Tag Archives: paris-brest-paris

Cycling Medals and Loose Screws


I’m more than willing to concede that I might occasionally have a screw come loose. I always have an ear out for the telltale rattle.

But what does that have to do with the picture above (click for larger images)? We’ll get to that.

What is depicted there, in all its dimly lit, slightly blurred, slow-shutter-speed glory, is a Randonneur 5000 medal. My name is engraved on it, meaning I earned it.

What is it? It’s the reward one gets for completing a series of long bike rides in randonneur mode.

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PBP: The Recap (Part Deux)

Weeks ago, I started an account and left off when I got to discussing my strategy, which was no strategy at all: ride and see what happens. That’s an easy enough place to take up the thread:

Neutralized: At the start, riding hard is really out of the question. First, there’s the big pack of riders that you don’t want to tangle with; then, for the first 15 kilometers, a pace car leads the starting pack through the suburban streets leading out into the farms and pastureland to the west. In race parlance, the start is neutralized, so no one goes too crazy. That was good, because the way we all bunched up whenever anyone slowed was a little alarming. By the time we were turned loose to ride at whatever pace we pleased, our pack had strung itself out enough that I wasn’t worried too much about crowding and safety.

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PBP: The Recap

Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 ended today. I heard rumors about the dropout rate for the 5,300 or so starters: that as many as 2,000 riders didn’t complete the course. That compares to something like 600 for the 2003 event. The difference was the weather. Conditions four years ago were sunny and calm, as close to perfect as you could imagine, though I’ve heard some complain that early morning temperatures, which got down to about 40, weren’t to their liking. This year, the rain did people in. It started early and continued, and I’m sure some people rode through showers even as they finished today. People got wet and cold and just lost the ability to go on or had old injuries flare up because of the conditions; of course, some were wet and cold and could have gone on but thought a little too long and hard on the question “why in the world am I doing this?”

But the thing that you have to keep in mind is not the number of people who did not finish, but the number who did: three thousand or more. Three thousand. Making allowances for the fact there are some riders out there who cheerfully face rain and cold and think nothing of it, even on a four-day marathon ride, that’s a whole lot of people who stayed committed to finishing. Congratulations isn’t a big enough word.

So I suggested a couple days ago that one of the advantages of finishing early — I mean not finishing — was that I was still clear-headed enough to maintain some of the impressions that formed when I was out there. So, before I head back home in the morning, here are a few of them (follow the link below; there are pictures that go along with some of this at: ):

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This Ain’t No Party, This Ain’t No Disco …

… this here is PBP. The start is in four hours. I’ll be back Friday and will try to check in again then, repetitive stress notwithstanding. I’m more or less ready. Here was the triumph of the day, then I’m going offline: I put new tires on my bike early this afternoon. Naturally, since I lack the foresight to wear gloves during the messy part — some day I will! — my hands were full of grease afterward. I didn’t bring any of the nifty Phil Wood hand cleaner I use at home, and was wondering whether I’d just have to wait till the grime wore off since soap does very little to remove the gunk. Then inspiration smiled on me: Why not try toothpaste along with the soap — it’s got some abrasive material in it and it’s kind of soapy, too? I can report that soap and toothpaste are an effective hand cleaner after playing with a bicycle chain.

OK — that’s it. Time to get ready to ride.

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Just a line from our hotel. It’s the Mercure, in Montigny le Bretonneux, one of the five towns that make up the “new town” suburb of St. Quentin en Yvelines, about 20 miles southwest of the center of Paris. I don’t believe Montigny or St. Quentin are among the places that suffered car-burnng riots among immigrant youths — was that last year or the year before? — but this part of it looks like a candidate. Lots of ’60s-era modern era office and retail blocks that look worn today; lots of space for rent, significantly more than I noticed four years ago. The town center looks all the more bleak today for being deserted because of a national holiday, the Feast of the Assumption. Yeah — Virgin Mary worship right here in the heart of postmodern rationalism (if there is such a thing). Go figure.

Anyway, I got here in one piece; not without anxiety or minor travail, but I guess that’s just part of the drill for me taking a long trip away from the family. More later.

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Requiem for a Road Bike

Fifteen years ago, after having done a few long rides, including the Davis Double Century, I bought a bike I had developed a lust for (a lust, but only the chaste cycling kind). It was a Bridgestone RB-1, and was well-known for being a relatively light and sporty lugged steel road bike with a nice mix of components for a relatively modest price. I bought it at The Missing Link, a co-op shop in downtown Berkeley with a vague counterculture reputation, for about eight hundred dollars. I picked it up the week before the Grizzly Peak Century, a hilly 100-mile ride, and wondered during and after whether I had made a mistake. The bike worked fine, but it was geared sort of aggressively for a non-hill climber like myself. Back then, it wouldn’t have soon occurred to me to change the components to make it easier to ride, and I just got used to riding hills with what for me was an uncomfortably large smallest gear — 42×23 in cycling jargon (meaning my smaller front chainring had 42 teeth and my biggest rear cog had 23 teeth; in practical terms, that meant the rear wheel would turn about 1.85 times for every revolution of the cranks; that’s a big gear for a mere mortal struggling up a steep hill).


Since I bought the bike, I’ve had years where I rode a lot and many more when I did not. Sometimes the RB-1 would sit so long between rides that I had to dust it off before I took it out. But in 2003, when I decided to try to do Paris-Brest-Paris, the quadrennial 750-mile, 4-day ride in France, I decided I’d do it on the RB-1 rather than spring for a fancier and more expensive bike. By then, the bike had been out of production for nearly a decade, and it had sort of a cachet to it. I decided to strip off the original parts, have the bike repainted (by Ed Litton, a framebuilder up in Point Richmond), put new components on (including a triple crank with some low gears for when I started to fade) and ride it as new during the qualifying brevets leading up to PBP as well as during the main event. Ed’s paint job was simple but elegant — a dark green with a single ivory panel that displayed the Bridgestone decal. The bike’s spare, classic appearance and relative rarity — first that it was an RB-1, second that it was a lugged steel frame at a time they’re disappearing from the road in favor of titanium, carbon fiber and aluminum frames — drew some comment. Eventually, I, or maybe it was Kate, even gave it a name: Tir na nOg, Irish for “Land of the Young” (see the movie “Into the West” — the reference is explained there), which is where you get to on long, long bike rides.

PBP ’03 was a great experience, but then with one thing and another, I rode less in 2004 and 2005 before ramping up again this year in anticipation of PBP ’07. A couple months ago, though, I started to have some problems with Tir na nOg — the front derailleur seemed to not want to stay in adjustment. I fiddled with it myself, and so did more than one of the folks at The Missing Link. On April 1, I did a 300-kilometer brevet from Santa Cruz, through the mountains near town, and down to the Pinnacles and back. At the end of the ride, the shifting problem was bad. I put the bike aside afterward and have done some long rides since on my son Thom’s bike — a more modern steel Bianchi. I finally decided to take the RB-1 in to get looked at, again, yesterday. When I described what was going on, and how the crank seemed to be warped, Chuck, the mechanic, took a look at the frame near the bottom bracket.

“Here’s your problem,” he said. “You’ve got a cracked frame.” He pointed to a 1-inch fissure in the down tube — the diagonal one from the bottom bracket to the head tube. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before, but then neither had anyone in the shop. Chuck said he’d strip the frame so I could bring it to a framebuilder for repair. I went back today, and he said, “I want to show you something.” Taking the components off the bike, he had discovered the crack ran a couple inches farther than we’d seen yesterday: Through the bottom-bracket lug where it receives the seat tube. The crack was so big I could see daylight through it. “I think it might be game over for this frame,” Chuck said — though he suggested I show it to a framebuilder in Oakland just to see whether there was any chance at fixing it. In any case, that’s the end of the long rides for this bike. As it happens, I have another freshly painted RB-1 frame I bought at the end of 2003 that’s just been sitting here in our house. I’ve been hesitant to spend the money to get it built up with all new components; now I’m going to have Chuck put it together with the gear from the old bike. If ti all works out, that will be my ride for next month’s Cascade 1,200 — a 750-miile, four-day ride in Washington state.

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