Bicycles were the fastest things on the road 120 years ago and were at technology’s cutting edge. Firmly in the focus of entrepreneurs, high society and sportsmen, they captured society’s attention. Leisure cycling for the upper classes consisted of Sunday ‘spins’ or weeklong tours between railway stations. Fit young men (‘scorchers’) hurtled through quiet villages in pursuit of bragging rights. Races on the open road and point-to-point records had paid riders supported and paced by teams of cyclists to boost their speed. The public was enraptured by feats of athleticism and races got longer and tougher, pushing riders to the limit.
Maurice Martin, cycle-tourist and writer, had helped found a weekly cycling newspaper, “Veloce-Sport” in Bordeaux, but by the mid-1880s, excessive support and press coverage of races and racers had begun to annoy him. Of an estimated 25,000 French cyclists, perhaps 500 had racing licences. In response, Martin created a new type of event, not for racers or relaxed touring cyclists but ‘vrai tourisme rapide’ (rapid tourists). The Union Velocipedique Francaise started sanctioning the first ‘brevets’ in 1888, requiring 100+ km in a day - far enough given unsurfaced roads and cobblestones. Riders carried ‘brevet cards’, stamped at specific places along their route. Brevet translates as certificate but also applies to the associated event.
Read the full article on the history of Audax/Randonneuring here.
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