Straight on at roundabout

What is Paris Brest Paris?
August 9, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: PBP, Rambling nonsense, Why

I first heard about Paris-Brest-Paris, or PBP, about ten years ago when I’d only just started riding my bike on the roads and entering organised events.

I’d joined Audax UK and got a copy of the the magazine Arrivé and there was a story of someone’s epic 1,200 bike ride from Paris to Brest on the tip of Britanny and back again – within the 90 hour time limit.

I think that’s equivalent of riding from London to Lands End and back and then returning to Basingstoke (give or take a bit).

Like most people I thought that sort of ride was all but impossible – what sort of person in their right minds gets on a bike on a Monday evening in August and rides almost solidly until Friday?  They grab sleep where they can, but it has to come out of the 90 hour allowance….

But, every four years, quite a few people give it a go – four to five thousand people turn up from all over the world to give it a go in fact.

And if they didn’t demand that riders qualify by riding shorter distances earlier in the year I guess quite a lot more would turn up on the start line.

You can read all about the history of the ride and about some of the heroics of the past – before the days of lightweight bikes, lycra and sensible nutrition – on the official website run by the organising body L’Audax Club Parisiene.

If you are thinking of riding PBP (which is probably within the reach of anyone who is reasonably fit, has a bit of time to train and has an understanding family) there are a few things you need to do to get you to the start line.

Firstly you have to qualify – which is both entirely achievable for a novice and an endless source of bragging rights.

Qualification entails completing a ‘Super Randonneur’ series of rides in the first half of the year.  This means that you have to ride events of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres – an impressive achievement in itself.

Finding such rides in the UK isn’t too much of a challenge – most weekends there are Audax UK sponsored events all over the place.  Book early to avoid disappointment and you’ll be in.

Once you’ve completed your rides and all your workmates are convinced that you are both super human and bonkers you get a doctors’ certificate, pay an entry fee and you’re on the road to Paris in August.

The first year I qualified I didn’t ride PBP – too much pressure at work meant it would have been rather unfair to ask my family and as 2003 turned out to be one of the hottest Augusts on record I was rather glad to have stayed at home.

I’m not sure why I had a crack at in 2007 (one of the wettest Augusts on record) but I’m glad I did.

PBP StartWhen you’re a slightly overweight 45 year old there’s a tendency to find a challenge.  I’m never really got running so marathons were out and somehow those charity rides to Paris never really appealed (I thought I was too lazy to raise the minimum sponsorship!).

But I suppose I got rather sucked in.  I started doing the shorter rides and each time you discover that you can actually manage 200k, then 300K and even 600k you are left begging the question… ‘I wonder…what is 1200k like???’

There’s certainly very little competitive element to it all.  There are few badges and nobody cheats because there really isn’t any point.  As my old house master would have said: ‘you’re only cheating yourself’.

For me, it’s a personal test.  I clearly have an unresolved issue with quitting or giving up too soon and even though my CV bears testament to my lack of patience with pointless jobs or stupid bosses, I take a perverse pleasure at hanging on in there on in the drizzle 300k into a 400k ride.   And I get disproportionately depressed when I climb on a train back to the start having ‘packed’ early.

I’m not sure if it’s the same for other audaxers but that’s about it for me.

If you are thinking about a major challenge for 2011 – one that you can build up to – then PBP is worth thinking about.

Liam FitzPatrick


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