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.