Friday, January 24, 2014

Proof of Passage

Randonneurs are required to obtain "proof of passage" at certain points along a course.   To facilitate this, we carry a control card.  As the sport was created a long time ago, the permissible methods were determined to be a stamp or signature on the card, a receipt from a nearby business, or the answer to a pre-determined question (the answer to which could only be found by going to that location.)

A very long control card for a very long ride.

The point, of course, is to prove that the rider did not short-cut the course.   So, controls are placed in such a manner that the rider MUST ride from Point A to Point B along a specific path because to do otherwise would result in a rider missing a control and thereby being disqualified.

Being an old sport full of long and storied traditions, some folks are understandably reluctant to change or modernize any aspect of the rules.   I understand that.  I really do.   But, the unfortunate side effect of that reluctance, however, is that it sometimes results in courses that have less than ideal routing.  For example, if the shortest distance between two points is a busy road, a route designer might choose the busier road because the longer (but lower traffic) road might require one or more controls.  Too many controls on a route become troublesome because the rider has to stop a lot.

Road signs like these make for great info controls!

Similarly, a course might be unridable on certain days of the week or certain times of the day because the business at the control location is not open during those times.

I propose that we consider allowing the use of GPS tracks to provide proof of passage documentation.   One of the arguments against this is that GPS tracks can be altered in Excel, allowing someone to cheat and fake a ride.  Whenever this topic come us for discussion on our national rando email list, someone invariably chimes in with "the rules are the rules.  If you don't like them, just go ride your bike."

In fact, this topic came up for discussion again just this week.  I decided to write out my thoughts in response (in purple, below).  First quoted is an excerpt from another list member, and then my response.

>> In the absence of a good explaination (which was the essence of the question in my first post), I am left to conclude there simply isn't any.  Rules are rules.  They have been handed down to us and that's that.  Simply accept them as they are and participate in randonneuring, or don't.  I realize this doesn't bother most of us, but it bothers me for some reason.  I guess I just like the world to make logical sense. 

The quill pen and the mimeograph machine were handed down to us as well.   Yet we no longer use them.  Instead these concepts were updated and refined into something better, and the users of writing implements and duplicating machines are the happier for it. 

I'm always somewhat bemused by this idea that there is no room for change or innovation in randonneuring.   Just because certain ideas or technologies did not exist at the time randonneuring was "invented" doesn't mean that finding a useful way to integrate these technologies into the sport is a bad thing.   (And HAD they existed at the time randonneuring was invented, I have no doubt that our forefathers would have integrated them from the start.)

Cyclometers didn't exist when rando began, yet now we obsess about cue sheets down to the tenth of a mile and riders are put out when the cue sheet is not accurate to that degree and in agreement with their cyclometers.   Very few people ride without at least a cyclometer, and yet no one is suggesting that these riders be disallowed the use of this convenient "modern" technology.

Because of the very small chance that someone might spoof a GPS, the usefulness of this technology for documenting the completion of a permanent route (or the arrival at a control) at a certain date and time is disallowed for all, 99.999% of whom are honest, trustworthy individuals.   That's throwing out the baby with the bathwater, IMHO.

The use of a GPS file as proof of passage and completion within time limits is deemed unacceptable documentation for something as "meaningless" as permanents (meaningless because they qualify you for nothing other than distance awards).  Yet we accept as ironclad proof the scribbled notation of time and initials by a random person on something as important as a PBP qualifying brevet card.    The logical conclusion then is that it's easier to spoof a GPS file than it is to fake a pen scribble....  Or, perhaps not.

As a GPS track is *at least* as good documentation as an incorrectly time-stamped receipt from a backcountry store, or the illegible scribble from a random pen, I would suggest that we not consider it total rando heresy to allow a permanent owner to choose to allow the track to be valid documentation that a route was completed (or a control was reached) as cued, on the date requested, and within the time limits.  


As Norm pointed out, "all of the methods we currently employ to discourage <cheating> are trivially easy to beat."    I would therefore submit that rather than spend so much time worrying about throwing up <ineffective> roadblocks to thwart the 0.001% who might be tempted to cheat, that we instead consider the ways in which we can fulfill RUSA's stated goals of, per the website, "promoting randonneuring in the US" and "building a future for randonneuring in the US that encourages member participation". 

The original poster (Chicken Sandwich) was looking for a way to create a route that is available 24 hours a day.  Documentation via GPS track would facilitate this.  Ergo, it's use encourages Chicken Sandwich to create the route and encourages members to ride it.   This should be considered A Good Thing, in keeping with RUSA's stated goals.

I recently had a permanent rider on one of my routes arrive at a control only to discover that the only business at that location was closed (he got there before the store opened for the day).  He photographed himself with the store in the background.  He even stuck his watch (who wears one of THOSE anymore?) into the photo.   Strict adherence to RUSA's rules would suggest that I DNQ him because he didn't provide the only "acceptable" control documentation, which was a receipt he was unable to obtain.   Would this have fulfilled the goal of encouraging this member to continue to to participate in randonneuring?   On the contrary, I believe it would have been hugely DIScouraging to the rider.  So, I accepted his digital documentation.  

We have a local 200K permanent on a lovely route that, thanks to the many opportunities for short cuts has no less than TEN information controls and something like five timed controls.  FIFTEEN CONTROLS on a 200K.   Lovely route, truly.  But I've only ridden it once because stopping 15 times in 125 miles is less than ideal. (I challenge you to keep your perm card dry while answering 10 info controls in the Pacific NorthWet. :-) )   So while the route certainly discourages the potential 0.001% from cheating, I'd argue that the overwhelming concern with cheating that requires 10 info controls, coupled with the reluctance to accept more modern versions of proof of passage, is also serving to discourage honest riders from riding the route as well.


RUSA is filled with bright minds, enthisiastic riders, and phenomenal volunteers & leadership.  I believe that as a community we can come up with methods to update some of the archaic rules in ways that respect the long and storied traditions of randonneuring, while encouraging new riders to become members, and existing members to ride more often.



  1. I couldn't agree more with you!

  2. Yes, I agree with this. The Brits already allow GPS-tracks to serve as proof of passage, so I think it would make sense to look at what they do.

    In general, I think that far too much randonneuring energy is spent on the issue of cheating. There are no lucrative endorsement contracts and no tangible benefits to doing what we do except the satisfaction of having done it. I can't really understand why people would go to the trouble of cheating, but when they do, I say let their knowledge that they have cheated be its own punishment. Accepting GPS tracks would be one good way to move away from this preoccupation with the possibility of cheating.

    While I do support the idea of allowing GPS tracks serve as proof of passage, I would also say that I have very seldom emerged from a brevet with an intact GPS-track. I either forget to start it, or turn off the unit to save battery reserves at a control and then forget to restart it, or Garmin just decides to throw me a loop. A policy will probably need to address the things that can happen as you record your ride--for example, can you submit two or more tracks that demonstrate that you finished the ride?

    1. Bill - absolutely agree with you that way too much energy is spent on worrying about a few bad apples. As a friend says "Cheaters gonna cheat."

      re: your GPS. You might want to consider a different unit. In nearly 3 years of using my Garmin 800, I have lost exactly one track. And that was on a 600K where the unit auto shut off at the overnight. It continued to accurately record my mileage the next day, but when I dumped the track into both the Garmin website and Strava, it only showed the first day. So now I start a new track each day for a multi-day ride. The time between the end of one track and the beginning of the next is obviously my time in the control, since they end, then start, in the same location.

      I propose that we start doing this just for permanents as an experiment. I'm sure there will be kinks to work out. And I also think that we should let it be the perm owners option to decide whether or not they want to accept GPS tracks, at least for now.

      Now, how to get this in front of RUSA for a rules change?

  3. Look at me, commenting in the appropriate place!
    I wholeheartedly agree with updating some of the archaic rules.

    One huge improvement would be to sign one waiver for all RUSA (or all Or Rando or all of one perm owner) rides.

    I have a file as fat as my thigh of signed waivers and registration forms for rando rides and the waste makes me sad.

    1. HI Maria - I agree on the waiver thing. I thing the "insurance" excuse should be easy to work around. Signing a waiver that is similar to the one we do now, yet covers a certain time period, should absolutely be something that we could get the insurance company to agree to. It just isn't that complex.

  4. I've been thinking about the purpose of proof of passage ... why do we have it at all, as versus a complete "honor system"? I think the answer is that controls are not there to stop blatant cheaters, but to prevent mostly honest but human folks from cutting corners. This is why something as cheatable as initials on a brevet card is good enough --- you could easily fake them, but it would be really hard to convince yourself that you weren't cheating by doing so. GPS tracks, photos, etc also have that desirable property. What matters is not how hard it would be to cheat, but rather how hard it would be to convince yourself that you weren't cheating by doctoring the evidence.

  5. I followed the chat on the randon list until I nearly bit my tongue all the way off! But I kept a lid on it and watched with a mix of hope and doubt as the conversation slowly and steadily wound it's way throgh all the wickets, and finally someone, ... YOU! came up with the most sane post.

    I propsed to the RUSA Board a year or so a go that team events (fleches, arrows, darts) accept social media posts as proof of passage. Because in these cases the teams create and propose the routes to the event organizer. We have a buddiing cadre of younger, pierced and tattoed adventure seekers who want more challenge than rolling from one 7/11 to the next; they want to ride over the top of Mt Doom at 2:00am in early spring, slog through snow drifts, they want the epic ride. But of course there is no 7/11 at the corner of Mt Doom and Desolation peak ... but they could easily snap a pic and post it to their FB page, then preset a copy of that to the organizer at the end of the event as some sort fo proof of passage. How likely is it that these young nuts are going to fake it?
    The answer I got was that it was deemed that this wold be too much work for the organizer and that the board had already approved quite a lot of change recently.

    It seems so ironiic to me that on any weekend, year round you can count on seeing multipe FB posts of rideres leaning up against a C-store in the heat, or huddled around a cup of bad coffee with a cryptic comment like "ony X00 more Kms to go". Yet those same riders will have to get a receipt or a signature forma stranger as as proof of passage to get credit for a permanent that is really just a glorified training ride.

    I have no doubt that Velocio himself would be the first to post his proof of passage at the trailhead to Mt Blanc, on FB if he had had the opportiunity all those years ago. Some of us forget that the early Randonneurs were Pioneers They were not using 'old' technology, they were using the currtting edge technology of their time, and wolud certainly have moved along with time if they could have,. They dion't have some arcane fixation with the old ways, they were as advanced as they could be.

    I value the traditions of Randonneuring, ... a lot, but we need to add sense to the equation. I ran for the RUSA Board twice, for the same two reasons each time:

    1. Someone thought I would make a good candidate so they nominated me, and because I ran on a promise of change. Some may have thought I
    I meant to burn the house down, which was not the case at all, I just think we should incorporate a little sense into the mix. Accepting FB posts as proof pf passage on BREVETS is not part of my idea of sense.

    Some times it gets old being the change agent, people roll their eyes and say, 'oh, there he goes again', so thanks for saying it more eloquently.

    I hope your sentiments resonate with the membership,and a slate of candiates like you, willing ot conisder sensible changes are voted in to office.

  6. I'm torn, I really am. I can see where you're coming from but having completed LEL 2013 I would be more than miffed if I found that someone had received the medal I hold so precious but modifying a GPS file. Now you could say that the "monuments" of rando like LEL and PBP are different and have permanently manned controls etc so will always be treated differently. However I believe that all events should be subject to similar rules where practical and that shouldn't vary just because one event is longer than another.

    Now I'm no Luddite and I do feel that there should be a way in the 21st Century to modernise and improve the rules. With the use of GPS, camera phones etc it should actually be possible to remove the current scenarios where it's possible to cheat. However that will require a lot of support from ordinary members of the sport internationally to combat the inertia built into the ruling bodies etc.

  7. A comment of a paragliding pilot: In our sports (as well as in the glider sports) the GPS has replaced the old fashioned proof of cross country flights by witnesses, barogramms (to document the height) and photographic evidence of cross country flights (to be handed in by un-cut film material; guess how challenging it is to convince the photo laboratory, not to cut the film). With the GPS we hand in for international competitions now. Only for world records certified sports witnesses are required in addition.

    To avoid tampering with the GPS file, there is specific software available, that reads the GPS and creates a file, that has a check sum included, with which its authenticity can be proofen. This check sum is verified in the competition platforms, where you can hand in your flights. The specification, how to create the check sum is known to the persons, which write the respective programs (to create and to check).

    So if somebody wants to go that route, you could check there. A starting point could be the online contest:. A link from the FAI page:
    I also could imagine, somebody in your sports somewhere on the world already has something available, that does the job.

  8. As much as my lack of any kind of cycling computer might suggest that I am a Luddite, I am very much in support of photographic and GPS evidence as *options* for route verification. I also wear a digital watch (though if I could afford a mechanical analog watch, I'd prefer it). If a GPS unit were inexpensive, rechargeable, and had battery life in excess of 90hours of continuous use, I'd happily toss one into my handlebar bag for verification purposes.

    I'd much rather navigate with a cue sheet or map with notes, protected against rain with a plastic bag. This is because I find it easier to read than a screen and very reliable (no batteries to die, won't break if I drop it, not worth stealing off my bag if I walk into a bakery to get a snack and receipt). But this doesn't have to be threatened by allowing GPS use as official verification - keep the old methods, add the new.

    The Audax UK Digital DIY Perms are very interesting to me. If we had an equivalent option, I'd buy a GPS unit just to be able to take advantage of it from time to time.

    Dr. Codfish makes a good point about the role of new and sensible verification methods for routes with "more challenge than rolling from one 7/11 to the next." While I'm not pierced, tattooed, (or bearded, for that matter) I otherwise resemble his remark quite well. In 2013, I rode a flèche which featured several remote logging roads and "roads" better resembling the cycling version of "off piste." This was a scenic and enjoyable ride, but not the sort of route which is easily verified under current RUSA rules.

    I'll share one other story here. I met Lothar Hennighausen, founder of Korea Randonneurs, at the 2013 Gold Rush 1200K in California. He told me that when he first ran brevets in Korea, the paper cue sheets and brevet cards didn't go over well, leading him to wonder what was different in Korea than in the United States and Europe. He noticed that everyone uses a smartphone there and so decide to add the option to use smartphones for verification purposes and to publish GPS routes. This greatly increased ridership and completion rates. ( scroll down for English. Essentially, they accept photo evidence).

  9. As a permanent owner in Wisconsin, I wholeheartedly endorse the use of:
    1) smart phone photos emailed or MMS'd from the checkpoints; or
    2) GPS tracks.
    The amount of work required to modify a GPS track in a way that is not readily obvious would be enough of a deterrent. (Hint to cheaters…you'll need a really good random generation algorithm.) The reward would have to be significant for someone to make that effort. Smart phone photos are almost universally tagged with a date and time stamp. Modifying the EXIF data is possible, but requiring the photo to be sent from the point (or as soon afterward as possible - I know about areas with no service!) makes the likelihood of someone being able to do that effectively nil.

    For major events, like LEL or PBP, it's irrelevant. They have manned controls specific to the event (and they're out 'n back!). This is much more about making it possible for more permanents and smaller groups to put on brevets.

    One other point … often it's easy to find a couple of key control points, but not as easy to fill in points that, as you point out, allow for a much more interesting and enjoyable ride. So, use the key point controls and fill in the others with photos or GPS. Is that really so bad???