In Randonneuring, it’s not how fast, but how far
What is it about a bicycle that is so compelling? Little kids ride their BMX style bikes to the store for treats. Bike commuters transport themselves to work on utilitarian machines outfitted with racks, waterproof bags and flashing lights. Racers mount featherweight, high-tech carbon machines adorned with expensive gram-sparing components.
To Kevin Turinsky, president of the Alaskan Randonneurs, the bicycle is anything that rolls and is dependable enough to get you to the finish line of a brevet, pronounced “bruh vay” in French. A brevet is a formal, or certified, long-distance bike ride.
Randonneuring (a derivation of a French term meaning “rambling”) is a style of riding that originated in… well… France, not long after the bicycle was invented. Bicyclists ride a defined route under their own power for a given distance within a set amount of time. The rides are strenuous for their length but reward the most determined, not necessarily the most talented riders.
Turinsky took over the Alaska Randonneurs organization from cycling legend Bob Voris some five years ago. Voris made it possible for several Alaskans, me included, to qualify for the historic 1,200K Paris-Brest-Paris in northwestern France.
“One of the things that appeals to me,” explains Turinsky, “is the practicality and ability to travel through the landscape. This style of riding is enlightening for anyone with an adventurous spirit, who isn’t drawn to racing or charity events.”
Rides are measured in kilometers. There are 100K, 200K, 300K, 400K, 600K, and 1,200K ride options for the rank beginner to the seasoned ultra-distance veteran.
“The time element given to finish is typically generous enough for the average fit person,” explains Turinsky, “so if you’ve been skiing all winter or working out at the gym, you’ve got to have some determination. But remember, it’s not a race.”
The 200K distance, for example, allows you 13-1/2 hours to be considered an official finisher. With Alaska’s abundant daylight, running out of darkness isn’t an issue.
Neither is running out of road. Alaska’s regional road systems take the randonneur to prized locations such as the friendly coastal community of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, the meandering pastoral farms of the Mat-Su and the magnificent mountains of the Richardson Highway near Delta Junction.
The granddaddy of Alaskan brevets is the 1,200K Big Wild Ride scheduled for July 21-24. The course takes an international contingent of riders from Anchorage through Talkeetna, the edge of Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and Delta Junction. The journey ends in Valdez.
Riders must qualify to participate in the Big Wild Ride by completing a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K brevet. In 2011, the first year for this event, Turinsky hosted riders from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Germany and the United States. With so much territory to cover, Turinsky makes an appeal for volunteers to help run the event and ensure the safety of the riders. You don’t need to ride the event to take part in the journey.
While riding a super-brevet might be a tall order for the neophyte, the shorter distances are challenging but doable.
“Even if going a moderate pace, you’ll get the ride done and get that sense of achievement,” Turinsky says.
“One of my hopes is that the local communities will take some of the rides over. This is happening in Palmer with the Palmer Spring Classic in late April. They organize it, run it and impart all the local flavor of a destination ride. It’s been a ground fire. It’s really caught on and grown because they’ve put their local spin on it. I’d love to see that happen elsewhere in Alaska.”
To learn more about what it takes to become a randonneur, please visit www.alaskarandonneurs.org. It’s a great ride. You won’t want to miss it.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO SUCCEED
• A dependable road bicycle to get you to the finish;
• Basic mechanical skills such as fixing a flat tire;
• Reasonable fitness (see my April column on training for cycling);
• The biggest water bottle you can get (recommends Turinsky);
• A good lighting system so that you can be seen by motorists in front and from behind;
• Fenders to keep your feet and rear end dry;
• A rain jacket and other cool weather gear;
• A pair of sunglasses;
• A good attitude and a bit of perseverance.