Reviewed by Bill Bryant
At first glance Vintage Bicycle Quarterly might appeal most to collectors and restorers of old bikes, but that is not entirely correct. In its pages is all sorts of information that can be very instructive to modern randonneurs as well.
Randonneuring in the United States is a relatively new form of cycling. The first handful of Americans to ride Paris-Brest-Paris were in the 1970s and it wasn't until the 1980s that things really took off with the formation of the International Randonneurs. Only as recently as the 1990s could one say that there was a substantial amount of yearly domestic brevet activity, much less any meaningful written information available to spread the word among the participants. Along with rapid rider turnover from the prodigious time demands of long-distance cycling, having different brevet series scattered across the vast American continent hasn't helped with the exchange of randonneuring information and lore. As a result, there is probably no one common style or method of randonneuring in our country. By comparison, one could well imagine various baseball players from a long time ago being perfectly at home with the game as it is practiced nowadays. Is the same true of randonneuring?
As it turns out, the answer is "yes." Determination, audacity, athleticism, and bravery are all timeless human qualities. What worked in the first "allure libre" brevet run by the Audax Club Parisien in 1921 is definitely still required today. But what about the equipment needed to propel oneself hundreds of kilometers without rest? Wouldn't today's bikes, clothes, and lights be vastly superior to the old stuff? You might be surprised to learn that we have a lot to learn about successful randonneuring from our elders. Happily, there is a new publication that can assist us in that quest.
Launched in 2002 by Seattle randonneur, PBP ancien, and RUSA member Jan Heine, Vintage Bicycle Quarterly is a publi cation dedicated to classic lightweight bikes, particularly French ones such as Alex Singer and Rene Herse. That these bikes were frequently used by French randonneurs helps flavor the content for modern randonneurs. For example, Heine's article about riding a recent 400k brevet on an original 1962 Alex Singer shows how the old bikes are just as useful as most new ones. His enjoyment of the day, and his overall time, were at least as good as on his contemporary bikes. And this reveals an interesting fact. Unlike the "old days" of the post WWII era when randonneuring was in full flower in France, today's bikes are often not as good! Back then, the machines of dedicated randonneurs were built expressly for our particular type of long distance cycling, while nearly all the bikes used today are merely racing bikes adapted to randonneuring usage. The differ ence is easy to see once you look over the many photos and wonderful vintage Daniel Rebour illustrations in VBQ. Clever randonneuring equipment details were built into the bikes back then, not bolted on, or ignored, as is the common practice today. Their relaxed frame geometry makes the older bikes better on rides over eight hours' duration, too. Indeed, a modern randonneur could do a lot worse than to take some copies of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly to his local framebuilder and request a dedicated randonneuring mount. But he might want to hold off a little while; slated for the upcoming third issue is advice on what makes an effective randonneuring bicycle.
Of course there is much more to randonneuring than just the machinery. Along with the events, it is the people themselves who flavor our sport, and Vintage Bicycle Quarterly seeks them out. The first issue contained a very interesting interview with Ernest Csuka, the man behind Alex Singer bikes. Accompanying a good writeup of the 1956 PBP, the second issue has a real gem: Interviewed by Heine is randonneuring legend Roger Baumann. Along with being the fastest solo rider back to Paris in 1956, this Frenchman has finished an astounding ten Paris-Brest-Paris events. In the pages of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly you'll learn Baumann's views on the true randonneuring ethos of self-sufficiency and camaraderie, as well as on doping and the shenanigans that took place among the leaders at the most recent PBP. It's all great stuff and Jan Heine deserves high praise for tracking Baumann down for the interview. I hope he can give similar treatment one day to the ACP's Robert Lepertel, as well as Belgian PBP ace Herman DeMunck.
At $27 per year, Vintage Bicycle Quarterly is not inexpensive, but so far the content has, in this randonneur's opinion, been well worth it. I'm not that interested in restoring or looking at old bikes, but lots of the information in Vintage Bicycle Quarterly has definitely enhanced my knowledge of our sport and how to practice it better. This August I hope to be again riding the roads of northwestern France and enjoying another PBP. My pacing and equipment will definitely reflect more of what I've learned from the ones who have gone before.
Vintage Bicycle Quarterly is available from Jan Heine, c/o Il Vecchio Bicycles, 140 Lakeside Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122, or at: http://www.mindspring.com/~heine/bikesite/bikesit