Should I do PBP?

Interestingly, this isn’t a straight, “yes”! But it’s a “probably”.
I’d like to go over some of the unglamorous sides to the ride, just to help anyone who is trying to make a decision.

It is a One-of-a-Kind Event

I’ve done multiple ~1200km rides now, and there cannot be anything like Paris-Brest-Paris. The history of the event, the amount of roadside cheers and support from the people of France are unparalleled. No matter your speed or country of origin, they are encouraging, helpful, and present.

Everyone talks about the event, it’s entrenched in the history of the sport, and it is indeed the reason why most randonneur clubs exist. And of course, it is one of the oldest cycling events that still runs.

You will meet so many international riders. You’ll learn about adventures to get there, you’ll experience the atmosphere before an after such a huge event, and it’s really an experience in and of itself.

It is Expensive

No two ways about it. If you’re considering riding PBP here’s the things I’d consider budgeting for:

  • Travel
    This may seem obvious, but consider that your travel is not just flying out of the country, but also will contain: bike boxing, transport to and from the airport, travelling to and from the start of the ride
    I detail some of this in my other post.
  • Accomodation
    You can of course, do this on the cheap, looking for an AirBNB or Warmshowers accomodation. Many clubs, however, will stay in a hotel as a group. This has a huge social aspect to it and can really help your ride (especially if you need spare parts or have trouble with your bike!). So I would plan this into your budget, even if the place is pricier than you would normally choose (within reason). Expect around 90-140€ per night in a hotel.
  • Food
    In France, not much is open during August. As you plan, you might see many restaurants on the internet, only to arrive where you are and see signs on the doors of them all, “back at the end of august”.
    You can eat a lot of grocery store food (Carrefour, Auchon, Utile), but you will have to eat at restaurants if you don’t have a kitchen. Those are 17-30€ per dinner. Ouch!
    Lunch is far more reasonable prospect as most bakeries will offer sandwiches, as with the grocery stores.
    I’d recommend looking into a hotel with included breakfast too when possible, as there can be some great hotel breakfasts! (and the prices are far better than once you arrive). If this isn’t your jam, amusingly, most grocery stores will sell cutlery and knives for quite reasonable prices and of high quality. You can then eat in your hotel 🙂
  • Improvements to your bike setup
    There’s always going to be a little thing here or there that might come up, so I’d always recommend saving a couple extra hundred dollars for bike parts/accessories the year before such a big event. Maybe a new bike computer, shoes, something of the like.
  • Clothing
    Yes, you might want new shorts/jackets during the year, but you 100% will want to save some money for whatever PBP jersey there is for that year. This might just be your club’s, but it may also be the official PBP jersey.
  • The ride itself
    Okay, so this is a bit obvious, but I also brought 200€ with me on the ride for food at the controls and any accidental accomodation/taxi/trains I had to purchase.
  • Two and a half seasons of Randonneuring
    I say this explicitly, because it’s not just PBP you have to plan for. You will want to complete a randonneur series the year before PBP to ensure you get a good pre-registration time (see my other post), and you must complete a series the year of PBP. If something goes wrong and you miss a ride during the series on PBP year, you have to have the time-off and budget to be able to travel somewhere else and do a series. This is easily overlooked, and might be impossible due to cost during the actual PBP year, so save some cash for that!
    Then of course, you may want to do some more rides leading up to the event as training.
  • A new drivetrain
    Maybe I’m paranoid, but I always change my chain, cassette and cables, along with my brake pads and tires, before a 1200km brevet. I do ride at least 100kms on this setup to make sure it’s okay, but the last thing I want during a 1200 is for any of my drivetrain to crap out.
    Oh and do yourself a favour and change your clipless cleats before the ride!

Is it the new Cycling Everest?

I hadn’t heard this expression until PBP 2019, but it was certainly beginning to feel like an extremely popular experience (well, 6600 people is a lot!).
The amount of people in fancy Rapha gear, carrying minimal items, who clearly were stopping at hotels and having drop bags and control support was quite amazing. As someone who values the sport for what it is as an individual’s self-supported adventure, what I saw was a bit of a turn off.

Despite having done London-Edinburgh-London in 2017, which sees thousands of riders as well, something about PBP gave it less of an intimate feel, and the masses of riders descending upon Rambouillet, the start town, was quite a spectacle. On the roads too, the crowds of riders you pass are so massive, if you’re not one for large events, this may be worth a miss from you.

It’s probably not the Randonneuring you Know

I’ve alluded to this up until this point, but I’ve never really expressed my feelings on this.
To me, Randonneur Cycling is a beautiful expression of cycling – a great physical challenge that tests any participant, with no victor save yourself. The fast riders are celebrated no more than those who take the full time limit, both facing their own struggles to complete the distances. You can ride on any bike you wish and follow any number of strategies to complete a ride. The emphasis is on self-sufficiency and the individual, with the occasional stop being supported when communities come together to help out. There’s also a navigational aspect to the riding—following a route through day and night, which requires its own strategy and knowledge to conquer.

Paris-Brest-Paris is… different. The French really celebrate the racing aspect of it, talking much about the fast riders, highlighting those who complete the course quickly, and really creating a buzz around the “front pack”.
Support happens mostly at the controls, but there are so many riders it’s hard to police the large amount of riders who appear to get supported outside of the controls.
Navigation is largely unnecessary, with reflective arrows marking the route ahead. Although there are sleep areas provided, they can prove inferior due to noise, comfort, volunteer forgetfulness as compared to booking one’s own hotel.

These differences may not necessarily be totally bad. They may only barely affect your ride – or not at all. But for me, they were enough to make me pause and think about what this event was as compared to the rest of the sport.

To conclude my musings, if there’s anything I want you to take away, I’ll reiterate, it is that you need to plan for doing extra rides in case something happens during pre-PBP qualification. You need to budget lots for travel, and that this event is unlike any other you’ll ride or have ridden. Good luck with the decision!
As always, if you have thoughts to add or comments, throw them below!

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