This breed of cyclist loves nothing better than going 200, 400 or more kilometers
By Heidi Swift, Special to The Oregonian
When it comes to riding bicycles over long distances, the century is often considered a crowning achievement. One hundred miles! You've reached triple digits.
Congratulations; you've arrived.
Indeed, completing a century is no small task, but you'll need to keep pedaling if you hope to join the ranks of a very quirky group of cyclists who call themselves randonneurs.
Randonneurs like it long. And I mean really long. We're talking touring on steroids—sleeping in ditches, riding through the inky blackness of night and turning the pedals over for days at a time.
Sound crazy? Trust me, it is.
Which is probably why my longtime roadie boyfriend flinched when I suggested casually over dinner that I might take up randonneuring.
"Rando-what?" he said.
"Randonneuring. Super-long-distance. It's French." He indulged me as I went on to explain that there was a 200K ride coming up, and I intended to participate with my friend Natalie.
Loosely translated, the French term randonee means to go on a long trip, tour or ramble. Organized "rando" rides longer than 200 kilometers are called brevets and must be completed within a designated time limit that is quite generous. They are not intended to be competitive. Instead, randonneurs pride themselves on endurance, self-sufficiency (rides are unsupported) and bicycle-touring skills.
Participants carry an official card along with them, called a brevet card, which functions as a kind of passport. The card must be signed or stamped at checkpoints along the way to ensure that the official route was followed correctly. These cards are sent to France, where results are officially recorded. Longer distances frequently require extended night-riding, and most participants take short naps along the way as needed.
In this world of longer-farther-harder, the 200K distance is just the tip of the iceberg. From there you move up to 300K and keep going (with stops at 400, 600, etc.) until you are slogging along, delirious and near death, attempting to complete a 1,200K, all in the name of some ancient French cycling tradition.
Despite the relative ease of our proposed 200K entree into the great halls of the rando kingdom, I was worried.
"Child's play," one seasoned randonneuse (the correct French term for a female participant) assured me. "It's just like a century with about 25 miles added on. You'll be fine."
I'd completed only one century to date and it had been difficult. I continued to worry.
Still, I had the bug.
For me, randonneuring tapped into the fundamental concept of bicycle as adventure-vehicle. Bicycle as doorway to the world. Cycling without limitations.
Give me a map, give me a road, and let me launch into new, open spaces. Randonneurs know how to enjoy the journey. Satisfying an intrinsic masochistic desire to suffer at the same time? Double bonus.
It was with this adventurous spirit that I woke up at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday determined to earn my stripes. Armed with a battalion of PBJ sandwiches and a brand-new handlebar bag strapped to the front of my otherwise sexy Italian racing bike, I shoved off at 6 a.m. with about 30 other riders to conquer the Covered Bridges Brevet.
The route was 126.2 mostly flat miles through sprawling farmland and gentle rollers. We marveled at the never-ending headwind as we rambled from one small town to another: from Newberg to Gervais, on to Silverton, Sublimity and Stayton.
By the time I finished, I was half-delirious and unable to sit down on my saddle, so bad was the pain in my backside.
But I was hooked.
I immediately set to work planning for the next 200K brevet—a remote route that circumvented Timothy Lake. Nearly 7,400 feet of climbing promised significantly increased agony over the Covered Bridges route. Bolstered by my now-official status as a randonneuse (my brevet card had been processed by the Audux Club Parisien, the governing body in France!), I constructed my sandwiches and set out again in search of long-distance glory.
The ride proved epic.
And as Natalie and I battled our way up a crushing 15-mile climb watching waves of heat dance on the crest of one false summit after another, only one phrase kept running through my mind: "Century shmentury."
This article originally appeared in the Oregonian and is reprinted with permission. Swift maintains a blog, which can be seen at