Aspiring Randonneurs always want to know what kind of bike is required to ride brevets. The simple answer is the bike you own.
Almost any bike can be configured to ride long distances. Some Randonneurs might say that it is easier with certain types of bikes, but as long as you have a reliable, safe bike that complies with the rules, you are ready to ride.
To be a participant in a brevet sanctioned by RUSA, your bike must comply with basic rules concerning safety. The most important rule is that you and your bike must be visible at night. This means that your bike must have a working headlight and a working tail light at all times between sunset and sunrise. The headlight must be firmly attached to the bike, so you cannot use a headlamp strapped to your helmet for you primary lighting system. Of course, the more visible you are, the safer you are. So you can use a Petzl headlamp as a backup lighting source, as long as you still use the attached lighting system on your bike. Most randonneurs mount an extra headlight and tail light on their bikes for brevets in case the primary headlight or tail light fails.
There are basically three types of lighting systems. Most beginners use lights powered by replaceable batteries. This is the least expensive alternative that satisfies the rules. If your batteries go out during the ride, you will probably be able to buy new ones and keep moving. I would recommend that you carry extra batteries with you because you usually aren’t near a store when the lights go out. And know how to change the batteries in the lights before you ride. I once spent about ten minutes during a brevet trying to open the battery packaging.
A second type of lighting system uses rechargeable batteries. These systems are usually a little more expensive. They are usually brighter, but you have to make sure they are always fully charged before you need them. If you use a lighting system with a rechargeable battery, you probably should also carry a charger with you.
The third type is the most expensive and also the most reliable and the brightest. These lighting systems are powered by a generator inside the hub of the front wheel. These lights are very bright and are always available, so long as your bike is moving. On most models, when you stop, the light dims and will eventually go out. One side benefit of this system is that you can also connect a USB charger to the generator so that you can recharge electrical devices while you ride. Before you invest in one of these systems, you should be sure that you have the heart of a randonneur, because they represent a major investment. They are also the absolute best system you can utilize to light the road at night. Even though I now have a front hub generator, I still carry at least one rechargeable headlight that I can mount on my bike in case the main headlight goes out.
Some riders try and avoid the bike lighting requirements by only riding during the daylight hours. While this might be possible during certain events, it is not advisable. If conditions during the ride turn ugly with rain or other adverse weather conditions, RUSA rules required that you must use your bike lighting system.
Bike lighting rules will be strictly enforced. So if you drive 300 miles to enter a ride, and your bike is not properly equipped, you will not be allowed to enter the brevet. This is for your safety. Don’t attempt to circumvent this rule!
You should also bring a tire pump and extra tubes with you. It is not uncommon to have a flat tire during a ride. Remember randonneuring is all about self-sufficiency. So you also know how to change a tire. For many years I used Continental GatorSkin tires. I thought they were tough and reliable. However they did not prevent flats. Recently I have started using tubeless tires. They also do not prevent flats, but many times you can continue to ride with tubeless tires after they puncture because they automatically seal small holes in the tires with minimal loss of tire pressure. Tannus America now sells solid rubber tires. They come in many different colors and you don’t ever have to worry about flats. I have not personally tried them, but I don’t think they give as soft a ride as traditional tires. Anyway, it might be something to look into for the future.
The next thing someone brings up is that they don’t need a pump because they have CO2 cartridges to inflate the tires. This might work for you, but I had to drop out of 200k brevet once at the 110 mile mark because I got another flat tire and I had no way of inflating the repaired tube because I had used all of my CO2 cartridges. I suggest bringing a tire pump and tire tools along with you.
The seat is a matter of personal preference. I have been using a Selle Anatomica saddle for the past ten years and find them to be comfortable and reliable. Some people have other preferences. You are going to be spending a lot of time in the saddle, so you need to find one that will not cause anguish late in rides.
You also need some kind of bag to carry everything with you. I ride a bike with a rack mounted saddle bag. My bike does not look like something you would see in a professional bike race, but it is highly functional. So let’s say you start at 4:00 a.m. and it’s a little cold outside so you wear a jacket. When the sun comes up and it starts getting warmer, what are you going to do with that extra clothing. You can’t just leave it somewhere to pick up later, because you may need that jacket when it starts getting dark and colder. So your bike should have sufficent storage space for your jacket and extra tools that you may have.
This is the bike that I rode in the Last Chance 1200k in 2009. It is a Specialized Roubaix. Note the giant water reserve on the handle bars. This bike was basically a road bike with as much storage area added to it as possible. It has now been retired for my new bike, a Trek Checkpoint.
This is what my current randonneuring bike looks like:
Make sure you bring water with you. My bike has two cages for water bottles. If I think I will need more water because of the spacing of convenience stores, I use a camelbak.
This is a close-up of the front hub that powers the headlight and the charger.
The important thing to remember is that your bike must be safe. Safety should always be your primary concern. And if drivers can see you, they can avoid you. I use a Garmin Varia tail light on my bike. This not only serves as a tail light, but when connected to a Garmin GPS, it will warn you of a car approaching from the rear and will flash to alert the driver of your presence. I use these tail lights during daylight as well as night time. Fully charged, the Varia tail lights usually last about six hours, so you may need more than one during a ride. For me, one is usually being recharged while I am using the other one. Unfortunately they seem to take more than six hours to recharge, so I actually use three of these tail lights during a brevet. I believe that the Varia tail lights are the most significant advance in rider safety in the last ten years or more.
Of course a mirror could warn you of cars approaching you from the rear also. I think it is difficult to keep an eye on the road behind you using the tiny mirrors that attach to your bike or you helmet. But if a mirror works for you, that’s great. And much cheaper that the Garmin tail light system.
My next post will discuss the rules of randonneuring.