Where has RUSA come from and where is it headed? American Randonneur posed that question to RUSA's departing and newly elected board members.
John Lee Ellis
From an oddball patch of rides to a swatch in the fabric of the cycling scene … that's how US randonneuring has evolved, largely thanks to RUSA, since my first days on the Board. Over this period we've seen more and more new regions, and more and more riders — that's great. Some of this is natural growth, but a raft of innovations has helped, too: Populaires, Permanents, the R-12 award, and the American Randonneur Challenge to mention a few. These have changed the landscape of randonneuring at the local level. I think we now attract a broader variety of riders — from timid first-timers going beyond the annual club century, to accomplished racers and ex-racers looking to stretch themselves "lengthwise." And riders can approach the brevet season in a variety of ways which suit them.
Brevets are more accessible— no longer a hit-or-miss shot at a Super Randonneur (SR) series or subset thereof. And, for better of worse, we've bred a contingent of "overachievers" too. Ten years ago, who would have thought of riding two 1200k grand randonnées in a year—much less four!
Plus ça change … amidst all this change, from my vantage point on the Board and as an RBA some things have remained very much the same: the high quality, good nature, and commitment of Board members and the other volunteers, the RBAs, and the riders. None of this would have been possible without it. We're very lucky!
In reflecting on the state of RUSA and our sport the main thing that strikes me is the growth of the sport this past decade. When I first became involved with RUSA the organization was still in the process of establishing itself. The foundation had been laid and the seeds had been planted but the sport had not yet blossomed. This is now happening.
In the last 6 years RUSA has grown from 29 RBAs holding 141 events to a 2008 calendar that will include 324 events organized by 47 RBAs. In the early years most regions would only hold a SR series held mainly in the spring or early summer. Now many areas are holding multiple events throughout the year. This growth has been mirrored by the Permanents program providing rides on a year-round basis for our members.
The increase in events has worked hand-in-hand with the growth in membership. After PBP in 1999 and 2003 there was concern that there would be a major drop in membership. We have learned that PBP is no longer the main focus of our members based on the membership increases in the years in between and the amount of the brevets ridden by our members. The fact that in non-PBP years RUSA leads the worldwide community in brevet points further evidences the growth of the sport in the U.S.
The fruition of the sport would not have been possible without the many RUSA volunteers. I have had the pleasure of working with many individuals who spend much time and energy in promoting randonneuring. Led by our presidents, first Jennifer Wise, then Bill Bryant, and now Mark Thomas, each Board member that I have worked with throughout the years has been great. In addition to the Board are the volunteers who work on this newsletter, run the Permanents program, oversee the other aspects of the organization, including the website, routes, and various awards programs, and last, but not least the RBAs themselves. I am amazed at how people from across the country are able to work so well together solely for the love of allowing all of us to sit on a bicycle saddle long into the night.
With this outstanding volunteer base, RUSA will continue to spread its roots and grow in this country.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to help guide the future of RUSA. With the wonderful participation of the members, we've grown impressively during our first decade and I think we've created something quite special. Participation in our events has never been higher and I think I can speak for all of the board members when I say that our future seems bright. As we've grown, our volunteer base is expanding so we also owe a big thank you to those of you who have stepped up to help out.
There are so many things that are positive for all of the brevet riders, but I do have two concerns. I wonder why increasingly fewer women are participating in our sport compared to recent years. I don't believe that there is anything about randonneuring that discourages participation by women. Similarly, I'm curious why more young people do not accept the challenge of randonneuring. Ten years ago we had relatively more women and younger riders, but now we're not attracting them to our sport as we have in the past.
I look forward to serving on the board again and moreover I would especially like to hear from RUSA members about any randonneuring related matters. I hope you'll take the time to contact me to share your ideas for our future.
While randonneuring has not yet become a household word, awareness and appreciation of the sport has grown spectacularly over the past ten years. I am excited to be a member of the RUSA board as the organization enters its second decade. New clubs and regions continue to enter under the RUSA umbrella, and the long-established, high-volume clubs continue to expand their event calendars. Ride options number literally in the hundreds. Also, following the French example, Permanents have finally taken root here in the US, offering increased flexibility in riding options.
If you have the opportunity to ride a brevet or permanent outside of your home turf, take it! If ever you are in Western Washington, drop me a line. In fact, I will venture so far as to say the same holds true for most RBAs and their "lieutenants." (The RUSA website provides contact info for all of the key RUSA personnel.)
Finally, lest we forget, RUSA is a 100% volunteer organization. Consider what you can do to assist or support — find out by contacting your RBA.
Interest in U.S. randonneuring is at an all-time high. That means we'll see lots of new faces at our brevets, a bigger event calendar and scores of new permanents to keep us active in the off-season.
That growth poses several challenges for RUSA. How can we make sure the quality of our events remains high? How can we keep our far-flung members informed about RUSA news and events? And how can we help members succeed at every event they ride, whether it's PBP or next Saturday's permanent.
In the next few years, RUSA will look for ways to communicate more effectively with its members. That could mean regular e-alerts, an idea that has already been discussed. I foresee the day when many of our publications, including the newsletter you're holding, will be distributed electronically.
RUSA's success means that volunteers are needed now more than ever. If you've enjoyed riding your local brevets, if your trip to PBP was the experience of a lifetime, you can thank your local RBA and RUSA by stepping up and helping out.