Trashed, I leaned by bike against the wall, crawled on my hands and knees up three flights of stairs in my hotel in Paris, and collapsed on the bed in sweaty, muddy riding clothes. I had just finished riding the 1,200 km (750 miles) Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) in 78 hours, 25 minutes -- including off-the-bike time.
What an experience! Riding through the French countryside with cyclists from many nations and learning the etiquette of European club pace lines was unforgettable.
The sport of randonneuring includes events ranging from about 100 km (62 miles) to over 1,200 km. The term comes from the French word randonnee, meaning to ramble on foot, skis or bike. Randonneuring clubs, which exist on every continent except Antarctica, offer "populaires" (popular rides) of about 100 km and "brevets" of 200 (124 miles), 300 (186 miles), 400 (248 miles) and 600 km (372 miles).
Brevets take place on specific courses, and riders carry cards that must be signed at designated controls. A 200 km brevet, for example, might have two or three controls. Brevets must be ridden averaging at least 15 km/h (9 mph), including all off-the-bike time:
Brevet Time limit
200 km 13 hours 30 minutes
300 km 20 hours
400 km 27 hours
600 km 40 hours
Brevets are non-competitive. A rider who finishes a 200 in 13 hours receives the same recognition as a rider who races through in under 7 hours. (And the 13-hour finisher probably has more fun talking with other riders, eating lunch in a cafe, admiring the scenery and perhaps taking a few photos.)
Randonneurs USA, www.rusa.org, coordinates brevets of all lengths in the United States and offers the R-12 award for riders who complete (at least) a 200 km brevet every month for 12 consecutive months. Many riders enjoy this challenge.
Riders who complete brevets of all four lengths in one season earn the Super Randonneur award; many make this their season's goal. When a randonneur completes the four brevets, the rider also qualifies to participate in a grand randonnee of 1,200 km or more.
PBP is held every four years. The next one is this August and will have over 5,000 participants. In addition to PBP, every year four or five rides of 1,000 kms and 1,200 kms and longer are offered in North America, as well as Australia, Japan, and elsewhere in Europe. Riders must finish a 1,000 within 75 hours and a 1,200 within 90 hours, including all off-the-bike time.
When I first learned about PBP, I loved riding centuries and touring on my bike. PBP, first organized in 1891 as a professional race, is now restricted to amateurs, most of whom ride it as a self-sufficient high-speed tour -- a perfect fit for my interests.
With better preparation, I learned to ride 1,200s and have fun, too! My rides ranged from finishing Boston-Montreal-Boston in 52:35 (then the course record) to touring the Canadian Rockies in 72:38 with time for camaraderie, meals, many photos and 4-5 hours of sleep every night!
If you enjoy centuries and/or touring, then riding brevets might be your next fun adventure on the bike.
(CoachJohn Hughes lives and coaches in Boulder, Colorado, where he served for 12 years as Managing Director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling magazine. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of Paris-Brest-Paris. Coach Hughes is the author of 2 RBRpublications: