Why don’t seven decades of cycling innovation show up in PBP speeds?

Carbon frames and wheels, electronic shifting, tubeless tyres – in cycling, there has been a never ending string of innovation in recent years and decades.

Today’s average road bike still has two wheels and a diamond frame, but is totally different in almost any detail from a bike 50 or 60 years ago.

However, when it comes to speed, does innovation really matter?

This question recently crossed my mind when I stumbled upon the historic results of the iconic Paris-Brest-Paris audax – a 1200 km cycling event that is older than the modern Olympic games.

Screenshot 2019-12-30 at 21.38.16

While it was initially run as a professional race, it has been turned into an amateur event after the second world war and since 1948 has been taking place every four years.

The basic rules have not fundamentally changed: you ride from Paris to Brest and back, have to pass a number of control towns, and the maximum time limit is 90 hours.

With about 10000 meters of climbing, the event is neither particularly hilly nor really flat.

So what is the overall trend with regard to finishing times over the past 71 years? Continue reading “Why don’t seven decades of cycling innovation show up in PBP speeds?”

Beyond the jitters and through the bulge – my PBP 2019

My darkest hour

I knew I was in trouble when I failed to eat the chocolate croissant. It was 11pm, I had slept for 2.5 hours, and I could not get the damn thing down. It felt like trying to eat a paperback book.

It was Wednesday night and I was in Mortagne, the penultimate control of Paris-Brest-Paris 2019. I had ridden some 1100 km. There were just 120 km left, and I had 14.5 hours to cover them.

Some days are better than others.

An easy task under normal circumstances.

But not now.

I could not possibly ride the remaining distance without having any food. Hence I started to wonder if the ride which, until a few hours ago, had gone so much better than hoped might actually end in a humiliating “Did not finish” (DNF).

I had heard stories of riders who had to abandon Audaxes after struggling to get food down. I knew it was a sign of dehydration but never experienced this myself before.

I had arrived at Mortagne three hours earlier in a sorry state. After leaving the previous control, Villaines, I rode with a great group that was led and organised by some top notch French Audax riders from Lille. I had done quite a lot of work at the front, which was a lot of fun.

Approaching Villaines

Unfortunately, I enjoyed myself so much that I did not realise that I was riding myself into the ground. Continue reading “Beyond the jitters and through the bulge – my PBP 2019”

Cycling after a (very) fractured patella

In May 2018, I had a little mishap on the bike which resulted in what doctors call an “open stellate patella fracture”. In laymen’s terms: my kneecap was smashed, and there was blood. Some 15 months later, in mid-August 2019, I will be on the start line of the 1200km Audax Paris-Brest-Paris. This is what happened in between.

On the tarmac

The pain wasn’t too bad immediately after I hit the tarmac. The problem started when I was trying to stand up.

I failed to do so, as my right leg could not bear weight anymore. I crawled off the road and hugged the post of a pedestrian traffic light on the other side.

I then realised that I could not even stretch the leg anymore, and that I had a really bad swelling above the knee.

smashed 2
“a bag of nuts” – my fractured patella before the surgey.

Two young women had seen me flying over the handlebars and thankfully came to my help. They called an  ambulance as well as  the police and then fetched ice from a nearby restaurant to cool the leg.

They also explained to me what had happened. I had run into a bent black bollard that was leaning into the cycle path about ten centimetres above the ground, hidden in the shade of a traffic light.

All I had noticed was that for one reason or another, my Brompton had disappeared underneath me, making room for the tarmac. Apart from the knee, which landed on the handlebar, I was fine. The bike was alright too.

In the ambulance, before calling my wife, I asked  to which hospital they would take me . “Well”, said, the nurse,  “ BGU of course. With an injury like this, you really want doctors who know what they are doing.”

Continue reading “Cycling after a (very) fractured patella”

The secrets of a “Rinko” bike – How to get a (near) perfect steed for train travel

Unless you’re riding it, travelling with a bicycle can be a real pain in the backside – in particular if you want to use trains.

Many high-speed trains in Europe don’t allow bicycles at all. Those which do have very limited capacity and you have to book in advance. In peak season, bike spaces on popular connections are often booked out.

For city trips, I love to take my Brompton on the train. However, that’s not a very appealing option when it comes to touring and Audaxing.


Hence, I had been pondering about a bike that is optimised for train travel.

For a number of reasons, I did not fancy another folding bike with larger wheels. I was after a proper road bike which I could take on any train, no questions asked.

My first idea was to get a bike with S&S couplings, allowing to split the main frame into two bits. The different bits and bobs can then packed into a suitcase that has the size of the wheels.

Continue reading “The secrets of a “Rinko” bike – How to get a (near) perfect steed for train travel”

Seven lessons learned for my next PBP

At the time of writing, it’s 53 days, 20 hours and 8 minutes till the start of the 19th edition of Paris-Brest-Paris on August 18, 2019.

For me, it will be the second time after 2015 to take part in a legendary event that is older than the modern Olympic games. 

and this

Four years ago, when I was relatively new to Audax, I wrote a lengthy blogpost about my experience.

Since then, I have finished  50 additional Audaxes including London-Edinburgh-London in 2017.

Here are my key lessons learned:

1) Don’t waste too much time on spreadsheets 

Back in 2015, I spent hours after hours pouring over a spreadsheet listing the distances between PBP controls, my expected average speed, estimated stops at controls and potential sleep stops. Continue reading “Seven lessons learned for my next PBP”

Why long-distance cycling is like Tinder without sex and nine other things I’ve learned in 55 Audax rides

I was planning to write this post this July, when my fourth Randonneur Round the Year series (12 subsequent calendar months with at least a 200km ride) was supposed to come to an end.

Unfortunately, the series broke in May and I currently have more time on my hand than I want. Two days after completing the London-Wales-London 400km Audax on May 6, I had a little mishap on my Brompton in downtown Frankfurt.

The result was a stellate open patella fracture which led to a short-notice appointment with the surgeons of Frankfurt trauma center (BG Unfallklinik). I was in the operating theatre just a few hours after the crash, and spent the following week in hospital.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hope to be back in the game in about three months, with enough time to regain my fitness for Paris-Brest-Paris 2019. I’m back to zero, but I’ll be back.

So here are the key lessons I took home in 55 completed Audaxes, including Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 and London-Edinburgh-London 2017, and a total of 16785 long-distance km since July 2014.

Lesson 1: Perfect Strangers
(It’s not about the distance, it’s about the people you meet)

Everyone I tell about Audaxing is blown away by the rides’ sheer distance . Going 200km by bike in one go? Bonkers! 1400km within five days? Impossible.

I was also fascinated by the apparently insane distances, and the challenge to tackle them. But the key reason why I love Audaxing has changed over time. Continue reading “Why long-distance cycling is like Tinder without sex and nine other things I’ve learned in 55 Audax rides”

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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?”

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



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.


Later that day, we had to carry our bikes through a  road blocked by a landslide, and climbed up a pass into Switzerland. Continue reading “My best cycling moments in 2016”

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.

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.

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.

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”