What is a randonneur?

Okay, so I have to admit the title of this blog doesn’t exactly ring a bell in most people’s heads. Ooh, what an artsy-fartsy French sounding gobbledygook term, they might mutter.

Well, allow me to explain…with the help of Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

The archetypal randonneuring bike: steel frame, drop handlebars, full-length fenders, handlebar bag. You can certainly complete a brevet with any bike, though. Photo from Jan Heine’s WordPress site.

A randonneur is a cyclist that participates in a ride event called a randonnee (alternatively called a brevet). A randonnee, in turn, is a self-supported, long-distance, mass participation cycling ride.

Randonneuring is a subset of audax, which is a non-competitive cycling sport of endurance riding, and randonneurs do everything on their own. In contrast, the men and women of the professional road cycling peloton usually have teammates and soigneurs (support staff) to hand them drinks and food, and a directeur sportif (sporting director or team supervisor) to oversee and coordinate general strategy.

A brevet card from an exceptionally long ride – the 1400 km London-Edinburgh-London brevet of 2009. Photo courtesy of yacf.co.uk.

One other characteristic of randonnees is their simplistic nature. Navigation is done via a brevet card handed out to all randonneurs at the start of the ride. It isn’t a map per se, but a list of checkpoints that randonneurs have to pass through as proof of completion. It’s similar to the manifest used for “alleycat” races held among fixed-gear bike messengers and enthusiasts. At each checkpoint, there is a stamp or signature made on the brevet card to certify participation and progress though the ride.

As long as their distances are, audax rides have an overall time limit, as well as a time limit for each checkpoint. Unlike audax, however, randonnees are more lenient with the pace and the composition of groups. Randonneurs are given freedom to ride at their own pace as long as they finish within the time limit, and may form or disband groups at will. As an example, for a 200 km brevet, the time limit is 13.5 hours. Completing the distance beyond this time will reflect as a “Did Not Finish” (DNF) status in the official results.

Official 2012-2015 finisher medals for each of the four brevet distances, given by Audax Club Parisien. Photo from Audax Randonneurs Philippines.

Under the Audax Randonneurs Philippines umbrella, there are four different distances for randonnees. The shortest is 200 km, working up to 300, 400, and finally 600 km. Completing any one of these distances confers onto the rider the title of “Randonneur.” After each randonnee is run, the organization gathers all finish results and sends them to the mother organization, Audax Club Parisien.

A rider who completes all four distances earns the title of “Super Randonneur.” Furthermore, he/she becomes “homologated” or eligible for entry into the premier randonnee event, the once-every-four-years 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris ride, when he/she completes the four brevet distances within the same calendar year as Paris-Brest-Paris. A handful of Filipinos did just this in the previous running as of this writing, participating in the grueling 1200 km ride on August 18, 2015.

Obviously, riding brevets requires a very different approach on the saddle. Unlike many races, there is greatly diminished value in crossing the finish line first; the only real aim is to finish the distance. Sure, speed is important, but what defines success is a sustainable average speed high enough to complete before cutoff, as even on a 200 km brevet you will inevitably require breaks to eat, hydrate, and heed the call of nature.

From D7 to T10, part 2: Rear drivetrain pieces

Once the foundation of Bino’s drivetrain, the rear hub, was replaced, upgrading the rest of the drivetrain became a much more straightforward process.

With more cogs jammed into the same length of space on the rear hub, a more appropriate, narrower chain is needed. On went a Shimano 105 CN-5701 10-speed chain.

I managed to score a second-hand Shimano Tiagra RD-4600-GS rear derailleur. This is a medium-cage unit, as denoted by the “GS” suffix on the model number.

Finally we come to the shifters.

These are Shimano Tiagra SL-4600 and SL-4603 trigger shifters for a 3×10 drivetrain.  For this phase of the upgrade, I will need only the rear shifter. This particular shifter set is necessary because road bike and mountain bike shifters and derailleurs stopped working nice together when Shimano introduced DynaSys for its 10-speed mountain bike stuff.

With all these parts installed, Bino’s rear drivetrain upgrade is complete.

Initially I had concerns with the length of the derailleur cage being vulnerable to damage. Because of the small wheels, the lower end of the cage might strike the ground, the tire or the wheel depending on what cogs are selected. So far, this hasn’t been a problem.

The stock handlebar grips are uneven length because of the stock grip shifter on the right. They were becoming loose anyway, so I fitted Ergon GP3-S grips with integrated bar ends.

So how has Bino changed after the upgrade?

The 30T max cog is a welcome bailout gear, and the LitePro hubs’ pawls and ratchet mechanism are noticeably louder when freewheeling – something I’m not too fond of. The noise is a tradeoff for better engagement than Hyro’s stock hubs, putting down drive at smaller crank angles. The Ergon bar ends are very useful, too, giving a welcome secondary hand position similar to riding on the hoods of a road bike. The trigger shifters mean that instantly dumping six cogs is a thing of the past, and a bit more forethought is required when bike-commuting, but the ergonomics are much better.

Other than that, though, the change in gear range isn’t as pronounced as I had thought. For training purposes, I try not to engage the 30T cog, leaving it to the next-largest 27T cog to spin up slopes. The 12T cog does increase top-end speed. However, I’ve realized that Bino is happiest operating within 80% of his potential. I now have Hyro for faster rides, so Bino is free to ride at a more relaxed pace.

Still, I don’t think I’m done upgrading this bike. I still have a perfectly functional left shifter in my parts bin, and I can see potential improvement in the stock V-brakes, whose return springs are living on borrowed time. It might take a while, but stay tuned.

From D7 to T10, part 1: A custom wheelset to fit a better cassette

For most of Bino’s first year with me, I was busying myself with simply building my own cycling fitness. I had been off the saddle for a very long time, and I was essentially playing catch-up.

After a while, though, I started to see some limitations. The 52x28T stock gearing, paired with the small wheels, wasn’t particularly friendly on climbs, and Bino’s folding frame simply lacks the stiffness to lend itself to out-of-saddle efforts. Conversely, while not as important as the low end, the 52x14T top end set a limit of 42 km/h on a flat sprint. While it’s very taxing on both my cardiovascular fitness and Bino’s frame to push to that speed, I was getting to the point where I was maintaining higher cruising and average speeds.

I decided to upgrade the little Dahon into a 10-speed bike – hence turning its “D7” moniker into a “T10.” The heart of the upgrade revolved around a Shimano Tiagra cassette, expanding the total gear range from 14-28T to 12-30T. This added two teeth in both directions, theoretically improving both maximum speed and climbing.

The stock Shimano MF-TZ21 7-speed freewheel, which spins onto a threaded rear hub

However, Bino was a 7-speed bike based on a screw-on freewheel, and there was simply no way of mounting the new 10-speed cassette without at least replacing the rear hub for one with a proper splined freehub unit. So, apart from all the drivetrain-specific parts, I invested in a new custom wheelset too, as required by the planned upgrade.

Tryon in Makati is more than just a regular haunt of fixed-gear cyclists. The long-lived bike shop is also known for its wheel builders, some of which have achieved urban legend status due to the quality of their work.

That “622” marking seems to be a mistake on Newson’s part – that should read “406”

The splined freehub body. This will accept 8-, 9-, and 10-speed cassettes

Quick release skewers

It was here that I had the wheels built. I specified a set of LitePro hubs and quick release skewers, silver Newson Sportec 406 mm rims with a deeper rim section, and black Newson Sportec spokes and nipples.  Rene, one of the younger mechanics, took all of these components and laced them into a wheelset.

The only change I requested was to drill out the Presta valve hole for a larger Schrader valve, since Schrader-valve inner tubes for folding bikes are easier to procure here.

With the wheelset built, I can now install the Tiagra CS-4600 10-speed cassette. For this 12-30T unit, most of the cogs are pinned to a central spider or carrier. The only loose parts are the lock ring, the last three cogs (12, 13 and 14T), and a spacer that goes between the 14T and 15T cogs. The two smallest cogs have built-in spacers.

It’s not the lightest cassette around, but it’s got generous range. At the time, this was the widest-range option for Shimano’s 10-speed road bike groupsets. Presently, though, it’s been eclipsed by Tiagra 4700, which offers the option of a whopping 34T max cog.

Next time I will discuss the rest of the rear drivetrain parts – the rear derailleur, shifter and chain.