The Fleche and Decoding Its Rules

The Fleche and Decoding Its Rules

The Flèche 24-hour team ride is my favorite highlight of the early randonneuring season. We are planning our ride right now – the event usually is held around Easter. We hope to inspire you to join a Flèche team as well, so you can experience the best randonneuring has to offer: challenge, beautiful scenery and great camaraderie.
The Flèche is a unique event, because you plan your route, you determine your speed, and then you ride it as a team. It is closely related to the challenges that were popular among the early randonneurs. (Vélocio challenged his readers to see how far they could ride in 40 hours, and report back after completing their rides.)
When I first learned about the Flèche 24-hour team ride, people told me: “It’s a neat ride, but there are a lot of complicated rules you need to follow.” At first sight, there do seem to be a lot of rules, but in fact, the rules exist only to reinforce the spirit of the Flèche:

  1. Ride as a team.
  2. Ride continuously for 24 hours.
  3. Cover as much distance as possible.
  4. Arrive at a gathering of cyclotourists.

(Click here for the official Flèche rules of the Audax Club Parisien.)
Once you accept these goals, the Flèche rules not only make sense, but also are easy to follow.

  • No stops over 2 hours: Some teams used take a long sleep break during the Flèche. That violated the “continuous” part of the Flèche, and so the Audax Club Parisien added this rule. Two hours are long enough even for a sit-down meal, and then it’s time to get on the road again!
  • At least three riders must finish together: It’s a team event, not a race.
  • At least 25 km must be ridden in the last two hours: Some teams might be tempted to end their ride after 22 hours, and count the last two hours as a break. The Flèche is a 24-hour ride. Keep riding!
  • 22-hour control: There is a lot of confusion regarding the “22-hour” control. Some organizers ask teams to specify their 22-hour control in advance. However, the 22-hour control simply is the place where the team happens to be after 22 hours. At that point, the team stops and notes the place where they are on their cards. That way, the organizers can check that the team has ridden at least 25 km in the last two hours.

As  you can see, if your team covers as much ground as you comfortably can during those 24 hours, while keeping your stops relatively short, you will have no trouble to follow these rules.
When you design your Flèche course, make sure to include a little additional distance beyond what you think you will ride in 24 hours. Otherwise, if you find yourself going faster than anticipated, you’ll approach the finish too early. Then you will have to slow down to avoid arriving before 24 hours are over! (You cannot change your course or add mileage mid-ride.)
For example, if you plan to ride 440 km in 24 hours, map out a course that is about 470 km long, so that you don’t “run out of road” at the end of the event. However, you also don’t want to be overly ambitious, and find yourself hundreds of kilometers from the finish after the 24 hours have elapsed.
The French Flèche rules require riding within 20% of your proposed distance, which is a generous margin. For the aforementioned 440 km Flèche, you can ride anywhere between 360 km (the minimum distance for any Flèche) and 528 km.
On our Flèche, we usually get within 60 km of the finish. When the 24 hours are over, we sign our cards, find a restaurant for dinner, and then ride to the finish line at a leisurely pace. The next morning, all the teams have breakfast together and then share the stories of their rides. It’s great to see fellow club-members, and everybody seems to have a good time.
If that sounds enticing, click here to check out the different Flèche rides in the U.S. (select “ACP flèche” under “Type” and click “Search”). Hopefully, there is a Flèche in your region!
For more information, also read our other posts on the Flèche.

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Comments (10)

  • AndrewGills

    Great summary. I just completed the Oppy (as we call the Fleche Opperman in Australia) over the weekend. It was my first ride over 200km and I had a brilliant time. Our team rode 366km.

    March 21, 2013 at 10:02 am
  • Paul Glassen

    At the risk of getting a little off topic from this blog entry; I followed links to other posts and came across one about energy consumption, e.g., from types of light bulbs to jet travel. And that got me wondering about car transport of your bike and yourself to join organized rides. Somewhere you mentioned a relatively light auto use of 4000 miles per year (6400km.), and that your family car is 19 years old. So I am wondering about how you transport your bike to the start of an event to which you must drive and not ride of fly?

    March 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I usually ride to the start of events. That is the beauty of randonneuring – if you ride a 1200 km brevet, another 80 to teh start and 80 after the finish aren’t a big deal. Sometimes, I take the train. My new bike has been on a car once, and on that one, I car-pooled.

      March 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm
  • Andy

    The main thing that held me back from the rides over 200k were the equipment requirements. I do have a dynamo system, but the rules requiring a back up lighting system held me back. I was under the assumption that it required a quality backup system that could last all night, and I didn’t care to buy a battery light for a few hundred dollars, since I couldn’t find reasonable ones with 8 hours of battery life. I came to realize that most people’s back up lights are basically a gimmick to meet the rules only, because they trust the dynamos. I’m also not a fan of reflective sashes, nor did I want to buy a vest with a specific reflective certification when I already have wonderful apparel that is visible but not “official.” Apparently the organizers allow good-enough equipment though, so maybe these requirements are more like suggestions. I completed one fleche last year and would love to do another.

    March 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My back-up lighting is a simple helmet light. My rule is that if my equipment fails, I want my backup to get me home – barely. For example, my folding tire for 700C is a 21 mm tire. It won’t be comfortable, but it’ll keep me from being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

      March 21, 2013 at 5:44 pm
  • RickH

    My First Fleche had me in a tizz. Do I need this? Or that? will I be able to get spares? How much food to carry?
    In the end I carried enough food for a week and half a bike shop for spares. I was a mobile store.
    Now that I have more milage and trust in my equipment I carry only the basics and if the worst happens, well it happens. Worry then.
    We also finished our Fleche Opperman at Rochester, Victoria. Despite an anomaly with our route sheet putting us 60K’s out of our way we managed to finish well with good spirits. And, at the finish, bacon, eggs and tomatoes on toast never tasted better.

    March 21, 2013 at 7:14 pm
    • Andy

      While we should always be prepared for any reasonable issue, one good thing about group rides like this is the ability to share gear. When alone, I normally carry 2 spare tubes. Assuming the riders are using similar size tires, it would be overkill for a 4-person team to be carrying 8 spares though, so we can rest assured with fewer. I also usually don’t carry an extra tire, but for a fleche it was reasonable for one person to carry one that could be shared with anyone if needed.

      March 21, 2013 at 7:24 pm
  • Mike Arciero

    Regarding backup lights- the bright, expensive rechargeables only last a few hours. I’ve had a couple of Nite Riders, and it was sort of annoying that I had to use them on low for my commutes. On the other hand, the inexpensive AA battery headlights will last 30 hours or so and would be fine for backup. Using helmet light or camping-type headlamp is a good idea since you would probably want to bring one of those anyway.

    March 22, 2013 at 6:47 am
  • Drew Carlson

    I really enjoyed my first Fleche just last year. It was my first ride of greater than 360 km, and first ride overnight. The pace is casual and fun! You get to learn a lot about your team members, and it was a great introduction to the longer (400 km+) rides. I hope more people consider the Fleche!

    March 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm

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