I've been getting some questions in comments, e-mail and in real life about what exactly this "200k Permanent" stuff is. The name of the sport is Randonneuring. Randonneurs USA is the sanctioning body here in the US. Randonnées take several shapes depending on the organizers, but there are two main flavors: Audax and Allure Libre.
I don't know much about Audax other than it's a group effort where everyone tries to stick together at exactly the same speed, but Allure Libre seems more common in the US. That's where everyone is on their own personal ride. Even though everyone participating is hitting the same places, it's not a competition. Sure, a rider might see someone ahead and take chase, but there is no first place or last place. Randonnée roughly translates to "ramble": The goal is to complete the course from end to end in the time alotted. There's only those who complete and those who do not.
To make sure no short cuts are taken, controls are put into place. These checkpoints can be staffed by event organizers, they can be a store that you get a time-stamped reciept from, or they can be information controls where, for example, you are asked to answer a question that can only be answered if you're right there. "What's the mile marker on the side of the road?" "According to the sign, how far is it to Joplin?" On some events, a "secret" control is also added, which you may not know about ahead of time.
These controls have an "open" time and a "close" time. If you hammer it and get there too early, you'll find yourself waiting. If you slack off or just can't keep a decent pace, you risk arriving at the control too late and timing out.
Usually, randonneurs talk about Brevets. Some may use "randonee" and "brevet" interchangeably, but brevets are just one type of randonee.
A Populaire is a casual ride of less than 200km, often around 100-150km. These are often used for training and recruiting others to the sport of randonneuring. It's not really a sanctioned ride, but the event coordinator might draft up a cue sheet and set up controls like you'd find on a permanent.
Brevets are organized events that are always 200 kilometers (120 miles or so) or longer. Accomplished randonneurs will often participate in the Super Randonneur series: 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k. Upon successful completion of this series in a season, you get a Super Randonneur award. You're also then qualified to ride in a 1200k event such as the Paris-Brest-Paris.
The two events I've participared in so far are called Permanents. Permanent routes can be 200k or longer. These are standing routes that RUSA has certified which can be ridden at any time, provided that a permanent coordinator knows you're doing it and all agreed-upon paperwork has been completed. My local permanent coordinator (Spencer Klaassen) completed a nearly-3000-kilometer permanent route (Pony Express Permanent) with another local man. CommuterDude has some coverage and links about that one.
Regardless, each participant carries a route cue sheet and a card onto which timestamps are logged.
The full rules for RUSA-sanctioned events are found on the RUSA web site, but in general, they stress self-sufficient riding. Some rules that might seem offputting to "normal" road cyclists that are used to club-sponsored "centuries" and longer charity rides like the MS-150:
- You're supposed to ride as if you're alone. Drafting, getting road-side service or nourishment from someone and things of that nature can get you disqualified.
- You can stop at shops or stores for yourself, but not for someone else.
- If you leave the route (on purpose: to get food, or on accident: wrong turn) you must go back to that same spot to re-enter the route.
- You're allowed to get outside help at a control. You can call a friend to bring you a new wheel or some tools, for example.
I'm slowly getting hooked on the idea of randonneuring. I'd eventually like to do self-supported touring, and I don't have a whole lot of interest in high-speed competitive cycling sports. From what I've seen so far, you find a lot of commuters and tourers that are into Rando.
If this kind of thing interests you, look for a local RUSA chapter. If you're near Kansas City, I can get you in contact with the people you should know. I'd like to ride with you (or maybe 2 miles behind you?) on my next 200k!