Category Archives: DC Randonneurs

The D.C. Randonneurs 400K Brevet: A Long Ride to a Pizza Party

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

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

This past weekend Felkerino and I organized the D.C. Randonneurs 400K brevet. Of all the spring brevets the 400K is the one that, as a rider, I find most daunting. It starts at 4 a.m., and is the first of the brevets that requires hours of night riding. Riders roll out in the dark, and arrive in darkness, too.

I overhead the staff at the hotel where we staged our ride called our 400K a pizza party. That made me laugh. If the 400K could be considered a pizza party,  it’s likely the most hard-earned pizza you’ll ever eat.

This brevet was particularly challenging due to the dreary weather. Riders set off under dry skies, but that ended about an hour into the event and the remainder of the time was spent riding in rain, drizzle, a stint of no rain, more rain, and more drizzle. During the later evening hours, the rain let up and mist filled the sky, fogging up people’s glasses and making nighttime visibility more difficult.

The up-side of the day was that it was not terribly cold, although the temperatures did not allow riders to stop for long without getting chilled. Winds were also light for most of the route.

Happy finishers on the 400K

Happy finishers on the 400K

This course, called the “Firefly 400K,” was originally run in 2011. It is a loop that starts in Warrenton, Virginia, meanders down to Charlottesville, and back. Overall, the terrain is rolling with no major mountain climbs. That’s not to say that it is an easy course, only that there are no real mountains on it.

Twenty-six people came out for the event, and all but four riders finished within the time limit. Those who abandoned or did not officially finish all made it back to the hotel under their own steam.

Felkerino and I organized the club’s 400K last year as well, which ran out of Frederick, Maryland. While I preferred the Frederick course, we encountered logistical issues with start and finish locations, and moved the ride to Warrenton this year.

George Moore and Nick Bull pre-rode the course last weekend for us, and helped us in preparing the ride materials. Thanks to both of them for checking out the ride and being there for early morning bike inspection. It felt strange for Felkerino and I to not pre-ride the course ourselves, but we are taking a break from the “big rides” this year. More on that some other time.

Everyone who attempted the ride on Saturday has my admiration. The weather made an already challenging 252-mile ride that much more difficult. I know there are those few people who like to exclaim their love for riding in the rain, but I am not among them. I’ll take a sunny day over a rainy one almost any day.

I’ve been riding regularly with the D.C. Randonneurs since 2005, and it’s been educational to see what organizing a ride entails. Until organizing, I took a lot of the behind-the-scenes work for granted.

400K Registration and Check-in

400K Registration and Check-in

I’ve gained a real appreciation for all the brevet details that must be managed. Control cards and cue sheets need to be made. A pre-ride of the course should be done. Volunteers need to be in place to register riders and inspect bikes for appropriate lighting and reflectives.

Food and supplies need to be purchased and set out. Most importantly, you need the pizza place on speed dial so that you can offer riders food at the end of that long effort.

Over a 400K distance, the field becomes quite spread out. Riders have 27 hours to complete the course.  This year, people finished in small groups of ones and twos between 9:30 p.m. until just before 6 a.m. The 400K is an all-night pizza party, you see, not a slumber party.

Organizing a ride is work, but it’s fun, too. It’s interesting to see all the riders in their various stages of lucidity before the ride start. Everybody has their own way of approaching these early mornings.

Some are outwardly excited and chat animatedly. Others are solemn and mostly silent. I see some riders who focus intently on their stuff, packing and repacking to make sure they have everything they need for the long day ahead.

After hours of waiting in between the roll-out and the final miles, the last control is also an exciting place to be. It’s a thrill to see riders successfully finish such a long ride. People are in various physical and mental states after riding that far.

400K Finishers

Between Saturday night until Sunday morning I saw riders who just wanted to finish and immediately head off for a shower and sleep, and I also hung out with those who wanted to catch up from the last time we saw each other and relive some of the day’s experience.

A friend of ours once described volunteering at a brevet finish like being at a party where everyone is tipsy except for you. I see what he’s saying. The 400K is a big accomplishment, and there is something indescribable that’s released during the finish.

Take a combination of endorphins, relief from being done, the physical exertion from riding from 4 a.m. until dark and then some, and add a little sleep deprivation and you’ve got one goofy 400K pizza party.

400K Brevet Pizza Party

400K Brevet Pizza Party

(The finish is also a time where organizers get feedback about the course. We have some lessons learned about this course which the club will keep in mind for next year.)

Going from rider to organizer you  interact with riders that you might not otherwise, due to your differences in pacing and style. For Felkerino and me, that meant we got to share a little bit in everyone’s ride.

Several riders completed their first 400K this past weekend. Of those, I want to give a special shout-out to our rando-buddy Mike Binnix of Severna Park. Mike attempted a 400K last year, but was unable to go the full distance.

This year, I knew Mike was going to make it. He had unfinished business with the 400K and I could hear in his voice when we talked at registration that he was all in on this ride, determined to finish. Twenty-six hours and 252 miles after departing Warrenton, Mike finished his first 400K. Well done, Mike. I’m really happy for you!

Mike B. finishes the 400K

Mike B. finishes the 400K

Congratulations to everybody who rode this weekend and to all the finishers. Thanks for letting us be part of your adventure. We had a great time hosting the 400K brevet and pizza party.

Second Chances: The D.C. Randonneurs 300K Brevet

D.C. Randonneurs 300K, Photo by Bill Beck

D.C. Randonneurs 300K, Photo by Bill Beck

This past Saturday, the D.C. Randonneurs ran their 300K brevet out of Warrenton, Virginia. It was my third time on this particular 300K route (although I did ride it one additional time as a no-credit “fun ride”), and I was determined to make this year a different experience than 2012.

Last year I experienced a new and awful feeling while riding– the urge to stop and go home. Upon reflection, I think a number of things contributed to this, some of which I postulated in last year’s ride report: fatigue; a rainy forecast; and an unexpected been-there-done-that sentiment toward brevets.

Regardless of the cause, though, the result was I was not mentally prepared to pedal 188 miles and it took a lot of effort to get myself back into the flow of the ride.

Memories of the negative thoughts that arose during last year’s 300K were strong in my mind as I began to ready myself for Saturday’s ride. I spent several days mentally prepping, largely by frequently telling myself that Felkerino and I were going to have a good ride. I believe there is truth in the power of positive thinking.

Applying the power of positive thinking at the last control. Photo by Bill Beck

Applying the power of positive thinking at the last control. Photo by Bill Beck

I also ate well, and tried to get decent sleep the week leading up to the event. I moderated my workouts in order to have fresh legs on Saturday. I meticulously packed for the ride two days before, giving myself plenty of time to remember something I might potentially overlook and to avoid throwing things wildly into bags at the last minute.

Felkerino said that he wanted to ride steadily and minimize time off the bike. Done! I packed sandwiches for myself (one almond butter and strawberry preserves, and two hummus sandwiches) as well as a couple of Clif bars. That freed me from having to rely completely on the stores along the route.

Saturday arrived and I was ready and focused. My legs felt good (although I do still have a lingering pain in my left knee).

It was a perfect day to be a bike rider on the 300K. The day was clear with winds out of the west. As the route generally goes north to south, we avoided direct headwinds for much of the course. Humidity was low. Early morning temperatures hovered in the mid-40s and rose to the low-sixties by afternoon.


To add to the blissful conditions, the countryside was in full bloom. Apple trees had started to flower. Puffy pink cherry trees and white and pink dogwood brightened the landscape. Redbud (my favorite) contrasted beautifully with the lush green around us. Meadows of bright yellow interspersed our route.

300K Meadow

The vividly painted surroundings almost made me feel like our colder-than-normal spring had been worth it. I appreciated the mild temperatures and spring warmth that much more, and the later blooming season perfectly coincided with our brevet.

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

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

Oh, and babies! I almost forgot the babies. We passed a mother horse with her newborn foal, saw many baby calves on our ride, and even encountered two baby goats– one of whom appeared to be escaping from its fenced-in home.

Photo by Felkerino

Photo by Felkerino

Early in the ride, Felkerino and I grouped up with Matt, a randonneur from Pennsylvania, and Andrea, of D.C. We also leap-frogged throughout the day with Bill, who took some beautiful photos of the course. That ended up being our little brevet posse, and we had good time chatting and riding the day away.

300K Matt and Andrea

Our group rode at a comfortable pace throughout, but tried to be judicious with time off the bike. Felkerino and I generally plan to spend one hour off the bike per each century ridden when we’re doing brevets. On Saturday, we rode 188 miles and spent 90 minutes total off the bike. For Felkerino and me, that is a disciplined bike ride.

Thirteen hours and 13 minutes after rolling out of the parking lot, we returned to make our final control. Ninety minutes faster than last year’s time. Pretty good.

Redbud on the 300K Brevet

George Moore, who organized the brevet and had spent much of his time out along the course taking photos of riders, was there to greet us, sign our cards, and provide us pizza, cookies, and pop. Thank you, George!

As you read this report, you might think it seems boring. Maybe in some ways it is. Felkerino and I planned our ride and packed our stuff. We woke up early. We rode our bike 188 miles. The bike rode great. The course was pretty. The ride was well-organized. We took some photos. We rode with nice people.

Made it! Photo by George M.

Made it! Photo by George M.

For me, though, it was not boring. Saturday’s ride was a second chance. It was a way for me to recreate my ride experience and remind myself of the reasons why I love doing brevets. 

I paid special attention to those things on Saturday: the beauty of spring rides; the solid organizing and well-thought-out routes of the D.C. Randonneurs; the fellowship of others; the joy of spending an entire day out in the country with my husband on a beautiful tandem; and the sense of accomplishment that comes from riding long.

Team Definite Maybe: a Quick D.C. Randonneurs Fleche Summary

So much happens on a group ride like the fleche. Teams cover over 225 miles in an intense 24-hour period. It can be overwhelming in retrospect. For me, it’s often easier to focus on the memories that emerge after the event ends and some time has passed. Recollections of a ride can be so distinct to what you experience during it or even in the immediate aftermath.


Felkerino has a full ride report planned, but in the meantime I wanted to put pen to paper about a bit of my experience.

As I rode this weekend, I pondered the various elements of the fleche. Each team takes on a unique identity depending on its members. Our team this year, Definite Maybe, was composed of: Felkerino and me on tandem; Lane and Mike, who have been on our previous two fleche teams; and Bennett, who was completing his first fleche and longest ride to-date.


Rides are heavily influenced by the weather (obviously). We had sunny skies by day, and a southerly wind for most of the 24 hours. Temperatures were pleasant and in the 50s for most of the day. That’s nothing to complain about, although I wish it had been ten degrees warmer. Night temperatures hovered in the 40s. Lucky me, I also had a draft from Felkerino.

This year seemed to take on a more serious tone than others. I am still puzzling through the various reasons why. Maybe it was the cooler temps, which dissuaded us from lingering in one place for too long. Perhaps it was partially because our friend Mike was sick, and ended up having to stop after completing over 180 miles. Maybe it was because of the newness of the event for our teammate Bennett, who was testing himself with a new challenge. Having ridden the course two times previously, I wondered if the course had become too familiar, despite how much I enjoy many parts of it.


Compared to other fleche rides, I spent more time with my head down, pushing the pedals trying to eat up the miles, focused on getting to the end as opposed to being content on the journey. Only when I reached the 22-hour control, an IHOP on the outskirts of D.C., did I relax with the realization that, with the unfortunate exception of Mike, our team would finish the fleche.

After fretting about the likelihood of cold and windy evening miles, they turned out to be my favorite segments. The sun set, our team controlled at a gas station, regrouped for the night ride, and soon set out into the early evening’s darkness. Despite the forecast for clouds, the sky was clear and full of stars. There was wind, but not as much as I had worried about. The temperatures stayed tolerable throughout the evening as long as we kept moving.

Our bike performed well. I continue to be impressed by our new Co-Motion Java. Its fit is excellent, and its climbing feel solid and responsive.


My body withstood the physical and mental exertion of the fleche without any issues and only a slight residual aching in the knees to remind me of the ground I’d just covered. Unlike last year, the drowsies never cast their spell on me.

Yesterday I vacillated between moments of elation and exhaustion, but mostly elation. Team Definite Maybe had a good ride and I was proud of us. Bennett accomplished a new milestone and his wife Laurie met us at the finish to celebrate and share it with him. Mike made a smart decision to stop riding when he realized that the event was too much for his current physical state. Lane shepherded our team throughout, made sure that we stayed on schedule, and kept us thinking positively about the event and each other. Thanks, Lane.


I missed our friend, Eric, who accompanied us last year, but hopefully he can definitely maybe join us next time. I say that after telling everyone that this year would be the last fleche I ever do. Now that I think about it, I might say that every year.

P.S. Thanks to Bill B. for the two team photos in this post.

D.C. Randonneurs Flatbread 200K Brevet Roundup

This past weekend, Felkerino and I broke the tandem in two and took off for the Eastern Shore to ride the D.C. Randonneurs 200K Flatbread brevet. While I’ve ridden this brevet once or twice before, this time was unique because instead of the usual tandem routine, I rode it on my Rivendell Romulus.


Riding the Rivendell Romulus on the D.C. Randonneurs Flatbread 200K

Felkerino and I made the decision to ride singles after riding last weekend’s dirt road ride on our “back-up” Cannondale tandem. (Our regular tandem, a beautiful Co-Motion Speedster, has gone to tandem heaven, or wherever it is that tandems that are no longer rideable go.) While a fine bike that performs well on dirt roads, the Cannondale is NOT comfortable for me when riding distances of over 100 miles because the handlebar reach is too short.

The Flatbread 200K was the first time I’ve ridden my single bike on a brevet since 2008. Seriously! Even though I ride my trusty Surly LHT every day to commute, and do several weekend nondonneuring rides throughout the year on my single, I felt nervous about attempting the brevet on a single.

I was not confident about how I would do riding on my own. What if I went too slow? What if I missed a cue and got lost? How does this steering thing work again?

On the other hand, I was excited about getting out on my Rivendell. The bike fits me well, it’s fun to be the sole entity propelling the bike along, and it was a nice change to get to see my bike’s front wheel on a brevet.

Basically, I over-thought the whole thing. While my pace was slightly slower than Felkerino’s and my tandem pace, the conditions were perfect for cycling (sun and low winds). I rode well within  the required time limits and, with the exception of a couple of bar end air shifts (my Romulus has Ergo shifters), I rode rather smoothly. The terrain of the Flatbread is (guess?) flat, which also helps the miles go by.

Obligatory ocean shot at Slaughter Beach. Photo by Steve

The combination of a mellow route and traditionally big turnout makes for a social ride. Felkerino and I had a great time riding together throughout out the warm and mostly-sunny day, taking pictures, and criss-crossing with various other randonneurs.

A few randonneurs, including Felkerino, put together ride summaries that do an excellent job of capturing the day so I won’t include a full writeup. Rather, I’m providing links to their posts and I’ll conclude by saying that I loved changing it up with a long flat ride on my single bike, especially after last weekend’s hillacious adventure. I got to stand whenever I wanted, stop when I felt like it, coast without consequence, and enjoy complete control over the bike.

  • Daily Randonneur penned a few notes and posted a GPS track and photos (including links to our photo sets) about our single bike experience.
  • Rambling Rider rode the Flatbread with our friend Mike. This was her first tandem ride. What a way to start!
  • Iron Rider came down from Pennsylvania and was one of a few people who rode the brevet on a fixed gear.
  • Crystal, of the Aesthetics of Everywhere, completed her longest ride to-date and first brevet this weekend. Well done!

Randonneuring: When it’s Worth the Effort

Morning riding on the DC Randonneurs 600K

This past weekend Felkerino I rode the D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Instead of a full ride report, I wrote up a short reflection about 2012 randonneuring and the Super Randonneur series. It’s on that other blog I know, The Daily Randonneur. Click here for the post.

By the way, thanks to everybody who has sent words of encouragement Felkerino’s and my way this year and followed our blogs. Knowing that people are following the rides, reading our stories, and wishing us well keeps us moving forward. ♥

D.C. Randonneurs 400K

Some of you may know that Felkerino and I spent the last couple of months preparing to run the D.C. Randonneurs’ 400K.

Randonneurs doin’ what randonneurs do… on the Frederick 400K

The ride went off this past Saturday, and I put together a non-ride ride report of the experience.

Ed and me at the 400K finish. Up all night and still smiling! (c) Bill Beck

It’s not posted here, though. Find it on that other blog I know, The Daily Randonneur. Hop on over and check it out.

D.C. Randonneurs Warrenton, VA 300K: In Each Life, Some Rain Must Fall

Now that I’ve caught up on sleep, uploaded my photos, and enjoyed a brilliant sunny warm Sunday I can say I truly enjoyed Saturday’s  300K with the D.C. Randonneurs.

George, Christian, and Rick on the Warrenton 300K

This brevet, which starts in Warrenton, Virginia, is a rolling course that traverses some beautiful Virginia farm country. Full ride description here. It actually reminded me of Paris-Brest-Paris terrain. No major climbs, but enough hills to make you feel like you got a good workout.

Our day was mostly cloudy interspersed with cameo appearances of sunshine, light rain, and varying temperatures between 40 through the low 50s throughout the day.

I won’t take you on a cue-by-cue of this ride. Instead, I’ll hit the highlights so that you can get about the rest of your day.

  • The Urge to Quit

The day started out innocently (and early!) enough. A 5a.m. rollout from Warrenton, which at first is more descent than ascent. Our tandem zipped along spiritedly until around mile 40 where we stopped to delayer and soon after I began to have a rough time of it.

I tensed up and began to feel overwhelmed about the ride. We had only gone 40 miles. We were never going to get there. AND we were going to get rained on.

I was definitely viewing the world with a glass half empty mindset.

Bye bye friends! An early stop on the Warrenton 300K

I then thought about quitting, which I NEVER do. I totally believe that when I start an event, I commit to doing everything I can to complete the event. I also go into it believing that I will finish. It’s self-defeating to start with anything less.

Somehow on this ride, though, poisonous thoughts entered my mind.

I’ve been doing these rides for almost eight years now. What’s the need to do another one?

I have nothing to prove. It’s not that nice outside. What would be the harm in bailing? I’d still end up with 80 miles on the day. That’s not a bad day on the bike, is it?

Those thoughts FREAKED me out. They had no place on this ride. My head was not in the game. I was in no physical pain or discomfort. I was simply lacking in desire, with 150 miles to go in the ride. Great.

We took a short break for a coke and a bite of food. Felkerino kept steadily steering us forward, I pedaled through, and gradually I started to feel better. Our pedaling picked up a rhythm, and by the time we rolled into the first control at mile 65, life was looking up.

I was fully engaged in the ride again and my brain sent me no more distracting and unhelpful messages about quitting. Thank goodness, or it could have been a long day out there.

After the ride, Felkerino told me he thought I’d been bonking, but I’m still not sure. I think that I did not adequately prepare mentally for the day. Food for thought. (Get it? Bonking? Food for thought? Ha ha!)

  • Good Company Makes all the Difference

Our early miles were spent with Bill B. and Kelly, who are always amicable company. And I even got a meta-randonneuring shot of Bill taking a picture of Felkerino and me before we all parted ways.

Meta-Randonneuring Moment: Bill B. taking a picture of me taking a picture of him.

Shortly before the first control, Felkerino and I began to criss-cross with George W., Rick of North Carolina, and Christian. Solid steady riders, easygoing, and pleasant to ride around. We chatted about bikes, Grand Bois tires, food, and weather. Sometimes we rode quietly in each other’s company.

650B Attack

It’s just lovely when you end up lopping off brevet miles in the company of others that share your enjoyment of cycling.

  • Oh Sun, How I Love Thee

This ride had some sun, lots of clouds, and a little rain. And not much wind, yippee!

It’s much easier to tackle a long ride on a warm sunny day. Fortunately, the sun came out enough throughout the day that I did not feel totally abandoned by it, but most of the day was cloudy.

A sunny spot on F.T. Valley Road

I also got to use my rain jacket some. I do love my rain jacket (Gore Tex Paclite), but like leaving it in the Carradice as opposed to wearing it much.

It’s surprising how much the sun can lift my spirits. Whenever it peeked out, I found myself reaching for my camera. That’s why my photo set makes our ride look deceptively sunny.

  • Dogs!

Lots of canine buddies who came out to meet and greet…

Hi, buddy!

Hi buddies!

And one who definitely looked like he wanted my leg for dinner.


  • D.C. Randonneurs Brevets are Beautiful

Sometimes I can’t believe how close I live to such natural splendor. The Blue Ridge, Skyline Drive, historic battlefields, and the Catoctins. We’re so lucky!

Our club offers such beautiful rides, and yesterday’s was no exception.

Thanks to everybody who made it a good day! Oh, and Felkerino did a writeup, too. Check it out on The Daily Randonneur.

D.C. Randonneurs Urbana 200K: Feels like the First Time

Alec, Eric, and Mike on the Urbana 200K

Ride summary: Ride the rollers out of Urbana. Whee! First control in Union Bridge, Maryland. Pedal pedal. Climb 77 in Catoctin National Park. Climb. Climb climb climb. Descend. Grind through the rollers out of Smithsburg. Stop for a couple pics. Pedal through the fragrant countryside. Whoah, stinky! See eight cats in someone’s driveway. Eight! Control in State Line, Pennsylvania. Eat half a sandwich. Hello rider. Hello rider. Hello rider. Pedal pedal pedal. Kemp’s Mill Road, a friendly zippy stretch. Control at KOA. Hello Lowell. Hello Severna Park. See end of cooking show about brownies. Depart control. Mosey to Sheetz. Eat an almond butter and jam sandwich. Drink a latte. Meet up with fleche teammates Lane, Mike, and Eric, as well as Scott G. and Alec. Chat and laugh. Ride. Information control in Antietam. The question is… just kidding! It’s a secret! Ride ride. Bonk. Battleview Market control. Eat chips. Contemplate life. Pedal pedal pedal. Trego, bleah. Climb climb climb. All alone with Ed. Gapland finally! Lane waited. Thanks! Descend whee! Pedal pedal pedal. Eric waited. Thanks! Marlu Ridge the easy way! Group ride with Mike, Eric, Lane. Chat. Listen to Mike. Fingerboard. Slog slog slog. Finish. Photo op by Bill. Pizza pizza pizza. Yeah.

I’ve never had a lot of love for the Urbana 200K, even though it was the first brevet I ever rode. It’s a good ride and an honest challenge, but for some reason I have always found it somewhat unkind.

It’s a pretty hilly course, and doesn’t offer too much reprieve. It also doesn’t offer too many food stops along the way. That’s not a big deal, I’m not hoping for Zagat-rated dining during my brevets, but I think all of the climbing on the route and the limited places for food make for a tougher ride.

Hanging out at Earl’s Market on the Urbana 200K

This was my first ACP brevet of 2012, as I missed the other D.C. Randonneurs 200K two weeks ago and ran the D.C. marathon instead. I worried about my conditioning, but it ended up being fine. The ride was hard, but my body held up well physically. My emotional state throughout the ride was a little different matter, and directly correlated to my food intake.

This was probably my hilliest ride of 2012 to-date, and I did not eat enough to get through it. I had a hard time eating any breakfast before the start. I brought along two almond butter and jam sandwiches, which I ate, as well as two Clif bars and two packages of Clif shot blocks that I gnawed on throughout the ride. I also bought (and ate) two bags of potato chips.

Gapland Road and the War Correspondents Memorial on the Urbana 200K

While that might be enough for some people, it didn’t seem sufficient for me. I made it to the midpoint of the ride without too much fatigue, but after that I found myself ebbing in and out of bonklandia for the remainder of the day. The ironic aspect of my bonking, though, was that I lost my appetite and nothing sounded tasty. Then I felt weepy and began emotionally imploding. Thank goodness this was just a 200K.

Lessons Learned:

  • I always feel like I’m starting from square one when I do my first ACP brevet of the year. Maybe next year I won’t feel like such a novice.
  • The Urbana 200K course is always tough.
  • Food is your friend, especially on hilly rides.
  • Crying is no way to spend a bike ride.
  • Felkerino has a lot of patience.
  • Getting in with a good group helps the miles pass, even (especially?) on the more unforgiving segments.
  • It’s just bike riding.

I took pictures. Want to see them? I believe they mask most of the discomfort, bleariness, and fatigue I experienced. Smiles everywhere! Just click here.

P.S. Sorry for the Foreigner reference. I just couldn’t help myself.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound. Of Fleche, That Is.

While some people ride brevets throughout the year, Felkerino and I tend to do most of our of brevets during what we call the “Spring Season,” which basically consists of the four-brevet Super Randonneur series and the Fleche.

One of the big kickoffs to spring is the Fleche, as it is usually one of the first events on the D.C. Randonneurs ride calendar and, compared to brevets, seems slightly lower key.

For those unfamiliar with this strange ride with some historic significance, the Fleche (French for arrow) is a 24-hour team cycling event. Audax Club Parisien started the Fleche in 1947 as an homage to French rider Paul de Vivie, Mr. Velocio himself.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato (c) Bill Beck

Typically completed over Easter weekend, the Fleche must be at least 360K in length. Teams may have separate points of departure, but all arrive at the same destination point after their 24-hour adventure. Historically, groups had to ride point-to-point routes, as opposed to loop routes, but that has changed over time. Another original concept of the Fleche was for teams to challenge themselves to cover as much distance as possible.

Some teams still ride point-to-point routes and try to cover ambitious distances during the course of their Fleche, throwing in some significant climbs along the way. Others stick close to or slightly over the 360K distance, traverse moderate terrain, and complete loop courses. A loop course simplifies transportation to the start and designing a mellow-ish route close to the minimum distance generally allows for a slightly more leisurely pace and any mechanicals along the way.

Fleche teams can be composed of three to five bikes, and at least three bikes have to finish in 24 hours in order to receive an official finish. Because it is a team event, teammates must start and finish the ride together.

Since I started randonneuring in 2006, I’ve participated in four Fleches. Three of the four have been on my single bike, one was on tandem, and each one has been with a different team. Two were point-to-point routes and two were loop courses.

I look forward to the Fleche each year because it emphasizes several things I like about bicycling. Camaraderie. Food. A scenic journey that offers both a physical and mental challenge.

Team Uncorked (c) Bill Beck

I’ve completed each of my Fleche rides in various physical and mental states. My first ride, with the Randonnettes, I had no idea what I was doing and was the slowest member of my team, which slowed the team down, too. While my teammates were patient about my lack of speed, my inability to ride easily with them stressed me out.

When I rode a with the Gray Ghosts, I was in pretty good shape and well-matched in terms of pace with my fellow Fleche-mates. The only hitch in that ride was when a teammate and I went off cue for a total of 6 or 7 miles, causing us to almost miss dinner. Oops.

My third Fleche outing, as a member of Team Uncorked, came after an 18-month hiatus from randonneuring and resulted in some difficulty in maintaining speed and energy throughout the ride due to a lack of overall fitness. There was some unpleasant vomiting toward the end as a result, but I did officially finish with my team.

Two years ago, Felkerino and I rode a Fleche together on tandem with two other cycling friends and had a great time laughing, caffeinating, and eating our way around the Mid-Atlantic. Team Velo, Espresso, Gelato. That about sums up that ride, though I don’t recall any gelato.

When I consider Fleche participation, I now try to make sure I keep in mind the following things:

  • Point-to-point courses are not my favorite. While they are the most fun to ride and I definitely feel like I’m on a real journey as opposed to a big 24-hour ride-about, the logistics of getting my bike and me to a starting point about 200 miles away is a pain. Loop courses simplify this aspect of the fleche.
  • I want to cover at least the minimum required Fleche distance, but I don’t need my team to win the region for kilometers covered on a Fleche.
  • Undulating terrain is perfect for a Fleche. Hilly, unforgiving terrain? Not so much.
  • It’s all about the 22-hour control.

About that last point. No matter how you ride your Fleche, all riders must control in somewhere at the 22-hour mark of the ride. If you don’t get, you get the big DQ (disqualified, ahhh!).

After the 22-hour control, riders must pedal at least 25 additional kilometers before they complete their ride. At 24 hours, at least three bikes from the team must finish and have covered the minimum 360-kilometer distance.

Team Velo Espresso Gelato. Time out for lunch. (c) Bill Beck

During my first Fleche, I had no comprehension of the 22-hour control. I just thought we needed to make it to the end of our route by the time 24 hours passed. I was so uneducated then, ha! Now I know that the 22-hour point of the ride is the one point that matters.

When I rode with Team Uncorked, my lack of conditioning (and vomiting) caused a bit of a delay at the 22-hour control. Because of that, we ended up finishing the ride at a different control than the official finish, about three-five miles away from the official end of the ride. While acceptable to finish at an alternate location, teams still must cover at least 25 additional kilometers over the final two hours. We finished just over the nose of the minimum distance.

I’ve heard many people extoll on the upsides of the Fleche, but they aren’t all a pedal through the park. (Did my modified pun work? No, I didn’t think so.) Good base level fitness is required to keep your Fleche from becoming a ride of desperation (see my Team Uncorked writeup).

The weather can be… well, you know. See this writeup from our friends in Severna Park for an epic weather tale.

Riding all night can also tire a person out. I hate to admit it, but this no-sleep-til-the-Fleche-ends has gradually become more of a factor for me as I age (shh, don’t tell anyone). It takes me several days to recover from the sleep deprivation as well as sleep schedule confusion brought on by a 24-hour ride.

As I mentioned, though, Fleche events don’t always involve vomiting and they can be super-fun. I think there’s something inherent about the magic of the Fleche construct that lends itself to great stories.

All teams have names and people have come up with some great titles. And people love to come up with great Fleche puns for team names, too (see here, for a good example). Tee hee!

Team members stick together and finish together. You can really get to know people. Because you are most likely covering fewer miles over that 24-hour time span than if you were doing a brevet, you can sometimes move along more leisurely than a brevet. Night riding is a bonding experience and, if the weather cooperates it can be sublime. Seeing all the teams at the finish is a blast, and food after 24 hours of riding really tastes awesome!

I’d love to have a few more miles in my legs for this one, but overall I feel pretty good, and I’m excited to join team Table for Five’s 2012 Fleche adventure on April 14.

There’s so much good stuff to share about the Fleche that I’m sure I’ve overlooked something so please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences to the comments. Thanks to Bill for all the photos of rides gone by, and I hope to see some of you at the D.C. Randonneurs Fleche rendezvous point!

Weekend Roundup: Two Shorties, a 200K Brevet, and the D.C. Tweed Ride

If you were in the D.C. area over the weekend, you know that we had some choice cycling weather. A pinch brisk in the mornings, giving way to sun and warmth in the afternoon. Long-sleeve, no-jacket temperatures.

With weather like this, who can stay inside? Not me.

  • W&OD Trail Ride to Vienna, Virginia

Felkerino and I joined up with our friend Lane for an unscripted Friday ride. We departed D.C. just before midday and meandered down the W&OD to Vienna. Even though the fall color has peaked, there are still plenty of eye-catching hues on the trees. Fallen leaves are all around, adding to the seasonal beauty. (And I don’t have to rake them, yes!)

We also criss-crossed with the juxtaexposed bloggers on the return. They were headed out toward Leesburg, Virginia. They were stylish travelers, with a set of orange panniers on one bike and a VO front bag on the other.

Sadly, I was not quick enough on the draw to get a photo, but happily, they took their own photos and did a fine writeup of their W&OD weekend trip. Find it on their blog.

Pedaling down the W&OD Panda

  • D.C. Randonneurs Flatbread 200K Brevet

Saturday, Felkerino and I joined up with 79 other cyclists to participate in the D.C. Randonneurs Flatbread 200K. This was Felkerino’s and my first ride of over a century since the bike ride known as Paris-Brest-Paris. With a total ascent of less than 1,000 feet for the entire route, terrain is not the challenge. However, the wind can be and it definitely was on this ride.

Fortunately, though, Felkerino provided a ready draft for me, and we also had tailwinds for the latter part of the ride. I much prefer to deal with the headwinds on the outbound than the return, don’t you?

This ride offered up plenty of good cycling fellowship and more fall color.

Crossing the wooden bridge on the Flatbread 200K

The route also passed a divine bakery, called Dolce Bakery and Coffee Shop in Millford, Delaware. I had not wanted to stop, but Felkerino did. After I sampled a pumpkin bar, I realized the error of my ways. Best pumpkin bar ever (and pretty good coffee, too)!

Steve and the Rivendell at Dolce

We even passed by the Atlantic Ocean, woo!

Felkerino and me at the Atlantic Ocean in Slaughter Beach, DE, Photo by Bob T.

I met and even rode some miles with coffeeneur and randonneur Iron Rider, who put together an excellent blog post of his ride. He completed it on a fixed gear. Way to go, Iron Rider!

Although I have not met her (yet!), Lisa of the Rambling Rider blog was also there. This was her first 200K and she wrote about her experience as a first-time randonneuse here. Welcome to randonneuring, Lisa! Hope to see you on another brevet.

A combined set of Felkerino’s and my Flatbread brevet pics is on my flickr page.

  • Potomac, Maryland and the D.C. Tweed Ride

Sunday, we joked about going to the D.C. Tweed Ride. Ha ha ha! Can you imagine us going on the tweed ride? Even though I love reading about Tweed Rides and seeing the photos, it’s hard to envision Felkerino and me participating in one.

Ultimately, we decided on our traditional post-brevet coffee run out to Potomac, Maryland. Lots of cyclists (including D.C. Randonneur Jeff M.) were out and about on the colorful tree-lined roads. Gotta enjoy it while we can!

Capital Crescent Trail

In a strange twist of fate, we ended up converging with the D.C. Tweed Ride on our return route! I am not kidding! That was awesome and hysterical.

With both of us in Sidi’s, me in my wool Swobo and knickers, and Felkerino in his Canada Randonneurs jersey and Bicycle Times socks, it was quite obvious we were not part of their procession.

D.C. Tweed Riders on a Trek and Surly

A perfect day for the D.C. Tweed Ride

Velo Orange and tweed on the D.C. Tweed Ride

Felkerino suggested that maybe I fit in more than I thought, as I was wearing a tweed cycling cap, ha!

You will find more of our serendipitous D.C. Tweed Ride collision here. I hope everybody had a great ride. It was a lovely day for it.

So that’s it for this perfect fall weekend. One ride on the W&OD, a D.C. Randonneurs 200K brevet, a coffee run via the Capital Crescent Trail to Potomac, Maryland, and the D.C. Tweed Ride.

Up next: More Coffeeneuring Rewind!