Unsolicited Advice

Even though nobody here asked, the following is a random list of randonneuring advice, based on my own experiences and personal opinions, that I’ve dispensed at various times:

  • Ride a reasonably fast / efficient bike.  Rando is hard enough without additionally burdening yourself with a slow machine.
  • That said, you should probably start doing rando on whatever bike you currently have now, then upgrade later if you feel like it, instead of starting off by buying a new bike for this use.  Think about it – how are you going to really know what bike you’d like to use for rando if you have never actually done any randonnees before?  Get a few permanents, populaires, brevets, etc. under your belt first. Then you’ll be in a much better position to know which bike and accessories to invest in.
  • Practice the skills that are unique to rando.  Long rides in training are for testing out fueling and pacing and bike fit, not really for developing endurance, per se.  Learn night riding skills.  Learn cue sheet and/or Garmin route following skills. Learn by doing.
  • If you doubt your endurance for long rides, don’t train long and slow, also train short and fast.  The latter builds fundamental cardiovascular / aerobic fitness that is absolutely key for having endurance.
  • Maintain your bike in good working order. Start long rides with everything checked over and adjusted.
  • Become a complete cyclist – this means riding in all weather, day and night, and knowing all of the techniques of cycling in all terrain, traffic conditions, etc.
  • Know how to work on your bike.  Have the ability to fix your bike when it breaks.  Can you fix a flat tire in cold weather in the dark?  Can you improvise a bit, if necessary?
  • Learn what foods work for you on the bike, especially on long rides. Stuff that works on fast, 2 hour rides may not be what you can tolerate eating after 6 or 8 or 10 hours. Don’t ride an hour or two before you start eating. You should be eating in the first half hour.
  • Learn what ultra-endurance pace feels like and have the discipline to ride at that pace for the majority of the ride. This is a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation without gasping. It’s a pace that allows you to breathe through your nose and still be able to get enough air.
  • Ride on reasonably reliable equipment. Stuff you can trust. Don’t ride the lightest, thinnest tires or low spoke count / delicate wheels that are scared of a little gravel or potholes.
  • Don’t make a bunch of changes to your equipment, position on the bike, etc. right before a brevet. Everything needs to be tested, proven, and gone through at least a few dry runs first.
  • Figure out how you are going to carry the stuff you will need to see you through reasonably foreseeable weather changes and problems with your bike. On the other hand, don’t let paranoia lead you down the path of carrying a bike shop worth of tools and parts and a full wardrobe of clothes. Find a reasonable balance.
  • Figure how you are going to ride at night safely. Early season 200Ks will either start or end in the dark, unless you are pretty fast. Looking to longer brevets, you need lights with sufficient run time, or the ability to charge them.  Have both a backup headlight and backup taillight.  Consider a small light on your helmet for looking at cue sheets, digging stuff out of bags, fixing a flat, etc.  Is your bike festooned with supplemental reflectives?  Do you have ankle bands?  A good reflective vest meeting current RUSA requirements?
  • Know the course you are going to ride before your ride it. Study it on mapping sites (ridewithgps is my favorite). Learn how to navigate by cue sheet. Learn how to read one produced by the RBA in your area. Don’t let others navigate for you. This is a learned skill so you have to practice. Don’t do this for the first time on your first brevet. If you are using a GPS, thoroughly learn how to use that device ahead of time.
  • Always ride your own ride. Don’t foolishly chase others down who are stronger than you. This sometimes ends people’s rides. Not immediately, but a few hours later after they have blown up / bonked spectacularly.
  • Realize that on any long ride, you will have some ups and downs. The downs will not last forever. When you feel like giving up, realize that it’s entirely possible to totally turn things around, and after a surprisingly brief period of slow riding and eating / drinking, you’ll wonder why you ever felt like quitting.
  • During a randonee, be aware of your time cushion.  The number of hours you have to ride in order to get a hour of rest, and still meet a 9.3 mph overall average is found by the following formula:    # of hours riding at X mph = 9.3/(X-9.3)   So, if you have a moving average of 13 mph, then you only need to ride at that speed for 2 hrs and 31 minutes before you have built up a 1 hour time cushion.   Another way to look at things is to calculate your estimated moving time and stopping time. I find that routine refueling stops are about 25-30 minutes long (and a lot of randos are more efficient than I am), and I need one of those about every 45 to 60 miles. When controles are closer together than that, the stops can be a bit shorter.
  • For tires, I recommend not going with something super bulletproof.   The assumption there is that you aren’t a physical suffering type of masochist.  I wouldn’t go superlight either.  The assumption there is that you aren’t a flat fixing type of masochist.  Where you fall in the wide middle depends on your personal feelings about flat changing vs. speed potential.
  • Tire recommendations?  In 559, I like 1.35″ wide Shawalbe Kojaks. In wide 622, I like Vittoria Voyager Hypers (32, 35, and 38 widths available). They are reasonably efficient tires that are also pretty flat resistant.  A spare tire is rarely necessary, so carrying one is probably a waste. Do carry some boots, though.  Similarly, its probably not necessary to worry about broken spokes.  Although a fiberfix spoke doesn’t cost or weigh much. Also, if you don’t go below 32 spokes, you can usually keep riding with a broken spoke, especially if you run disc brakes and have good clearances in your bike frame.  A chain tool and spare link is probably more likely to be used. But a lot of folks don’t bother to carry one. I usually do. Maybe I will bail someone else out someday.
  • When trying to optimize your gear setups or clothing, don’t ignore aerodynamics.  Even on slow, hilly routes, aero drag is the single biggest consumer of energy.

What’s your advice, folks?  Please share your hard-earned pearls of wisdom.

About rothrockcyrcle

I am an endurance cyclist always looking for new ways to maximize fun and minimize BS.
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4 Responses to Unsolicited Advice

  1. surly jason says:

    Some great thoughts here.

    I did my first, second and third brevets on a Surly Cross Check running 700 x 47 Schwalbe Marathons. In retrospect, these tires were comfy but extremely heavy. True, I have never had a flat but I was pushing some serious weight. The bike, overall, was just too heavy.

    I stopped for food at the control points and generally had water, a small coffee and half a turkey sub. I don’t recall ever taking more than 20 minutes.

    The advice about riding your own ride is the best advice here. I rode with a couple other riders on my first brevet and loved it but we made a conscious effort to stay together despite our varying riding abilities. Rides two and three were ridden mostly alone.

    I didn’t have any problems meeting the deadline which was remarkable considering my bike and my relative inexperience with longer rides — most of my “training” was an eight-mile bike commute to and from work.

    • SRU Ed Tech says:

      Jason, are you the same person who did the there-and-back to Erie with Dan, Jim and I back in 2010 or so? Didn’t you ride that with flat pedals and Crocs? THAT was impressive.

      • surlyjason says:

        Hi, Bill:
        Yes, that was me !! That was one of my all-time favorite rides. Even though Crocs are ridiculously comfortable, they are exceedingly uncomfortable and unsuitable for long-distance rides because they’re so flexible. Another thing I learned from that ride was that hydration packs aren’t just for ‘bent riders or off-road use.

  2. Hi Jason,

    Yeah, I wouldn’t choose those tires for a rando machine. An urban commuter or remote area gravel grinder? Sure. But everyone has a different riding conditions and balance point on such matters. But personally, I’d rather risk the occasional flat and run tires that are more enjoyable and efficient.

    It takes a little bit of guts to let yourself get dropped from a group on a long ride where you’ve never ridden before, especially when you know you could dig deeper and hold on… for a while, at least. 🙂 The wise thing is to know your limitations and respect them. Not everyone has this wisdom, but everyone who stays in this sport for any length of time acquires it at some point.

    Doing most of your training rides in such short distances bolsters my assertion that lots of training miles aren’t necessary for a lot (most?) people.

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