RUSA Board Election: Bryant and Robinson Get My Vote

It’s a good thing that we have three candidates running for two open slots on the RUSA board this year: Bill Bryant, Edward Robinson and Eric Vigoren. All three have shown their commitment to randonneuring and I’ve had the chance to meet Bill a few times, ride a 600K organized by Eric, and correspond with Edward, and all are good people.

That said, I asked all of them to comment on a specific question that arose during the difficulties the D.C. Randonneurs faced earlier this year when the RBA broke off his affiliation and started his own club. While RBAs are encouraged to affiliate with randonneuring clubs as a way to build up a community of volunteers, RUSA only recognizes individual RBAs with no opportunity for clubs to act as administrators — meaning set a schedule of rides and certify the results. They can organize rides but are still subject to an RBA’s approval and oversight.

A randonneuring club can do much to develop randonneuring and support the RBA, but in the end the RBA is answerable only to RUSA. I feel the organization of clubs should be encouraged by finding some way for randonnuring-specific clubs to take on a more formal status. Right now there is no incentive to form a randonnering club other than for cameraderie; the club has no standing whatsoever nor does RUSA have procedures for dealing with clubs. Individuals may form a vibrant club and do many things to support randonneuring, but it can still see the RBA depart unilaterally and take the club’s event schedule with them.

I asked the three candidates by email whether they would consider recognizing randonneuring clubs. Bill and Edward sent thoughtful responses that indicated they have an open mind on the subject. I didn’t hear back from Eric. I’ve included Bill’s and Edward’s responses.

I plan to vote for Bill and Edward and I hope you consider their responsiveness and their comments when choosing. The election deadline is Oct. 15.

From Bill:

First, the short answer is, “It all depends…”

And by that I mean the RUSA Board takes each situation in a case by case basis and discusses it very carefully. In the years I was on the RUSA Board, we never had a “one pattern for everyone” approach to these sorts of matters. You say in your note that the DC Randonneurs situation has worked out well after a bumpy start. So, perhaps that would be an example of the Board trying to do the best it can in complicated situations?

In any case, the long answer is that I am a firm believer in cycling clubs; they are the backbone of our sport and the benefits they offer to new and experienced riders are legion. In general, I’m very much in favor of rando-clubs putting on brevets. More hands make the load lighter, and the sharing of ideas is often superior to a single individual’s. And should one person in the club burn out (as can happen) there is probably someone, or group, to take over and keep things going.

However, past experience hasn’t always born this out. Without naming names, I can site a number of situations where clubs have hindered, not helped the growth of randonneuring in their region. Usually promoted by some faction within the club who likes long rides, quite often there are more in the club
who ~do not~ share their enthusiasm. Friction builds and can lead, as I have seen over the years, unpleasant situations that keep the randonneuring from growing as large as it might have otherwise. Club resources, especially volunteer time to put on events, is precious and this can be a big point of
contention in clubs that host a variety of events. Remember, the long distances we randonneurs so blithely mention often put us in a distinct minority. Very likely a majority of other recreational and commuting cyclists think we randonneurs are nuts (and perhaps with reason, but I’ll let others debate that subject.) Given this, working with individuals as RBAs makes a certain sense.

In the end, the best solution is a randonneuring-only club, such as the Seattle or DC clubs. I think their long-term potential is the highest precisely because they have only randonneuring events to organize, and their members joined because they like long distance cycling. So, no conflict, unlike in more typical cycling clubs. But being a “fringe sport” it isn’t always easy to have a real club of similarly minded folk.

But now we come to the point I think you were making, Ed, that a RUSA-appointed RBA, and not the club, is responsible for the region’s brevets. While there is no simple answer or example I can give you here, there have been times when the club “dropped the ball” and could not find anyone to handle the brevets for the next season after an RBA quit without training a replacement. And yes, under the current system, an RBA can “walk” with the club’s events. I know the Board was concerned about this and would like it not to happen. Perhaps some future change in the structure of the club/RBA arrangement is in the works, but being off the Board for two years, I am currently out of the loop. But I certainly agree that you raise an important concern.

However, I don’t share your view that RUSA inhibits the club approach; if the RBA does his/her job well and is supported by a majority of the club, then it should work out well, as indeed it does in numerous clubs around the nation. Mainly, the club members should all take turns helping the RBA, and
perhaps being the RBA. Also, there is absolutely nothing in the RUSA procedures with RBAs that would limit or preclude others in his/her club from assisting in the overall program. For example, a committee can direct the club operations, while the RBA is the RUSA liaison. Another example, I recently read on your blog how you put on a 200k brevet, not the RBA. So I’m not sure I “get” the part of how RUSA is not encouraging clubs in randonneuring. But often, there isn’t enough group energy to make a club,
but one or two individuals can still put on good brevets. I think the oveall system is pretty flexible, and this has allowed randonneuring to flourish all around the country in the past decade. Given our ever-growing numbers and annual brevets, I don’t think much is being hindered — beyond too many cyclists being afraid to ride long distances without support.

But let’s take a look at what if the club was the regional entity, not an individual. What if things start going badly? Should RUSA allow a substandard club to put on brevets, with riders’ results and possible entry into some 1200k hanging in the balance? Does it allow sub-par events and/or results processing? I have no doubt that in the end, it will be the riders who will suffer most if things “go south”. Thus far, working with individual RBAs has been a system that seems to work most of the time. Not all the time, true– but that is same for working with (some) clubs too.

As mentioned above, I think clubs are the way to go in most regions, but ultimately, one person needs to be responsible for the events. That key person always need to be informed about all aspects of putting on randonneuring events and must organize the club’s events in accordance with the sport’s regulations and procedures. (Which are admittedly fairly complicated compared to, say, putting on a century ride.) If this is not done, chaos can prevail– as we’ve seen at RUSA HQ when things have spun out of control in a region and we then have to pick up the pieces afterward.

Sometimes it is from one RBA, but sometimes it has been because a club didn’t do a good job too. RUSA can, and has, removed an RBA for poor performance– but how do we remove a club? Are they forever “blackballed”? Club members come and go, but hopefully the club will live on a very long
time. And how do we hold the club accountable for the poor performance of some of its individuals? This is, I think, the vexing point in your questions. When we have had an RBA needing replacement, there have often been local replacements at hand, but how do we get rid of an entire club under these circumstances? Give it a time out? Often we have tried to find a replacement from the club ranks and keep the series going… In any case, there are no easy answers, but given my long history in our sport, and knowing a lot about the club history and randonneuring in France too, I still like the basic RBA approach we have currently. Perhaps it is not the best, but as yet, I’ve not seen the new method that is clearly superior. If some modification should arise to improve it, such as a provision to prevent an RBA from “hijacking” his/her erstwhile club’s events, then I’d certainly support it.

Mainly, the overall growth in American randonneuring seems stronger to me because of motivated individuals more than clubs. My main hope is that riders never forget to volunteer to help their local RBA if they are not riding. Hopefully in time this local effort will grow into a rando-only club, as it did a while back with the Seattle International Randonneurs and indeed, more recently with the DC Randonneurs.

From Edward:

You’ve raised an interesting issue.

Examining your fundamental question, my initial reaction is that I could not support RUSA recognition of clubs instead of individual RBAs. My concern with that option is that regions with relatively few riders would not necessarily be in a position to establish a club. Likewise, having the requirement of a club could unduly throttle expansion into new areas, where fledgling RBAs might need several seasons to establish a growing ridership. Being in that position myself, as a matter of experience I favor allowing RBAs to maintain their regional presence even if the level of activity in their respective areas is not high. And to the extent randonneuring remains a small niche in the larger scheme of cycling, I think the more “seeds” that remain planted, the better, so long as no area becomes balkanized with too many RBAs.

The real crux, for me, is the notion of RUSA recognition of clubs in addition to individual RBAs. On the face of it, I would not be inherently opposed to that, but I have questions and concerns about how a regional administration system organized along those lines would function. Primarily, I would consider it important that RUSA retain final authority to approve and (hopefully rarely, if ever) discipline or suspend an individual as an RBA. I think you’ve anticipated that in your discussion of your personal views on the matter.

Beyond that, I’m asking myself about the circumstances under which a club would first become eligible to seek recognition (i.e., if there has been an RBA laboring by him- or herself to develop a region, with some success, what happens if the RBA is not in favor of club formation?); and how do we treat existing RBAs (will they be grandfathered out of any change in this regard, or thrust into the club arrangement without regard to their own preference?). Those are a couple of issues that spring to mind. Naturally there are many others that would need to be addressed. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they couldn’t be addressed, but I think a significant number of details would need to be worked out.

So, ultimately, I would be open to discussing that option, but it is not something that I would be comfortable rushing into, and I’d have to be satisfied with a specific proposed “system” of RBA/club recognition before I would be able to vote in favor of it.

Given that the existing system seems to have worked well to this point, my other thought is whether there might be alternative ways to address the concerns that you’ve expressed. As I understand it, you perceive that the existing system creates a disincentive to form a club to spread out the work associated with administering a region, one result being that fewer rides are staged than otherwise might be. If that’s so, then as a board member it’s something I would want to address. If there were a means to remedy that which didn’t require a structural change to the national club’s RBA organization, I might lean in that direction as a preferable first step.

I’d be glad to discuss this further. In the meantime, I hope my response has at least been helpful to your decision for purposes of the election.

One of my biggest desires is that RUSA sees its active membership continue to expand. To me, your question exemplifies the type of growing pains that the club will have to address if that happens. I’d like nothing better than to be in a position to help resolve those issues for the benefit of the club and its membership.

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