At the Emitremmus Brevet, the hills of Hertfordshire turned out to be a challenge indeed in the original configuration. In the following year, and equipped with a new gearing, the time had come for my first randonnee, the Cambridge 200. But I was still a shift-lazy fenland rider, and this showed when, on a sudden uphill turn, the chain jumped and got stuck between cassette and hub - impossible to see how it could get out (or how it could have got in) without a chain tool, which I didn’t carry. Fortunately it was less than 10 km to the next control in Olney, so I rode there in the traditional dandy horse mode to deal with this problem in a more comfortable atmosphere. And over a coffee, with a bit of patience and a Swiss army knife, the chain and the bike were put back on track. In this spirit of dilettantism I set out on the road of continual improvisations. Long rides and associated mental freewheeling led to such “inventions"; like a Baguette holder, an “energy drink” powder (whey, maltodextrin, instant coffee, salts; vitamins) or a tria-bar mounted headlight which can be turned around into a map reading lamp - I like to navigate by route sheet, because mental maths how long it will take to the next turn help me stay awake. To keep me motivated, I was now looking for a challenge that would not take too much time (let alone effort) at once, but also involved interesting planning, so I set out for the International Super Randonneur. To qualify for this, one has to do BRM brevets in four countries (at least one of each 200/300/400/600k or longer- check out Granbrevetto Europe Challenge Randonnée if these look too short for you).
For the International Super Randonneur I rode:
-October 2017: Dying Light 200k starting in Dublin. A great season-closer and the social event of the Irish randonneur community, after battling strong autumn headwinds on Irish roads that were so rough that my backlight cover jumped the ship.
-May 2018: Green and Yellow Fields 300k starting in Manningtree and organised by Audax Mid- Essex. East Anglian cycling experience was not of disadvantage in this smooth ride, and the weather was so fine that I learned where sunscreen needs to be applied on a cyclist.
-June 2019: 400k starting in Dunkerque, France - most French brevets don’t have individual names. Riding in impromptu groups (and having regular breaks together, also for flats) is the norm here also outside Euraudax, compared to British rides that build more on the local tradition of time trials. Instead, club-managed controls are not so much of a social hub in France, since most events are self-supported. On the other hand, some riders are able to organise support on the spot, for example by persuading the mayor of a village to let a small pub open for refreshments in the middle of the night. Also, French hotel porters also don’t seem to be surprised about being asked to stamp brevet cards in the small hours: Everybody expects a French validation. And baguette vending machines exist.
-August 2021: 600k. Gießen, Hessen, Germany. Now living in Germany again, plans for a 600k in 2020 were put on hold due to Covid. Permanents in Germany mainly narrow down to Superrandonnées, but the lines to calendar events become blurred in pandemic times: For 2021, the ACP allowed for homologated events the starting in groups of two, within a window of two weeks. The geographically closest one for me was the “Großenwiedener Antizykel”, named after its opposite point from the start and the fact it had historically an anti-brevet running the other way round at the same time. Early on Saturday, 14. August, two riders started at the pedestrian overpass in Gießen they call the “elephant’s toilet” for its big round opening.01 I used the smartphone app “Digital Brevet Card” for contact-free validation by uploading timestamped and geolocated images at checkpoints. Unfortunately, even on a summer night the airstream can cool an uncovered phone so much that no electrons would want to come out of the battery - shut down plaintively and the charger cable was far away. So I relied on snapshots with my emergency camera and on cashier receipts. Shop opening times on weekends are short (even compared with France), but gas stations are plenty and they often open around the clock. Since central Germany is full of mid- to small- sized mountain ranges, a brevet through this region should be expected to involve a lot of up and down between towns unless you follow a river. But in the prevalent Sunday afternoon mood, no motorist took care to honk at a cyclist on an uphill struggle, turning increasingly into an involuntary pedestrian. As I wanted to make it home in time, I took no time to doss and finished by taking a photo of my bike in front of the elephant’s toilet on Sunday evening before taking the train home. centenary of free-paced randonneuring in September 2021. On Sunday, 11th September 1921, 77 cyclists started from the Porte Maillot in Paris for the first free-paced 200 km brevet. Apparently, all of them, including a married couple and a one-armed veteran, completed the course within the 16-hour time limit, the fastest being Messieurs Lavenarde and Girardot in 10:19 h (Source: L’écho des Sports, 13.9.1921). The biggest number of jubilee riders turned up in India, where 400 of them celebrated the anniversary in Bengaluru alone. For me, it would be the easiest to get to the one in Munich: If I departed from Heidelberg in the small hours and took the high-speed train to Munich, I would arrive at the main station twenty-five minutes before the start at 8 o’clock. Although my train ran 80 minutes late, this problem had miraculously resolved after a brief nap, and I could ride the few kilometers to the start comfortably through the quiet and wide roads of Munich.
In a gentle drizzle, the starting area was well visible by the fluorescent colour of jackets and vests of more than a hundred starters. Corona-related social distance measures had been partially relaxed, making this event probably the biggest brevet in Germany on this side of Covid so far. Starting in groups, we rode the first kilometers out of the city, first along the gravelly banks of the Isar and then continued southwards through the Perlacher forest. Sheltered from sun, wind, rain and hills this cycleway is ideal for cycle-based conversations. Soon the drizzle gave way to a clear sky and the Alps became visible, and the ascent was so steady it was barely noticeable. After the much-needed coffee and cake at the first control in Lenggries, it was now time to go into the mountains (but especially the valleys), and at the end of a tunnel we were received with a stunning panorama, with the blue waters of the Sylvenstein reservoir below us. We followed the Ache, the inlet feeding the reservoir, upstream into a narrowing valley and the road changed into a gravelly forest track winding uphill. It ended at a sign telling us that we were now in Austria.200k to cycle. From the border on the mountain pass, we rode on well-groomed roads up the Ache river until arriving at the lake out of which it flows. Among other leisure activities, the blue-green waters of the Achensee are an excellent cruising ground for Pedalos. These pedaled watercraft were developed not far from here, and did their first rounds on Bavarian lakes in 1810, a handful of years before Baron von Drais first rode on two wheels. I don’t know if it is possible to homologate a Randonnee on water, as the current record for a Pedalo stands at 194 km in 24h, but it might be possible with a pedaled hydrofoil, which can go as fast as 35 km/h. Soon after passing the end of the lake, the ride reached its highest (and halfway) point at about 968 m above zero - we were riding in the Alps now, but still without much uphill struggle. But the descent was moderate as well - trailing a livestock transporter limited the speed to an adrenaline-saving 51 km/h, but much faster than a traditional cattle drive down from the summer pastures would have been, albeit that would have had cowbells. At the bottom we reached the valley of the Inn river, and followed the Inn cyclepath through a well-developed tourist region towards the next checkpoint in Wörgl (133 km). I validated there with a traditional stamp, as the digital brevet card did not seem to work (expected if one travels abroad without turning on international roaming). We stayed close to the Inn (also a good mountain-grinder according to its gravel deposits) past the border fortress of Kufstein 07 and crossed another unnoticeable border back into Germany, and the horizon opened again. After a cake stop at the 175 km checkpoint at Brannenburg, we left the Inn cycle path - it would finally merge into the Danube cycle path downstream in Passau. Instead, our small group followed its tributary the Mangfall upstream, and cycled past tiny cascades, towards the beer garden finish, into the sunset.