Birth of a randonneur, part 1: Preparation

After explaining what a randonneur is, I decided to become one. I signed up for Audax Randonneurs Philippines’ 200 km Subic-Masinloc-Subic brevet on December 5, 2015.

Strava’s Gran Fondo challenge for August 2015. As it’s a summer month in the US, the challenge calls for a single 150 km ride completed within 24 hours. Winter months shorten this to 100.

I was inspired, first by Strava‘s monthly “Gran Fondo” 130 km distance challenges (which have since varied between 100 and 150 km depending on the time of year), and subsequently by the tales of my cycling buddies tackling the “foundation” distance of a 200 km brevet. I was forced to eat “patient pie” as I slowly worked my way to ever longer distances, all the while deciding that this distance was going to be my dragon to slay.

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT

Because brevets are self-supported, I did all I could to study my “opponent.” Fortunately for me, riders on Strava who have tackled the route have also given its navigation data and elevation profile to the cloud.

A fancy GPS cyclocomputer such as a Garmin Edge unit is way too rich for my blood, and I don’t like the idea of hanging my cellphone on my handlebars for navigation. I borrowed a trick from the pro cyclist’s arsenal: cue cards.

But for these to be effective, first I needed a very accurate cyclocomputer.

The last time I changed my tires to Continental’s Ultra Sport II 28mm clinchers, I recalibrated my Cat Eye Commuter cyclocomputer by performing a front wheel rollout procedure.

  1. Spin the front wheel so that the valve stem is perfectly vertical at the bottom.
  2. Mark this point on the ground.
  3. Push the bike so that the front wheel completes one full rotation – that is, when its valve stem points vertically upward again.
  4. Mark this second point on the ground.
  5. Measure this distance with a tape measure.

As per Cat Eye’s instructions, this is the most accurate way of calibration. My combination of tire and wheel yielded a 2135 mm circumference. Now that my distance measurements were as accurate as could be, I could now set up cue cards.

Creation of these cue cards was really all a matter of cross-examining the route’s turns and elevation profile against distance. I also included which towns and villages we were supposed to pass along the way, as well as the all-important checkpoints where we had to have our brevet cards stamped.

When all was done, I sized the cue cards to fit on Hyro’s top tube, which was 4.5 cm wide. Because my cards were long, I cut them into two pieces, each good for half the route, and stacked them. Then I waterproofed them using electrical tape and cut-up sandwich bags. The idea was that I could use them to get to Masinloc, then dispose of the first card as I continued along the way.

Finally, the Cat Eye Commuter had a unique ability up its sleeve: an ETA function. I manually input the route distance, which Strava worked out as 210 km. The Commuter would then compute an estimated time of arrival based on this distance and the average speed I would be doing. This should help with finishing within the 6:30 pm cutoff: a ride duration of 13.5 hours.

KNOW YOUR WEAPON

Turning Hyro into my idea of a randonneuring bike basically meant that I keep most of his commuter gear – mainly my two Cat Eye rear lights, my Cat Eye Volt 1200 front light, and the full-length SKS P45 Longboard fenders. The latter were vital as they would allow me to ride in comfort and not succumb to cold, dirty rainwater being sprayed from the road surface and up my back and buttocks. I installed a new set I had in storage, as my original set was badly cracked at this point, and no amount of super glue and electrical tape was going to make up for their loss of rigidity.

The main change I made was the installation of the Shimano 105 FC-5750 crank. The 50/34T chainrings would give me a wider range of gearing, so I could comfortably turn the cranks at a relatively low, energy-saving cadence on the flats, while vastly improving Hyro’s climbing ability with a 34x30T lowest gear.

Just as paramount a change was the Selle SMP Hell saddle. Given the distance, it’s inevitable that there will be hurt and pain, but a saddle that worked for my undercarriage would keep me functional and comfortable for longer.

KNOW YOUR SELF

I had been on enough long rides from 60-100 km of distance to have a basic idea of what I should bring. I decided to consult my friend Ralph, a triathlete, for tips on strategy.

My room at the Mango Valley 2 Hotel had its own carport.

His main advice was to eat some pre-ride breakfast and keep eating and drinking on the saddle. Every 45 minutes, I was to have a bite of my preferred granola bar and drown it with some water – even if I wasn’t hungry. This would prevent me from bonking (going into glucose debt), which is a catastrophic occurrence and not something I want to happen here. This would effectively be me getting ahead of my stomach’s slow digestion rate.

Once I was somewhere I could stop for a meal, I was told to keep it light and avoid pork and beef. Something easy to pass, like fish or chicken, and accompanied with not much rice, would be ideal. That would be dependent on what I would be able to purchase along the way though.

Yep, almost everything here went into my jersey pockets

I took the day before the brevet off from work and checked myself into a room in Subic. One of the very first things I did was to lay out everything I was going to carry, based on my jersey’s three back pockets.

  • Center pocket: This is always going to contain my rain jacket. In case I crash and fall off the bike, I don’t want anything hard next to my spine.
  • Left pocket: This contains my four granola bars, my cellphone, a packet of wet wipes, and a spare base layer – a Uniqlo AIRism shirt. The wet wipes, phone and base layer were in ziplock sandwich bags.
  • Right pocket: This contains my wallet and brevet card, both contained in a sandwich bag. Another sandwich bag contains a power bank and a spare front light. Finally my keys and a bottle of sunscreen went along for the ride.

(L-R) Nelson Malabanan, Sean Ilaguison, Rowell Lopez, Adam Pontiñoza, and yours truly after claiming brevet cards.

With all these in place, and after meeting with my groupmates Sean, Adam, Rowell and Nelson, I was as prepared as I could. Stay tuned to see how I did at the ride itself.

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3 thoughts on “Birth of a randonneur, part 1: Preparation

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