I decided over winter to do something different this year. It's not that I have fallen out of love with Audax, but after another PBP year, I just couldn't find inspiration in it. I suspect the Highlands 1300 really changed my perspective on long-distance riding and self-sufficiency and made me crave adventure and distance even more.
I wrote what has become quite a popular post on the 2011 PBP experiences and whether they met with my expectations. That article was included in the PBP finishers magazine and seemed to resonate with quite a few people as to how PBP feels the first time around. I was always worried that the second time around PBP things wouldn't be quite as exciting and fun, that the novelty would somehow have worn off. I am pleased to say I probably had more fun than even 2011!
It's the tenth running of the BWC and to celebrate, Brompton had managed to stage this year's version as part of the FreeCycle/Ride London weekend using a 2 kilometre circuit of St James Park. I've not ridden the BWC since 2012 (this is my fourth BWC in total) and I was amazed as just how far Bromptons and Brompton riders have come on. I don't use my Brompton ever so much these days (but when I do, it is invaluable), and was amazed to see how many modifications are now available both from Brompton and third party vendors. There were some very trick machines there with deep section wheels, lots of titanium etc. One Brompton owner had got his Brompton down to 8kg from what I understood!
Part 1 was here In many ways, part 2 is more important. Clothing is clothing - we all know we need some, but, depending on how hot we run, makes for very personal choices.
As we turn our attention to the final part of qualification, many riders (including myself) will ride their 600 qualifiers as they would ride PBP. There are many thoughts on what kit to bring to PBP and you'll see everything from people with 2 panniers full to people carrying next to nothing (who are supported).
This was my big goal for the year. And I knew it was going to be much harder than anything I had done previously, I wasn't sure I fully comprehended how much harder. My build up to the 24 has been okay, I'd maybe not got enough miles in (do you ever?), but I was riding generally faster than I've done before.
I wrote early last year about my plans for the coming season - it was a useful exercise for me for me to put down what I thought I might achieve and to put some structure together for the year.
So, whilst we all swim about rather than ride our bikes due to the wettest January on record, I thought I should put my thoughts down on paper.
I have known for some time what my big goals were for the season - and I have 3 things I wish to accomplish:
- Easter Arrow
I have wanted to ride an Easter Arrow for a couple of years. For those that don't know, an arrow is a fairly unusual event in that it is ridden as a team (of 3-5 machines (so it could have 10 (or more!) riders, if tandems/triplets etc. were being used)). The rough concept is to ride as far as possible in that 24 hours (certainly for the competitive teams anyway). Most people will be happy to ride around 400km (you must ride at least 360km).
I've never managed one - we're generally away at easter, last year was my 40th birthday etc. etc.
But, somehow, I have permission to go and ride one this year (a week after our American wedding no less - so I am amazed to get a pass for this!). It seems like a good year to ride it, Easter is fairly late, so the chances of warmer weather are somewhat enhanced (but not guaranteed!).
So, I have a team and we're planning our route. I am looking forward to it.
I think the thing that really appeals is everyone from all over the place, converging in York for breakfast and swapping tales of their rides. The event will be slightly tinged with sadness as the person that organises the Arrow in past years is currently still in a very poorly condition following a horrific collision with a car in August. He has a very long road ahead of him, but, like everyone in the Audax community, I wish him the very best for his recovery.
- The 24hr Time Trial
At some point last year, I decided that this would be a primary target for this year. It is related to Audax, and much of the roots of Audax UK can be traced back to the 24 Hour Fellowship. In years gone by, riding 600km in the 24 was about the only way of qualifying for Paris Brest Paris before AUK was formed.
It is what it says on the tin - ride as far as possible in 24 hours. The race of truth.
No hiding in big bunches, sucking wheels - just you, on your own, riding as far as possible.
The top riders will be riding over 500 miles, which is just mind-boggling. But, most riders will be riding to beat previous distances that they have done or whatever.
Personally, I would like to manage at least 375 miles (600km), as that is a good standard for anyone to reach. If things went very well, it would be amazing to reach 400 miles - but I am currently looking at 375 miles.
It's all so different to Audax, that I do find it hard to get my head around to be honest. 600km - normally that takes me between 35 and 40 hours! All right, I tend to choose the hillier events, and that will include a little bit of sleep.
LEL - first 24 hours, I was hammering along in fast groups, often up at the front - sure, I stopped for a cheeky kip in Thirsk for 2.5 hours, but still, I only rode about 470km and that felt pretty quick.
But here I am talking about riding another 130km in the same time - it's all quite alien to me at the moment.
However, there are some differences - no navigation (marshals at turns etc.), no big saddle bag of stuff, no real stopping and spending a long time off the bike (I will be supported by my (by then) wife and a friend who I think I have roped in, who will hand me up food and water every so often to hopefully make my time off the bike minimal), aero bars on the bike etc.
I am actually taking things reasonably seriously for this - I've been riding with aerobars for a couple of months now to help dial in my position. I really don't want to waste the time of my support crew by not giving this everything I have got and getting a decent distance.
I am looking forward to it, but am under no illusion that it will be the most comfortable 24 hours I have ever had. I expect it will hurt. A lot.
- The Highlands, Glens and Western Isles 1300
Well, I had read about the permanent version of this, and thought it sounded superb. But, luckily for me, Mark Rigby is putting this on as an event this year.
This promises to be a real test of self-sufficiency, as we ride through some exceptionally remote countryside. We have ferries to contend with, very long stretches without food possibilities and we're really on our own. There is one organised stop where Mark has hired a hostel at around 800km - but other than that, we're fending for ourselves. Some people will use hostels and bunkhouses, and some are considering bivvies/tents. It really will be an adventure, and I can not wait.
We will get to see huge chunks of Scotland's most beautiful roads.
I plan to take my time and enjoy this ride - I can't see it being one to blast around as quickly as possible.
I think this is possibly the most audacious event staged in the UK so far, and I think that anyone that completes this will have something to be very proud of.
I have yet to decide how I will tackle it - I think I will look at bunkhouses and carry a light sleeping bag. I may also put a rack on the bike and either have a pannier for food etc., or just bungie dry bags to the rack.
It's going to be amazing!
I am sure other things will happen this season as well. I still plan to attempt our first long ride on the tandem (new tandem by then) as a PBP pre-registration banker - I'd like to do at least a 300, possibly a 400.
Whatever happens, I just hope I have as much fun as I did last season!
Now the 2013 season is coming to an end and a lot of riders who are new to long-distance cycling have had a successful LEL (or even haven't), there seems to be an upsurge in questions on riding PBP in 2015 on various fora and Facebook etc.
I'm no expert, having only ridden it once, but here's a few of my hints and tips for those that are considering it.
There's a lot of concern being raised that unless you ride at least a 1000km BRM event in the 2014 season, there is not a chance you will get a place on PBP.
So what is pre-qualification/registration? Put simply, if you ride a BRM event in 2014, you will be able to pre-register for PBP earlier than someone who hasn't ridden a BRM event in 2014. The longer the event you have ridden, the earlier you can register (so someone who has ridden a 1000km event in 2014 will be able to register earlier than someone who has ridden a 400km event).
What does this mean practically? Well, less stress really.
If you don't have a 2014 BRM, then you will have to register when general registration opens - this, in 2011, was at midnight - in my case, the night before my first ever 600. It wasn't the preparation needed as I didn't get much sleep!
In the end PBP 2011 did not sell out - I am sure many reasons exist for this, the economy probably being quite a big one for non-european riders. PBP 2015 is having it's capacity raised to between 6000 and 6500 riders. Will it sell out? I have no idea.
Besides being able to register early, riding a BRM event in 2014 is going to do no harm to your preparation, especially if you are new to distance cycling.
I don't think it will be required at all, and certainly people panicking that they need to ride a 1000km BRM event in 2014 or they won't get a place is just silly. Don't stretch yourself too far, build up sensibly.
I have a very keen interest in this, not for myself, but for my (by then) wife, who has expressed an interest in riding PBP on the tandem - so we'd like to ride at least a 300, maybe a 400 together in 2014 to see if we can do it. I am more than confident that if we have a 300km BRM in 2014, she'll be able to get a place. I'm not worried and won't be pushing her to ride any longer than needs be in the 2014 season.
For British riders - do make sure your intended events are BRM. I think most 300km+ events next season will be run as BRM, so I don't think it's a drama, but do not assume that any ride will qualify (clearly, any DIYs or Perms can NOT be BRM, so are not going to help with pre-registration).
Pre-registration is just early registration. You still have to complete your qualification in 2015. That is, you will need to ride a Super Randonneur series (SR) in the 2015 season - i.e. a 200, 300, 400 and 600km ride. Again, that needs to be BRM (most rides will be in 2015), so DIYs/perms won't count.
If you are new to distance riding, an SR builds your experience and confidence up nicely over the spring/summer as you approach PBP.
200km - a day ride. if you are riding 200s in January, there's considerable night riding involved, so you get to develop your skills at that.
300km - a long day ride, a real taste of distance. Again, there's going to be some night riding in the sort of window you'll be doing this distance in the run up to PBP (March-April).
400km - the first over-night riding and a real test of distance. 400km is further than you need to ride each day on PBP - so, crack this distance, and you're there. These will be ridden April-May in a PBP year.
600km - the big one. Depending on the ride, this will usually split into a 350-400km, a sleep, and then a 200-250km second day. The first day should hold no surprises for you now - you've done a 400. What this does teach you is what it is like to get on the bike two days in a row, and a bit more about hygiene and looking after yourself on multi-day rides.
Once you've done your 2015 SR, you're there! You've qualified for PBP.
One of the pitfalls is backing off at this point (Mid May to mid June) and losing fitness etc. before PBP in August. Keep riding!
Are you a Vedette or a Touriste?
PBP has 3 basic catagories that you need to choose from. This is time based. It also has an impact on your start times. I will list how it was done in 2011 - however, they do fiddle about with start times, so there's nothing to say that this is how it will be in 2015. Anyone riding a Velo Speciale (bents, tandems etc.) will set off between the Vedettes and the Touristes.
Vedettes - the stars - 80 hours - this is the first group of riders off (mid-afternoon in 2011). In this group you will have anyone who is 'riding for a time' - there will be the really fast riders (aiming for a finish in the 45 hour range), along with your faster Audax riders. I am led to believe that certainly the first group on the road is a terrifying place to be as people jockey for position and start to work out who they can work with for the next 2 days. A lot of the very fast riders will be supported and will be riding very minimal fast road bikes.
Touristes - after the special bikes have gone off, the 90 hour Touristes set off from late afternoon into the evening (around 9pm). This is the largest group with the most time to complete the ride. This is the one where most people will ride their first PBP - makes some sense for sure. Being the largest group on the road, this is the one where over-crowding can be an issue and queues for food and beds can be a challenge. I rode in this group in 2011 - we were one of the last away within this group (they set you off in blocks of around 500 riders), but by the evening of the next day, I had got ahead of the 'bulge' (you'll hear about the bulge a lot!) and didn't have any troubles with queues at all.
Randonneur - finally, the morning after the Touristes have gone, the 84 hour Randonneurs set off. From what I understand, this is where the more experienced riders tend to be, certainly those that don't want the cut and thrust of the Vedettes any way.
All three groups will intermingle as the ride progresses - I was into the back of Vedettes on the return leg, and the Randonneurs will catch up with the Touristes towards the end.
General advice is to go with the Touristes first time out, unless you are confident about your pace. It's the place to learn about how PBP works for sure. I went with the Touristes, and even though I finished within a time that meant I could have ridden as a Vedette, I wouldn't ever have dreamt of doing my first one as a Vedette as it was my first season of Audax, let alone PBP!
At some point, you will have to start to think about how you're getting there, and where you might stay. It's really difficult as a novice. You're not even sure if you can ride the SR yet, and you have to think about hotels etc.
It is tricky. I booked a hotel for the start and finish fairly early on - it was a risk, but I also thought if there was some money on the table, it would add a little further motivation!
In terms of how to get there - planes, trains, cars, organised coach, riding there - all options are valid.
I rode down and it was a blast. I did it in a day last time, if I do it again, I (hopefully, we!) will do it over a couple of days and really tour down. Large numbers of Brits do ride down, so it can be a very sociable couple of days with nice lunches etc.
If you are thinking about it - do it. It was one of the best things I have ever done on a bike - for my experiences, see here - http://wp.me/pcAfK-1F
Don't panic if you've never done anything long before. I went from being able to just about ride a 100 mile ride to riding a 76 hour PBP in less than a year.
If you're reading this in 2013/2014 - you've got plenty of time to gain the experiences needed to succeed. Get your bike and equipment right, learn how to eat and drink and look after yourself on the road.
See you there!
Small Update - 22nd January 2014
Some initial information has been released by ACP.
The dates for PBP will be August 16th-20th (registration and bike checks on the 15th/16th)
The pre-registration dates, for those with BRM rides in 2014, are as follows:
1000km+ - 26th April 2015
600km - 3rd May 2015
400km - 10th May 2015
300km - 17th May 2015
200km - 24th May 2015
The proposed start times look pretty much the same as last time:
16:00 - Vedettes
18:00 - Touristes
05:00 (Monday) - Randonneurs
(I assume the the special bikes will leave between the Vedettes and Touristes again, but no confirmation of this in the document)
Control towns proposed to be the same as 2011 (but I hope that they don't use the same control in Brest town centre!)
Further update with the English brochure - http://www.paris-brest-paris.org/en/download/PLAQUETTE-GB.pdf
Further little update 18th August 2014
Well, due to various real life commitments, my wife hasn't ridden a pre-qualifying BRM event this year - I'm not overly worried. We'll just focus on getting the tandem dialled in (a month touring in Thailand will help) and keeping fit over winter.
The following dates have been given by AUK as the windows to be used in the UK:
- 200km 1st Jan to 10th May
- 300km 4th April to 24th May
- 400km 18th April to 7th June
- 600km 8th May to 28th June
One thing is clear, there's no rush to get a 200 done. Whilst it is nice to get an early one in place, it's not worth taking risks should it be a harsh winter. A fall on ice could cost you the chance of riding PBP at all, so it's really not worth taking the chance.
Let the planning commence!
I did it! There will not be a full blog report on this ride for a little while. As I was the first British rider to attempt one of these rides, I hope to drum up some interest in tackling these adventures with an article in Arrivée (the AUK quarterly magazine). If that gets published, I will put up a copy here.