Not long ago I was contacted by a writer who was researching an article about "extreme sports". I guess these things are all the rage these days. This fellow wanted to learn more about randonneuring and of course I was happy to oblige. It took me a few minutes, though, to get my head around the idea that somehow our sport would be lumped in with RAAM, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, dog sled racing in Alaska, whitewater kayaking, rock- climbing, surfing, and whatnot. With a minimum pace of only 15 kph to make the control closing times, randonneuring doesn't often seem to be "hard- core", and at times things can appear downright leisurely (to an untrained eye.) Sure, I know some speedy riders who regularly go under seven hours to do 200k brevets, but their names are listed alphabetically on the results like the rest of us mere mortals. I wasn't sure the egalitarianism of the BRM randonneuring formula would be seen as "extreme"—it all seems rather wholesome to me.
It took a while for me to get together a coherent answer to the basic question if our sport was "extreme" or not. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are some aspects to randonneuring that might make it attractive to a select group of unusually hardy riders who aren't afraid to suffer. Most centuries and double-centuries, not to mention point- to-point bike races, usually have at least some minimal amount of support that takes care of anyone not able to finish the course successfully, and this is a good thing. Even if they have fine athletic talent, beginning riders need experience to learn various things and a few DNFs are all part of the learning process. Or, if one becomes sick during the ride, or their bike breaks, there is no shame climbing into the sag wagon. It is a comfort knowing there is a lift back to the start if things don't go according to plan.
Randonneuring, on the other hand, doesn't often have that sort of support. Some of the bigger brevet series and 1200k events do have some roving sag support from the organizer, but the vast majority of our rides are done without a "safety net." We never have a support car's headlamps to illuminate the night road, and on most brevets, if one should have a bad time and is forced to stop pedaling, well, the adventure is only just beginning! With telephone access, perhaps a non-riding spouse or friend can drive out and perform a rescue, but given the long, dare I say, extreme distances we randonneurs roam, this sort of thing doesn't usually put the randonneur in anyone's good graces. Imagine being halfway through a 600k event and calling home for a lift! Along with hitchhiking, some riders have used public transit to get themselves back to the start/finish. (I have even heard of a couple instances where a new bicycle was bought en route so that a rider could earn his medal.)
At any rate, since our regulations don't allow a car to trundle along behind us in case we fail, the cyclists who challenge themselves to ride the long distances inherent in randonneuring are pretty "hard core" indeed. Some of us ride quickly, others of us less so, but all of us are subject to the same consequences if things go wrong. Compare this to a well-supported century ride, and one will start to see that randonneuring is a little more "risky" than it might first appear. Our sport rewards the mature, intelligent cyclist with profound satisfaction for having taken the dare, and won. That so many come back for more says a lot about the courage of randonneurs. Perhaps all of this is why randonneuring doesn't attract bigger numbers than it does, but I'm proud to be associated with the audacious riders who take the starting line of any brevet. Bonne route, et bon chance!