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