Would you believe that Tarheel riders amassed 10,000 miles riding populaires this year? What is this little-known thing, the populaire, and why is it growing in popularity?
Simply put, a populaire is a RUSA event whose distance is less than 200km. There are basically two types of populaires: those scheduled by Regional Brevet Administrators (RBAs) and those scheduled by permanent route owners. RBAs schedule populaires with predetermined dates and start times just like brevets. On the other hand, because a permanent populaire is after all a permanent, it is scheduled at the request of a rider. Therefore, a rider “can ride it any time, not just on one specific date.” Permanent populaires accounted for most of the populaire mileage accumulated by Tarheel riders this year.
The only knock against the populaire is that it doesn’t count toward the coveted R-12 Award. But this issue has been offset with the new P-12 Award, which is fashioned after the R-12. The new P-12 features sub-200km rides exclusively. Additionally, populaire mileage counts toward all RUSA distance medals, including the Mondial Award.
The populaire has got a lot going for it. Last January, long before this month’s P-12 announcement, permanent populaires had already begun popping up across the Tarheel state like wild onion shoots. In all, our state boasts six permanent populaires, with more to come.
The number of populaire routes is not the only indicator of their rising popularity. In 2010, Tarheel randonneurs made 164 populaire trips accounting for over 16,000 km.
Several local riders—Alan, JayJay, Jerry, Maria, Mike D, and Sridhar—share their reasons for riding populaires which I’ve incorporated into several categories: 1) camaraderie, 2) convenience, 3) training, 4) introduction to randonneuring, 5) sightseeing, and 6) acclaim.
Some place camaraderie high on the list of randonneuring ideals. While 200km-permanents are oftentimes more social than brevets, populaires, in turn, are even more so due to the fact that rider spacing is closer over shorter distances. Slow riders usually catch fast riders at controls and together can enjoy local cuisine: a bowl of “howling grits” on the Howling Grits Populaire, for example.
It has been my experience that when the populaire route owner is “along for the ride,” seldom does one need to peer at a cue sheet as the “host” guides a generally cohesive group along the route.
Typical randonneuring events of 200km and longer are time consuming. Enter the populaire. One may have at one’s disposal more 5-hour blocks of time (populaire) than 10-hour blocks of time (200km permanent). Consequently, how about the possibility of an early-morning ride completed ahead of a summer afternoon pop-up thunderstorm or onset of triple-digit afternoon summer temperatures; or a delayed winter-morning start, allowing road ice to melt and still be home before dark?
Training is a very personal matter, dependent on but not limited to one’s ability, goals, and fitness level. For me at least, the addition of populaires has helped increase my endurance level beyond that of just a steady diet of once-a-week 200km rides.
In part, Jerry designed his Howling Grits Populaire as a training route: the early steep climbs provide excellent interval training, while the latter, flat portion is conducive to speed training or recovery.
Speaking of recovery, Mike D utilizes populaires as recovery rides the day after he completes a 200km.
If one is unable to ride 200km events due to health, injury, or family and work commitments, the occasional populaire can help guard against the negative effects of detraining. Short but intense rides are known to promote healthy heart and vessel function even as we age.
Introduction to Randonneuring
Populaires provide newcomers a way to meet, ride with, and learn from experienced randonneurs. Think of populaires as RUSA incubators. Populaires might help newcomers bridge the gap to longer rides. Populaires are similar distance-wise to club and charity rides, something with which newcomers to randonneuring are already familiar.
Populaires provide opportunities for close-up views of nature and special points of interest. The whirligig farm located on the The Whirligig populaire is a case in point. Year-round riding promoted by the P-12 allows aspirants to view changing seasonal landscapes and witness firsthand the evolving agricultural practices of their region.
No doubt, some of us ride for trinkets. In addition to the P-12, populaire mileage counts toward RUSA distance medals. In fact, each of the four Tarheel riders who completed 10,000 RUSA kilometers in 2010 used populaires to fill in the edges of their 10,000km pies. In addition to filling in the edges, I used populaires for much of the filling; in fact, populaires accounted for over a third of my mileage.
Putting it Together
Bill Bryant, whose brainchild the P-12 was, gives his reasons why he thinks populaires can play an essential role in supporting and growing our sport, bolstered by the new P-12 Award.
I’m excited about the new P-12 . . . [T]he . . . style and pace of randonneuring can be a life-long avocation, but sometimes it needs to be “consumed in smaller bites” than 200 kms due to work/family obligations, or age, harsh winters, health issues, etc.
In the end, I hope the P-12 will encourage more populaire-distance brevets and perms than we currently see, and perhaps a more diverse group of people will come to enjoy our sport?
Hopefully some of these folks will eventually want to try their hand at the longer distances once they have built their experience on the shorter rides and this will strengthen our ranks for the standard SR brevet distances.
Or, even if they don’t, the populaire distances are still a good compliment to the traditional brevets, and could get more people on their bikes and experience being out in nature in a friendly, non-competitive manner, etc.
What about new populaire routes? This is where all RUSA members can potentially make a contribution. Think about it this way: Almost everyone has a favorite route they love to ride. With a little tweaking, the route can probably be turned into a populaire and shared with others. This is how we’ve been able to get interesting routes that riders are willing, in some cases, to ride over and over, either alone or with others for whatever the many reasons there are to enjoy populaires!
Happy New Year!