what is a randonneur? why, french for badass, of course
October 9, 2007 11:25 AM   Subscribe

It is the oldest currently active bike ride in the world. Older than the Tour, the Giro and Race Across America, the Paris-Brest-Paris is a 1200km (750 mile) odyssey from the outskirts of Paris to the coast of Normandy and back that must be completed in 90 hours. It is no longer a professional race, having fallen out of favor amongst racers who viewed it as too grueling for too low a set of stakes. Instead, PBP and its offspring (London-Edinburgh-London, the Rocky Mountain 1200 and Perth-Albany-Perth) are ridden by a group of amateur riders known as randonneurs.

Stressing self-sufficiency and non-competitive camaraderie, randonneurs do all of their rides self-supported, without follow cars or team mechanics. The 16th running of PBP just completed last August, and it was a rain-drenched four day epic. 5000 riders started, 1500 failed to finish, giving the 2007 PBP the highest attrition rate in the history of the event. The next PBP is in 2011. The time to start training is, of course, now.

For many bike tourists and distance riders, PBP is something of a rite of passage. Its combination of ancient history and amateur participation combined with the self-paced challenge ethic of randonneuring lends itself to many varied stories. Sheldon Brown's wife, Harriet Fell, rode the 1975 PBP while dining on a roast chicken in her handlebar bag. Others have ridden it fixed, a Finn finished the 2003 PBP on a souped up push scooter, and another couple finished this year with an awesome reverse tandem. However, even for those who think that 1200km in 90 hours is a crazy sort of thing, the sport of randonneuring holds a special appeal because it is non-competitive and there is no pressure to be the first. It is merely sufficient to finish. This promotes an event where fellow riders tend to help each other out and watch out for one another rather than attack and sabotage their rivals' efforts. It also tends to appeal to vintage cycle enthusiasts, as randonees provide an excellent showcase for older, steel racing and touring bikes. For initiates to randonneering, there are many folks who have posted ride reports on their first year, and it's all worthwhile reading.
posted by bl1nk (15 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Don't forget Boston-Montreal-Boston
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:38 AM on October 9, 2007

Great post! The first time i heard about this ride was several years ago, when I stumbled upon this site by Northern California cycling enthusiast Felix Wong. His descriptions of the PBP ride and the qualifying rides that were necessary to gain entry into the PBP were fascinating and well written, and make for some good reading. Long distance cycling requires a certain kind of crazy, and a ride like the PBP seems to concentrate that element. I only wish I had the time to train and participate myself. Good stuff.
posted by mosk at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2007

Never rode the race, but I did have the bike...
posted by pj_rivera at 11:51 AM on October 9, 2007

Weird. Just last night, my brother was talking to me about doing the P-B-P in 2011. MeFi, get out of my head.
posted by felix betachat at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2007

I've driven Perth->Albany->Perth and it was grueling enough by car (well Kombivan)...
posted by schwa at 12:05 PM on October 9, 2007

That reverse tandem is awesome and slightly messed up. Does one rider peddle backwards? I would love to know how that thing works.
posted by GuyZero at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2007

GuyZero -- I saw the reverse tandem briefly as it blew past me on a descent and from what I recall, the stoker was pedaling forwards, but my memory of it is slightly blurry (I blame the 6 hours of total sleep that I got in the four days) and I also didn't get that good a look since my mind was still going "what the hell?"

Lazlo -- thanks for the reminder on BMB. I'd stopped thinking about the ride since it's unfortunately on indefinite hiatus.
posted by bl1nk at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2007

I will rather go for this Paris-Brest, thank you very muNch!

OK, Keith beats me to it.
posted by NewBornHippy at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2007

In the past year I've gone from never having heard about it to being fascinated by the idea and meeting people who've done it. It's tempting, but realistically that means starting on centuries and progressing to double-centuries, then sub-24s and brevets, all within the next two years.

I will need to get a lot of training in. And rain gear.
posted by ardgedee at 4:46 PM on October 9, 2007

P-B-P on performance enhancing drugs (via previous metafilter post that I'm too lazy to look up).
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:14 PM on October 9, 2007

If somebody buys me this or this I can pretend I've ridden PBP. Please?
posted by well_balanced at 5:16 PM on October 9, 2007

ardgedee -- I went from doing a couple of centuries to riding PBP in two years. I'd feel all hardcore and accomplished if I also didn't meet people on that ride who only first started riding a bike in February 2007. Not that I'd recommend waiting that long, of course, but if you get into ultradistance events, you'll find that after the first 100 miles, everything else boils down to willpower and constantly stuffing your face with food.

for the snarkers who prefer eating the pastry, I should say that, for me, part of the pleasure of riding PBP was being able to ride from one patisserie to the next and being able to, without guilt, say, "Madame, what's your house specialty? I'll have two." Part endurance ride, part survey of French pastry craft as conducted by bicycle.
posted by bl1nk at 6:12 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

My dad finished all the qualifiers for PBP. You have to ride 100k, 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k rides to qualify for PBP. You have to have this logged in accredited Brevets (technical term for that kind of ride) and you have to do it in the season before PBP.

Lon Haldeman (who has ridden in RAAM a number of times, another badass achievement) runs one of these Brevet camps here in wisconsin. He has also done PBP a number of times and inspired many riders to accomplish what may seem impossible.

Personal note: my dad died the morning after completing the 600k ride, which would have made him eligable to do PBP this year. He was 61 years old.

I'm thinking of trying it when I'm a bit older.
posted by Sam.Burdick at 7:42 PM on October 9, 2007

Condolences on your father's death Sam. I hope he had time to celebrate the 600k completion first.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2007

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