this list of why we ride brevets is far from comprehensive. Please, all you randos out there, help me fill in the gaps.

12 thoughts on “Why Ride Brevets?”

  1. i, too, ride most of my centuries and all brevets on a tandem. while metrics are a piece of cake and i’ve done full centuries solo, i find it hard to set aside the time required unless it’s a charity ride. planning, packing, setting aside the time together for a brevet or longer is special.

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  2. “Why Ride Brevets?” – to be honest this is hard to explain, there is a lot that we can get from riding brevets. It is very different of all of the other types of riding I have done. It is very satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, intimidating and loads of fun! Even after riding a cold, wet miserable ride, I still go home saying it was a great ride! The riders I have met are amazing, with strong wills and for the most part a lot of fun to ride with. Most of the routes are extremely scenic, sometimes extremely challenging too. Seeing how the day progress like riding a 400k seeing the night skies change as the sun rises, how the weather may change and near the end see the sun set and back to night again. So much is viewed, absorbed, experienced from the beginning of the ride to the end.

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    1. I agree, it’s difficult to encapsulate. For example, one of my favorite memories with you is us all sitting on the curb outside of a convenience store, chatting and having a snack. AND I’ll never forget how you said at the last control on Endless Mountains 1000K that we needed to maintain a 3.1 mph average to finish so since we could walk that fast we were probably going to make it.

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      1. I totally forgot mentioning that until a few months after the ride while reading your blog. I do that all the time, it always seems to give me a lift while I am pretty beat up and tired or may help another rider whom I am riding with. To only average 3.1 mph, we must have had a lot of time in the bank! I remembered wanting to get the ride over with but the final 30 miles was a very enjoyable ride to the Hostel. That was my first really big ride and it felt really good to complete it and with great company!

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  3. riding brevets, especially the longer ones, can be fun and rewarding for lots of good reasons. but it is simply beyond my ability to wake-up at 3am to start a ride at 4am. i would ride brevets until the cows come home if they all started at 7am…even 6am would be ok. and having spoken with, at this point, hundreds of cyclists over the years and asked them about this issue, i know im not alone. the earlier start also necessitates a hotel stay before the ride as well as after the longer brevets, which involves a cost in time and money many cant make; much less want to make. geography also matters: the san fran rando rides, for example, leave from san fran. the DC randonneurs simply dont have a ride that doesnt start at least 50 miles from DC. it is beyond me why the longer rides need to start at 4am. yes, i know the reason offered for why…i also know that many clubs stagger their ride starts; and in other countries and cultures they would never start any ride at 4am as it’s simply uncivilized!… i do think, all kidding aside, that there is still something of the protestant ethic, the ‘ol repressed american “early bird gets the worm” mentality that is in play here as well. so many “endurance” sports are just that; i would rather enjoy and celebrate playful adventure rather than merely endure a “challenge.”

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    1. I agree w/ you about the rides starting so far away and the compromises that brings… hotel rooms, drives, etc. It would be nice if we could start at least a few of our rides in a more accessible location for those who don’t wish to drive. I’m not sure how it would work, though, in terms of controlling the route or the traffic we would encounter, particularly in the evening. Also, it is fun to explore new places that are a little further out than D.C. itself. But like you say, it would be nice to have a few rides start closer to, if not in, the city.

      As I have mentioned more than once, the early rises suck, but it is a good feeling to really dig into the ride during the quiet hours of the early morning. It helps out later, at least for me.

      Last, I am impressed by your serious and thoughtful comment :)

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  4. in the central florida area, centuries, brevets and longer start between 7 and 8 am. i refuse to leave home earlier than 6 am to ‘drive to a ride’ we have turned group rides into centuries by riding form home to the ride and back. i don’t have the disposable income for hotels in addition to ride costs.

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    1. Wow, it is hard to imagine a ride starting that late here. Our 200Ks start at 7, but the 300Ks and up start at 5 or 4 a.m. Do even your 400 and 600K rides start so late? If so, I wonder why because it would seem a good idea to make the most of all the daylight hours.

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