Category Archives: Petite brevet

RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00


IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.



THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls


ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”


Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place


MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…


The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.


Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness


Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”


“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.


YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!


EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing


Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”


“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.


MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected


RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?


Is this the two-mile descent?


Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?


Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!


“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.



We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.




Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.


Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

—The Rider
Tim Krabbé





Filed under Bicycling, BikeNYC, Bikes, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Inwood, Kids, Parenting, Petite brevet, Randonneuring, Senseless acts of beauty

Ride report: Rockland Lake 20K petite brevet

MY POLICY IS you can keep whatever trinkets you’re handed, but the one all the kids at your table got because they cleaned up nicely doesn’t go in the family medal case. You’re also allowed to bring them up in conversation every time your brother’s 15K or your father’s Super Randonneur series is mentioned, but the answer is still no, they’re not going in the case. It breaks a little part of my heart to tell you that, and breaks a little part of yours to hear it, but I’m sorry. They’re not.

On last year’s 15K, one of my five-year-olds DNF’d (“Did Not Finish”). So he got to suffer through watching his brother receive the sole award. This year, the suffering started a couple of weeks before the ride, but I was the one feeling it—because the two medals in my dresser, engraved with the names of two six-year-olds, wouldn’t be handed out for participation. The only way to get one—to even see it—would be to finish.

October 15, 2011

Ride start: Filling out brevet cards

THE CLOUDS WERE beautiful and fast-moving, so every few minutes the weather changed. It would be flat gray, and then we’d find ourselves riding through a strobing of sun and branch shadows.

The boy who DNF’d last year surprised me a month ago by suddenly becoming a good climber on the little hills in Inwood. He’s light, which is an advantage in climbing, and physically capable of racing his brother up Staff Street with some effort—adults walk their bikes up it—but whining and giving up were his two favorite hobbies this year. After his brother the Drift King got a brand-new rear tire because he’d deposited most of his tread on various sidewalks, the complainer started challenging himself to pull off longer skids, which somehow conflated itself with better hill work.

So I was able to tell him: I think you’re going to finish this year. You rode sixteen miles in one day at Summer Streets, and a 20K is only thirteen. And—it’s flat.

I think you’re going to finish.

So do I, he said. If I start the fourth lap? I know I’ll finish it.

THE VIDEO TELLS the next part of the story, so don’t skip it. They’re both small white boys in brown vests, but he’s the blue bike. Drift King’s is yellow.

THAT EVENING AT home, we talked about his different medals. He has two little plastic ones that he got at school for being tidy or something.

“Does this one feel different?” I asked.

It was still around his neck—he would eventually take it off at bath time. He rubbed his thumb over the front of it and looked thoughtful.

“I mean,” I said, “in your heart. Does this medal feel different from your other ones?”

He looked a little uncertain and rubbed it against his chest.

“Uh,” I said, “No, I mean…do you feel different about it?”

He wanted to give me the right answer, but he really had no idea what I was talking about. “Your feelings,” I said, “do you feel the same about this medal as you feel about your other ones?”

He slid his thumb over it again, doubtfully.

I took another couple of stabs, but I’d pointed him in the wrong direction, so I let it go and he wandered off.

A minute later, he brought his cheap participation medals into the kitchen, and said, “These ones—I don’t really like them, and I never even play with them, so I think I’m going to throw them in the trash.”

They were in the trash and he was gone before I could say anything.

NEXT OCTOBER: The Rockland Lake 25K.

These little 16″ bikes will be long gone by then.



* Until a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed even a great little six-year-old rider could pull off a twenty-foot skid, but on the way to the greenmarket—I’m on the street, they’re on the sidewalk—I hear the usual schhhhhhhhhhhhh behind me…and then I still hear it…and then I turn to look and he’s still skidding. Seriously, a twenty-foot black stripe. [back]


Filed under Bicycling, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting, Petite brevet, Randonneuring, Senseless acts of beauty

Ride report: Rockland Lake 15K petite brevet

October 3, 2010

The weather in Rockland County was ideal for a brevet, bright and cool, verging on cold. Prep and transport to the event start ran long, but soon the riders were fueling up, asking for reminders of route length, and getting themselves psyched:

“Daddy, tell me again what we don’t want!”

“A DNF.”

“Right, a DNF! I’m gonna try my best to finish this brevet!

Bikes had been checked and prepped in the hallway before leaving home, so all that was left was to have brevet cards signed at the first controle and weatherproof them for the ride.

Into the saddlebags they went, apple juice went into bottle cages, and we rolled out of the controle onto a route that would comprise three full circumnavigations of Rockland Lake. Total distance: 15 kilometers.

I didn’t see any randonneurs besides the ones I was riding with, but my companions claimed numerous sightings. So either I just wasn’t noticing things—always possible on a challenging endurance ride like this—or those were just people out pootling on their bikes.

The terrain of this ride is varied, ranging from long, level flats:

to fast descents:

to challenging climbs:

But the biggest challenge was the sheer distance. Spirits were sagging and a full third of the registered riders were seriously considering abandoning by the time we reached Controle 2, the first indoor controle on this route. As usual on these rides, the volunteers were ready with food and encouragement—though it was noteworthy how much the volunteers at each controle all resembled each other.

The calories and the short rest seemed to lift spirits—but once we were out on the route again, it became clear that one of the riders was suffering, lo unto torture. How this tormented soul managed to press on so courageously, so unendurably, so loudly in the face of unspeakable persecution and utter destruction, I will never know. But by the time we reached Controle 3, he was done—and his voice was gone.

After a brief refueling, my remaining companion and I pushed off and headed onto Leg 3, the final stage of the Rockland Lake ride.

Unlike the previous two legs, this one took place later in the day. Such striking variety is the mark of a thoughtful ride designer. Where before, we’d been riding in early afternoon, it was now late afternoon. Where before, there had been a tailwind on the way out and a headwind on the opposite (East) side of the lake, now there were crosswinds at the North and South ends. And where before, we had enjoyed overhead sunlight, now it was coming in at more of an angle.

The Rockland Randonneurs are understaffed, so this ride relies more on information controles than do most brevets of its length. Here, a rider double-checks how he’s answered the question “Who are you riding with?” before remounting and pushing toward Controle 4, Arrivée.

The rest of the ride was an easy lope, with good conversation, around a stretch of lake that seemed somehow familiar. My ride partner kept having to stop as people kept calling him on his phone—his ring tone sounds a lot like a five-year-old going “Brrring! Brrrring!”—so we barely made it to the Arrivée within the generously unspecified time limit.

This being my friend’s first brevet, I explained the Lanterne Rouge—the last finisher, named after the red lantern at the back of a train—and asked how he’d like to finish. Should he be the Lanterne Rouge, or should I? But he did me the unexpected honor of suggesting we come in exactly together—so with our front wheels lined up precisely next to each other, we rolled into the Arrivée as one. And once the brevet cards were signed and ready for homologation by La Ligue Des Pères Allants À Vélo, we were done. The Rockland Lake 15K had been completed.

Homologation is unusually fast in La Ligue. An award ceremony proceeded immediately.

In conclusion, the Rockland Lake 15K is a beautiful, challenging brevet through scenic lake country, with terrific organization and the awesomest ride designer I can ever imagine encountering. But it’s the riders who really distinguish a brevet, and in this case, I have to say:

This ride outshines them all.


Filed under Bicycling, Family, Favorite, Petite brevet, Randonneuring