American Randonneur asked PBP anciens and anciennes what they'd learned riding that fabled event. Read on for their vital and invaluable tips.
PBP 87, 91, & 95
1. Food: I combined energy powder "drinks" and a control's available fast food to minimize daytime control waiting, only eating the control maximum "meals" before bed and breakfast after sleep. I stopped at a cafe or two for a quick croissant or pastry, when available. Energy food, electrolytes and water is fundamental. Wasted time and trying to keep up with faster pacing riders can lead to failure.
2. Thinking that just because you did the 600 without sleep that there is no need to stop and sleep before getting to Brest can be a mistake.
3. RUSA published a rider review and analysis booklet after the 2003 event. The booklet was an excellent source of info—one most interesting point that I noticed, also happening in the 2004 RAAM, was the problem riders were having to keep their head "up." Riding the drops and tilting the head up to see, was a strain on the neck muscles. Isometric neck exercises in advance might be needed. That possibly was not a problem for me since I stopped for sleeping at controls each night.
4. Riding in a group of riders, passing another rider, temporary stopping at the side of the road, and even night riding are concerns for self or others' safety. Drafting practice, if never used, is something to know whether in front or behind another should a headwind become strong.
5. Clothing choice can be very important—I have been in cold rain and very hot sun. Nights are too cold for shorts alone. A light Gore-Tex type jacket is a must. Having a "bag drop" supply on the route is important for clothes, energy stuff, batteries, and even a slip-in blanket and a mylar bag to use if the sleep area is "full."
PBP 99 & 03
1. Probably at the top of my list is the mind set that "Nothing will stop my successful competition." Consider Lon Haldeman's philosophy — "If whatever hurts will heal in two weeks, — keep pedaling."
2. Train to develop habits to keep your body properly fueled with food and water for the long haul. I make it a point to have consumed my two bottles of liquid food and water every 25 to 35 miles, or about every 1 1/2 to two hours. You should be able to go the distance and arrive at the finish line without losing strength due to lack of water or nutrition.
3. Approaching the checkpoint, review what you need to comfortably pedal to the next checkpoint. This will aid in quickly accomplishing the needed items and moving on. The clock is still running when your wheels are stopped!
4. Be prepared for extremes in weather with good quality bicycle specific rain gear. (Consider carrying a dry pair of socks for when the rain stops).
5. By building a "time cushion," in relation to the cutoff at checkpoints, you can determine a safe amount to sleep and still have a time cushion in the event of breakdowns.
6. Bonus advice: The outpouring of support & cheering by the French people along the route makes this one of the most satisfying events I've done.
1. At my worst point (noon on the first full day) I was starting to hallucinate, lose concentration and considered dropping out. I started listening for U.S. riders behind me and asked the next one that came by to ride with me to the next control. The chat perked me right up!
2. Brie cheese, honeydew melons and Coke/Pepsi are the best meal ever late in the ride when you can't chew anymore. It's your fast sugars, slow sugars, protein, fat and caffeine in an easy-to-eat package.
3. I carried an extra pair of shorts in a plastic bag in my pack. Changing my shorts often made all the difference in my ride. I left two pair of shorts in each of my drop bags, one to change into and another to carry.
4. Help someone along the way if they need it. I was able to give someone the help they needed to finish the ride. It made my PBP experience far more meaningful. Our photo at the finish line is still up in my office :-).
5. If you're going to drink wine after the event wear closed-toe shoes.
6. Bonus advice: There's nothing sadder than breaking a toe with sore PBP feet!! Yes this happened to me ;-).
PBP 99 & 03
Five things I needed during PBP 2003:
1. A 100% reliable bike: Even problems that don't leave you stranded cost valuable energy.
2. A comfortable saddle.
3. Handlebar bag to access food/clothing while riding, plus a cue sheet that is visible at all times.
4. About 100 Euros in cash to buy food and supplies along the way. Don't try to use credit cards!
5. A good clothing layering system that allowed me to deal with all temperatures from 35 to 95 degrees. Carry the extra clothes at all times, as you never know when it'll get hot/cold/rainy.
Five things I did not need during PBP 2003:
1. Support car: More of a distraction than help.
2. Drop bags: Try to be self-sufficient. Anything you cannot carry, you can buy at the controls.
3. Hotel reservations along the course. Sleep at controls instead—it's cheaper, quicker and more flexible.
4. Big gears. If you pedal on downhills, you aren't working hard enough on the uphills.
5. Training in the three weeks before PBP. It is better to rest and start the ride fresh.
1. Mental tricks: Riders are very excited at the start and go out much too fast. Don't. Any lactic acid you build up at the start will haunt you for the next 90 hours. Even if you feel great never go hard, there are times you will be very, very low so always keep a lot in reserve. Mentally ride from control to control, these are achievable goals; but keep in mind that you are on a 1200K bike ride.
2. Don't expect a lot of flats. The roads are generally very good, although chip seal is common. Don't carry a bunch of tubes. Have reserves in your drop bag.
3. Always carry a light rain coat. Nothing will stop your ride like hypothermia.
4. What I put in my drop bag: Have a least 2-3 sets of extra riding clothes. Extra tubes and tires. Take bike food that works well for you. You will not be able to readily find gels or other types of bike food along the way.
5. Biggest fears I had before starting the ride: Navigation errors. Getting off the route tends to be everyone's worst fear. It can be very demoralizing. Have a clear idea of the route. Get a map of France and become very familiar with it. During the ride you must be mentally aware all of the time. The French don't have a map of the route, and the cue sheet is worthless. You must be constantly looking for their little direction arrows. I never made a wrong turn, but many people do.
1. There's no hurry. Savor the whole experience from arriving at the bike check to arriving at the finish.
2. Be fit; not for a personal best, but for the extra few minutes you can take to chat with a little French girl who has water and chocolate in front of her house.
3. Be flexible; tight schedules will make you crazy.
4. Mashed potatoes at controls give you wings.
5. Be nice to everyone around you. You are a guest in France.
PBP 83 & '99
1. Start the ride fully rested. Get over jet lag; avoid excessive walking while doing the tourist "thing" in Paris. In particular, take it easy in the two days leading up to the ride. Allow enough time before the start to untangle any problems resulting from airline damage to your bike, or recovering lost luggage.
2. Don't go out too hard when PBP begins, especially during the first 24 hours; leave a little energy "in the tank" for the second half of the event when the ride becomes a lot harder than your 600k brevet ever was.
3. Be sure your bike fits you as well as possible, and is thoroughly reliable. Stopping to adjust things or make repairs hurts your forward progress since it is wasted time. Even short stops can add up if done too often. Essentially, your PBP experience should be "ride-eat-sleep and repeat as needed." There should be very little else, such as truing wheels, fixing lights, adjusting derailleurs, or re-positioning the saddle or handlebars. Do some shakedown rides after the plane flight to be sure your bicycle is set up and adjusted properly.
4. Every rider at PBP will have energy highs and lows—it is all part of the experience. New riders need to know the lows will eventually pass if given the time to do so. Try to work through it as best you can and don't panic or give up prematurely (as some riders have done in the past.) If you need to ride more slowly for a time and take in some calories, don't worry about some pre-ride time goal or mid-course hotel reservation; just get yourself to the finish line as best you can before time runs out. Invariably, when the ride is done folks back home will ask if you finished or not; rarely will it be how fast you did it. Don't be afraid to ride slowly if that is what is needed to earn your medal.
5. Don't get lost! Stay vigilant for the route arrows; don't rely on other riders unless you are willing to have them lead you off track for some miles in exchange for the luxury of having them do the navigation. Getting lost can eat up a lot of time, and at PBP, with its long food lines, saving time and being generally efficient is the name of the game if you want to get some sleep along the way. By the last night, you'll gladly sell your soul for 30 minutes of extra sleep. From the very start of the ride, being efficient in all ways with time is the key to success. Getting lost for more than a few minutes can swiftly empty your "bank account" of time previously saved.
6. Bonus advice: Don't be a jackass. You probably know this, but it might bear repeating to some folks: randonneuring is not racing. The aggressive, self-absorbed behavior needed to succeed in competitive events is out of place at a randonnée. In our sport, we are expected to be ladies and gentlemen on and off the bike. Remember, no matter how you decide to behave, you will be a representative of Randonneurs USA to the other riders, and you'll also be an ambassador for our country to the French locals lining the route; try to leave a positive impression and earn everyone's respect. Comporting yourself with class is a good start toward that goal— even when you're profoundly sleepy, saddle sore, bonked or even bleeding. Let's make the locals in each town along the PBP route be happy we came, and look forward to our return in 2011.
PBP 91 & 99
1. Although you may not speak French, when addressing a person, begin by saying "bon jour" and then pull out your English/French dictionary or French phrase book. At that point they will probably relieve you of your misery and speak to you in English.
2. Keep focused on your goal; don't let long lines at the controls, crowded sleeping and dining facilities, the occasional cycling bozo, etc. etc. etc. distract you.
3. Your immediate goal is to make it to the next control, and then the next, and so on until the finish.
4. Take an occasional break to take photos, enjoy the bucolic scenery, or sit at a roadside cafe and sip a cup of coffee or latte.
5. Leave your "we are the greatest country in the world" attitude at home.
PBP 91, 95, 99 & 03
1. In my first PBP, I started the event too tired. I was visiting France for the first time and didn't get enough sleep in the days leading up to the ride while trying to see as much of Paris as possible. I finished successfully, but starting the event well-rested is my advice. If you want to do some sightseeing, allow enough time to rest before the ride.
2. PBP is not flat. In the months leading up to PBP, do some speed work to raise your cruising speed instead of riding "mega miles" more slowly. Improve your climbing skills.
3. French riders descend slower than expected—they often stay in a group with their clubmates of varying ages and abilities. United by their club, they stick closely together. We Americans go solo sometimes, missing the opportunity to share the experience with others. Try to hone your group riding skills if you are used to training alone.
4. Have fun at the stops, savoring the experience, but don't forget to keep moving forward so you can build up some blocks of time for sleeping.
5. Take the time to interact with the people along the route who are providing ad-hoc support. Children will fill your water bottles and ask for your autograph. They are very cute.
1. Training. Cycle as many brevets as possible, especially the 400 and 600K's. (Back in '90 and '91 we had to do a set of brevets each year to qualify for PBP. I did TWO complete sets each year, plus '90 BMB, which really helped me for PBP).
2. Control Checkpoints. When you arrive at a control, have your card checked FIRST THING so as not to forget it. Don't kill time. Buy food, eat and go. Always leave a control two hours before this control closes. This should assure that you get to the next control in plenty of time.
3. First Meal Out. The first food stop out is Mortagne au Perche (at about 77 mi.), but do not stop as it will be jammed with riders waiting to eat. Bring enough food with you to keep going. If you stop you will probably lose a good hour's time. This place is not a control checkpoint on the way out, only on the way back to Paris.
4. Staying Awake. Drinking coffee will help you stay awake. I don't drink coffee so I took along an ample supply of No-Doz tablets. Any kind of caffeine will help.
5. A True Randonneur. Remember a true randonneur rides unsupported and needs no help at the controls. The Americans will take your drop bag to Loudeac which is one-third of the way. By carefully checking the weather reports one can start with a minimum of gear with extra stuff waiting in your drop bag going out and coming back.
1. PBP starts in Paris in much the same way that SIR brevets start in Seattle.
2. The formal procedures that some officials adopt when stamping your route card goes a long way toward explaining why a checkpoint is called a "control."
3. 10,000 Frenchmen can be wrong: learn to read your route sheet. Figure out what a kilometer is. Don't ask: "How far is 18 km"? It's like asking: "What color is red"? The metric system has never caught on in this country, but the rest of the world uses it with great success.
4. You will think you cannot get tired of food prepared with butter, perfectly aged cheese and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth. You will be wrong.
5. If you are foolish enough to ride a bike 1200 km across France, the French will love you. Strangers will wish you "Bon route" and "Bon courage" and they sincerely mean it. The French love Americans more than Americans love the French. The French hate rudeness, not Americans. Learn what constitutes good manners in France and treat everyone with respect no matter how tired you become. Remember you are a guest and you are in their home. Try to learn to speak some French.
1. Don't Stress Too Much: be ready, be trained, and then remember to enjoy the event (I personally was WAY too serious about it when it was going on...). Remember, this is France!
2. Eat a pain au chocolate whenever one is available—or if you are full at the moment put it in your pocket and take it with you—you never know when the next one might come along.
3. If you take the trouble to carry a clean pair of shorts with you on the bike —DO NOT decide to leave them in Loudeac on the way back to "lighten the load." If you take a sleep break in a sweaty gym or cold damp ditch you will pay the price.
4. Once you've qualified find time to enjoy riding with your non-randonneur friends—take a 3-5 day bike vacation if you can—just ride several days in a row—doesn't have to be long or hard, just stay consistent.
5. If you feel tired and find that the more you train the slower you go—you are overtraining—give yourself a break and a rest.
1. The culture is different. This means less ice in bistros along the way and cool (not cold) soft drinks. You will see bike traffic lights at some street intersections in cities. Obey traffic rules! The gendarme may not be as understanding as your local officer back home.
2. Strengthen your neck, beginning now. Although Shermer's neck is less likely since aero bars are not permitted, your neck probably will be the least fit part of your body and can fail you if you don't work on it now. Several excellent exercises are based on a large exercise ball.
3. If you sleep outside a control, don't use a ditch. While the image may be romantic, the reality is definitely not romantic. Sleep in a town square or in front of a church. You'll be safer, cleaner and more easily found if others are looking for you.
4. If you ride with others, agree where and when you will meet up after a rest or food stop. Set a maximum time allowance—if your buddy isn't at the agreed site within ten minutes of the agreed time, go on without him/her.
5. If you are a moderate or slow rider, you will become sleep deprived. From there it is but a short step to hallucinations. Do not be afraid. Hallucinations can be our friends. When the silently cheering and footless apparitions line the road at night, they can spur you to greater effort. And when the rabbits race you down the center of the road late at night, they can distract you from the pain in your wrist, bottom, ankle…. And they will always let you win the sprint. Just remind them that there are no wild rabbits in Western France. But when your hallucinations have you thinking that the road signs are in a foreign language, pay attention. These may not be hallucinations.
PBP '91 & 95
1. Learn some French. My most memorable P-B-P experience was ironically off the bike. I snapped a chainring and an elderly French gentleman at the Fougeres control spent two hours driving me around town, to his house and bike shops to help find me a replacement. Knowing some French made me a new friend and got me back on the road.
2. There's good food outside of the controls. I don't remember what I ate at the controls, but I can still recall the tasty croutes jambon, omelettes and croissants I sampled along the way.
3. Plan your control stops to get through more quickly. I made a mental checklist of what I needed to accomplish at each control as well as how long I would stop, so I could keep moving and on schedule.
4. Bring extra water and food for the first night. It is very far to the first control, and nothing will be open if you take the 10 p.m. start, so carry at least one extra bottle and some food to avoid bonking before you even get started.
5. Random things I am glad I had: Small bottle of chain lube; baby wipes in a baggie; a toothbrush; chocolate covered espresso beans.
BAGMAN RACK REVIEW
By Bill Bryant
BAGMAN RACK REVIEW
A survey of the starting field of any U.S. randonneuring event will show that most randonneurs prefer to use a lightweight racing machine more than a heavier touring one. Even though their bikes are not made to carry anything besides the rider, various methods are employed to get around this shortcoming. Most riders have some sort of touring rack and bag arrangement to carry the various items and layers of clothing to see them through a long brevet. Sometimes these rack and bag combinations sit uneasily upon a racing bicycle, or cause undue "wag" when in motion. One even sees some rack-less randonneurs carrying substantial loads on their backs like a pack mule.
Among touring and commuter cyclists, Carradice saddlebags are popular for their carrying capacity and quality. They also ride well compared to some other rack and bag arrangements, especially when the rider is standing on the pedals while climbing a hill. Trouble is, most modern saddles lack the little loops to strap the bag to the saddle the way many of the Brooks leather saddles do. If a randonneur is not a Brooks saddle user, what to do?
Happily, there is the new Bagman Quick-Release rack. Like the Carradice bags, it is an English product and is made expressly to allow modern saddles to be used successfully with the venerable saddlebag. When mounting a Bagman, one needs about 16-17mm of saddle rails exposed behind the seat clamping mechanism atop the seat post. (If that space is lacking then some other style of rack will be needed.) The original Bagman racks did not have provision for the saddle loops either, so they were limited to leather saddles with loops, or if owners installed bolt-on saddle loops, such as those made by Cyclo. But many bike saddle rails have a different width than that needed for the Brooks' bag straps, so this was not often an entirely satisfactory approach.
With all those compromises and limitations in mind, the new version Bagman rack addresses the situation much better than the original model. It now incorporates its own strap loops independent of the saddle, thus allowing virtually any saddle to be used. Like the original Bagman, it still needs about 16mm of saddle rail space behind the seat clamping mechanism. The new model even sports a pair of quick-releases that allow the user to quickly take the saddlebag off the bike, a neat feature if one is going into a control to change clothes. The overall weight is about 9 ounces, and when mated to, say, a mid-sized Carradice saddle bag like the useful Pendle model, contemporary randonneurs can keep using their favorite saddle and still carry enough stuff to see them through a 1200k grand randonnée in good fashion. Unlike other types of racks that require additional mounting points on the bicycle frame, or like those that merely clamp the shaft of a seat post (and then sway unduly and come out of alignment under hard use), this is a very good way to carry a randonneuring load on a racing bicycle. It is carried closer to the rider's body and this is better than when it is mounted farther back. Probably the only downside comes when one employs a wider Carradice bag, then the aerodynamics will suffer. (Of course most randonneurs aren't using a saddlebag while racing in a time-trial, but when plowing into a stiff headwind for hours on end during a brevet, aerodynamics do count in our sport.) When installed, the bag sits about one inch behind and below the rider's butt, an improvement from the original method of strapping the bag directly to the back of the saddle. With the new Bagman, the rear of one's legs never feel the bag while pedaling. The (new) Bagman/Carradice set-up is a smart way to carry the things a self-sufficient long-distance rider needs without going the full touring-bike-with-panniers route.
After using an original Bagman rack with a Carradice bag during the 2001 and 2003 randonnuering seasons, including finishes at the GRR and PBP, my wife Lois Springsteen decided to move to a new model Bagman for 2007. As I do all the bike-related repairs and maintenance at our house, I'm quite familiar with her bike, and get to see it in action since we ride together frequently.
So, what's the rub? Overall, I've found the reliability of the new Bagman to be poor. First, the quick-release gizmos are problematic. Less than a hundred kilometers into the first ride with her new Bagman, one of them fell out and was lost—not an auspicious start to a six-day tour to get ready for the current brevet season. An emergency repair at lunch with some zip-ties got the bag re-attached, and the other side was given a treatment of Loc-tite when we got home. New replacement parts were eventually obtained after two calls to the vendor. Still, the other side came loose about two months later during a brevet and Lois finished a PBP-qualifier with just one side of her bag strapped to the rack. So, the Bagman quick-release gizmos get a big thumbs-down from us. I have subsequently turned short lengths of stainless steel rod on my lathe to press-fit into the quick-release holes and now the bag will ride securely forever.
Obviously the quick-release function is gone, but that is a limitation Lois says she can live with. This is the way veteran randonneurs and randonneuses used saddlebags in the past and Lois is familiar with it, but perhaps other Bagman owners would not be so happy that this feature has been lost.
Along with the lousy quick-releases on the rack, the hollow stainless steel tubing that supports the bag is not mounted securely to the saddle rail-clamping assembly. Some months ago, I was riding an autumn 200k brevet with a good friend who had mounted her new-model Bagman the night before. I should note that she is an experience rider and a more-than-competent mechanic. At about the 150-kilometer point, her bag suddenly dropped onto her back wheel since the little (factory-installed) set-screws that hold the bag support tubing into the aluminum saddle-rail clamp had vibrated out. After a long stop to make repairs, the brevet was completed with the Carradice strapped to the Bagman by an improvised belt made from inner tubes. None of us were impressed—but it taught me that some Loc-Tite on those set-screws before installation was essential. Some thousand-or-so miles of hard use later, Lois' are still holding, but I still wonder if how the tubing is held onto the rack "body" is simply under-engineered. The mail-order firm that sold us the Bagman said that the manufacturer is aware of these problems and that things have been improved on newer production runs, but I remain skeptical. Loc-tite on threads during manufacture is not always the best long-term fix, it is usually only the most cost-efficient.
Also, the single 8mm Allen bolt that holds the entire rack onto the saddle rails does not inspire confidence. In a static mode, the bolt easily can hold the 5-8 pound load typical for a well-loaded saddlebag during a long brevet—but the weight is all cantilevered off the rack mount by a fair distance. I periodically re-checked the bolt after miles of cycling on bumpy roads and found that vibration had loosened it despite using Loc-Tite during installation and tightening it securely. This vital bolt needs a better thread-locking mechanism, so I've recently gone to a new bolt that is longer, and now about 7mm of threads stick out of the top of the saddle rail clamping "body". Upon this extra amount of bolt I've threaded another nut and washer, effectively locking it against premature loosening—but many newer saddles sit quite low upon their rails and they may not have enough space for this fix as Lois' did. Users who cannot make this critical improvement will probably over-tighten the bolt in an attempt to make it more secure, but given that the steel bolt mates with (softer) aluminum threads, this should be avoided for obvious reasons.
All in all, I want to like the new Bagman Quick-Release rack. It clearly fulfills a badly needed function of allowing all types of saddles to be used successfully with a traditional English saddlebag. Plus, the new model places the bag a smidge farther away from the riders' rump and thighs and I feel it to be a subtle but important improvement over the older Bagman, or the traditional method of strapping a Carradice to a bicycle (like I used at PBP in 1983.) Unfortunately, the reliability of the new-model Bagman under real-world use with average sized-riders is not at all satisfactory, and for a price of approximately $75, I am not sure that sort of quality justifies the cost. Roadside repairs to fix its shortcomings are time-consuming, and during a timed event this will be especially vexing for those riders too close to the control closing times. Further, the permanent modifications to make it reliable are not often within the skill-set of most amateur mechanics. I would advise anyone to use this model with caution; before use be sure all the bolts are tightened properly and applied with an appropriate thread-locking adhesive—and they will still need checking If possible, the central mounting bolt should be made secure with some type of mechanical fixing method. Then, with a bit of luck, the Bagman should do its job as the buyer would expect.