Where are the women of RUSA?

After a year of dragging my feet on it, I recently became a member of Randonneurs USA (RUSA).*

I finally joined mostly because a friend of mine ultimately convinced me that it was worth it to support something that I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of, even if it does seem, at times, rather snooty and elitist. I don’t have to be snooty and elitist, after all, even if I become a member.

So I joined, and I got my membership packet in the mail yesterday–a surprise to me since I didn’t realize I was going to get a whole welcome packet. But yay! Swag from the Randonneurs! This is what I got:

RUSA welcome packet(a member’s handbook, a magazine, and a sticker)

Look carefully at that picture. Do you see any women in their materials? Hm. Not on the covers. This is a curiosity and, I admit, a soapbox of mine, so I felt compelled to count people. In both the handbook and the magazine, there were 172 people pictured. Twenty seven of them, or 15%, were women (one of them was Lynne Fitzsimmons from Oregon–go Lynne!:)

Honestly, I don’t know if that’s high or low compared to how many women are actively involved in randonneuring compared to how many men–so I don’t know if RUSA is faithfully portraying the existing demographic, falling woefully short, or maybe even trying to aim high. But regardless, I can never help but wonder about the chicken-and-egg phenomena here. Do women not get involved in randonneuring because they’re simply not interested in long-distance cycling, or do they stay away because it doesn’t seem, from the materials that exist, like something that women do or to which women are welcome?

Even the name of the magazine, American Randonneur, is masculine. A female long-distance cyclist, as the Handbook very carefully points out, is a randonneuse, not a randonneur. So an American Randonneur, that magazine title character, is definitely a man. Pluralizing the magazine title to American Randonneurs, though still masculine, would at least be the plural form that could involve singular female riders as well as male. Not to make too big a deal out of it, but this is the kind of invisible normalizing that ends up influencing, without us even thinking consciously about it, what we perceive as reality.

So I don’t know. I don’t think that RUSA is trying to be sexist, and I bet if you asked them they’d probably say that they’re actively trying to get more women involved. But that takes more than simply saying “more women should do this.” It takes making it not seem like something that only men do–and that means, at least initially, working really hard to make visible the women who do it.

And for my own personal effort, it takes inviting all my female friends to ride with me:)

*Side note: I just looked up RUSA on Wikipedia for a user-friendly definition of what it does, and it calls itself the “Audax Club Parisien-approved brevet coordinating organization for the United States.” Ha! That might mean something if you know what they’re talking about, but it’s definitely not helpful if you don’t already know something about randonneuring. I’m scheming a “randonneuring for non-randonneurs” blog post as we speak:)

…Oh, and I apologize for the plethora of randonneuring posts recently. I’ll get back to other stuff now:)



  1. I just looked at the roster for this weekend’s 100K. 49 riders, 44 “men” (or at least with male-sounding names.) Only 5 women, which barely scratches 10% of the participants. Yeek. Chicken and egg indeed.

    • ha! I’m psyched that you thought to check it out. Though 10% is not that lovely. If only I could do it, then it would at least be 12%! :)

      I didn’t want to make this post too much about my own experience, but I was definitely thinking of my first populaire: I showed up not knowing anyone and was surrounded be what seemed to be a sea of spandexed men (though in reality it was probably about 40;). I very clearly remember thinking, “wow, this sure could be intimidating.” heh. Luckily I’m not that easily intimidated, but that experience still seems emblematic of many bikey events.

  2. I like the idea of a “Randonneuring for Non-Randos” post. Even better might be a workshop at, say, Velo Cult. Another good workshop idea would be a “Long Distance riding for women” that can incorporate randonneuring as a component. Pedalpalooza is always a good time for this stuff. (I know Esther and Erinne do a “Bike Touring for Women” workshop around Pedalpalooza, too.)

    Ed and myself are planning another intro, non-sanctioned 100k during Pedalpalooza. It might be nice to have a workshop about randonneuring before the ride itself…

    • I like these ideas! Ed actually asked me about volunteering for the unsanctioned 100k, which I’m totally into (though it will of course depend on schedule). I sure like the idea of a workshop beforehand too. And I also like the idea of meeting Esther and Erinne:) heh. All good things!

      Maybe we could chat sometime? I don’t really know the culture of bikey workshops… perhaps you could get me started?

  3. The Randonneuring for Non-Randos idea is a terrific one. Even as a middle-aged man, I feel/felt intimidated by the racer types (I know…it’s not a race) at the first and only populaire I did last year and other ‘bikey events’. I wonder if it’s more of a newbie thing than a gender thing. You may have hit on something with the snooty and elitist feeling.

    • You’re right that it’s probably a newbie thing too (though I’m sad that no one reached out to welcome you!). But add onto the newbie thing the heightened feeling of being an outsider if you show up and absolutely no one is like you. I think the gender thing does matter.

      Though perhaps the takeaway from all this is that it always helps to be nice to people/remember that not everyone is as comfortable in “your” environment (whatever that might be) as you are. That sort of attitude would probably go a long way toward making any event more welcoming.

      • Great insights. My commuter helmet and ratty, old rain jacket and mountaineering pants, riding my old bike didn’t make me exactly fit in with the ‘racer’ types at the front (or the middle). :)

  4. Thanks for putting these thoughts out there. As a woman who does brevets, I also see this imbalance. RUSA also has demographic info on their site: http://www.rusa.org/cgi-bin/member_demographics.pl Eighteen percent of RUSA members are women, according to them. Also, many of the riders are older than I am. I don’t mind riding with so many guys, but I would prefer a more even split, and would like to ride with a broader age range of people, too.

    • Hey, thanks! I didn’t realize RUSA had all those stats up. And WOW about the age spread. Crazy to think that exactly 27 women RUSA members in the whole country are my age or younger. (I kind of feel like I should meet them–especially the two who are less than 4 years old!:)

      Who knew that long-distance cycling was predominantly a 50-and-older sport?

      I totally scoped your blog, by the way. Cheesy as it may be, you seem awesome! :) Among other things, I loved your “socially acceptable bragging” series. heh.

      • Thanks! I loved doing the socially acceptable bragging posts. They were just so much fun to write.

        Yes, I wondered who the littlest of the little randonneurs were. I’ve not seen any 4-year-olds on brevets!

        I’m glad to have found your blog as well. Looking forward to your future posts and your other insights about randonneuring and bike-related topics in general!

    • True that on broadening the age range. When I signed in at Rickeys Populaire last week, at the time, I was the second youngest rider (37) with the younger one 33. (Of course Theo showed up a few minutes later, which again lowered the average age of riders.) It was startling enough that I made a joke about it!

      I’m almost a bit resigned to the “randonneuring appeals to older folk” reality. I think it’s especially true with guys, as twenty-something dudes are more into racing, and by the mid-thirties many realize that racing isn’t where they be, so they “kick it down a notch” by randonneuring. For me, it’s the opposite, as I’ve never been into racing, and randonneuring is the most competitive bike thing I do.

  5. A different Norm

    Couple of quick thoughts on rando-demography…
    * On average, men in our society have more free time than women and randonneuring or long-distance cycling generally requires a large time investment.
    * Especially on longer brevets, women might be understandably wary of travelling alone by bicycle on rural back roads at night, or being stranded with a mechanical problem.
    * Randonneuring is a sport that requires patience, being comfortable in one’s own company for extended periods of time, an understanding that it’s possible to endure temporary discomfort, and an appreciation for longer-term gratification. Plenty of younger people have such qualities, but I’d suggest they’re more common in more mature folks. Young men, in particular are, generally, attracted to more immediately thrilling pursuits.

  6. As MG points out, women really are no more than 17-18% of the demographic. And yes, the age is “up there”. For me, personally, when I was younger, I had kids who did a lot of stuff, and I couldn’t take off and do these long rides. I got to do Cycle Oregon in 1992 ONLY because my husband was in school and had arranged his classes such that he’d be home when the kids were home from school, and we didn’t need to arrange for additional childminding. We have several members in OrRando that I can think of that reproduced, and, well, haven’t seen them for a few years. I’ve gotten past (well, mostly) the fear of rural back roads at night, but, yeah, it can be a bit stressful.

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