Why do people go back time after time? Largely because of the atmosphere, I would think (see other posts and pages); and because of the challenge. But also, and importantly, because it’s a ride that can be ridden in many different ways — and so be different things to different people. (And if you catch bad weather, it must very different …) For me, a first-timer, the key thing was to get around. Looking back, and looking forward, I can also imagine trying to see how quickly one could do it; or doing it and enjoying stopping off to eat and drink at bars and restaurants, taking little bits of time out to have a look around some of the villages. Riding it supported would also make for a different ride; or riding with a partner.
1 The Bike
[Note: I found Marcusjb’s list of stuff really helpful. This is more of the same, and it would be worth reading his thoughts first. He’s got some very useful pages for people thinking of doing PBP.]
I found out on the Bryan Chapman Memorial that I really didn’t have enough space, so I attached a few things to the frame: waterproof top, trousers, and a spare inner. Putting the waterproofs on the frame has worked really well, even for day to day. Just having them ready to put on makes a difference. They’re attached by Velcro elasticated straps (which are great).
The saddlebag is a Carradice Junior — 9l — with Alpkit Koala on top to give a rear pocket. The Koala was really useful. It takes all the stuff you use constantly; and having access to that by zip is nice. The Carradice Junior is the lightest and slimmest of their models. If it mounts for you without the need for a support, this is pretty much as light as an Apidura-style bag, and a lot more practical given the way it opens. The tri-bag on the top bar is really useful for keeping yourself fed.
Also on the frame are four spare spokes — one of each length used. And for the sharp-eyed: the rear mudguard is split to allow 28mm tyres; and I internally routed the dynamo cable to the rear light.
2. What went where
The green bag holds clothes to be worn. Bottles and waterproofs went onto the bike frame. (I suppose the bike pump ought really to be here, too; and the Garmin and Bontrager computers. Why two? This was the first long ride I’d been on when the Garmin didn’t lock up; the Bontrager battery last months / years, and the unit is easier to use in the daylight). Then, into the Carradice saddlebag went the blue bags, red bags, orange bags, Rab gilet (worthwhile luxury), tool box, back-up route sheet and maps of France, plastic bag, PBP-issue (and pretty good, but bulky) reflective gilet. (All the bags are from Alpkit — 5 for £9. I’ve found coloured bags easier to find than black bags, in a black saddle-bag, on a dark night, without a torch. I also found that using bags with zips was easier than using shopping bags, or just letting everything slosh around, or using bags with drawstrings.) Into the tri-bag went: protein bars, apricots and almonds (the apricot bag cut in half makes a good holder) and cable to charge an iPhone from the usb port which comes off the front light. Into wallet around neck went: passport, brevet card, half money. (Was unsure about using a wallet, but turned out to be very comfortable, and helpfully reassuring. (I wondered if I’d forgotten my brevet many, many times.) Into Alpkit Koala on top of saddle bag went the Schwalbe pressure gauge, Topeak pocket ratchet set (which has taken a lot of abuse), half tube of High5, ibuprofen to calm the knees, sun cream factor 50, bog-roll (not needed, but dire stories abound), arse creme, biro. Into jersey pockets went iPhone case, plastic wallet for change and business cards (I guessed I might not remember names). The pack of playing cards are substituting for the lock (Abus combiflex) which I lost after the last control. I was glad to have it; though you could simply pull it apart if you wanted.
The size of the PBP gilet was a bit of a shock (as was, in a positive way, its quality and cut). In the end it meant I left behind the spare tyre. I shouldn’t have done that in hindsight. The ‘continental’ riders who carried pretty much nothing — saddlebags were a reasonable indication of a UK rider — still carried spare tyres. Something else left behind which I also think I should have taken was a head torch. I just wasn’t sure mine was comfortable enough to wear. And the 9l of the saddlebag were used up …
3. What went where within the bags.
On the far left is what I rode in (was in green bag). From bottom: hat, reflective ankle bands, s/s jersey, knee warmers, mits, string vest, chill sleeves, shorts, hrm band (Bontrager as, in my experience it works, and the Garmin version sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t). Most of the clothes are Castelli, in part as they went through a patch of selling the previous season’s stock off at half-price; and so far it’s all been very good. But I regretted taking the Castelli Jersey. I hadn’t understood that it’s more fun for everyone else — spectators and riders — if your jersey says where you’re from, or where you’ve been. And the PBP jersey this year was excellent! The jersey error made up a bit by the hat, which entertained the spectators. And also proved invaluable to help in cooling down, when soaked with water.
Next column along (was in blue bags). A spare front light, and a foot-saver. It’s a big front light for a spare, but it’s pretty much as good as my dynamo front light, and would let me ride as fast as I could. (Both lights are B+M, which seem the best road lights to me; and loads of people were using them.) It’s not very heavy; especially with lithium batteries. The foot-saver is cut-out from the top of a ikea plastic container. I didn’t need to use it; but I wear light boots with toe-clips, and people kept on telling me I’d have trouble not wearing special cycling shoes.
The rest of the first blue bag is medical stuff. In the second blue bag was spare clothes. Spare shorts, w/proof gilet, buff, reflective arm bands, light gloves (to fit under mitts, for the night), arm warmers, space blanket, spare glasses. All used bar the last two. Space blankets were in use everywhere though, so I’d take that again.
Left hand red bag: ‘clever’ food — four bars, one gel, and more tablets. The idea was to use these as a reserve in case I couldn’t find anything on the road. In the event, this could be halved, or omitted. The provision of food was good on PBP. I also set out with four croissant, with two slices of cheese and one of ham in each. These were excellent; and compressible. Right hand red bag: apricots, almonds x2. These would have been harder to have picked up, and so were more worth taking.
Left hand amber bag: ear plugs, toothbrush, shampoo, floss, wet wipes. Right hand amber bag: more ibuprofen, Lomotil, prescription strength Co-codomol, micropore tape, wet wipes, shampoo (not sure why), plasters, some more sun screen, some anti-mosquito cream. All worth taking — helpful to have to give to others, also.
iPhone case is also where the credit cards went, along with the control opening and closing times, the danger points pointed out in the PBP brochure, and the EU health insurance card.
4. And finally the tool box in full
I never needed anything from this, but it held, from the bottom up: route card holder (again made from an Ikea container top, with a garmin-fit mount attached, so it can slot into place where the gps usually goes), Swisscard, second spare inner, data-only converter for usb cable, spare rear light plus spare battery, 3 tyre levers, fibrespoke (in case a cassette-side spoke went), bottle of oil (on the Bryan Chapman, where it rained quite a bit, I’d needed to borrow some oil), spare button batteries, elastic cord (I had used this, before PBP started, to work out a way of holding the rider’s number in place), insulating tape, crank tightener, latex gloves, wet-wipes, Mafac spanners from the 1970s (to fix mudguard stays), tyre boots, mini- and micro-usb cables, headlight bracket, large cable ties, rear hanger (often gets bent when you have a fall), chain splitter and spare links (the Park Tool splitter works), spare chain pins (most expensive part of the bike per pound?), elastic bands, spare brake and derailleur cables, spare Trek mudguard eyelets (one had sheered on a recent ride; that time cable ties and insulating tape worked for the next 150km, but weren’t ideal), allen key that may or may not have a purpose, valve core spanner, spoke key, paperclip to stand in for a third-hand tool for the chain, small cable ties, tyre patch kit.
There was a lot of mechanical help on hand in Paris-Brest. Apparently, the motorcyclists who whizzed up and down would bring spare parts to you. So you could have treated it as an afternoon outing; and a lot of people were (with the exception of tyres and tubes). I’d probably take the same again, though.
Possibly the coolest bike I saw … finished in 82 hours … Ukrainian
a little later, with a few more supplies … (and there were a lot of marvellously broken-in Brooks leather saddles)
and if it was not for this bike (picture from Jenny Oh Hatfield’s blog), which was also from the Ukraine (the saddle seemed far too high, but he was metronomic in his style…)
Plenty of steel, from independent builders, new and old
But most bikes were probably carbon (UK bags made a good showing, Carradice, Apidura)
The Dark Side was out in some force
and in plenty of varieties
One of the squad of Elliptigos from GB (they all finished, remarkable, as they can only do about 22 km/h on the flat, as an average
Bromptons present (saw a space-frame Moulton, too)
Plenty of Cigar bikes, mostly from Holland. They went quick downhill, and on the flat, and are quite common in daily use, I was told …
Decoration often featured. (There was a man with the Eiffel tower on his head.)
An old Dahon?
A mixture of the race focused, with touring accents …