LEL and PBP – how do they compare?

That’s a question many riders asked me on LEL 2017 when I mentioned that I’d ridden PBP two years earlier. As I’ve only done both brevets once, in 2015 and 2017, my experience may be not overly representative.  But I’ll still give it a try comparing them rides.

As this is going to be a long post, I’ll try to give a short answer first. Both Paris-Brest-Paris and London-Edinburgh-London are ruddy fantastic events. Taking part and finishing was among the best experiences I’ve ever had. From the outside, PBP and LEL may look very similar – you ride your bike for a bloody long way. But in fact, both events are rather different: PBP is a party, while LEL is an adventure.

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Which one is harder?

This is more tricky to answer than you might think. For an outside observer, LEL probably looks tougher, as it is longer. When reaching the finish at LEL, I had 1425 km on the clock, compared to “only” 1241 km at PBP. When we were ploughing into a heavy headwind on day four on LEL, with about 200km to go,  I thought: “Well, on PBP, we would be done by now.” For most people riding 200 km is utterly mad even if you have not done 1200 km beforehand.

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However, and this is meant less arrogant than it may sound, I would argue that the additional distance on LEL eventually does not matter a lot. Being able to ride PBP means making sure your bike is comfortable enough for you to spend 18 or so hours a day in the saddle without inordinate suffering. Sure, that’s a big ask and requires months if not years of preparation. But once got there, another 200 km really don’t move the needle. Continue reading “LEL and PBP – how do they compare?”

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My best cycling moments in 2016

With 2016 coming to an end, it’s time to reflect on my cycling year. Overall, I’ve ridden 12856 km over the last twelve months, 419 km less than in 2015. The year did not fully pan out according to my original plans, which involved riding a very hilly 1000km Audax event in Nothern England in the summer. After a very tough 300km Audax in March, I decided to chicken out, and also was on the brink of abandoning my second Randonneur Round the Year attempt. I’m glad that I decided against the Mille Pennines ride, which took part in horrendous weather and saw a very high percentage of riders packing, and I’m also glad that I stuck to the RRtY. I completed my second series in August and started a third one a month later.

Here are my 10 best bike-related moments of 2016. Many thanks to everyone involved, in particular Kat, Gordon, Titus, Eddie, Tim, Mary, Haiko, John W.  and  Andrew.

Bring on 2017!

August: Dessoubre valley

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Riding down the D39 from Pierrefontaine-Les-Varans to Staint Hyppolyte in the French Jura in the early morning hours of a hot summer day was just beyond magic. The narrow Dessoubre valley is really fairy-tale stuff.

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Later that day, we had to carry our bikes through a  road blocked by a landslide, and climbed up a pass into Switzerland.

 

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August: Grand Ballon, Vosges

Without luggage, Kat and I climbed the famous Route des Crete into the Vosges mountains, which was built during the first World War by the French army. Visting the French war memorial at Hartmannsweiler Kopf (Vieil Armand), which saw gruesome battles during the war, was very moving.

The climb to the highest peak of the Vosges was quite demanding, but fun.

May: Aust village hall

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My second 600km Brevet. After my really tough 300km Audax in March, I was close to ditching the “Three Steps to Severn” ride. I’m so glad I did not. The scenery was fantastic, and after around 100 km I run into another rider, John, who turned out to be one of the best cycling companions I ever rode with.

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John’s cycling career is just utterly amazing. Best described by himself in Audax UK’s Arrivee Magazine. (Well, that’s not entirely true: the even better alternative is if he tells it himself verbally on a 600, where you have many hours to spare….)

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Time flew while we were chatting away. The only snag was that the sleep control on the ride, located in Aust village hall, was really packed, and I only got half an hour of sleep, if at all.

April: Green and Yellow Fields Audax

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On this ride, I got my Audaxing mojo back. A very cold night and morning, but a really good group and a lovely route.

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September: Hit supermarket, Dormagen20160912-img_4350

 

Jointly with my friend Gordon, I was leading the Friday’s group ride with around 25 Englishmen from Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands to Cologne, Aachen and back to the Channel coast in Belgium in September. We dubbed the ride the “Vi(va) Colonia” tour. The weather turned out incredibly hot. While Gordon and I  were freezing  on the recce in early July, it was 35 degrees plus on the real thing. We stopped to buy water at a supermarket in Dormagen. Everyone was hanging around in the shop’s air-conditioned entry hall. The store manger (picutured on the mobility scooter) insisted on giving us several crates of ice-cold mineral water and chocoloate. An utterly amazing experience! So much for the much maligned German service attitude.

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September: “Rest day Audax”, Aachen

On the Friday’s  “Vi(v)a Colonia” tour, we had planned for a rest day in Aachen. As my calendar in that month was incredibly packed, it was the only day I could do  a 200 km DIY Audax in that month to keep my “Randonneur Round the Year” challenge going. The route was planned by my German cycling friend  Haiko, and turned out to be utterly brilliant.

The wonderful weather did help, too.

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We followed the Vennbahn Radweg on a dismantled railway track and similar pathes. Oddly enough, in Belgium, we got stuck in a professional bike race, and later visited the highest point in the Netherlands.

On the picture below, my front wheel is in the Netherlands, my rear wheel in Belgium while’s I’m standing in Germany. My armpit is in three countries at once.

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October: Two Wheels Good, Stoke Newington

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In September 2015, I traveled to Derby in north west England and ordered a made-to measure frame at Mercian Cycles. A supposed 11 month-wait for my Vincitore Special bike turned into almost 13 month.  But after my patience was stretched to its limits, the bike eventually was ready indeed. Jonathan and his mechanics at Two Wheels Good on  Stoke Newington Church Street did a sterling job in building the bike. I’ve ridden 854 km on the bike, and am still stunned by its beauty. Oh, and it rides very nicely too!

 

July: Ride to Paris

In July, I lead a Friday Night Ride to the Coast from London to Newhaven and then on to Dieppe and Paris.

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Crossing Farthing Downs in the darkness was a unique experience.

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The misty dawn in England was spectacular, too; and the route in France was as lovely as ever.

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August: Mini-LEL from York to London

Jointly with my very good cycling friends Titus  and Tim, I took the train to York on a Saturday morning and roud 400km back to London, following the London Edinburgh London 2017 route.

I pulled a muscle in my back after 70km, and almost packed in Cambridge. I’m glad I did not, as finishing the ride sealed my second Super Randonneur series as well as my second RRtY.

And the McDonalds in the center of Cambridge at 3am on a Sunday morning is and experience and a half. The restaurant is employing several bouncers, and for a reason!

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December: A winter ride in the Sauerland

A few days before Christmas, Haiko and I did a ride into the Sauerland. Quite hilly, but a stunning route in an almost spooky environment.

 

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87 very special hours – my PBP 2015

“Vous-avez fait déjà 1001 km”. It was a beautiful afternoon when I rode past that humble sign. Locals stood by the roadside cheering us on, and I started to cry.

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Leaving Paris…

Having left Paris 69 hours earlier, I still had 230km ahead of me. But with more than five hours time on hand, I felt pretty confident that – barring disasters – I would make it.

I had expected a lot of suffering on PBP, the 1235 kilometer non-stop bike ride from Paris to Brest and back again: Saddle sours, hot feet, Shermer’s neck, falling asleep on the bike – the internet is full of long-distance rider’s horror stories.

But to my big surprise, I was feeling really strong despite having ridden 1001 km.

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Morning is breaking (on day 3)

The second half of the ride was actually going better than the first one. I had found my rhythm, had met the perfect cycling companion, and being on my bike had turned into a spiritual experience. I felt like the bike and myself had become one entity. A magic experience I had never had before.

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Almost half way: the last leg into Brest

This is not to say Paris Brest Brest was a walk in the park. It wasn’t. I had experienced my low-point after about 350 km, about 20 hours or so into the ride.

Continue reading “87 very special hours – my PBP 2015”

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. Continue reading “My PBP qualification and RRtY in pictures”

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.

Bags

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

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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).

IT IS A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE SOMEONE IS KILLED OR SERIOUSLY INJURED AT THIS INTERSECTION.”

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.