This week brings another installment of the Rando Q&A. Today we head to Pennsylvania to talk with Joe Brown, who rides frequently with the D.C. Randonneurs as well as the randonneurs in Pennsylvania. Joe is a blast to ride with, a randonneur who always has a good (and often quite funny) story to tell. Thanks for being part of our Rando Q&A, Joe!
1. When did you start randonneuring?
I started randonneuring in 2006. It was the first year gas prices spiked way up and to save a few dollars I started commuting to work 35 miles a day. At the end of the season found myself very fit and did a century or two.
Still wanting more long rides in that season and not finding any more centuries I found an Eastern PA 200K brevet. The control at 112 miles was at a bar, when the door opened 4 randonneurs were drinking beer. I knew then this sport was for me.
2. Why did you start?
Brevets are a great way to get out of your own back yard and travel a bit and see some new scenery. Brevets have shown me great new routes in Pennsylvania, routes within 60 miles of my house that I wouldn’t have found for myself. It’s also shown me Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and a bit of NY state.
3. What is your home club?
Technically its Berks County Bicycle Club in Pennsylvania but the people with whom I ride the most are a group veteran racers who meet at a local super market every Saturday and Sunday 3 miles from my house. I live on top of a ridge, the ride starts in a valley so it’s only about 10 minutes by bicycle. I started attending about 10 years ago.
They ride “nice and easy”. That’s what they always tell new riders. And it is nice and easy until they come to a hill. The average speed barely drops on an incline. More than once they’ve ridden me to my door after 60 miles leaving me more exhausted than a 200K effort.
4. What is your favorite distance of the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600K) and why?
The 600K is the most interesting because a lot of it ridden at night. Nothing is better than a dog chasing you in the black of night. Talk about fear.
5. Which distance do you find the most challenging of the SR series and why?
I dread the 400K. Most people probably agree. It’s 260 miles and its usually ridden without sleep. So the question is “Should I ride it hard to get it over with, or should I prolong the agony over time.
The best 400K on the planet is the DCR 400K. Smooth roads and a reasonable profile give the opportunity to complete it in daylight.
6. If you have done 1000Ks and 1200Ks, what do you like about them?
1000K’s and 1200K’s are the best because they take the element of trying to ride for a best time out the equation (for me). I treat them as a tour. However much time I gain on the road, I take back as sleep at night in a motel with pillows and a shower.
My favorite is the 1000K. It’s only three days. It’s “epic,” but at the same time it is lot easier to recover compared to a 1200K and it doesn’t take as much vacation time.
7. What is it that you love about randonneuring? That is, what keeps you coming back ride after ride?
That’s simple to answer. It’s the people, the camaraderie.
8. What constitutes a “good ride” in your view?
They’re all good. What makes a ride memorable is extremes: bad weather, hard terrain, or ridiculous situations like fixing a flat at 3:00 in the morning in a pouring rain. Dogs chasing you in the middle of the night that you can’t see.
A remember a time with Rick C. on a 600K. We’re in truck stop in the middle of the night on top of a mountain. I’m exhausted but Rick wants to push on. It’s an eight mile descent and my brakes aren’t working right. They shudder and nearly push me over the handlebars. Rick has good lights, mine stink. I’m scared to go down the hill.
I make an excuse that I’m too tired. He says he’s tired too, but looks down at the coffee creamers we’re using. They say “2X caffeine.” So he peels back the foil and drinks two of them like shots of whiskey. I look at him and say “Your’re %$#%crazy.” He went down the mountain and I went to sleep.
I’ll always regret not following. He probably descended singing country western songs that he made up as he went along. He’s good for things like that. Memories make a good ride.
9. What are the qualities you think a randonneur has to have to be successful?
I guess stubborn and compulsive would be qualities we all have but they sound too harsh. What we all share is a great love for cycling. Every time we get on the bike and press down on the pedals we enjoy it. That’s what pushes us. It’s fun. It’s just that simple.
10. How do you define successful?
My first and foremost objective on all rides be it commuting, training, or brevet is to do it without injury. Finishing a ride and damaging your knee is not a success.
Twenty-five years ago I finished a century with knee pain and then didn’t ride for two years. Two years ago I didn’t finish a 400K because of a knee problem but was back on the bike in a few months. (Thank you Ray for the ride)
Thanks again, Joe. Felkerino and I count ourselves lucky have been able to share some miles with you, and you are so right. Memories make a good ride.