Category Archives: Randonneuring

The Truth and Nonsense of the N+1 Principle of Bicycles

If you’ve been around bikes long enough, you’re likely familiar with the “n+1″ principle. Velominati describes it as follows:

The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

I became quite caught up in the n + 1 principle in my early days as a bike enthusiast, although I did not know it had a name. My stable quickly grew from one Fuji road bike to a road bike + fixed gear + light touring bike + a commuter/touring bike + folding bike + single speed folding bike + you get the idea.

As cycling became one of my central activities, bicycles also caught my fancy. I justified my n+1 purchases in different ways. I need a bike for commuting. I need this one as a back-up bike. I need a fixed gear to work on my spin. I need a single speed because it’s low maintenance and easier to clean.

I need this bike for randonneuring, and that bike for summer vacations and future bike tours, a mixte just because, and I must have this bike because it’s a limited edition and this other bike since it is no longer made and this might be my very last chance to own one ever.

S-1 does not apply at my house. There are no furrowed brows when someone in my house says “Have you seen this bicycle? I think I may need it.” We don’t hide bike purchases from each other or lie about how much they cost (which I have my own thoughts about for those who do) and I don’t say that my other half “won’t let me” buy a bike (also something I have thoughts about). My spouse and I know all about the need for bikes. Our dining room is proof of that.

Over time I’ve realized that n+1 is truth and nonsense, but more nonsense than truth. That’s part of the ongoing joke, I know. Even though we may be able to concoct justifications for another ride and the bike industry would have us continue to purchase specialized bikes for all types of cycling and road surfaces, who among us actually needs more than one bike?

Rivendell Romulus

I am proud of the bikes I own and it took some years and careful searching to acquire them, but it’s no feat to have a bunch of bikes. All it takes is disposable income, time, and a desire for bicycles.

Over the years, I’ve also learned that n+1 does not match my riding style. Generally, I ride three bikes: the Surly Long Haul Trucker, my Rivendell Quickbeam, and our Co-Motion Java tandem. While these are my everyday favorites, I think of my Rivendell Romulus, Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, and my Rawland dSogn as my preferred weekend single ride steeds. But I’m not riding much single bike on the weekend these days so they don’t see much time outdoors.

I’d likely ride my bikes more if I was doing more long rides by myself, but my current way of touring and randonneuring is by tandem. The other bikes are pulled out every once in a while, but generally they spend most of their lives in the Dining Room Bike Shop.

In contrast, Felkerino is more of an n+1 rider than I am. He frequently rotates through the bikes on his side of the dining room. He told me that he likes to switch his ride every two or three weeks. Felkerino gives all of his bikes equal love and attention, while I focus my affection on a few of the bikes I have.

I am happy with all my bikes and, with the exception of my torrid relationship with the Bike Friday Tikit, I’ve dialed in their fit and comfort so they ride well for short or long distances. It’s nice to have bikes that work particularly well for brevets, mixed surfaces, commutes, and touring, but it certainly isn’t necessary.

I don’t generally ride each of my bikes enough to truly justify owning them all. In the meantime, I keep the bikes I own as an indulgence. I already own them, and I aspire to ride them all more one day soon. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week. Or when it’s warmer outside.

I still look at bikes, admire them, and think about how they would ride and the ways they would complement my current bike family. Future bike is always out there and I want it. Practically speaking, though, my n+1 days are at a standstill. The dining room is far too crowded.

The Randonap

Since beginning my glamorous randonneuring career in 2005, I’ve not only ridden in places I never imagined, but I’ve dozed in an assortment of spots I never before would have considered comfortable or conducive to sleeping.

Ride long enough, sleep little enough, and you too will find yourself mastering the strategy of the perfect randonap. Continue reading The Randonap

Building Up to Brevet Distances

Like a lot of randonneurs, Felkerino and I have developed a method that serves us well in our preparation and training for brevets. I see our approach as one that works for people who have other activities vying for their time and attention (be it job, family, or other pursuits) and for those who have already developed a solid base level of fitness.

Felkerino and I are not racing our way through brevets. Our goals generally include the following: enjoy the ride as it happens and not just grind it out; finish well within the time limits; complete a brevet without any lasting pain or injury; and feel as strong as we can throughout the experience. Our way is not overly prescriptive, but it requires diligence, and some planning.

Early miles outside Bristow
Early miles on a spring 200K
The Initial Build-Up: Time, Terrain, and Weather

There are three aspects we try to balance when building up to the century and beyond. The first is time on the bike, the second is terrain, and the third is preparing for weather. Not all rides are created equal– a ride through the gnarly bumps of the Catoctins during the early spring is not the same deal as the late-September Seagull Century on the Eastern Shore of Marland.

When I first began riding long, I primarily focused on the overall distance. By meeting a specific mileage goal, I built my confidence.

From there, I began to seek out hillier routes to prove that I could complete the distance and also cover it over an undulating course.

This is a similar formula we follow today– build the base for distance and add in hillier terrain as we progress. If you happen to live in hilly terrain with quiet roads around you, you’re already winning in my mind.

Matt, Bill, Felkerino, and Andrea on the 300K
Matt, Bill, Felkerino, and Andrea on the 300K

The third part of our randonneuring ride buildup is preparing for weather. Wind, rain, and temperature fluctuations all play a big role in randonneuring. By increasing our mileage during the colder months, we adapt our bodies to less forgiving temperatures and reacquaint ourselves with appropriate layering.

We don’t want to wear so much that we end up sweating up, but don’t want to spend the whole day with throbbing fingers and toes, either. Cold weather also rewards constant forward movement. By staying on the bike for sustained periods we avoid cooling down and having to warm up our bodies and deal with cold foreheads, hands, and toes after restarting. Obviously, our preparation for weather changes with the seasons and temperature fluctuations throughout the year.

Currently, I try to keep my base at a place where I can easily walk out the door for a rolling, but not nonstop hilly, 75 miles in my riding off-season of October through December and not feel wrecked by the end of the ride. Maybe I feel it some in my legs, but it’s not a big deal to walk or ride it off the next day.

Felkerino and I build our base mileage between January and February so that a century becomes “just another ride.” To give you a sense of one of our off-season ride favorites, here’s a link to our recent ride from D.C. to Sugarloaf Mountain. As you can see from the profile, there are plenty of flattish parts, with rollers mixed in, especially the further out we ride from the District.

During the month of January, we don’t worry about overall weekly mileage too much. I run, we both commute, and we make sure to do longer weekend rides when we can.

As February approaches, we like our average bicycling mileage to hover around 150 miles per week, with about 50 miles coming from weekday commute/transportation rides and the weekend rides making up the rest.

D.C. Randonneurs brevets tend to be decently hilly, in that short hop out of the saddle grinding kind of way, rather than a miles-long gentle grade that takes hours to complete. Your body really need to be conditioned to climb them or you’ll end up with complete rubber for legs at the end of a brevet (though this can happen on a long ride anyway).

Carol and David 600K brevet

Back-to-Backs and Time in the Saddle

As the brevets near, say around March, Felkerino and I will head out for back-to-back centuries and on another weekend maybe we’ll plan a ride that’s around 150 miles to prepare us for longer days ahead. During these rides, we exercise more discipline by taking fewer breaks, and acclimate ourselves mentally and physically to longer periods in the saddle.

Ideally, we’d like to ride about 50 miles or so before we take a break. Practically speaking, this almost never happens, so we end up taking short stops at around 25- and 75-miles, and a longer “sitdown” stop for food and refueling at 50 miles.

During a brevet, the clock keeps ticking and there will be consequences for stopping. That consequence may come in the form of riding longer in the dark, being on the course longer, and generally becoming more tired from your effort. It’s important to be deliberate about when and how long you spend time off the bike during a brevet.

Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)
Riders at the 400K Brevet Start (Photo by Felkerino)
Breathing!

Over time, I have worked on my breathing so I can manage a hard climbing effort better. In the days when I was first starting out, my breathing would get away from me and I’d start to pant and freak out.

Essentially, I worked on my breathing through regular attendance at spin class over the course of a year or so. I used a heart rate monitor to gauge my effort throughout a 45-50 minute class so I could see what a hard effort looked like as it related to heart rate.

I gained a good sense of my limits and, from there, began to work on doing hard efforts without going into the red zone (i.e., “I’m going to pass out” zone). Weekends were an opportunity to apply what I had learned in the safe space of a spin class on the road. Use of a heart rate monitor was key to understanding and managing my level of effort.

Now when I’m on the bike not only do I try to manage my effort on the uphills, I try to actively recover on downhill sections. This allows me to use my body’s energy more efficiently. We will push the pedals up to a certain acceleration, but beyond that I use my time to relax and recover for the next section.

During the off-season I’ll also work strength training into my routine when I can (although I’ve been bad about this over the last year or so), and make earnest attempts to sleep close to 8 hours per night. Sleep is a randonneur’s friend, although you wouldn’t know it from some of the distances we ride.

Randonneur lifestyle. 2014 Warrenton 300K brevet

Nutrition

Nutrition is another consideration for long rides, both in preparation for as well as during and after an event. What foods work well for you on the bike? What foods can you pack with you so you do not have to rely on external sources for food?

Packing certain types of food tends to work well for rides that happen earlier in the year when temperatures don’t rise to the point of baking one’s food, and for rides that are around 300K or less. I like to pack hummus or almond butter sandwiches with me during brevets. They digest easily and provide good fuel for my rides. Beyond that, I don’t feel I can rely completely on my own food because I find it becomes impractical to carry that much with me.

My nutrition is consistently a weaker area of my randonneuring preparation and it also changes over time. Some foods that worked like rocket fuel in years past stopped working (e.g., turkey sandwiches!) and upset my stomach so I have had to recognize that and adapt to my body’s changing needs.

Nutrition after the ride is important, too. I used to eat whatever sounded good or whatever impulse moved me, but that generally led me to making poor refined sugar-filled eating choices.

I’m trying to prepare better nutritionally for a ride’s aftermath. That is tough because thinking about what one is going to eat after an event doesn’t seem as critical as the ride itself. Yet, after a ride is over, one’s body is often tired and it’s easy to make poor nutrition choices. (I rode a long way. Pass me the ice cream!)

During the week before the ride, I also try to eat a little more mindfully than normal, and cut the alcohol and junk out of my diet. Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but I think it helps.

Randonneurs doin' what randonneurs do... on the Frederick 400K
Randonneurs doin’ what randonneurs do… on the Frederick 400K
Figuring Out Your Bike and Gear

The ramp-up to the brevets is an ideal time to tweak the fit of our bike and try out any new gizmos. What bags will you carry? Where are you going to put your cue sheet? How is the Garmin going to work, if you use one? What lights will you use? How long do those lights last?

What gear will you bring to deal with the temperature swings that are typical of a long ride? What about rain? Do you need a hydration system? Where will you store your brevet card during the ride? Do you have reflective gear? How will you make sure you can see the cue sheet in the dark? All of this and more must to be figured and tested well before starting a ride.

Civil War Tour 200K, Jeff M. and Bernd K.
Civil War Tour 200K, Jeff M. and Bernd K.
Relaxation and Mental Preparation

Finally, I prepare myself mentally, especially during the week before a brevet. I try to get plenty of sleep so I won’t feel robbed of sleep during the event. It’s mental gamesmanship, but it makes me feel good about dedicating so much time to riding that cuts into my sleep time.

I use the days leading up to an event to relax and focus on the ride ahead. I lay out my clothes and think about how the ride will go and how I’m going to approach it. In fact, I actually keep lists of gear I used from one year to the next so that I can dress and prepare by memory, and not by feel.

The temperature and weather at 4 a.m. is likely going to be different from what you experience at 4 p.m. What do you need to be comfortable and not overdressed or burdened by your wardrobe choices? I think some people would say that Felkerino and I carry a lot of crap on rides. We would say some people travel too light. What constitutes comfortable and unburdened is left for you to define.

Andrea and Jerry-200K

Another element I find essential for brevet preparation is committing mentally to success. Sure, there are always unknowns that no one can account before they clip in at the start, and tackling a new distance can be intimidating. But the event is the time to showcase the results of the miles, hills, and overall conditioning you have put into the sport. When an brevet rolls around, you want all of your energy to be going into the pedals, and not into worry about things you no longer have any control over.

When I clip in for a brevet, I never ask myself if Felkerino and I will finish this ride. I only allow thoughts of success to enter my mind. We trained. We prepared. We are ready.

I’m sure there are parts I did not include, but hopefully others will chime in with their knowledge. Also, please do ask if you have any questions. Overall, I think this is a good starting point for beginning to pursue longer rides so what are you waiting for? Let’s go!

Why Write About Bicycling

As I was padding around the Mall on a meditative lunch run, I pondered what keeps me writing about time spent on my bicycle. Continue reading Why Write About Bicycling

2015 Question Marks

January– a cold month prone to dreary days and shades of brown on all sides– is generally an optimal time for me to hang out inside and ponder big ideas for the year ahead.

Usually at least two or three appealing active undertakings grab me and won’t let me go. Last year those big doings were our two-week Colorado tour, the Appalachian Adventure 1000K, and my bike tour-marathon combination in Harpers Ferry.

A year falls into place under the umbrella of these bigger scale activities, and free time is dedicated to condition the body and mind so events might be enjoyed and not endured.

I like shaping years this way. Felkerino and I share a few common goals that we work toward together. Big activities give me long-term structure, and I have concrete milestones to anticipate and hopefully achieve.

Running at sunset

This year is starting out strangely for me, as I’m not seeing anything significant calling my heart and legs. I hope to ride the brevets, but I’m on the fence about PBP. I’d like to complete at least two marathons this year, but what else is out there? I don’t know.

I’ve jotted down a bike tour, but as to where it will take place? I’m not sure. I’m not setting any mileage goals, but plan to ride and run regularly and continue my commitment to active transportation.

Small goals occupy my mind, many of which have little to do with riding or running– eat healthy, prepare my own lunches, reduce sugar and alcohol consumption, return to regular strength training, and fully engage in my work.

These are not small goals, exactly, but rather the type that require more rigorous daily attention. They have a more general purpose of improvement to my overall health and well-being.

As I muddled through this post I had an “Aha!” moment. Maybe I don’t have to have grand bicycling or running goals for 2015. Who cares? They can be question marks for now, while I attend to the smaller-scale activities that demand my attention.

Felkerino and I will figure out PBP in the next month or so. We love being outside on our bikes and always manage to find places and time to bike tour. Running is my meditation. I will continue to do it, whether or not I write down a specific goal about it.

Question marks are okay. Question marks mean I’m taking my time. I’m open to possibility.

PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go Again?

The turning of the calendar to 2015 also means the arrival of a “PBP year.” Paris-Brest-Paris, the most heralded, historic, and international of all grand randonnees now peeps its head around the corner and beckons to us randonneurs, a mere eight months away.

I thought that deciding on a return trip to PBP would take little internal debate. I would set my sights on it, no matter what. Yet, as of this writing, I feel mixed. Like the self-help books taught me, I drafted a list of pros and cons to aid my decision-making. Continue reading PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go Again?

The Wheelman’s Song

Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I’ve been perusing old issues of The Wheelman and Good Roads.

Both magazines were publications of the League of American Wheelman, which is now the Bike League, and date back to the late 1800’s, when people’s fascination with the bicycle was just beginning to take hold in the United States.

The excitement and novelty of riding a bicycle permeates these editions. From tour recounts to illustrations and poems, men (mostly men, as women are unfortunately largely absent from these publications) unabashedly adored bike riding.

An example of this appreciation for the bike is found in the poem below, “Wheelman’s Song, ” written by Will Carleton in 1884. It seemed a fitting way to end one year and help inspire the next. Continue reading The Wheelman’s Song

Hard Reset

I came over to this computer intending to write a Coffeeneuring Challenge update (entries due this Monday!), but instead I’m pondering other matters– small changes in my own life that have altered my daily routine and energy levels for the past few months.

One month ago– though it feels longer– I completed my second marathon of October, the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a stimulating event that turned out to tip my emotions and fitness into unexpected fatigue. I lost most of my enthusiasm for riding and running, and ate too much during the lull.

I fell out of balance, which sometimes happens to me after a period of intense activity.
Continue reading Hard Reset