We’ve mostly gotten to know Jeff Bauer of Nashville from his tandem riding with Mary Crawley, a regular at the D.C. Randonneurs rides. They rode PBP on tandem four years ago and BMB before that.
This year, Jeff reprised his fixed gear team Race Across America feat of strength by riding PBP on fixed, again with some of his pals from the Nashville scene. Jeff has written up his ride, describing the highs and lows of sticking to one ever-spinning cog to Brest and back, all in under 74 hours.
Thanks for your story Jeff!
My 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris ride was meant to be maintenance-free, because I had elected to ride it on my fixed-gear bike. Through a series of somewhat comic mishaps, I’d had more mechanical problems than my previous two PBP rides (2003, 2007) combined.
Actually four of us who’d participated in the Natchez Trace 1000K ride last year (Kevin Kaiser, Tim Carroll, Steve Philips and I) formed a mutual suicide pact to ride Paris-Brest-Paris on our fixed-gear bikes. As part of our training, we each rode a complete brevet series fixed: 200K, 300K, 400K, 600K. The hills we climbed on these rides would be much tougher than anything we’d
encounter in France.
My first indication that all would not be free of mechanicals occurred one week prior to our PBP departure. On a 200K night ride, I managed to wrap my chain around the rear cog on a descent, locking up the rear wheel and skidding downhill on the edges of the wheel rim. A new wheel was built around the Surly hub, but no time was left to put enough miles on it and retension the spokes.
5am at the 84-hour start, Tim, Kevin and I waited in the infield bleachers, determined to be the last riders out the gate. We wore matching “Gran Fondo Fixie” jerseys, somewhat obscured by our reflective vests. A light rain started just before we began our ride, guaranteeing wet roads, so I was happy that I’d made a late decision to install fenders. At the back of the pack, the riding was muted and we could gradually worked our way up groups of slower riders, becoming easier in the daylight hours. We received compliments from other riders on our decision to ride PBP fixed.
About 25 kilometers before we reached Mortagne-Au-Perche, we stopped at a Tabac and caged a free top-off on our water bottles. This would save us time bypassing the first optional control, since we had plenty of food to last until Villaines-La-Juhel (220 Km). Unfortunately, we’d gotten used to following the riders ahead of us instead of scouting for the well-placed signs pointing toward Brest. The net result is we’d added 6-7 bonus miles, in addition to lost time checking our the cue sheets to get us back on route. Not an auspicious start on our first leg.
With more wary eyes, we made it into Villaines in good time. I stopped at a market just before the control to buy some bananas, meeting Tim and Kevin at the bike racks. We were soon on the road again, under grey and drizzling skies.
Inbound into Fougeres, my wheels slid on a round-about and my front wheel bumped into a curb. Aside from minor abrasions, no damage to myself or the bike. Tim assisted me in changing my tire, then we waited together in an automated bank enclosure for the heavy downpour to pass through.
We regrouped with Kevin down the road, though well before Loudeac I was riding mostly without Tim and Kevin. At some point in the ride, we were experienced different energy levels and it’s better for me to ride at my own pace.
As the day wore on, I experienced a second flat, then discovered that my CO2 device had jammed. My backup hand pump got me going until I arrived at the next control where I could borrow a floor pump. I also got the mechanic to un-jam the CO2 inflater with his bike clamp.
I rode into Loudeac with the DC tandem couple Ed and Mary. We had problems with other riders crowding around the tandem, even though we weren’t going fast enough for there to be any draft advantage. I stopped in Loudeac long enough to eat some hot food and replace tubes/cartridges from my drop bag. Got the mechanic to un-jam my cartridge inflater.
More hard rain, but kept on moving through the night to Carhaix. At 450 Km, many people make Loudeac their first sleep break, but I prefer to keep on riding and bank extra time. I swallowed my first Expresso Gu of the ride, then stopped to take a roadside nap while waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
An hour later my front wheel got squishy again and I’d determined something in the tire was causing a slow leak. After spending some fruitless time examining the tire with my fingers for debris, I swapped it with my spare tire. Once again in Carhaix, I got a mechanic to un-jam my CO2 with a clamp, then purchased a replacement cartridge and tube. He did not have any spare tires for sale, however.
Leaving the muddy field of Carhaix in the daylight was invigorating as I was looking forward to climbing up Roc Trevezel. I took off my vest and arm warmers for the climb, but it was cool and misty and I might as well had left them on. On top of the Roc it was foggy and impossible to see anything, but I fulfilled my promise to Peter Lee by spreading the ashes of our late friend and PBP ancien of 2007. Jeff Sammons would spread another container of Peter’s ashes later in the day.
The route took a slightly different approach to the Brest control compared to years past. In Brest, I started a standard ritual of drinking a Coke, a beer (non-alcoholic, preferred) and grabbing a ham sandwich to go. This seemed to get carbs, caffeine, and liquid back into my system quickly, while giving me time to casually nosh on a chewy sandwich at my leisure. I left Brest in a light shower, but soon the sun appeared through the clouds.
On the way out of Brest, I rode with a couple of fixed-gear Brits, geared lower than me (48×17), but who could spin like crazy downhill. One of them, Ashley, asked if I’d seen an antique bike with wooden rims. This was his father, Drew Buck, who’d also ridden a crazy two-gear antique in 2007 (Onion Johnny). I also spent a happy hour with a Belgium rider discussing Coen Brothers movies — he’d seen them all.
On the way to Carhaix, I ran into Tom Gee, a fellow Tennessee randonneur and six-time PBP ancien, currently riding his 7th! We agreed to ride through the night back to Loudeac together. On the route we passed a group of Florida riders (Tim, Lisa and Larry) and slowed down to ride a while in their company. About halfway back to Loudeac, we stopped at an outside cafe. I wasn’t hungry, but Tom agree to eat quickly an get back on the road. Tim, Lisa, and Larry were riding at a more leisurely pace, but I wanted to get back to Loudeac, where I could take a decent sleep break.
About this time my main generator light stopped working. I had a spare LED Cateye, but it just put out enough light to be barely legal. Tom Gee was kind enough to allow me to ride in his wake, so I didn’t lose much time on our way to Loudeac. On the way I talked Tom into staying with me the hotel shared by Jeff Sammons. Fortunately we met Jeff departing the control just a we were walking to the hotel, so there was no problem of occupying the same room together. After a shower, a nap and a quick breakfast, Tom and I rode through the pre-dawn hours toward Tinteniac, arriving an hour after daylight.
Although our plan was to ride out together, we somehow missed each other in the crowd an rode separately. At first I was a bit sluggish, then picked up enough to hop on a fast peloton.
Although I didn’t think I could keep pace on my fixed-gear bike, somehow the two previous days of riding had loosened my legs to spin fast enough not to get dropped in the short descents. Most of this section was flat to rolling anyway, and the paceline work kept my mind off my saddle discomfort.
Rolling into Fougeres was fortuitous as I encountered Kevin Kaiser who generously loaned me his backup light, a powerful DiNotte running off of 4 AA batteries. I intend to make this my next backup light. I also ran into Tim Carroll. Each of them offered to ride with me, but I didn’t want to have them wait up for me. I wasn’t sure where and when I was going to stop (for sleep or otherwise) and felt I would frustrate anyone who wanted to ride together. Also, at this point nobody is riding alone during PBP.
On the way to Villaines, I rode with a German rider, swapping stories about previous PBP rides. Tim Carroll stopped me at a village, offering me frozen ice cream on a stick — a perfect ride treat. Upon arriving at Villaines, I saw Steve Phillips for the first time along with Tim Carroll. They both offered to ride with me, but I was not very coherent. With only 220K left, there’s a tendency to think of Villaines as “almost finished”. I knew I was already pretty far into sleep debt and might have to take multiple roadside naps to finish safely.
Most of the ride to Mortagne-Au-Perche was a blur. I rode in with a 90-hour Austrian who wanted to carry on a conversion, but his limited English was hurting my brain. He wanted to ride out together; I needed a break from the mental activity of trying to converse with him. After the ride Jeff Sammons, David Rudy and Steve Phillips claimed I stopped by and said hello, but I have absolutely no recollection of seeing them there.
There’s some tough climbing out of Mortagne and it wasn’t unusual to see some tired riders slumped over their bars. I probably took at least one sleep break on the way to Dreux. Once again, I went through my routine of ordering a Coke, a beer (though I had to convince the volunteer they stocked ‘Sans Alcohol’) and a sandwich. It was chilly leaving Dreux. I knew I couldn’t make it all the way to the finish without another sleep break, but for some reason didn’t want to take a nap in the Dreux control.
Only 40 miles left, but twice I got off the bike to take roadside naps. With 25 Km left in the ride, I heard an ominous clicking noise from the rear drive train. Please don’t let it be the bottom bracket, thinking of Bill Glass’s ruined 1000K last year. I checked the drive train, rear wheel spokes and chain, but could find no obvious problem. As I was riding fixed, there was no way to gear down and relieve the tension. Once I saw a 10Km sign, my anxiety was over. I knew I could walk the final 6 miles of the ride if necessary. Afterwards in the daylight, Steve Phillips noticed a fracture in my bike chain. A single chain plate had kept me riding through the final miles of PBP.
Total mechanical frustrations:
– 3 flats
– 1 tire
– main bike light on second night
– bike computer failure
– CO2 inflator jammed
– fractured chain
Final time: 73h34m
Despite the heavy rains of the first day and various mechanical issues, I had a great ride. Everywhere I stopped, people where most complimentary on my effort to ride PBP fixed, probably not aware there were dozens of other riders similarly provisioned.
I’m not sure what bike I’ll be riding, but I fully intend to be back in France in 2015. Until then, Bon Chance!