Randonneuring, German style

I´ve had a number of communications over the last months about the different approaches to randonneuring in different countries so I´ll write up a few events which I ride to show people abroad how things are done here in Germany. I hope to edit this post whenever I think of taking a camera to a ride to give a more complete picture. Randonneuring is my big favourite; not that I´d excell at it, but I guess a weekend of two metric centuries isn´t too bad either, and I can manage that towards the end of the season. My son is the real force behind all this, I basically tag along. We go on about 40-50 rides each season.

In Germany randonneuring events are called RTF, short for Radtouristikfahrt, literally cycle tourist ride. In the late seventies when this sport started over here, the direct translation from the French had already been occupied – Radwandern is a different matter altogether, so the somewhat awkward RTF was chosen. There are two basic event types – organized rides and permanents. Most clubs will ride their permanents as audax rides once a year, the rest of the time you can start whenever you feel like it.

A special venue

I´ll start with the organized Bielefeld ride of May 1st which is a traditional ride in our area. May 1st is a public holiday in Germany, so the date of the ride doesn´t have to change. Also the venue is something special for people interested in more exotic forms of cycle sport: It´s the old Heepen open air concrete stayer race track built in the early fifties, I think by Schürmann.

The track has partially fallen into disrepair in recent years as motor pacing is no longer any more than a niche sport.

Moreover the track is not very well suited for non-paced riding. I have tried, and I can say it takes some getting used to. You can see here how steep the banking is. However, there is some racing still going on (Photo below courtesy Zugvogel cycling club, from their 2012 agenda).

Riding an RTF

So the car is parked, bikes are assembled, and we proceed to the registration queue. Registration usually is swift, if not quite free as there is a fee of between 4 and 8 Euros. For this riders can use a signposted route and receive light refreshments on the way about every 30 km, a breakdown service, showers and a number of other amenities.

At the registration you are handed a card on which you find a rough description of the route, the breakdown service telephone number and spaces for control post stamps. Control posts are always where refreshments are handed out, so there is little incentive not to stop.

If you have a Wertungskarte, roughly translated as competition card, the number of stamp imprints collected during a ride (1 for the first 45 km, the second for the next 30, three stamps at 110 km, four at 150 and five at 200) will be converted to credits which you can collect during the season, usually from mid-March to mid-October, making sure you´ll ride in any weather from snow to blazing sun. Here is a typical route layout, the Zugvogel spring ride:

Even if you don´t become a champion rider (those will be given cups by the Bundesland or district cycling federation), a nicely filled Wertungskarte is a souvenir of a great season. Here are the reverse sides of my son´s and my own 2008 Wertungskarten.

However, anyone can start, and while most riders are avid cyclists, there always are families covering the shorter distances on town bikes. Neither is there a restriction on the type of cycle; you get everything from a cheap kid´s mountain bike to the latest recumbent technological marvel.

The whole system only survives because clubs take turn in staging rides; members then usually help and more often than not also donate victuals. Registration fees are higher for riders not in possession of a Wertungskarte because these can only be held by club members. It´s a very good system as long as there are enough helpers, so it´s only fair if non-club members pay a higher registration fee. Here´s a view from behind the scenes.

Especially in rural areas where a certain traditional hospitality shines through, riders are considered as guests, and so the light refreshments at control posts can become rather elaborate affairs. Nutcake, homemade raisin bread, strawberry cake, yoghurt, buns, boiled eggs, rich drinks and even organic food have all been known to be distributed. Usually though riders will have to make do with cold tea, bananas and some sort of sweet sandwich, but considering the registration fee being as low as it is, it still is unbeatable value.

Bärbel Vinke of Velo Spezi and her husband have a stall at many rides in our region. They provide riders with goods ranging from inner tubes to garments. They are stalwarts, have a friendly word for everyone and a starting area really is unimaginable without them.

In Bielefeld there were in excess of 700 riders. Not all are in this picture as there is a time window during which riders can start; usually there are two to three hours during which you can register and set off. Many rides have a mass start early in the starting period and I always make a point of not missing those – great fun to zoom through a city like Bielefeld with Police stopping motor traffic, and hundreds of cyclists in front and behind conquering the road, if only for minutes.

After some time, though, mostly at the first ascent, the big group will split up, and smaller groups will form spontaneously according to riders´ abilities. Everybody builds up steam and the first 25 0r 30 km to the control post are quickly covered. There your route sheet is stamped to prove you were there.

The refreshments are enjoyed by most; however there are always those who prefer not to break their pace that early in the ride but to press on.

Most stop, however, …

… munch a banana or three and have a cup of cold sweet tea.

Some even find the time to take a snap or two of a nice bike. Older steel still abounds in RTFs; while not many make a point of riding ferrous metal, many older riders will nurse their beloved steeds on and on.

This control was in the forecourt of a fire station; luckily there wasn´t a fire or some bikes would have had to be moved in a hurry. Usually venues for a start or a control post are schools, although we´ve seen anything from an abandoned bus stop to a moated castle.

And off we go again; the weather improves, and there is some pretty scenery in the Teutoburger Wald.

Bielefeld is behind the hills, so some nice climbing calls for a special tea at the next stop.

And after some hours the ride is over. The club will sell homemade donated cakes, coffee and cold drinks; especially if the weather is nice people will stay for a chat after the shower. Some will have covered the distance from their homes to the venue on their bikes; those will start the ride back home. They receive Wertungskarten-credits for the distance covered and save car fuel cost. Many prefer driving to the event and riding the signposted route, however, because riding an organised event, possibly together with friends you have made on previous rides, always feels a little bit like a holiday.

This is a view taken from inside the cycle track forecourt onto the parking space where the RTF riders are looked after.

Suddenly the event is over, and you´ll have to wait for the next weekend.


One Comment

  1. Posted May 10, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink | Reply

    I really enjoyed reading about what these events look like in Germany. Your description reminds me of the so-called “charity rides” we have in America. Perhaps you have them in Germany as well, but it’s an interesting phenomena here stateside.Hundreds, or even thousands of people from all walks of life will register to ride prescribed distances – usually something along the lines of a quarter- and half-metric-century, although some rides are longer, running 80 and 100 miles. The peculiar thing to me is that these riders could get out and cycle any time (but many don’t), yet they will pay money and gather for a festive cycling extravaganza in the name of raising funds for Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, etc. There has been a huge surge in such events over the past few years, which is probably a good thing for everyone involved. I read recently that by the end of the decade, 40% of Americans are projected to be classified as “obese.” Perhaps more such events would help to stave off such an inevitability! Thanks for sharing this event information.

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