Sunday 3 September 2023

Paris Brest Paris (PBP) 2023 - ElliptiGO RSUB Stand Up Bike

If you arrived here to read about my adventures in PBP on a stand up bike you are in the right place! If none of that made any sense you probably took a wrong turn... ;-)

I travelled over from England to France with my friend Carl via Le Shuttle. We had a smooth trouble free journey and arrived in Rambouillet (South-west Paris) on Saturday afternoon. PBP would start on the Sunday.

Le Shuttle

It was an eventful arrival onsite but not for the right reasons. A French lady decided to drive straight into Carl's car. We were only 20 yards from our tent pitch! Argh!! So 30 minutes later after filling in a French damage insurance form and confirming she was admitting liability (which I confirmed via Google Translate) we could be on our way. Definitely not the start to PBP that Carl wanted. But Carl was great at dismissing the incident out of mind and didn't let it become an unwelcome distraction from the important tasks at hand.

Quite how she reversed and didn't see Carl's car is a mystery!!

We got the tents pitched in a nice spot and went to register. Picked up our PBP swag bag, rider number including the mandatory high vis PBP gillet for night time riding. Perfect fit. And a cool memento a Paris-Brest-Paris route sign (to stop people nicking them enroute!!).

PBP registration

We heading into Rambouillet town centre for a beer and soak up the pre-race atmosphere. Some simple food followed later with a few more beers (Ruby Leffe bought from the Carrefour). Leffe was €9 each from the bar. Ouch!!! We enjoyed an evening of live French music. I counted 9 musicians on stage complete with the French Horn. The locals dancing in the streets and it was all very French and a perfect start. We turned in around 11pm. The locals went on singing and dancing til around 1am.

€9 Leffe beer with Carl in Rambouillet 

Rambouillet centre

Rambouillet in full PBP spirit 

PBP morning had arrived. The sun was up and already hitting our tents. Boil in a bag springs to mind! It promised to be hitting 30 degrees by mid afternoon. The goal today was to stay out the sun, hydrate, and eat, eat and eat some more! And importantly get the bikes all prepped and ready. Any more sleep was unlikely in this heat but I'd had a great night's sleep - a solid 8 hours which in a tent was fantastic. And exactly what you what when going into a 3 day / 4 night ride where sleep would be in very limited supply. My start time was 17:15 so I had the whole day before I started. Carl's start was 18:45.

It's probably worth highlighting the essentials details of PBP (Paris Brest Paris) for those less familiar with this event. This year PBP was 1230K (762 miles) from Paris (Rambouillet) heading west through Brittany to Brest on the coast, and back to Paris. 15 main controls along the way where you can eat, refill bottles, sleep etc. You have to complete the full distance within a strict 90 hour cut off. Anyone finishing after this time will not be listed as an official finisher. So it's a long way and there was an estimated 12,000 metres of climbing along the route. That might only be 1000 metres per 100K which isn't super hilly on paper but let me assure you when I say that PBP is hilly, and these hills are fairly and evenly spread out across the route. Only the very start and finish sections are flat. The hills on PBP are not steep - certainly nothing above 10% gradient but this is made up by the length of the climbs which are much longer than we would find in England. But it's a very rideable route.

PBP route and profile

The first important task of the day was to find coffee. After that yet more coffee, then lunch and then second lunch!

Then it was bike prep time. Carl and I left plenty of time for this in the afternoon. A hour and a half of general tinkering, packing and repacking stuff multiple times, and affixing the all important rider number to the RSUB (with electronic tag for timings at each control). With the forecast looking warm throughout night and day I was removing extra layers and my insulated gillet from my pack. Night time temperatures promised to stay around 15. In reality they dropped lower than that but what I ending up taking was perfect.

ElliptiGO RSUB ready. Check.

In Rambouillet town centre (photo credit: GCN!!)

The day didn't drag and I before long it was time to head to the main area for the official pre-race PBP meal. That hit the spot with good vegetarian option. I bumped into old friends from Audax Ireland including Eamon aka the Wild Atlantic Way Audax organiser who I hadn't seen since my epic 2016 ride when I finished the WAWA 2,100K event which nearly broke me. Great memories.

Food digested. Time to go back to the tent for final prep. My 17:15 start time was Group F which was the Special Bikes category. I was the only stand up bike at PBP this year. I was joined by recumbents, tandems, triple tandems, Bromptons, velomobiles - a weird and wonderful collection of eclectic bikes from around the world. Over 40 different nationalities taking part.

I thought I had tonnes of time but it never quite works out that way does it. Not for me anyway. A final test of my front light and it wasn't working! I'd tested it only a few hours before but now it wasn't turning on. The battery bank was fully charged and this was a light I'd used reliably for years. I'd brought an identical back up light for just this situation and tried that. It worked!! What a relief!! As it happened the other one did turn on too after 5 minutes or so but seemed less than 100% reliable now so I went with the back up one but took the spare too just in case.

I was still packing and unpacking a few bits to reduce what I needed to take and then the final change into my 'race outfit' and Team GB 2012 Olympic cycle jersey. I was trying to get changed this whilst two French men from the camper van opposite decided now was the perfect time to look at the ElliptiGO and ask me questions. I didn't have time! I needed to get sorted, dressed and fast. This distraction was not helpful. I should have already been at the final pre-bike check down the bottom of the hill. It was already gone 16:30 and fast approaching my start time. They eventually left me alone.

Upon taking off my socks my feet were dusty and dirty from two days of grime on the campsite. Damn it! I'd already stowed away my 'wet wipes' in the main bike back and didn't have time to unpack again. Okay time to go and see my new French friends opposite and ask them for some water to wash my feet. I explained in very poor French that I needed 'eau' and pointed to my feet. The chap got me a washing up bowl with some soapy water. Result. Then I figured this was actually their washing up bowl for food and stuff. They may not want my stinky English feet in it. So I sat on the grass and used my hands scooping up the water to wash my feet. Job done. Then they starting asking me about the ElliptiGO again. I worked out that they thought I was going to ride it 'barefoot' style! Definitely not and pointed to my trainers as I finished getting dressed. It was absolutely boiling and this last minute dash around didn't help. I bid my new French friends farewell and rushed down the hill with my fully laden RSUB.

Oh crap there's a lot more people and bikes here now. I saw the 'Cat F' sign and I headed straight for it. But I hadn't completed the pre-bike check and it was almost 5pm. Argh. Just 15 mins before I start. All the special bikes were already filing down to the start line and I had to go in the opposite direction for the bike inspection (lights and high vis vest check), plus get my Brevet card stamped for Rambouillet. The brevet card is your one vital piece of evidence that shows you've been through each control enroute. Without a stamp I wouldn't have an official start. I was now mixed in with all the Group G and H riders. I had to get past all of them and quick so I dashed up the inside. Seems my race had already started!. And of course the ElliptiGO was getting a lot of attention from cyclists and spectators alike as I passed them.

Eventually after a last minute panic I was on the start grid but placed at the very back with around 150 special bikes in front of me. I actually didn't mind this and was far happier to be here than at the front. Garmin track map loaded and timer screen was at the ready to be reset when the clock hit 17:15 for accurate pacing data. Minutes away now and people all wanting to take photos of the ElliptiGO. 

I made it to the start!

The ElliptiGO RSUB was getting a lot of attention 

Right at the back of the special bikes Group F start 

Carl was there to see me off as well as another friend Thomas from Germany who was starting the next morning at 5am with the 84hr starters. There were groups of approx 300 starting every 15 minutes between 4pm and midnight. That's the only sensible way to send off 6,500+ riders safely from Paris.

3, 2 , 1 and we were off!!! Whoop whoop!! Finally away after 8 months of intense training and qualifiers it now came down to the next 90 hours of open roads across Northern France and Brittany. I couldn't wait.

Rambouillet - Start - 20 Aug - 17:15

Just after the start enjoying the crowd support

The first section was 120KM to Mortagne-au-Perche. It was lovely open rolling countryside as I flew along with the sun blazing brightly in the clear blue sky. It was easily 30 degrees. It was such a relief just to be GOing. So much around these big rides is just the logistics, the planning and getting to the start line. In many right ways the riding is the easy bit, at least for now anyway!

I was passing some Cat F special bikes whilst Group G was soon on my tail flying past in peloton style with maybe 40+ riders all single file drafting one another. The speed of the peloton was too fast for me to latch onto so all I could do was let them go. I'd get many compliments about the RSUB stand up bike as riders passed me. For most this is the first time they've ever seen a stand up bike. It was amusing to see the looks of sheer astonishment on their faces as they passed. I never get bored of that.

Early on flying the flag for Team GB!

There was a slight headwind which whilst it wasn't affecting my pace it was still noticeable and perhaps meant I was putting in a little extra effort to maintain my target pace. I had uploaded each route section into my trusty Garmin eTrex so I could follow the route very easily even though it was very well sign posted with every turn clearly marked. And importantly I could track my average moving pace and distance to each control.

To be honest, I wasn't feeling great in the first 100KM and it did feel like a big effort especially when you still have over 1100KM still to ride. It seemed incomprehensible that I could maintain this level of effort for the next 3 days but all I could do was stay in the moment and ride what was in front of me. 

One of many lovely French villages

I arrived at the first (food only) control - Mortagne-au-Perche (120KM) at around 22:30 with an average pace of 23.3KPH (14.5 MPH). Time to eat! Being a vegetarian I was concerned about the food options, but I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a lot of choice. However meat eaters did have a lot more hot meal options than veggies

In my preparation I had factored in the amount of stopping time at each of the controls and allocated 45 minutes per control. Not that I would necessarily spend this long at every control, but knowing that over the course PBP you spend longer at the controls the further you go into the race. I was in and out of this control in under 30 minutes.

Heading into the first night

Next stop was Villaines la Juhel at 203KM. It was now dark and I had put on my mandatory PBP high vis vest. Without it on you can receive penalty time that gets added to your finish time. So everyone wore them. It was still very warm so I only had the high vis over my short sleeved jersey. I knew I would be riding straight through the first night. No one stops to sleep as everyone is looking to get in as much distance as possible especially when it is cooler. Seeing the long string of red tail lights far into the distance is a unique sight at PBP. It brings comfort knowing that you were not doing this alone surrounded by lots of like-minded randonneurs.

I was still putting in the same effort to maintain a pace over 23KPM and this would be my goal throughout the night and for as long as I could maintain it. The hills had now well and truly started. But the RSUB performs well on hills. The majority of PBP hills weren't steep though with gradients between 3-5%. I have upgraded my RSUB to make it lighter and perform better when it comes to smooth effortless gear changes. The upgrades: replaced steel rims with British built ZED carbon rims which float along like a dream! Replaced the low spec eight speed gears with a higher spec 12-speed Shimano XT cassette, derailleur and shifter (10T-52T tooth cassette), and replaced the cable disc brakes with high performing hydraulic Shimano disc brakes. All these upgrades were done with one goal in mind - to make it as comfortable as possible over longer distances.

After having a lot of fun on the hills passing many cyclists along the way I made it to Villaines la Juhel (203KM) at 02:29am. And it was my 45th birthday today!! 21 August. Eight years older than in my first PBP in 2015. Would those extra years mean I was less fit or capable... Hell no!!! This old man was just getting started. Haha. And what a way to celebrate a birthday doing the thing that I love most. I celebrated with more food! Fueling and hydration is the thing that people can get wrong on long multi day rides so it's absolutely essential to keep eating and drinking no matter what the time of day. You don't have breakfast, lunch and dinner. You just eat all the time at every opportunity to remain fueled especially with the calories I was burning on the RSUB.

Riding with USA Randonneur - Misch

Next stop was Fougeres at 298KM. I rode through the night still warm enough to keep on the short sleeve jersey. The hills continued as did the effort. Riders continued to past me on the flats at varying paces. I'd been doing this from the start looking for a group which was only riding perhaps 1-2 KPH faster than I was riding and tucking in behind or amongst the group to benefit from the extra speed, drafting and reduced drag without putting in much extra effort. I was on a stand up bike which was without any doubt the least aerodynamic bike on PBP. So I was being affected more than anyone else by the head and sidewinds and this was more noticeable on the flatter sections. So by tucking into these groups I could really benefit. And all the cyclists were trying to stay amongst a group to benefit. It's also more sociable and makes the time go faster especially at night when your world shrinks to the size of your front head beam.

But I was having to work hard and remain very focused to stay in these groups. If I let the bike in front of me open up a gap of just a few bike lengths it would be super difficult to close that gap. I'd have to sprint to close it as I'm totally exposed to the lack of aero efficiency of the RSUB. This became a game for me each time I joined a group and tried to stay in contact and it was fun and kept me occupied. Despite how fast and furious this sounds it was the most efficient way for me to maintain my relatively high target average moving pace of 23KPH. Trying to ride that pace on my own would have been a lot more difficult. However over the whole PBP I was probably riding with others in close proximity for only 5% of the total distance.

The sun still hadn't risen when I arrived at Fougeres at 300KM. It was 06:08am so I'd completed the distance in just under 13 hours. My quickest ever 300KM and what a way to celebrate my birthday. Brevet card stamped, followed by filling my two water bottles then getting into the queue for food. One concern at PBP with the sheer volume of riders is the queueing time for food which can really increase your stopped time and thus reduce your overall pace. However, I was pleasantly surprised and throughout PBP I didn't actually have to wait more than 10 minutes at a control. I think this was in part because I was maintaining a good pace so I was ahead of the main 'bulge'.

Driving forward 

So let's talk strategy - When was I planning to sleep and how long was I going to stop for? I decided to break up PBP into 4 parts of roughly 300KM per stage. Many riders will try and ride straight to Brest in one go covering over 600KM before they slept. This wasn't a sustainable strategy for me as I knew the toll that the RSUB would place on my body if I didn't rest. I had to be sensible and stop before 600KM otherwise that meant being awake for over 40 hours. So it made the most sense break it up into equal(ish) stages. The only downside to this strategy was the time of day that I would be sleeping. But this made far more sense than just sleeping when the sun went down as that didn't relate to the amount of effort put in or time spent on the bike. So I planned to sleep for 3 hours at three controls along the route. Tinteniac at 354KM was going to be the first of these controls which I arrived at on Day 2 at 10:02am.

Special bikes parking at Tinteniac control

Tinteniac was a lively control with hundreds of riders getting food and sorting themselves out. Another benefit of sleeping during the day is the availability of beds which wouldn't be an issue. The same cannot be said for the demand for beds at night which is purely first come first served. I paid my €10 for a bed and shower (inc disposable towel and foil blanket) and decided to sleep straight away and shower after. You can let the volunteer know what time you would like to be woken up and so I told them 2.5 hours later as I didn't want to be in the control longer than 3 hours total. The raised camp style beds were comfortable but it was very bright with lots of activity happening directly outside. I had brought an eye cover and ear plugs with me which helped to shut out the outside world but sleeping at this time is super hard no matter how long you have been awake for. I decided to get up before my planned wake up call. I'd been drifting in and out of very light sleep for about 1.5 hours and didn't think there was much more to be gained from doing the same for another hour. I'd rather be back on the road and making progress. A showered (which felt amazing!!) and got some food and was off. The sleep was effective and I felt re-energised and reset for Day 2 (proper).

Company is always very welcomes (photo credit: Cars Ten)

Next stop was Loudeac at 432KM. Setting off after midday it was now very warm easily in the high 20s. My pacing was right on plan and I was actually ahead of schedule because I'd spent less time at each control than planned. I don't remember any specific details about the next section to Loudeac other than to say that the hills certainly continued as did the long fast descents which were a lot of fun. I continued to play the game of cat and mouse getting amongst faster groups of riders whenever I could latching onto a rider and holding their wheel to maintain a high pace.

The Loudeac control (432KM) came and went arriving there late afternoon at 16:42. All the controls were so well organised and you have to take your hat off to the hundreds of volunteers who all gave up their time to support PBP. Without them such an event just would not be possible. Both them and the thousands of local French people that line the route from start to finish is what makes PBP so special. It wasn't just the controls where you could fill up your water bottles or grab something to eat. Families set up road side stalls with the children holding out water, often with coke, coffee and snacks also available. Just brilliant. So there was never any concern about running out of water even in the heat. That removed a lot of stress that can happen on multi day rides where you can find yourself in very remote place with zero access to any amenities, water or food.

Scenes typical of each control with the RSUB surrounded by intrigued onlookers

Flying the Breton flag (of Brittany)

There was a secret control point between Loudeac and Carhaix where you had to get your brevet card stamped. Job done and onwards to Carhaix (514KM) arriving at 21:12. The hills were now starting to drag and it was the next section between Carhaix and Brest where the hills were going to be the longest yet based on the route elevation profile. It was also a long 90KM section too which doubled with the hills would mean the toughest section so far. Setting out from Carhaix around 22:00 I rode into the darkness of the night towards Brest and half way mark.

The hills to Brest certainly didn't disappoint and matched the elevation profile to the letter. Still very ridable and the RSUB wasn't missing a trick performing brilliantly. It's rider was doing okay too :-) In comparison with other road bikes the RSUB isn't particularly light but in the ElliptiGO line-up with mine weighing under 14kg (unloaded) it feels light and nimble on the hills and very well balanced. I was asked many times by other riders how I can descend standing up which they saw as very difficult. I definitely gained confidence during this ride on the descents and the RSUB manages them very well.

Night clothing - you certainly can't miss me!

It was on the section to Brest though that I was starting to mentally tire, enjoying myself a little less and just wishing that these hills would end. Some people might think that because I was taking part in something I'm absolutely passionate about and have trained 8 months for that it's endless fun, joy and exhilaration all the way. But the reality of long distance riding is quite different. It's not all fun because it is very hard. And when it gets hard or monotonous you are inevitably going to experience some low points as well. But with experience of these types of rides, comes a recognition that when the low points do happen, acknowledge them for what they are, but do not let these moments drag your mood down to rock bottom. That can make the difference between a good ride, a great ride or indeed a bad ride. I was having a great ride so far but in these tougher moments it never feels that way and you find yourself questioning everything you are doing.

So where was I?... Oh yes, still going up that blasted long climb that would never end... Well it did end in the end (as they all eventually do) and I was rewarded at the top with a impromptu road side stop of excitable locals with hot coffee and snacks. Awesome! It was gone 1am and for these people to be out here at this time was just amazing. Experiencing such kindness from complete strangers lifts your mood immediately and in abundance. After answering questions about my saddleless bike which is always the topic of conversation whenever I stop anywhere I could enjoy the long fast descent into the night beyond with the moon shining the pathway ahead.

In the 2023 edition of PBP they had reversed the out and back section between Carhaix and Brest to 2015. In 2015 you crossed a large bridge on the approach to Brest which marked your arrival at the halfway point. This year the bridge was on the way out of Brest which was a lot less dramatic or appealing. In fact Brest at 2am in the morning riding through a dark industrial port town doesn't stir the emotions. However it was nice to be here no matter how drab it looked and how different I felt to the exhilaration I felt in 2015 upon the approach to Brest. The huge positive this year was that I arrived at Brest at 02:46am just 33.5 hours after the start in Rambouillet. At that very point I therefore had over 56 hours to make the return leg. But lets not get ahead of ourselves as I only had around 1 hour sleep in the last 40+ hours so sleep was the next priority.

The Brest control was absolutely rammed as I feared it would be. There were easily over 500+ bikes racked up with their owners all inside sleeping so there was no room at the inn. At least no proper beds. As I walked into the restaurant area there were bodies lying everywhere. I explored a bit further and found an unused industrial kitchen area where a few other riders were also hiding out the way. It was much darker, quieter and away from the throng of the crowds and the clutter from the restaurant. I lay down on the hard tiled floor using my cycle roll pack as a pillow and got some rest. Around 1.5 hours sleep in total. Not what I'd originally planned for but the conditions weren't really conducive to getting 3 hours of quality sleep. So I may do with what I got and headed for breakfast. I still felt revitalised and ready for the day ahead. It was still dark as I left the restaurant, packed up the bike, filled my water bottles and headed out just after 6:00a.m into the cooler morning air. I had my warmer long sleeve layer and the high vis vest. I left off my jacket which I had worn the previous night but was constantly overheating on the climbs in which was not pleasant.

These scenes were repeated at every control post Brest!

The big climbs continued for the next two sections between Brest back to Carhaix and then onto Loudeac. It was a far fresher morning with a cool mist hanging over the fields which was very welcome. I arrived at a secret control at 08:40am which was most welcomed and allowed for second breakfast. I demolished two pain au chocolats and had an expresso. Just 15 minutes stopped and something to break up the ride makes such a difference.

Carhaix came and went at 710KM (which was not the advertised 697KM) as the distance captured on my Garmin etrex GPS computer was further than the distances on the Brevet card. I was now into completely uncharted territory on the RSUB having never ridden more than 615KM (PBP pre-qualifier ridden in 2022) before. However I still felt good, the body was holding together and the legs weren't complaining yet. I didn't question it and just prayed that they would continue to co-operate all the way to the finish.

Still enjoying myself!

Day 3 was about getting as far as possible before sleeping. The target control was Fougeres at 938KM but that was a long way off and I still had a full afternoon and evening of riding ahead. Loudeac came and went at 742K which I reaches at 16:22. I was eating very similar food at a lot of the controls as it was tried and tested and was working for me. This consisted of a lot of egg salad, macaroni pasta with tomato sauce, and orangina. A dessert if on offer. I also found a vegan burger at one control too which was great. I can't remember where it was but I also ate at a French restaurant outside of the control as I just wanted something a bit different and a change of scenery. That really helped to reset and experience something different which provides a mental boost.

After Loudeac it was on to Quedillac at 852KM which was just a food stop. I bounced this control as I wanted to keep moving and rack up the miles. I was moving really well which after over 850KM banked on less than 3 hours sleep seemed too good to be true. It was onwards to Tinteniac at 880KM. As I mentioned before I was continuously doing the maths to see if I was still on target. I might as well come clean about what my actual goal target time was for PBP. Whilst the cut off was 90 hours I was actually aiming to complete it in sub 80 hours. Hence why I was trying to maintain a average pace of 23KPH for as long as possible. The two sections after Brest were slower and my average moving pace had dipped below 23KPH for the first time on the ride. This was inevitable though so I tried to not let it concern me. At the pace I was still maintaining at this point I would still be able to get back to Rambouillet in sub 80 hours.

I arrived at Tinteniac (880KM) at 22:08 some 8 hours ahead of when I arrived here back in 2015 and I was in a lot better state this time around. The old guy was still winning :-) However it was still a hard day of riding to get here I was pretty spent. The lack of sleep was probably starting to effect my pace more as the distance continued to climb. But I wasn't drowsy and was fully with it. As was the plan I wanted to reach Fougeres for my final sleep stop which was the next control. This meant heading back out into the night and tacking yet more hills and a 70KM section. This section was probably one of the toughest mentally to get through. Time seems to be standing still for the first time on the ride.

PBP brevet card

I continued to look for riders that I could link up with and hang on to at their pace and that was the game I played all the way to Fougeres which had the added benefit of keeping me more mentally alert than if I'd just tried to ride alone at a slower pace. I reached Fougeres (950K) at 01:44am in the morning. This was a pivotal moment in my ride. I just knew that the next day was the final effort back to Rambouillet. I wasn't taking anything foregranted and the last 280KM was still a long way but it was within touching distance. The best news was that beds were available. YES!!!!. This was my final sleep stop and I could really do with a solid 2-3 hours of quality sleep. I managed 2 hrs. Lots of loud snoring around me but I fell asleep quickly and when I got the tap on my shoulder at 05:30am I was sound asleep. It was quality sleep and just what I needed for the final push to Rambouillet. 

Back on the road the excitement was building in my mind as I continued to do the maths. Sub 80 hours meant I had to finish before 01:15am the next day. So leaving Fougeres around 6am I had 19.5 hrs to complete 280KM. I'd completed the first 300KM of PBP in under 14 hours so this was very doable. My attention now turned to doing everything as efficiently as possible throughout the day. Minimising my stopping time at the controls and riding in the same style as I had done for the whole ride. My cadence on the RSUB was still very fluid. It's very easy when you get tired on the RSUB to find the circular motion stuttering badly mid-motion with a clunk clunk of the pedals. It becomes far less efficient and no fun. But so far so good and I now had my eye firmly set on Villaines la Juhel at 1040KM.

It was warm out 🥵

I rode through the morning enjoying this celebration of cycling that the locals turn it into. You can't downplay just how beneficial the support is along the entire route. The locals love this event and really support you like you are family. I never got tired of acknowledging them all and saying thank you "Merci' to everyone person I passed. And I must admit that I felt like a minor celebrity on the stand up bike as the attention it receives never stopped.

Villaines la Juhel is the party capital of PBP. A town that comes out in full force every four years to have a full on street party. The main run-in to the control is a straight road through the heart of town. I remember it vividly from 2015 when my friend Andy Nuttall and I were asked to do an interview with the commentator such was the attention that the ElliptiGOs were drawing that year. This year as I approached the control the commentator was on the loud speaker sounding full of excitement and stirring up the crowds. I don't speak much French so didn't know what he was saying but when I stopped to park up to the applause of the spectators an Irish rider who understood pointed out that they had been speaking about me and the crazy stand up bike for the past few minutes. I won't lie when I say it's so nice to get that recognition for something you have worked so hard to achieve. I'd ridden over 1000KM on an RSUB further than myself or anyone else had done and my ride was going to plan. Almost too well in fact that I was in disbelief about it all just pinching myself and trying to take it all in.

I'm surprisingly getting quite emotional now just recollecting the feeling I was experiencing at that moment as I write this. So bloody proud and so silly how much it means to me. It's just a bike race! Lol.

The food at Villaines la Juhel was just what I needed. I hadn't had too much hot food during PBP but I was after something substantial to set me up for the final day of riding. At first it wasn't looking too promising as I walked into a bare restaurant and all of the options seems to be cold snacks only. That didn't seem right for such a major control so I asked a young volunteer nearby whether there was any hot food. A young boy about my son's age was promptly ushered over to assist me and led me over to a different restaurant area across the other side of the road. The young boy (part of a French scout group or similar) insisted on carrying my tray and food and led me to a huge hall which must have had seating for 500 plus people. But at this time there was hardly anyone there at all. I sat down and ate and struck up a conversation with a UK rider who sadly had abandoned the race due to a heavy fall off into ditch and possible fractured ribs along with a black eye. Despite all this he was upbeat and in good spirits which epitomises the positive spirit of PBP. 

This was definitely my longest food stop to date but it was needed and I was still out within the 45 minute window that I'd factored in for each stop. I can't remember what I ate but I can recall the wholesome sense of satisfaction I felt from that meal. It was spot on. 

There were just two controls left to go now - Mortagne-au-Perche at 1100KM and Dreux at 1185K. The day was shaping up nicely but it also promised to be the hottest day of PBP. So whilst the remaining distance wasn't too unnerving there was still work to do.

The hills slowly started to taper off in the afternoon as my PBP reached it's climax across the flatter wide open landscape and corn fields that you could actually smell roasting under the intense heat of the sun. The wind that had been with us since Brest was still whirling around making you fully aware of the effort required to keep pushing on. But perhaps it wasn't the wind but the fact because I'd been riding for 3 days on a stand up bike approaching 1,100KM in the legs. I think in hindsight that would better explain how I was feeling at that exact moment as I battled against the stifling heat. 

There were far fewer cyclists around me now. No big groups of riders anymore but just solo riders and the occasional twos and threes sticking it out together. On occasion I would get in close and ride with them when I could but as the terrain was flatter this widened the speed difference between a road bike and the RSUB making it harder to maintain their speed without putting in a massive effort. By this stage of the game chasing down riders and trying to stick with them wasn't necessary. I was just riding my own pace to the finish which was still above 21KPH as I continued to do the maths for my finish time which kept me fully motivated.

I'd also keep reminding myself to keep my pedal motion smooth and consistent. Keep good posture and a straight back and drive from the core. It hadn't let me down yet and showed no signs of doing so. When you get tired on the RSUB your form goes out the window and so does your speed and because of poor form you are then more prone to niggles in the hip, knees or foot pain. I'd avoided this so far. 

I reached Mortagne-au-Perche (1,110KM) at 15:50. The control was a very welcome restbite from the heat. It was a large school (like several of the controls) with a big cafeteria and again had great food on offer with super friendly volunteers. My appetite was good. I was burning all the fuel that was going in and I kept the quality of the food high. I didn't waste time and again kept the whole control from arrival to leaving to around 30 minutes. I had just 120KM left to ride now. Nothing was very likely to change now and I pushed on into the continued heat of the afternoon toward the final control at Dreux. 

This section was super flat in comparison with the rest of PBP and was welcomed only because my focus now was to ride as quickly as possible to the finish. This close to the finish I knew baring disaster that I was going to come in well under 80 hours. The only question that remained was how much under could I go.

Riding the flats

There was a bunch of other riders that I rode with for sections to Dreux which passed the time. One of those riders was Dan from England who I bumped into many times throughout PBP. We never rode for miles and miles together but the time we shared was great. Dan was a super chilled rider never seemingly in a hurry and wasn't concerned about pace or finish times. Interestingly he was the only rider who started on the same Special Bikes start (Cat F) as me but was on a conventional bike. He was registered to ride his 3-wheeled trike but an injury and reduces training time caused him to switch to a standard bike. I presume a trike is like the ElliptiGO in that it's a harder mode of travel and slower mainly due to its weight. Dan was great company like all the people that I spoke to and shared this adventure with. Big shout out too to the trio from Spain who I rode with. Super cool lads.

I split from Dan before Dreux as I wanted to push on a bit faster and make use of the nice flat terrain. The wind was also behind us too for the first time in PBP. Well better late than never I suppose! I reached Dreux (1187KM) at 20:00 in the evening. There was some confusion with the chef who was making omelettes. I asked for a 3 egg omelette as he asked me how many but then he just started frying 3 eggs instead. He had just made an omelette for the previous guy so quite why he thought I wanted fried eggs and not an omelette is a mystery. I said "non, omelette"... He looked at me all confused and then started whipping up the fried eggs in the pan. Haha what a mess. Seconds later he was dishing up the eggs (cos I definitely wouldn't call it an omelette) onto the plate. They weren't in there for more than a minute tops! I got charged €9 for it too with a drink and Paris Brest dessert cake. Pricey! But with just 45KM to go I wasn't too concerned now about fueling and had enough inside me to GO the distance. Meal (of sorts) finished, water bottles filled for the very last time it was onwards to Rambouillet heading out just before 8:30pm.

The departure from Dreux was filled with drama. More so than the entire PBP put together. Firstly it was definitely the most urban of any places we'd been through with tonnes of traffic lights which were a rare sight on the PBP route. Being thrust back into urban riding was a shock to the system. There were police sirens going off here, there and everywhere and a general feel that we'd suddenly rocked up in someone else's yard. But after less than 10 minutes we were out of the urban sprawl and back onto country roads. But that wasn't the drama I spoke of. This was due to my front light which is powered off a 20,000 mAh battery bank. I wasn't expecting it to last the entire ride and I had a second fully charged battery bank which was a recent purchase. I tested it at home and it seemed totally fine with my front light which has a USB-A style cable that can connect to any external battery bank. But something wasn't right and the light kept switching off without warning after a minute or two. And I couldn't just switch it back on with a press of the button on the light or the battery bank. Instead I had to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable from the battery bank every time to power up the light. This wasn't too easy whilst on the move and was more than anything else just an annoying distraction as I only had about 2 hours of riding left to go. The real concern though was the light switching off without warning on a fast descent that would plunge me into total and immediate darkness later on. I could see a couple of riders further ahead up the road on a long gradual climb so I decided my best choice to minimise any fuss and having to stop and dig out a spare head torch was to catch up to them and stick behind them in close quarters. I would benefit from their light if mine suddenly switched off and I would also have some company on the final section too. It was a great final section too. Once we crested the top of a steady climb we were onto the top of a flat plateau where we rode for many KMs. I rode with a chap from Belgium (I think) who seemed happy enough for me to stick to his wheel. I explained the situation with my light which was now working again at this point and hadn't switched off for quite a while. I'd been playing around with the three different USB ports on the battery bank and also the three brightness settings on my light. It seemed that if I kept the light on the brightest setting then the light stayed on. That was the fix. Phew I could stop stressing about it now and start enjoying the ride again.

I stayed in the wheel of the Belgium rider for a while longer until we rode into a small village. The road surface became very rough which was very out of character for the PBP route which had some really amazing smooth roads throughout. I hit a hole and my front light slid out of its mount. It was still attached via the USB cable and I tried to slide it back into the mount without stopping but I couldn't locate it correctly so I had to stop. It became apparent that the force of the jolt had broken the plastic light mount causing the light to slide straight out.

But before I could think about my next move some local Frenchmen came running over to help. I pointed to my light and held it up and showed them what had happened and they understood my predicament straight away. The French man shouted "Scotch" to his friend who went running off to fetch some super strong Scotch tape. He was back within seconds. Amazing. He handed me the roll of Scotch tape and before long we had successfully affixed the light to the mount and handlebar. It definitely wasn't going anywhere. Great job!! They later posted photos on the PBP Facebook page of the moment Patrick came running over to me and posted these photos below to the page. and I was able to thank them personally. Just brilliant. And away I went. Two lighting issues fixed in quick succession and I was just praying now that I could get to the finish without any more drama.

Patrick to the rescue with the Scotch tape!!

Might not look pretty but it ain't budging!

I remembered this last section pretty well from the 2015 edition. Once down off the plateau the route wound through a forest and then there was a long steady gradual climb up through the forest. I had two other riders baring down behind me and this just triggered me to push the pace. I didn't want them to pass me and I was just having some fun. So I absolutely buried myself into the climb and flew up as fast as I possibly could. I was pretty sure this was the last climb of PBP too so didn't mind using up all my credits :-). I crested the top of the climb and emerged out of the forest. But there was still more riding to be done including another long steady climb into Rambouillet. But luckily I hadn't burnt all my matches and at this point when you know the end is in sight the body just lets you do what you need to finish. Mentally all my senses were in hyper alert mode and I felt fresh. Just crazy.

After a small descent to a roundabout two PBP volunteers pointed us through an iron gateway and up a pathway into the grounds of Rambouillet chateau parc. A short climb and a left turn and there was the finish line immediately ahead. Boom! Job done. PBP complete. I crossed the finish line just after 22:30. My finish time was 77 hours 15 minutes and 27 seconds. Over 10 hours quicker than my 2015 time on the ElliptiGO long stride and the fastest PBP completion on a stand up bike. 

I actually had about the same amount of sleep as 2015 but how I felt was totally different. In 2015 the second half was like cycling half asleep. Even before Brest I was falling asleep on the bike in 2015. This year my sleep and pacing strategy was spot on. The percentage time spent off the bike versus riding was actually the same as in 2015. 75% riding and 25% stopped. But the increased average pace on the RSUB shaved 10 hours off. It's very rare that a plan on paper will work out exactly as you want it to on the road but that's exactly what happened. I came in 2.75 hours under my dream target time. My final average moving pace was 21.5KPH.

One very happy stand up biker!!

Roll n Roll all the way to the finish !!

F128 calling for duty and my shiny PBP medal

New PBP jersey worn with pride!! And I shaved!!!

Rambouillet - PBP Finish 2023

20 - 23 Aug 2023


77 hours, 15 minutes and 27 seconds

HUGE THANKS TO ELLIPTIGO INC, USA. Bryan, Brent, Keri and the whole team are absolutely amazing!! My gratitude to you all for allowing us to dream BIG!!! 

Friends Carl Matthews who I traveled over with and Thomas from Germany both successfully completed PBP too. Amazing!!! Huge congrats to them both.

Official PBP photos.

Sunday 29 May 2022

Cyclete ride and Bottom Bracket installation

This is a long post but I hope its provides insight, knowledge and a new found appreciation of the Cyclete with a few laughs along the way. Photos to accompany the story ☺️ 

This was a Cyclete ride with two goals - hit over 200K and fit a new bottom bracket (BB) on the Cyclete at half way. I think changing the BB was definitely the more ambitious part of the plan 😝 but I would be ablely assisted by friend Andy who has the know-how and the tools for the job. For context the reason for want to install a new BB was because I was 90%+ sure that the existing one was the source of constant creaks, clicks and squeaks that I could hear on every ride recently. I spoke to Steven about it and got his valuable advice. But as Steven said its always hard to be 100% certain and identify where sounds originate from. However I thought it was definitely worth it and the BB is a part that will definitely wear over time and it is not expensive. I picked it up for £18. BB's are not indestructible and are a replaceable standard bike component for a reason. Water ingress can be the main culprit. I have some big rides planned for this summer so I need my Cyclete to be in tip-top condition.

The new and old bottom brackets are pictures. You can see the corrosion on the old BB. Note  I own the original Cyclete. The BB in the new Cyclete is redesigned with a wider profile.

I rode 67 miles (107K) to Andy's house north of where I live in the South of England. I set off at 5am and arrived just after 10:30. Not bad. It was a wonderful ride with smooth country roads plus the highlight -  a 15 mile off road trail called the Brampton Valley Way which is an old disused railway line. It cut through the English countryside and offered great views and was a blast to ride. The Cyclete crusied along taking it all in its stride.

After a cuppa and good catch up with Andy it was down to business to install the new BB. It took some time to get the old one off but we managed it in the end. Note to others that might be brave enough to try this themselves. You do need specialist tools and you also need to be aware that the threads on the left side and right side turn in opposite directions. To loosen both sides you need to turn them in the opposite direction to the pedal stroke. So on the right side the pedal stroke is clockwise so to loosen you need to untighten anti-clockwise. And on the left side its clockwise to loosen.

Now the fun really begun because to replace the BB you have to take off the front chain ring and sprocket for the belt drive, the belt and the running gear is detached too. TOP TIP: Learn from our mistake!!.. Take a photo of exactly how everything is aligned on your Cyclete BEFORE you remove anything because as Steven will tell you it matters ALOT!!!! More on this later 🤪

With the new shiny Shimano BB installed it was time to reassemble the belt drive, chain ring, and running gear. Okay Andy so this should be easy right!! 😬 We just have to put everything back on to how it was.... But how was it exactly!? Andy mentioned that he was concerned about the phasing of the tear drop pedal stroke and that it might not be as easy as we thought to refit. So anyway we bolted it all back on and I went for a ride.... OH DEAR!!! 😫 ... Andy was right! Something was most definitely not right. Everything was so out of whack making it almost unrideable. The forward and back stroke was misaligned to the lift of my foot and heal. It felt so odd!!! Like I was going forward but felt like the pedal stroke was in reverse!

We didn't panic. Stay calm! We can figure this out. That's when Andy had a bright idea. Did I have a  photo of the Cyclete showing the running gear and alignment. Haha yes I've got tonnes of pics on my phone of my Cyclete (I'm sure we all do right!!! ☺️) so one of these must give us a good view of the running gear and the exact set-up and alignment of the rear drive arms, the pedal cranks and positioning of the footplates.  BINGO! I found one I took on the ride at the start which showed it clearly. We examined the alignment in the photo and then compared it to how we had fitted it all back on. Oh yes it looked different! Photos show this. Even being a little bit out makes a big difference to the Cyclete's tear drop motion. This really gave me a new found appreciation of just how complex and intricate the running gear movement and design is to get that perfect motion. This stuff is on the same level as the Theory of Relativity!! Steven Ascher shares his name with Stephen Hawkins for a reason right!! 😜

So we studied the photo and looked at the key angles and mirrored the set up carefully reassembling all the parts. And remember too I was doing all this to get rid of the creaking and clicking so I was just as excited to find out if it was indeed the BB that was responsible for these mysterious sounds. 

But this time when we tried to turn the running gear in a stationary position it wasn't even moving!! The rear wheel wouldn't move at all despite me lifting it off the ground. What had we done differently!? This was a real head scratcher. Andy then casually said "it's just like the brake is on" ... 😆🤣 Haha oh yeah I had my hand firmly applying the rear brake!! 😆🤣 what a dummy!! Once we stopped our belly laughing we rolled the Cyclete out for test ride number 2 🤞🤞🤞 

I climbed aboard and rolled down the driveway onto the road and started to pedal. PERFECTION!! We had done it! ✅ Not only was the stride feeling great and silky smooth it was also completely silent!!! 👍🤩☺️ YAAAASSSSSS!! I was so happy. No creaks, no clicks, no squeaks. Just poetry in motion. And we had done it all ourselves. 

I had another 107KM to ride home again to enjoy the Cyclete experience. This time a much quieter one! But not before I thanked Andy by going out for lunch to a local English pub for burgers, chips and cookie dough ice cream. The perfect day!!

Side note: Steven - Can you study the final photo of my Cyclete and the alignment and confirm that we have got it correct? Andy thought we might potentially still be one notch out on the belt drive sprocket? And when I rode home the climbs felt slightly harder but I couldn't be sure if this in my head or because I have created a faster 'Cyclete Flatlander'!