Paris-Brest-Paris: 1200 Epic Kilometers

This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris lived up to its reputation as an epic event. Organized without interruption since 1891, PBP is the oldest bike ride in the world. It takes riders back to the ‘Heroic Age’ when races featured stages that began before dawn and ran late into the night, and beyond.

Riding 1200 km (750 miles) in 90 hours or less is never going to be easy. This year, the difficulty of the relentlessly hilly course was augmented by strong head- and crosswinds right from the start. This meant working harder, much harder, because the advantage of the big pelotons that start in each wave was diminished by the crosswinds.

Multiple echelons formed, with groups of 6-8 riders working together. Riders who didn’t know how to ride in echelons strung out behind the last rider’s rear wheel, where they got no protection and wasted precious energy. For once, there was no hiding in the pack.

Another plus this year: I found that the riding skills in the groups around me were far better than they’d been in the past. And there also were fewer bags, bottles and other bike parts falling off. In fact, I didn’t witness a single crash during those early hours.

More than 6000 riders started in this year’s PBP from the historic chateau of Rambouillet. Each rider had a different experience. PBP was fun, stimulating, challenging, even painful for some. It required mental and physical stamina and strength. Every rider emerged from the experience having learned something about themselves.

In the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly, we featured three riders who talked about their experiences in past PBP and their plans for this year’s ride. I’m excited that they all finished strong.

Sina Witte (left) completed the ride in 67:23 hours, as always with a smile and looking fresh at the finish. She rode with her partner Victor Decouard (right), who had hoped to ‘do a time’ until a tubeless failure cost valuable time and sapped his morale. When Sina caught him, they decided to ride together.

Lesli Larson also rode strongly in her second PBP after a eight-year hiatus. She looked good as she finished after 88:50 hours on the road.

Richard Léon is a PBP veteran, having ridden in every edition since 1975. (That makes this year’s event the 12th PBP he’s started!) Two months before this year’s event, he broke his shoulder. He was not sure whether he’d be able to ride at all, but he did line up on the start line in Rambouillet. On the road, he looked good on his ultralight Dejouannet, and he finished in 66:34 hours. His only mistake: “I took my favorite saddle from another bike, but it wasn’t good for the slightly different position of the Dejouannet. My bottom suffered as a result.”

A number of BQ contributors were also at the start this year.

Hahn Rossman pulled out all the stops. He made a superlight bike that he entered in the Concours de Machines technical trials, which were held in conjunction with PBP this year. His wife Jana (center) met him with a rented camper van at the controls to provide food, encouragement and a convenient place to rest. The effort paid off: His time of 66:36 hours was the best one yet of his three PBP rides. He also placed third in the Concours de Machines. Well done!

Not far behind, Ryan Hamilton rode unsupported. He also had broken his collarbone – too many accidents in the lead-up to the ride this year among my friends! – and was unable to train for five weeks in the run-up to PBP. And yet his time of 67:41 hours was his second-best yet. No wonder he was smiling at the finish!

David Wilcox (above) and Ryan Francesconi (top photo) finished in 71:52 hours in their first crack at Paris-Brest-Paris. They were impressed by the graciousness of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the locals, who cheered on all riders regardless of how fast they went.

My own plan for this year’s PBP was to avoid mistakes: not to overextend myself on the way to Brest, to eat well, and to stay focused. My cautious approach paid off, and I finished after 56:36 hours, just within Charly Miller time. I met many wonderful people on the road, including a great number of readers and customers who introduced themselves as we traversed the hills of Normandy and Brittany. Most of all, I enjoyed 95% of those hours on the road. I slept for 38 minutes at the control in Tinténiac – and even got a private room!

As the 6000 PBP stories emerge, I enjoy hearing and reading them. And I’m already excited about PBP 2023!

Photo credits: Maindru (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 6, 7, 10).

41 Responses to Paris-Brest-Paris: 1200 Epic Kilometers

  1. Tim Foon Feldman August 26, 2019 at 5:55 am #

    PBP is a great event without peer. But the Catford Cycling Club Annual Hill Climb has been running since 1886 and thus deserves the accolade of oldest bike ride in the world.

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 6:55 am #

      Wow, didn’t know about that one!

  2. tcrides August 26, 2019 at 6:36 am #

    Excellent time Jan and thanks for sharing the stories and pictures!

  3. Alistair D Spence August 26, 2019 at 6:46 am #

    Congratulations to all! Any idea what Hahn’s bike ended up weighing?

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 6:55 am #

      Unfortunately, the detailed results of the Concours de Machines are kept secret.

      • Bill Gibson August 27, 2019 at 8:16 pm #

        I wonder why the rationale for the secrecy? There must be good reasons, but it might need a short essay to explain the reasons!

        • Jan Heine August 27, 2019 at 10:10 pm #

          Some builders whose bikes did not place well in the first Concours de Machines were unhappy. So it was decided that in the following events, only the first three places would be announced, without details of how they were derived. It makes reporting from the event difficult…

      • Jacob Musha August 28, 2019 at 12:37 pm #

        “So it was decided that in the following events, only the first three places would be announced, without details of how they were derived.”

        Wow. Why even have the event if the results and details are kept secret? Isn’t that the whole point, to see what the builders can come up with?

  4. nellegreen August 26, 2019 at 7:31 am #

    Leslie and I shared dinner in Loudeac and a few return kilometers. Congratulations to all my fellow PBP participants. The Stampede Pass ExtraLight performed flawlessly.

  5. mtbvfr August 26, 2019 at 7:33 am #

    Good ride Jan,

    Considering the hilly terrain to be covered, would light 26″ wheels with the Elk Pass tyres provide an advantage for an event like PBP?

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 7:39 am #

      I don’t think wheel weight really matters, since you aren’t accelerating much. I was happy with 42 mm-wide tires, as the pavement can be quite rough. No potholes, but chipseal and just old road that haven’t been resurfaced lately.

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 8:08 am #

      Good ride

      All riders in PBP did a great ride. Just getting to the start takes a lot of effort – but it’s worth it, because it really is a unique experience.

  6. Ford August 26, 2019 at 7:36 am #

    Congratulations ! I hope to read about your exploits in further detail in BQ !

  7. Steve Palincsar August 26, 2019 at 7:54 am #

    We’re also looking forward to reading all about that new bike of yours, Jan. And congratulations, well done!

  8. Dana Shifflett August 26, 2019 at 10:17 am #

    PBP is far beyond my ability and ambition, but your coverage is always worth reading.
    Another subject I anticipate, and never saw for 2018, is the Concourse de Machines.

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 12:15 pm #

      We wanted to cover the Concours de Machines, but it was logistically too difficult.

  9. nfwatso August 26, 2019 at 10:28 am #

    Thank you! You say “across Normandy and Brittany” but the route doesn’t actually touch Normandy, does it? I abandoned at Brest for the second time. Still two heavy (220 lbs.) and too slow. Plus a stomach virus. Monday was a slog all day!

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 12:13 pm #

      It does go through Normandy for a bit. At least there are road signs “You are entering Normandy” or something like that. Sorry to hear about your troubles. Still, Paris-Brest is a great ride, even without the return trip!

      • nfwatso August 28, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

        maybe the Raid Pyrénéen Aug. 1-10 wasn’t the best way to taper the training…!

        • Jan Heine August 28, 2019 at 4:34 pm #

          The Raid is such a wonderful ride, though. I did it after PBP in 2011… and I can affirm that PBP is perfect training for the Raid!

    • Eric Hancock (@eric_d_hancock) August 26, 2019 at 6:14 pm #

      That’s still a huge ride and simply making it into PBP is an accomplishment. Chapeau!

  10. mtbvfr August 26, 2019 at 10:30 am #

    What Nutrition did you use Jan?

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 12:16 pm #

      I carried some Ensure Plus liquid meals on the bike, plus some chocolate and some Japanese snacks. Mostly, I ate vegetable soup and noodles at the controls.

  11. fabiorandonneur August 26, 2019 at 11:11 am #

    I was lucky enough to ride in the small group led by Richard on day 1. Without knowing him I immediately realized his experience and his perfect style in the saddle. It was a pleasure sharing some kms with him (and looking at his beautiful bike).
    Well done Jan and congrats for your time!

  12. John Oswald August 26, 2019 at 1:08 pm #

    It was great to see you and Natsuko and chat for a bit at the finish tent. You looked so fresh and I always learn something and get a neat perspective from you when we get a chance to chat. We will make an effort to get to the un-meeting (but Portland is a bit far from us for one day of riding).

    On the PBP course, the Rat Trap Pass Extra Lights were great for us on the tandem (and a hit again with the control volunteers!) and the Compass 42mm Randonneur Bars allowed me to ride in daylight without gloves and no hand issues compared to last time with compact bars and crazy hand numbness. Thanks for getting those products to the market to make our rides better! Despite the tougher wind conditions we were a little bit faster this time (71h05min). Not bad for folks who linger at controls chatting with locals and other riders..!

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 2:29 pm #

      Always great to see you, too, and Chapeau for another amazing performance. Conducting a tandem over a course that hilly requires a lot of skill and coordination, and you clearly make a great team!

  13. John French August 26, 2019 at 2:05 pm #

    What a ride! I finished in a relaxed 89:09. With no pressure beyond the 90 hour limit I was able to enjoy riding with friends, old and new, throughout the ride. I met and rode with Lesli and a group of Seattle Randonneurs over Le Roc Trevezel on the return from Brest.

    Perhaps in four years, I will challenge myself to do the ride faster. I think it would be nice to try to finish within 3 days next time. The question for me is how to balance any personal challenges with a desire to sleep as much as practical. I don’t want to put myself at unnecessary risk by riding sleep deprived when I don’t need to.

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 2:28 pm #

      Definitely don’t ride sleep-deprived! I was in a little group with a tandem when the captain felt drowsy, so we pulled off for a 10-minute nap. I find that if I’m well-rested before the event, with all the excitement of riding with 6000+ riders from all over the world and the encouragement of the locals, I don’t get sleepy until the second day. And even then, my 36-minute sleep was amazing. I felt great after that…

      • John French August 26, 2019 at 3:38 pm #

        Tinténiac had wonderful sleeping facilities. On Monday, I tried to sleep through the late afternoon headwinds at Loudéac only to be awakened at around 6pm by a loud band playing on a stage right next to the dormitories, then moved on to Carhaix and tried to catch up on sleep there, but they’d run out of cots so I ended up on the barely-padded floor of a dojo next to a man whose method of getting comfortable seemed to involve punching the floor every few seconds.

        Tuesday night in Tinténiac was an entirely different experience. I was in a room with just 3 other riders, and yes, they snored loudly, but nobody was coming in and out constantly, and I’ll take 3 snoring riders over 300 any day. The beds had thick, soft mattresses and the room was pitch black. If only every control had such luxurious accommodations. I felt somewhat spoiled!

  14. Leo August 26, 2019 at 2:36 pm #

    Is Sina the same lady that featured in the film “Brevet”? I watched that a few months ago and thought it was great, really inspiring stuff. Congratulations to all riders, PBP is way above my abilities, but something I would love to attempt in the future!

    • Jan Heine August 26, 2019 at 2:40 pm #

      Yes, Sina is the heroine of the ‘Brevet’ movie. It follows her during the preparation and the actual ride during the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris.

  15. Eric Hancock (@eric_d_hancock) August 26, 2019 at 6:48 pm #

    Truly an amazing achievement by all.

    Also one of my favorite events for gear-gawking. The bicycles are elegant yet tough, purpose-built and capable.

    Thanks for posting the photos and stories.

  16. Elmer Galinato August 27, 2019 at 5:33 am #

    My brother was one of the Filipino participant of the past 18th & 19th edition.. im proud that he finished at 71:12:29
    this 19th, while tolerating a very painful knee.. so much stories along the road.. glad you did it.. hats off bro.. till next edition..

  17. George Flemming August 27, 2019 at 6:02 am #

    As always nice to read first-hand experiences from these events.
    For the first time, “aero-bars” were allowed at PBP, you obviously didn’t want to use one?
    If I may ask; what gearing did you use, and what tyre pressure in those wide 42’s?

    • Jan Heine August 27, 2019 at 6:08 am #

      I used aero-bars way back, in the cross-state races here in the Cascade Mountains (Cannonball and S2S). I found that I was faster on the road, but spent more time stopped, as my back and shoulders ached more. So I decided not to use them for PBP.

      Gearing was 48×32 with a 13-26 on the rear, tire pressure about 2.4 bar (35 psi).

  18. Rusty Jefferson August 27, 2019 at 9:42 am #

    Congratulations on a great ride.

    Could you advise as to the preferred way(s) participants in the States got their bikes to Europe? I didn’t see any coupled bikes in the photos and know they aren’t popular here, but those are some good looking machines I’m sure the owners don’t want dented up. Are single use cardboard boxes preferred over padded boxes one has to pay to store while there? Rinko style in a soft bag with fingers crossed? How did you all transport your bikes?

    • Jan Heine August 27, 2019 at 10:01 am #

      I saw quite a few hardcases at the airport – many Seattle riders were on the same Air France flight back. I used a prototype padded Rinko bag – see the Instagram feed on the right for a photo. I’ll do another post about flying with your bike in the future.

    • John French August 27, 2019 at 10:15 am #

      I used a bag from Orucase. They seem to mostly be targeting riders with modern race bikes, but the packing style is very similar to rinko and their bags work well with a randonneuring bike packed in the rinko style. Of the four times I have flown with my bike packed this way (two round trips) I have paid a bike fee only once. (The package exceeds 62 linear inches but is under 50lb and usually slides by.) the only damage was a small dent on one fender and a bent dropout adjustment screw.

      My bike is not designed for rinko so the headset and rear fender add time and hassle to the packing process, but I have found it worth the hassle to avoid the fees and carrying a hard case around.

  19. Toby Whitfield August 27, 2019 at 2:03 pm #

    I rode my first PBP, and first event over 600k. The event was amazing, including comraderie, the volunteers along the way, and especially the locals who cheered us on along the entire route and at all hours. I’ll always remember that spirit and generosity.

    My JP Weigle rinkoed rando bicycle performed amazingly well, including all the Herse items I have on it.

    I’m already thinking about 2023!

    Thanks to Jan and BQ for inspiring me to do this ride.

  20. Georgi Stoychev August 28, 2019 at 4:55 am #

    Jan, It was great Talking to you after PBP – Georgi Stoychev A063 ( last photo on your story). Congratulations on very well executed ride and making it to 4th Charlie MIller award with moments to spare. Your limited amount of sleep amazed me.

    • Jan Heine August 28, 2019 at 10:10 am #

      Georgi, it was great to meet you, too. We enjoyed your positive spirit and attitude! Congrats on your PBP, too. Taking 15 hours off your previous time is impressive. We look forward to seeing you in 2023!