Category Archives: Rando Reflections

Randonneuring In Retrospect

I’m a randonneur romantic. Sure, longer brevets almost always include periods where I question my recreational pursuits due to discomfort, exhaustion, or some dissatisfaction with a route segment, but they don’t hang on. Eventually, those feelings fade and bike riding reclaims its place on my list of favorite things to do.

Another reason I love the randonneuring events is because they introduce an additional level of commitment and discipline to Felkerino’s and my riding. Early weekend wake-ups for training rides in the hills become standard routine.

I incorporate more focused cross-training into my weekdays. Overall time in the saddle goes up. Bike mileage steadily increases and peaks until the carefully scheduled taper goes into effect.

After all that, I stand rather anticlimactically at an uncivilized hour in a generic hotel parking lot with my brevet card in hand ready to see how our months of hard work will pay off. Despite the unassuming circumstances, randonneur show time has arrived.

Over the course of 10 years of brevets, I’ve ridden rides that while they were happening, felt they were devouring me with their difficulty. Yet after I completed them and time did its work to soothe the event-inspired discomforts, a blanket of bliss wrapped itself around me.

Almost always, my body forgets the fatigue and frustrations of an event. My mind looks beyond pain point memories, or reconstructs them as necessary parts of the ride experience. Without the low moments, there can be no highs. The post-ride sensations that usually remain are so powerful and positive that they compel me to take on the next big ride.

D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck
D.C. Randonneurs 600K. Photo by Bill Beck

But that is not what happened on my most recent 1000K. In August, Felkerino and I rode a 1000K where the memories that lingered were primarily pain points. Despite the passing of time, my recall of this ride is not the savoring experience I’ve come to hope for and even expect from randonneuring.

When I remember this particular event, what I’m most happy about is that Felkerino and I pushed through and did not quit. We also enjoyed some pretty sweet night riding, too, but generally my point of pride is that we showed we can gut out a rando event even when we’re not enjoying it.

I’m still puzzling through why this ride’s memories evoke such  overall dissatisfaction. One month before this 1000K, Felkerino and I were completing a sublime two-week bike tour of Colorado.

We liberated ourselves from the clock and were not constrained by a prescribed route. Having all day to travel 100 or so miles in the summer sun was a treat. Maybe bike touring through the Colorado Rockies spoiled us, and we were unprepared for the rigors of a 1000K brevet.

On the other hand, maybe it’s because I’ve been doing brevets long enough now that their novelty has worn off. I know the general flow of an event, from a 200K up to a 1200K. I know the fitness that’s required complete them. I’m confident that Felkerino and I have a fairly tuned system that sets us up well for finishing rides.

Perhaps waning sunlight and winter’s freeze dampened my enthusiasm for long rides, and the arrival of springtime will reshape my August 1000K memories and rekindle my affinity for randonneuring.

At the very least, I hope a brevet or two with Felkerino through the emerging blossoms and greens of spring will generate new memories and bring back to the fore the seductive sensations I’ve always loved about randonneuring rides.

Bringing Made-Up Words to Life: Coffeeneuring and Errandonnee

I don’t mean to shock anyone, but the words “coffeeneuring” and “errandonnee” are totally made-up words. That’s right, both are fake words used to describe activities that people do on bicycles.

These terms were born out of similar circumstances.

Coffeeneuring:  A Seattle randonneur said he’d like to earn a medal by riding his bike to the coffee shop. I thought I should run a contest through this blog that offered such a medal. Felkerino and I tossed phrases around our living room about what to name said contest. The result was “coffeeneuring,” a combination of coffee and randonneuring.

Errandonnee: I wanted to host a winter transportation-based challenge around doing errands. I’d come up with the word “utilitaire,” but it didn’t sound quite right. During a bike ride with our friend Eric P., we exchanged ideas about what such a contest should be called. What regular word and randonneuring word could be melded together just so? “Errandonnee. Errand plus randonnée,” our friend Eric said. We all agreed it worked.

Coffeeneuring has been a fake word for more than three years, and errandonnee is going on two-plus. While some linguistic purists surely shake their finger at my audacity to invent words, generally people seem to like them.

It’s much easier to say “I’m coffeeneuring,” as opposed to “I’m riding my bike to get coffee.” As for errandonnee? It’s tricky to spell, but fun to say, and wraps two concepts into one delightful word. And I don’t know when I’ll tire of saying “Errandonnee is a word with triple double letters.

These two words emerged in fits of brainstorming. Both are examples of three minds thinking more creatively than one– unless you don’t like these words, in which case they show you that three minds can come up with truly unfortunate combinations of symbols and sounds.

Surly 2015-03-09 on Potomac

Most of the feedback I’ve received about errandonnee and coffeeneuring is positive. People have even nabbed both errandonnee and coffeeneuring as domain names.

Someone wrote that they had originally heard of coffeeneuring through the New York Times, but they could no longer find the news article. Some have attributed the creation of both coffeeneuring and errandonnee to other people or sources.

When I learn of these situations, my instinctive reaction is grumpy and egotistical. “Those words originated on Chasing Mailboxes,” I think indignantly. “I’m not getting credit for these made-up words, ” I say, even though it took three of us to come up with the original word, anyway.

I’m transported back to graduate school where we explored the importance of sharing knowledge freely in an effort to create better ideas, products, and organizations. Then someone threw a wrench into our knowledge sharing theories by saying people gotta eat and what about the commodification and ownership of ideas if that’s your meal ticket. However, I’m not inventing words for profit; I just want them to be used and understood by people.

I know others who have poo poo’d my made-up words, remarking that they diminish the significance of randonneuring. It reminds me of my university days as a language and linguistics major and intense discussions with those who believed that simultaneously coding in two languages was dé classé– an affront to the pureness of language.

I don’t view language as static or pure. It is meant to evolve and change over time, depending on the circumstances of the day, the needs of communities, and as people look for ways to effectively share information with each other.

Over time, new words come into being and people adopt distinct ways of coding. I’m not claiming that the words errandonnee and coffeeneuring need to exist for the sake of humanity’s growth, but these words are not inherently bad or intended to minimize randonneuring. In addition, their ability to neatly combine two ideas into one word gives them a practical implication, at least in my eyes.

Some have suggested that I could monetize the Coffeeneuring and Errandonnee Challenges by securing local (or broader) sponsorship and selling souvenirs such as t-shirts. In my mind, that is not true to the spirit of these activities.

These challenges are about connecting to others through everyday, low- to no-cost activities. Hopefully they serve as an encouragement to be outside on our bikes. The challenges offer a virtual space to share simple moments with each other, free from commercial backing.

Now that the made-up errandonnee and coffeeneuring have had time to soak in the world, people have begun to use them and developed their own ideas about them. It’s surreal to watch something you created expand and take on its own life.

The words have become somewhat uncontrollable in many ways, and that occasionally disconcerts. Like I said earlier, a small part of me liked to think that I owned these words, that credit for their existence belonged with me.

Generally, though, seeing errandonnee and coffeeneuring increase their radius has been exciting to watch. I’ve connected to people I would likely not know otherwise. I see other people’s quirky, sometimes comic, creative interpretations of the errandonnee and coffeeneuring and I’m struck by their observations. People have embraced coffeeneuring and the errandonnee, and given them meaning and life.

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

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