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Long distance lover off to Paris for classic randonnée

Posted by on August 17th, 2007 at 1:02 pm

Michael Wolfe
Michael Wolfe, a few days before
his Parisian adventure.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

Local cyclist Michael Wolfe is on his way to Paris to compete in the 16th Paris-Brest-Paris Grande Randonée: a bike race with roots that go back to 1891.

Held every four years, the PBP is considered the most prestigious and celebrated randonneuring event in the world. Some 4,000 competitors will have 90 hours to complete the challenging 1200 kilometer course without any outside support.

The names of those who make it are entered into a master ledger in Paris, alongside legends like René Herse and Hubert Opperman.

For the uninitiated, the world of randonneuring — which Wikipedia defines simply as “organized, long distance bicycle riding” — might seem daunting.

Michael, on the recumbent
he’ll ride in the
Paris-Brest-Paris.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

Enthusiasts throw around French words like popular, brevet, and radonnée and they polish off rides of 400 or 600 kilometers on a whim. But once you learn the basics, it’s easy to see why the discipline is taking off here in the northwest.

I caught up with Michael recently, fresh off competing in the Race Across Oregon, to chat about the world of randonneurring, the PBP, and the local rando scene.

You might recall Michael from my first recumbent ride, or from when I shared his “escape routes” from the city.

For him, the sport of randonneurring proved an intoxicating mix of everything he loves about bikes: long days in the saddle; competing against the clock; discovering new routes; and camaraderie (which can be tough to come by as a solo adventurer).

I asked Michael how he first got involved with randoneurring:

“I first heard about them from an article in Oregon Cycling Magazine in 2004. Back then, there wasn’t much of a local scene. The Portland Wheelmen have done brevets (randoneurring events) since the late ’90s, but they were really low-profile…sort of like guerrilla randoneurring.

Then, in February of 2006, right when I returned from a bike trip in New Zealand, a friend of mine asked if I’d like to do a randonneurring event. We figured we’d jump into the sport together.”

He started with a “popular” (say it with your best French accent), a short social ride (usually less than 200K) meant for beginners. Just about the time Michael started, the Oregon randonneurring scene was evolving with the efforts of local organizers like Susan France and the Oregon Randonneurs club.

Michael’s first ride was a 150K event from Forest Grove to Woodburn. After that ride, he met friends in the scene (through the OR Randonneurs email list) and quickly took to the sport, entering as many events as he could.

Randonneuring is a highly regulated sport that still has a central governing body, the Audax Club Parisian (ACP). There are chapters all over the world and each event you complete is recorded on a master ledger.

Michael’s growing collection of medals.
(Photo: Michael Wolfe)

There are various levels of recognition riders can achieve. In 2006, Michael was awarded his “Super Randonneur” designation from the ACP for completing a 200, 300, 400, and 600K event within a specific time limit. If he finishes the PBP, he’ll be awarded the “Randonneur 5000″ designation.

He accomplished the same feat this year and had times good enough to qualify for the prestigious Paris-Brest-Paris. He said wasn’t sure if he was ready for it this year but that, “I realized it was this year, or never.”

A friend told Michael what the ride is like and he lit up as he described it to me:

“Entire villages along the route come out to cheer you on, it’s like a big rolling party…I figured, I’ve gotta participate in that…I’ve gotta go to cycling heaven.”

Michael’s goal for the event is just to “stay safe, finish, and have fun.” With his experience in endurance events, he’s perfected the 5-minute power nap, but this time he’s reserved two hotel rooms; one at 450K and the other at 900K. That gives him “just a measly 300K” to the finish line.

Michael’s riding buddies on an open road
during the Glacier 1000K brevet.
(Photo: Michael Wolfe)

Seated atop his titanium Bachetta Aero recumbent, Michael will have an enviable view of the French countryside. If it weren’t for the weather, fatigue, unfamiliar country and many other obstacles he’ll encounter along the way, he just might have a chance to enjoy it.

Good luck Michael, or, as the French say, bon route, bon chance, et bon courage!


Read more about long distance cycling and randonneuring from David Rowe on his site, Ready to Ride.

Michael’s journey will begin on Monday. If you’re interested in following along, his electronic control card will be updated as he passes through each checkpoint. Go to the PBP website and follow the links to “Track the frame number” and enter in number 7366.

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Comments
  • Unknown August 17, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I wonder if the carbon footprint would be smaller if he owned a car and pottered around Portland. Flying to Paris is 50mpg!

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  • Greg Raisman August 17, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Michael is pretty amazing. Check out this post where he describes racing with Fast Freddy Marquam (world record holder), Rob English (English hour record holder) and others.

    pretty awesome: http://bikeportland.org/2007/05/14/weekend-recap-track-racing-a-parade-and-mothers-day/#comment-393206

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  • Tomas Quinones August 17, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    I\’m so jealous of him! One of these years I\’ll be there to suck up the French scene.

    Gotta get that Ti bike first…

    Good luck Michael!

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  • Dabby August 17, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    On a recumbent? I am certainly not jealous myself.

    Tough as it may be riding long miles on a normal bike, a recumbent is the last real choice for such a venture.
    Especially one without \”under seat\” steering.

    Trust me, I have ridden miles on one, this is why I question it.

    Get yourself a nice touring bike maybe?

    Hope you have fun Michael.

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  • SKiDmark August 17, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Dabby, your contention rings as hollow as someone saying they\’ve rode a fixed gear bike a few times, and it would be the last real choice for such a venture.

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  • bikieboy August 17, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    My legs are aching just thinking about it — an amazing feat! Go Michael!

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  • Greg Raisman August 17, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Dabby: Pre-recumbent, I rode for transportation, but never long recreation rides. Post-recumbent, I take regular long rides. By the end of STP or other centuries, most people with those little seats are looking at me on my speedy lounge chair pretty jeolously. I know they\’re jeolous because they usually say things like \”Oh, that\’s the way to do it\” or \”Man, I wish I was on that thing.\”

    After 100 miles on the road, I\’m tired. But, nothing is sore or strained in my body because of how ergonomic the recumbent is.

    The thing that recumbents do best is to go long distances. That\’s why the recumbent team that Michael Wolfe was on won Race Across Oregon a few years ago. He soloed RAO this year. You ready to do that on your touring bike?

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  • joel metz August 17, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    1. dabby – recumbents work out just dandy for distance – theres plenty of them in pbp – they do have their disadvantages (hills, mostly), but distance isnt one of them.

    2. greg – trust me, after 750 miles in 3.75 days, *something* will be sore, regardless of what bike youre on.

    3. skidmark – more than a few people ride pbp on fixed gears. usually older brits. it works out just fine, and some would argue it can be almost ideal. it certainly isnt any less suited than riding it on a 3-speed, which is what i did in 2003.

    as for carbon footprints, yes yes, flying to paris is selfish and extravagant, and totally cancels out anything good we may have done in our lives…

    but paris-brest is an AMAZING event. while finishing in 2003, despite the general pain i was in, i swore i was riding it every 4 years until something made it no longer possible. its the oldest continuously organized cycling event in the world, and the history of the event is palpable as you ride across the french countryside and meet with people who have watched it roll past their doorstep for 10, 20, 30, 50 years…

    -joel (live from paris, frame number 4683)

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  • nate August 17, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    dabby-

    it\’s a good thing that you don\’t have to ride pbp on a recumbent then. sounds like it would have been a real disaster for you.

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  • Dabby August 18, 2007 at 10:51 am

    I would like to ride it on a normal bike, don\’t get me wrong. If I only had the finances.

    I do understand how difficult it can be to keep your momentum on one, which is the main reason I mentioned how much of a pain in the ass it is to do distance, especially if you want to speed right along. I suppose once you get used to it, it feels better, I never got used to it.
    (The last ride I did on one was about 70 miles. My saddle bags were full of wine, tequila, Monopolova, beer, water, and power bars. I was on the way to my 40th birthday party.)

    I have also done 200 plus mile days, on a American made Schwinn road bike, on a little Italian seat, some even organized.
    (I don\’t know if any of you remember \”To Hell and Beyond\”, out to and around and back from St. Helen\’s) must have been in the late 80\’s. I think it started in Woodland.)

    Joel and Micheal, have a great trip.
    Dip some fries in mayonnaise for me.

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  • SKiDmark August 18, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    I ride fixed Joel, I was commenting on the very common perceived notion that fixed is not good for anything but the track, usually by people who do not ride fixed.

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  • joel metz August 19, 2007 at 9:26 am

    skidmark – thats what i figured…

    at check-in this afternoon, i counted 6 fixies. word is, there will likely be about 40 total when all is said and done, which is way more than i saw in 2003.

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  • beth h August 19, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Joel and Michael are two of my bicycle heroes.

    They do things I will never be able to do, and are so generous of spirit and welcoming to newbies and beginning randonneuses like me that the difference in our respective athletic endowments doesn\’t matter one bit. I look forward to hearing all about their grand adventures when they return; and I look forward to riding with them again soon.

    Bon Courage!

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  • Slo Joe Recumbo August 19, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Recumbent misconcepts: Wow..lot of wrong info about recumbents being posted. As one of the owners of a recumbent company says: \”Ride what you like. Like what you ride.\” Just bike.

    Someone posted about a recumbent after doing a 1,200K: \”something will hurt\”. I went to PBP in 2003 and rode a recumbent and the only thing that hurt was the pain of the ride experience coming to an end. A recumbent is an excellent long distance bike choice.

    On a brevet such as PBP (1,200K) the type of bike matters very little. As I like to say about brevets (parphrasing Yogi Berra): \”50% of any brevet is 90% mental\”

    You will see everything from fixed gear bikes to kick bikes to riders with just a fanny pack to bikes loaded with everything under the sun. And the same goes for the riders: Not one size or description fits all.

    If any of you want to experience one of the most incredible cycling experiences of a lifetime, get into randonneuring and set your sites on Paris for 2011.

    See you there.

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  • Cecil August 20, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    I did not get into randonneuring in time to train for PBP this year, but I plan to ride PBP in 2011 as a 50th birthday present to myself, and I plan to do it on a Sweetpea . . . .

    As for Michael, Joel, Slo Jo and all my other OrRando (and other rando) friends who are doing it this year, let the wind be at your back and the rain be in the distance.

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