Gunning For Greatness
Me and randonneuring, we have a history, and it’s not all wine and roses. But as with my Gatorade Escapade, enough time has passed that I feel safe sharing another hidden aspect of my cycling history.
Twenty years ago, when I returned to cycling as an adult, it was clear that I was going to be a long-distance (endurance) rider. And in looking for clubs and events that emphasized long rides, I learned of the New England Randonneurs and their Boston Brevet Series of rides.
What’s all that, then? To explain, here’s an excerpt from the ride report for my first brevet, back in 2006:
First, what’s a brevet? A brevet or randonnée is an organized long-distance bicycle ride. Cyclists—who, in this discipline, are referred to as randonneurs—follow a designated but unmarked route (usually 200km to 1200km), passing through check-point controls, and must complete the course within specified time limits. Randonnée is a French word which loosely translates to ‘ramble’ or ‘long journey’. Brevet means ‘certificate’ and refers to the card carried by randonneurs which gets stamped at controls; it is also used to refer to the event itself. Randonneurs do not compete against other cyclists; randonnées are a test of endurance, self-sufficiency, and cyclo-touring skills.
The ultimate randonnées are Paris-Brest-Paris and Boston-Montréal-Boston, both of which are 1200k (750 miles). You must complete a series of four brevets of increasing distance to qualify for PBP or BMB: the lengths of those qualifying rides are 200k (125 miles), 300k (190 miles), 400k (250 miles), and 600k (375 miles).
Twelve years ago, I’d just completed that first 200k brevet, and was eager for more. I scoured the internet for blogs by experienced randonneurs and online discussions.
It was on one such forum that I came across a discussion between riders about what handguns they preferred to carry during rides.
Yeah, you read that right: the loaded firearms they packed while riding, for shooting other road users.
I was shocked and horrified. I have no interest in being a bit player in some redneck moron’s Budweiser-fueled Mad Max gunfight fantasy. Guns have no place on the road, and absolutely no place in a cycling event.
I immediately fired off an email to the membership coordinator and the president of RUSA, our national organization, inquiring whether firearms were allowed on the rides they organized. They have ridiculously strict rules regarding rider safety, requiring helmets, front and rear lights, reflectors, reflective vests, sashes, and anklets, and so forth. But no, apparently that’s all safety theater, because they were—and still are—perfectly happy to hypocritically allow riders to carry loaded, concealed firearms, endangering the entire group and exposing RUSA to significant legal risk.
Having just mailed in my payment for my second year of RUSA membership, I put a stop payment on my check and informed them that I would not give any money to an organization that allowed my safety to be compromised, and that I wouldn’t be participating in any further RUSA events. After feeling that I’d found my community as an endurance rider, I was saddened to go into self-imposed exile to protest a policy I found outlandish and extremely dangerous.
Over the next decade, I participated in hundreds of centuries and 200k rides, but not a single RUSA-organized brevet. It’s unfortunate that I never felt safe enough to progress any further in my career as a randonneur. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it, and done numerous events, if they’d taken rider safety (if not their own legal exposure) seriously.
Only in the past couple years, since moving to Pittsburgh, have I chosen to meet up and ride with the local randonneuring group. It’s a tiny group—usually just four to six people—whose character I trust, and I’m hopeful that none of them are stupid enough to carry guns. But after all this time, I still will have nothing to do with RUSA unless and until they start taking the safety of their riders seriously.