By Bill Bryant
Most randonneurs are familiar with our regular brevets. These challenging self-paced rides are for a set distance that must be covered within a certain time period. The standard distances are 200, 300, 400, 600, and 1000 kilometers. The minimum allowable pace is about 15 kilometers per hour; the maximum is 33. As such, they make up most of the RUSA ride calendar and are what most people think of as "randonneuring."
There is, however, another type of randonneuring event, but this is strictly for teams of riders. Another difference is that they are for a specified amount of time, not distance. The most familiar is the Flèches- USA, patterned after the Flèche Vélocio organized by the Audax Club Parisien in France each spring since 1947. There have been American Flèche team rides since 1996 and most randonneurs do them because it is a requirement to earn the prestigious Randonneur-5000 medal. But as time goes by one finds R-5000 recipients still riding more Flèche events. Why? Because they are a lot of fun! Since success is determined by having the team finish together, there is no incentive to ride one's own pace and leave others behind. The Musketeer ethos of "all for one, one for all" is the norm here. It is a subtly different style of riding than that usually found on a normal self-paced brevet and many participants find they like it a lot. Most Flèche teams are made up of average randonneurs on regular bikes, but some regional events have awards for the team with the oldest combined age, the youngest, all female riders, etc. There have also been teams with special characteristics such as all tandems, all riders on fixed- gear bikes or recumbents, etc.
A requirement of the Flèches-USA event is that they can only be run once per year per region around their traditional Easter weekend date. Part of the challenge of doing a Flèche is that it comes so early in the cycling season when fitness isn't optimum. Having a limit of two hours rest at any one location means that no substantial sleep can be gotten along the way too. Add in a 360-kilometer minimum distance, and a long, cold spring night and you have the makings of a pretty tough ride.
So, why not do a team ride in the warmth of summer when the days are long and the legs are strong? With that in mind, Randonneurs USA announces a similar event that can be run any time of year, the Arrow. Like its French namesake this is another 24-hour ride, but without the date constraint, and without the two-hour limitation for any rest stop. Just like the Easter Flèche, at least 360 kilometers must be covered in 24 hours during an Arrow.
Does 24 hours feel like too much, even with your best riding pals? Then take a look at the Dart, which is very much like an Arrow or Flèche except that "only" 180 kilometers are required to be covered in 12 hours. If scheduled at the right time of year, a Dart could obviously be run entirely in daylight. With some thought given to scheduling, a Dart could be excellent preparation before one of the more arduous 24-hour team events.
The Flèches-USA, Arrow, and Dart are similar events that can only be ridden by a team with three to five members. (Tandems count as a single member.) They all require the team to take its own route to the event destination, rather like arrows flying into a target from various archers at different shooting points. The "bull's eye" is set by event organizer while the individual routes are designed by each team captain. The goal of these types of events is for each team to work together and make the "target" in the specified time period. Some teams will strive to cover the most ground in the time period for maximum bragging rights while others do just enough to cover the minimum distance—to each his own. The main thing is to find a group of riders you'd like to spend a lot of time with, and of course, to have your local RBA schedule these types of events in addition to the regular brevets.
Interested? Most of the 2004 Flèches-USA have been run by now, but check out the RUSA website at www.rusa.org and look under Rules. You'll find the exact regulations that define these team rides. There is also a Team Randonnée advice page with helpful hints for event organizers and team captains. If there isn't a team event on your regional schedule, see if your RBA wouldn't consider one for the future, they are really a lot of fun. As of this writing, no Arrows or Darts have yet been scheduled. Maybe your region could have the first one? Allez!