When I quit cycling for the first time in my life I was 21 years old. I´ve been loving it for some 18 years or so. But by that time, I was completely exhausted by a bicycle messenger scheme here in Germany that left me on the edge of homelessness. This was already ten years after I decided that the testosterone-fueled parental/official road cycling system of the same country was nothing for me…
When I rediscovered cycling for me some 10 years later it was by the offroad singlespeed and messenger scene in Eastern Germany and events like the Critical Dirt in Saxony. On these occasions, I learned that different gears on a bike might be a rational choice after all.
I also learned about some real freaks that nobody seemed to know in person, riding 500k plus, even riding 1200k in a mythic, cloud hidden event called the Paris-Brest-Paris. In fact, this moment probably changed my life, it made me do things during the last 10 years that I would never have done without. It kept me away from many bad decisions and away from many wise decisions. The idea of PBP hooked me and brought me back to cycling. Cycling far. On my own, without stopwatches, steroids, power meters, and angry coaches. Yes, this was a time before the TCR.
So PBP. Why? The whole interweb is full with praise of the French people, the volunteers, the whole spirit that will inevitably arise when more than 5000 people with equal ambitions meet at the same spot in rural France during the same week. Yes, it´s true! And more. But please see the interwebs. And Stefans pictures!
Hands down: PBP is the f***ing Olympics of the long-distance industry. There´s nothing faster and prestigious in the world of the kind of cycling that I love and cherish. It takes place every four years only. It´s the only “Brevet” that produces official results to munch on – plus it´s officially the freakin oldest road race of the world (but this seems to be controversial)! The Parcours is often underestimated as flat – but it´s not super hilly, with potentially big groups on the first stretch it can be ridden pretty fast. In case these groups start to work together, which was not the case this year. The fact that some of the strongest girls and boys of the world show up in one of the first starting blocks of PBP is probably another reason for PBP being the fastest unsupported long-distance ride in the world. While hating the competitive side, it´s got the potentials to make you faster – as long as you´re able to embrace it…
The great thing about randonneuring is the fact that every individual is able to challenge her and himself – alone.
The almost natural part of competitive cycling is the individual comparison to others in the same race. Of course, in many cases, this leads to better performance, great gains, overall happiness, breakthrough, yeah, all of it. But in everything I experienced in the last years or even decades it also inevitably leads to frustration, unethical behavior, and depression, people going away from the sport cycling altogether. This might be the best thing about randonneuring: If you compete (at all), you compete with a time you set for yourself. You can beat your former self or you can loose to your former self – the biggest antagonist is your own ego. To me, this is a far healthier structure than anything you´ll find on Strava, on leaderboards of longer races in the Alps also. Refusing all the “first to the line mentality” is inherent to Brevet riding, it helps a lot, in case of success and in case of misfortune, in case of pure agony. And I think it´s one of the reasons why so many different people ride stuff like this and enjoy almost every second.
Saying this, we tried to compete with others, namely, the guys that ride this brevet like the freaking RAAM (i.e. with support cars). It was ok for longer than expected but after more than a day of pure hectic at each and every control point, I really needed something to eat. That was after some komootish navigation misfortunes had already kicked us out of the direct lead… I can imagine other races at other times in my life where problems like that would have killed me mentally AF. Here, I was just overall super happy to be where I was at exactly this point of time and to ride the best way I could. Pathos? yes, sorry. Cause PBP? No idea.
When I first rode Paris Brest in 2015, I did it with some of the most important people in my cycling and personal life by the time. Doing all the stupid qualifiers in advance, getting all the stuff sorted out for our stay in France, not f***ing around with the registration bureaucracy, thinking and rethinking all the bits months and weeks ahead… getting a solid light solution for the aero cockpit, wtf;) !!! Trying to eat 20 pounds of pasta for breakfast. Now, four years later, it was the same turbulence with completely different people, but no bit less intense and fun. This one week of trailer life was one of the strangest and best weeks I had in a really long time, thank you!
I imagine myself in 20 or even 40 years time, coming back to this place during another hot summer in Europe. Because there are people riding PBP, 90 years old, with physical problems that go beyond my imagination. They are such an inspiration for my future self and I´m really grateful for that.
Certainly, I would return as a different person, again, and hopefully with some of these past and future friends. Sometimes I have the feeling that my life is missing an external structure that should be set by career or family. It seems that people around me at some point gave up living their lives to their individual scales. Their own scales became those of their kid´s age or the ever-rising hierarchy of a (wage) labor. If you decide to grow up but childishly refuse to swing into one of these rhythms it sometimes makes you feel lost. Sometimes. But PBP might be a structure in my life. 4 years. Counting. So yes, I should return. Everyone should.