One of the many motivators behind Felkerino’s and my increased riding miles in the early months of this year was our decision to take part in the D.C. Randonneurs flèche, which kicks off this coming weekend (April 1). The flèche is a rules-laden team event, many of which make no sense to me, but that I follow anyway in the spirit of randonneuring.
Riders join teams constituting at least three bicycles, create controlled routes that must be approved by club leadership, and ride a minimum of 360 kilometers over the course of 24 hours, stopping no more than two hours at any designated control, and inserting a mandatory stop precisely 22 hours into the ride, after which riders must then ride a minimum of 25 kilometers in the final two hours and complete the event at the same hour they began the day before.
Routes may essentially be loop courses or they may also be point-to-point, which is more in keeping with the tradition of the event. Flèche means arrow, after all. Loop courses are logistically simpler, but often mean covering a lot of territory where we frequently ride, leading to pleasant, but perhaps less adventurous riding.
Point-to-points raise the adventure factor. The route travels further afield than a loop can, and you have a heightened sense of excitement that comes from knowing you’re riding your bicycle at least 360 km all the way home, like some kind of self-imposed pilgrimage. However, point-to-points are also more complex to plan, since riders have to figure out how each team member will make it to the starting point of their ride.
Regardless of where riders begin, all teams converge in the same finishing location, and eat and swap stories until everyone capsizes when their bodies realize that the event has truly ended and eyes refuse to remain open any longer.
Given how early in the spring randonneuring season it occurs, some effort in the winter months is needed to adequately prepare the mind and body for a flèche. And of course, it’s a best practice to put your lighting systems through their paces, since night riding is all part of the fun.
Because temperatures during a flèche can fluctuate greatly (and the weather can, you know, do things you may not want it to do) it’s good to test out the cold weather layers, rain gear, and your packing system in order to make sure you have adequate space for whatever gear and clothing you need for a 24-hour early spring ride.
Many people I know talk about how much they enjoy the flèche. It makes for great stories and the focus is not on speed, but fellowship and just riding along together. Having ridden the event in previous years, I do agree, but I have always experienced some angst around the flèche.
In addition to this relatively long event occurring early time of year, it is also based on riding as a team. It’s important to find a team of riders with whom you are comfortable, and who have compatible riding styles. Otherwise, this can add stress, frustration, or moments of awkwardness due to the way a person pedals or interacts with the group. Felkerino and I have been lucky with the teams we’ve joined in previous years, as well as this year.
One of the other comments I hear about the flèche is that you have 24 hours to cover 360 km – easy peasy! In the abstract, I suppose that is a lot of time to cover 360 km, but progress is often slower than on a brevet of similar distance.
I don’t know exactly why this is. Maybe it’s because the flèche occurs early in the year relative to our longer brevets so our legs are still adjusting to the big miles, or perhaps the cooler weather of early spring slows us somewhat.
Whatever the reason, this has consistently been the case for us on previous flèches. We pedal frantically toward dinner, looking at our watches, hoping we’ll make it on time for our dinner reservation, as we wonder what became of the day and our best laid plans.
This year, Felkerino and I will be riding with our rando-buddies on Team If We Lived Here (We’d Be Home Already). We’re a five-bike, six-person team that will begin riding from Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Over 24 hours we’ll pedal our way through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, to ultimately arrive just outside of Washington, D.C. And then we’ll pedal the last few miles home.
Our friends will take the Amtrak out to the start. Our freak bike tandem is not yet permitted on Amtrak trains so Felkerino and I will do a one-way vehicle rental to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.We’ll then ride our way down the Great Allegheny Passage Trail (GAP) to Connellsville on Friday, April 1, in order to set ourselves up for our Saturday flèche adventure.
So Pittsburgh coffeeneurs and friends, although we have much to accomplish during our brief time in your city, including managing an efficient exit from town via the GAP, we might see you!
If you’re riding with the D.C. Randonneurs, we’ll see you at the finish. Bonne route to all.