My PBP qualification and RRtY in pictures

It’s only a few days to Paris-Brest-Paris. I have been dreaming for more than a decade about taking part in this historic long-distance cycling event, but always considered completely it out of reach. Not just cycling 1230km in 90 hours. Just the challenge of qualification –  doing four long-distance rides of  200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in the same year and within a certain time limit – seemed way too big.

Well, after upping my cycling significantly in recent years and successfully starting to lose weight in January 2014, I began seriously pondering to “do PBP” in 2015. As a preparation, I started a challenge called RRtY. This stands for  Randonneur Round the Year and means doing  at least one 200k ride in 12 consecutive months. I completed it last Friday with a 200k ride after work.

Here’s my RRtY and PBP qualification year in review.

My Audaxing career started in earnest in July 2014, when I did a 325k  ride from Lille in France to Oberhausen in Germany. At the time, it as by far the longest ride I had ever done so far.

I took the Moulton on the Eurostar, spend the night at a hotel in Lille and headed off 4.30am.

The emergency breakfast was a kind of a challenge: instant porridge with warm tap water (French hotels don’t have kettles). “Many people had bailed at that point”, a friend quipped later.

Riding through deserted Flemish towns on a balmy summer morning was just marvelous.

As I was heading east, I made the most of an impressive surise.

Around 11am, I stopped for breakfast. Not my usual choice of food at that point of day, honest!

Afterwards, the problems started – the day proved to be one of the hottest days of the year, and the heat really did me in.

I made it to Oberhausen in 19hours and 19 minutes – well within the Audax time limit but not too impressive for seasoned Audaxers.

A month later, I learned how difficult the RRtY can be – due to a long cycling holiday and other stuff, I wasn’t able to squeeze in a 200k Audax, so the “series” broke. I kick-started it again in late September with a 200k calendar event in the Peak District dubbed “Venetian Nights Audax”. This ride was unfinished business for me as I had abandoned it at the halfway point a year earlier.

This time, I did it with two friends, which is one of my top tips for Audaxing!

I had bailed at this point the year earlier (in heavy rain) and was chuffed to carry on and eventually finish.

In September I decided I do pep up my Audaxing career with a faster bike and bought a Specialized Roubaix SL4.

The fist long ride on the Roubaix was a ride dubbed “Dun Run like” in October. With a group of friends, we followed the Dunwich Dynamo route from north London to Dunwich, but left at midnight on a Friday night.

After a fabulous breakfast in Dunwich, we carried on to Diss where we took the train back to the Big Smoke.

I knew that the winter months were going to be hardest. In November and December, I talked a number of cycling chums into joining me on a 200 DIY from London to Sudbury and back.

This is me on a December Sunday morning at 6am, waiting for Thom.

It was actually pretty gruesome, and December was borderline dangerous, with icy road in the early morning.

But very character building, as they say.

And the December sunrise was in fact  a treat.

Can’t say the same about Thom’s puncture though.

In January, I did my first offical PBP qualifier. I DNS (Did not Start) on  the “Poor Student” Audax on Jan 3 due to horrendous weather, but finished the “Willie Warmer” ride two weeks later.

This is about the only pic I took on the ride, at the start. It was chilly, but thankfully dry.

Another early start on the February DIY, with Michael driving up to north London.

Starting at 6am means you’re rewarded with empty roads.

In March, I did the “Man of Kent” 200, another PBP qualifier. My dear cycling friend Martin was kind enough to host me for the night before the ride and cooked fabulous breakfast.

The coffee was good, and the mug was even better.

This was an info control, and I took the picture because we were supposed to record the distance to Deal

. Only later it occured to me that the pic was actually quite nice.

In April, PBP qualification began in earnest. I was relatively relaxed before the 300k qualifier, as the Lille to Oberhausen ride had told me I can do it. I did the “Green and Yellow Fields” 300 Audax in Essex, which had a midnight start, that also suits me well.

This is me and some of the best legs of the Fridays at the start in Manningtree.

The ride was really nice.

We had a stiff headwind on the return leg, but I still finished almost 3 hours earlier than on my DIY 300 in July 2014.

So the 400k should be no problem either, should it?

Well, it was. I did the “Asparagus & Strawberries” ride in late April, also in Essex.  I was pleased to see there was an Audax celebrity on the ride: Steven Abrahams, who is trying to break Tommy Goodwin’s 1939 world record of the highest annual milage. Steven had got  knocked down by a moped driver a few weeks earlier, broke his ankle – and just changed over to a trike.

Watch that crutch!

The first 320k of my 400 were fine, but then I really broke down and struggled. I was too tired to ride on, but it was too cold to sleep. (Apparently, the temperatures had dropped to something like 3 degrees.). Whatever, I finished with two hours to spare, so job done. But I bought some lightweight sleeping gear afterwards.

Next in line was the 600 k qualifier, which also was my May RRtY ride. I did the Windsor-Chester-Windsor ride, and was absolutely scared beforehand.

The experience on the 400 told me that really long distances can be a different cup of tea.

Fortunately, the weather was nice during the first day, and the route was fabulous.

I rode big parts of the ride with Tim, a cycling chum who will also do PBP.

Windsor-Chester-Windsor was a fully catered ride, with fantastic controls, super-friendly volunteers and stunning food. Sleeping facilities were also provided.

After 330k, I got about an hour of kip and pressed on alone. It was a bit damp.

When I stopped at around 2am to take a picture of this art installation, advertising a cooking school, a solo rider was coming the other way.

To my big surprise, he shouted “Olaf!”. It turned out to be Martin!

The ride was pretty tough, but I finished with plenty of time in hand. It took several days to sink in that I really had managed to qualify for PBP! And I even got a place.

June proved to be a tricky month in RRtY terms. Due to non-cycling holidays and other stuff, I could not do a DIY Audax on a weekend. I took a day off work – and two friends Gordon and Eddie joined me on an excursion into Essex.

For July, I had two rides lined up. In early July, I tried the idea of doing an “After Work” DIY: leaving work at around 4pm, ride 200k and be home by 2am. It worked really well, albeit I got soaked during the last two hours. With a few hours of extra sleep on Saturday morning, the whole weekend was available for non-cycling life.

A week alter, I did a  300k calendar ride lined up in Wales: “The Rough Diamond”. Unfortunately, my cycling chum Michael could not join be, as he had suffered a nasty injury in a cycling accident a few days earlier. But another cycling friend – Titus – had sucked blood with regard to Audaxing and came along.

The ride was stunning.

I was really pleased that despite the ride being significantly hillier than my 300k PBP qualifier in April, I finished half an hour earlier. That’s a result!

I initially planned to do another After-Work-Audax on July 24 but ditched the idea as the weather forecast was dreadful.

Theoretically, I could have used PBP as my August RRtY ride. But I wanted to avoid the risk that a DNF on PBP would also ruin my RRtY (I don’t have the time to do another Audax after PBP in August.).

Hence I put down another After-Work-Audax for early August, and two cycling frieds (Eddie and Frank) joined.

The ride turned out to be my fastest 200 k Audax so far, with only 45 minutes off the bike (including stopping at  gazillions of red traffic lights in London).

All in all, the RRtY was an amazing experience. I’m now looking forward to PBP!

Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 – my kit list

It’s less than four weeks to Paris-Brest-Paris, a historic long-distance cycling event . My big dream of taking part is eventually coming true is year. I’ll be rider J208, trying to ride 1230km (769 miles) in less than 90 hours.

I used the qualifiers and other long-distance rides to test and optimize my equipment. Other people’s kit lists proved also very helpful – in particular Marcus Jackon-Baker’s.

Including bags, but excluding food, I’ll be hauling about 6 kilos of luggage across Brittany.

Here’s a detailled outline of my kit.


I’ll have three bags on the bike and most probably an additional bum bag. Total weight of the bags is 1.1 kg.


Continue reading “Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 – my kit list”

Deep Lee Coroner’s Inquest – A chance missed

This is a guest post by Andrea Casalotti, who attended the inquest on the death of cyclist Deep Lee, who was killed by a lorry at King’s Cross in Oktober 2011.  For a full report of the Inquest, read Paul Foot’s article. These are Andrea’s personal points on some aspects of the Inquest.

The Coroner’s conclusion was “Death caused by road traffic collision”. She considered but decided not to issue a “Prevention of Future Death” (PFD) Report.

The Coroner (who also heard the Inquests of Brian Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard) conducted the inquest fairly, asking the right type of questions and at one point castigating TfL for waiting for corpses before implementing change. She also concluded that if the Transport Authorities continue to plan roads that put cyclists and HGVs sharing the same space, tragedies like the death of Deep Lee are inevitable.

The Coroner said she is very keen to use PFDs whenever she sees road conditions being a potential cause of future deaths, but she explained that she was not going to issue one in this case because TfL had presented new plans for the junction, which are now under consultation.

Continue reading “Deep Lee Coroner’s Inquest – A chance missed”

London’s bad cycling infrastructure at work

London’s so-called Cycle Superhighways, once a flagship project of mayor Boris Johnson, have been criticized right from the beginning in 2010. Most of the flak  is focussing  on the particularly dreadful Cycle Superhighway 2, where five cyclists died within two years.

But Cycle Superhighway 3, which runs from Barking to Tower Gateway, has flawed bits as well. Yesterday, I gained some first hand experience on how  bad design puts cyclists at risk and annoys motorists who don’t understand the odd layout of the cycle lane.

The flawed spot is on Horseferry Road in Tower Hamlets, which is a one way street. It has a contra-flow cycle lane for eastbound cyclists riding towards the City. The snag is that that cycle lane runs on the right hand side of the road, rather than the left one. The lane is not physically separated from the street and entails a blind turn.

Car drivers who don’t know the layout assume that riders not only go in the wrong way of a one-way street but also think those bloody lycra louts are doing this on the wrong side of the road. A real life example of such a situation can be watched in the video. Unnecessary and potentially dangerous conflicts are imbued in that layout.

A second, related problem is that the cycle lane is too narrow so you can’t safely overtake a slower cyclist, as you can see in seconds 6 to 9 of the video.

This has been an issue for years, as this 2011 comment on Londonist’s website shows:

 “I live in a flat overlooking the CS3 that flows past the T-junction at Branch Road & Horseferry Road in Limehouse. At least once per day, a cyclist runs into a car turning right off of Branch Road onto Horseferry Road one way system (the cycle route runs opposite in the opposite direction to the one-way system).


I guess the reason for this odd layout is that there are parking spaces on the left hand side of the road; and I fully understand that it is of course utterly unacceptable to sacrifice parking space for the safety of cyclists.

Arsenal, Schalke and a bike – cycling from London to Gelsenkirchen

I always love to combine two of my biggest passions, namely football and cycling. Back in Germany, I usually cycle the 28 km / 17.5 miles from my dad’s place to Schalke home games in Gelsenkirchen, the town of my birth in the old, struggeling industrial heart of Germany.

Leaving the Emirates….

It’s quicker than public transport, you don’t have any parking issues and you can have a beer or two. In early November, my journey to Schalke happened to be slightly longer. On 6 November, Schalke was playing Arsenal in the Championsleague. Shortly after I moved to Highbury two years ago, I also became a staunch Arsenal supporter and was completely thrilled by the prospect that “my”  German team was playing “my” English team. Since I  happened to be in between  jobs in early November I decided to cycle from the Emirates in Highbury to the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen to see the match. Continue reading “Arsenal, Schalke and a bike – cycling from London to Gelsenkirchen”

A black day for the Olympics and cycling in London

Yesterday was a fantastic day for cycling in Britain. In the afternoon, after an astonishing performance in the time trial, Bradley Wiggins won the Gold medal while his Team GB mate Chris Froome got Bronze.

(Wiggos views on road safety are barmy, however.

Update: On Twitter, the Lord of the Cyclists later said his views on helmet laws were misreported: “Just to confirm I haven’t called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest. I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally I involved In an accident.”)

However, yesterday was also a black day for cycling in Britain and for the Olympic games. Only a few hours after Brads triumph,  an “Olympic bus” carrying journalists killed a male cyclist on the junction of Ruckholt Road and East Cross Road.

The crash happened at 7.45pm very close to the Olympic Park in East London. The victim is the 10th cyclist who died in a traffic accident in London in 2012 (full details about all cycling fatalities  in London since 2006 are available here).

Update: According to the London Fixed Gear and Singlespeed Forum, the killed cyclist was Dan Harris (@gecko84 on Twitter). On his blog, Dan describes himself as “social media strategist, community manager and web editor” and a physicist by training. Rest in Peace, Dan.

This death makes me very sad and very angry at the same time. The fatality is related to the Olympics in several different ways. The most straightforward connection is that he was killed by an official games vehicle. (Here’s an appalling report by an eye-witness of the crash.)

The bigger story is that the games are making cycling much more dangerous in London. Important and safe cycle lanes around the Olympic Park have been closed due to security (= terrorism) concerns for months. Yesterday’s fatality apparently happened 120 meters beyond entrance to a closed segregated cycle-path, as cyclist Donnachadh McCarthy wrote on Facebook. Continue reading “A black day for the Olympics and cycling in London”

Going to the Olympics? Get on your bike!

Free and secure: Managed cycle Parking at the Olympics: Wimbledon

Cycling campaigners and influential bloggers have rightly lambasted the organisers of the Olympic Games for not caring enough about the needs of people wanting to cycle to the venues. Especially the closure of the canal footpaths in the proximity of the Olympic Park is outrageous. Getting to the Olympic Park by bike really is a demanding endeavour, as Danny William at Cyclists in the City put it:

“If you want to cycle to the Olympics, you can expect to take a detour, dismount from your bike, cross the motorway, maybe you’ll be able to get back on your bike again after that.”

However, there are alternatives, as Mark explains on his “I bike London” blog who also produced a nice guide for cycling to the Olympics.)

Despite all the justified criticism,  I think cycling to the venues still is a good idea, as I found out yesterday. My wife and I had tickets for the first day of tennis at Wimbledon.

Initially, we planned to take the tube, but then found out that there was supposed to be secure, managed and free cycling parking right next to the venue. Hence, we changed our mind and took the Brommis from Highbury, north London, to Wimbledon, south-west London. Continue reading “Going to the Olympics? Get on your bike!”