“Did you have a nice time in France?” my friend asked. “No!” I replied. How is it possible to spend two weeks in France and not have a good time? I’ll tell you. Try the PBP!
I arrived at the hotel in Reuill-Malmaison on Saturday morning, to be greeted by a doe-eyed, coffee slurping manager who directed me to the most disagreeable room in the entire establishment. After assembling my bicycle, I decided to check out the stadium from which the ride was to commence, and discovered to my chagrin that it was at the top of an extremely steep hill. This was to be a small taste of what was to come. After a sleepless night listening to the sound of traffic whizzing by, I changed hotels where the accommodation was (a) closer to the starting line, and (b) the staff was very helpful and considerate. My pre-announced strategy for doing the PBP involved reaching certain towns by no later than 11:00 P.M. each night, and sleeping at pre-arranged hotels until 3 or 4:00 in the morning. To meet this schedule required maintaining an average speed of 21 km/hr, which I thought would be easy, if one avoided lengthy stops.
The start of the ride proceeded innocently enough, especially considering that the first few km were downhill, my best mode, in fact, I was feeling rather good and on some of the descents picked up quite a lot of speed, as I was to learn the next morning when I was able to read my bicycle computer which indicated I had hit a maximum speed of 70 km/hr during the night. According to the noted sage Mike Miller, the terrain between Paris and Tinteniac is essentially flat or slightly undulating. According to me, the terrain is anything but flat, and there seems to be a steady succession of hills, some of which are quite bit nastier than anything around Toronto. I found it very difficult to get motivated, and although I was making reasonably good time, having sucked the wheel of a tandem for the better part of the afternoon, my morale hit a real low when at about 6:00 P.M. I realized that I was not going to be able to put my head down on a pillow until I had travelled the equivalent of going between Toronto and Orillia. I was also beginning to feel that as a middle-aged gentleman, I had done enough exercise for the day. Nevertheless, I tried to persevere, and despite thinking all kinds of treasonous thoughts, I was pulled into Tinteniac by some kindly Toronto randonneurs who did not allow me to do what I really wanted to do which was to sleep in the ditch. The bed in Tinteniac was the greatest bed I have ever encountered in my life, but unfortunately I did not reach Tinteniac until 1:30 A.M. and it was 2:00 A.M. before I got into bed. At 4:30 A.M., Mike Buyers knocked on my door, saying “We’re leaving. If you want to come with us, be down here in two minutes!” Dear reader, this is not my idea of a holiday in France. Instead of croissants and coffee at breakfast, I was treated to a slug of the vile carbo-powder-water mixture which allegedly fueled some of the RAAM riders. I departed Tinteniac at about 5:00 A.M., and somewhat to my surprise there was a steady stream of riders (I thought I was probably last by now). I was a bit surprised to find walking somewhat difficult, which usually is the case when one’s knees do not bend properly. After an hour on the road, my knees began to ache. I knew that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that one’s spirits always are lifted with the sun, but both I and my knees did not wish to be there. We wanted to be back in Paris, where the food is wonderful, it is possible to drink wine to excess, and where one can sleep peaceably as long as one likes. I sat down on a park bench to contemplate the remaining 800 km ahead, when Satan, in the form of a bus driver, saw me and offered to take me to Rennes. A student of the geography of France, I was well aware that Rennes is on the rail line between Brest and Paris, and that high speed trains travel frequently. between those two localities, I found my brain directing me to continue the ordeal, but my legs, having mutinied, refused to take any instructions from the brain, began transporting my body and machine toward the bus. In seconds the bicycle was aboard the bus and I was sitting in a very comfortable seat, feeling guilty, but not sufficiently guilty to wish to continue. About 3 hours later, I was in Paris safely installed in a pleasant hotel on the Left Bank.
After about a day, my knees began to relent and I was able once again to walk normally, and on occasion, even to run to escape maniacal Parisian drivers. Although I was having a nice time the feelings of guilt intensified as the weather began to turn ugly. I thought of all of the Toronto Randonneurs slugging it out on the road. and especially in the icy, inky blackness of rural France at night. Fortunately, I discovered that a nice bottle of red wine and a full tummy tends to dispel all feelings of guilt!
No, I did not have a nice vacation in France, and no, I will never again contemplate a multi-day ordeal like the PBP. On the other hand, the next PBP will be its 100th anniversary…….
M. Lepertel’s requested our ‘memoires’ – this is what we sent:
“Allez, allez!” “Bon Courage!” “Allez bien les filles!” “Bon Courage!”
For myself and the other 25 members of the Toronto Randonneurs who took part in the celebration of the 1987 PBP, these cheering words of encouragement remain one of our warmest memories. To see so many people, day and night, smiling, waving, wishing one well and offering coffee all along the route, lightened our hearts and gave energy to progressively tiring bodies. This is the inspiration for our returning to France in 1991!
We enjoyed the ride! the company! the countryside! the route! the kindness of the many volunteers! the food (sometimes)! The lack of sleep and time to appreciate the countryside, the driving or drizzling rain, the headwinds that ranged from frolicsome breeze to heavy clout, the continually hilly countryside, the aches and pains, and the unremitting race against time, naturally were merely wee nagging leitmotivs – like ants at a picnic.
Some of our best memories: the buoyant anticipation as we waited in the light drizzle of Monday morning with hundreds of spirited cyclists from so many countries; stopping wearily in the middle of the night in the ghostly circle of the street lights to joke each other awake; steaming hot coffee gulped thankfully at friendly family roadside tables at 2:00 am; growing discouragement and doubt as we plodded nearer to Brest, and sudden lifting of spirits on starting back; clear cool star-filled night air as we climbed dreamily towards the red beacon of Roc Trevizel; hungrily slurping coffee in the medieval-like halls at Carhaix; sleeping deep in the straw-filled dorm at Villanes la Juhel to the accompaniment of a slumber sonata of snoring cyclists; our capacity to eat so such pasta, rice pudding and fromage blanc and our wonder at the abilities of French cyclists after a bottle of wine; the amazing comfort of sleeping between two pieces of cardboard; the perception that the soup resembled something out of a cement truck; the continual enjoyment of meeting new people and admiration of the capacities of the disabled; the really marvelous countryside! And of course – we were all “on vacation”!!
For myself, the ride passed in a strange mixture of an incredible immediacy of sharp memories of places and sensations – smells, sounds, sights, an overwhelming dictatorial chronology, but all floating hazily in a long meandering timeless time of alternating light and dark.
We all agree that the 1987 PBP was the best organized and most encouraging of events we have ridden. We thank M. Lepertel and his organizers and are already training for 1991!
The 1987 Paris-Brest-Paris saw 26 members of the Toronto Randonneurs Long Distance Cycling Association starting out at 4:00 am, Monday August 24, 1987.
It was lightly drizzling but the roads gleamed in golden hues from the light of the street lamps. Spirits were lively. Thursday August 27 welcomed 24 of the Randonneurs at the final control by the 10:00 pm closing. Jubilance mingled with relief; celebration with fatigue.
Here are exerpts from some of the stories written by members of the Toronto Randonneurs. They recollect the many people, variety of events, vagaries of weather, doubts and strength – and insane humour.
A few of the photos people managed to snatch on their way are alto included. Although many had cameras, and seemingly took many pictures, none felt they had captured the sublime – and definitely not the ridiculous.
The broad outlines of the structure of les Randonneurs Mondiaux appear in the constitution; of course, it is about the brevets validated by Audax Club Parisien (200, 300, 400, 600 and 100km). The general assembly of les Randonneurs Mondiaux is scheduled every 4 years following Paris-Brest-Paris. There are elections for president, vice-president and renewal of the trasurer’s mandate. To be validated , events must appear in the ACP calendar (published every year at the end of December). As noted above, the first President is Robert Lepertel (then ACP president), John Nicholas is Vice President and Jacques Delava is Treasurer.
The name les Randonneurs Mondiaux was adopted bt 7 votes to one for International Randonneurs.
In 1987 because of dissention in England, we had two Audax United Kingdom representatives at the GA with John Nicholas (not Noel Simpson) holding the vote. This did not change the result, as J.C. Muzellec, who stood for election to prevent a split, was elected unanimously on the first ballot.Francesc Porta was chosen Vice President and Robert Lepertel replaced Jacques Delava as Treasurer.
Several important developments took place between 1983 and 1987. J.C.Muzellec was instrumental in adding Denmark, Norway and Finland to the ranks of brevet organizers, being the official representative for the first two, with Paavo Nurminen of Finland, who had just completed PBP, joining the table but without a vote yet.
Gerry Pareja asked us to allow the various Canadian provinces to correspond directly with ACP . We acceded to this request, but we quickly realized that we could not generalize it because it created a lot of additional work that we were not in a position to take on, e.g. verifying itineraries, (even given local road maps, is very complicated) and more mail. This is why we have not agreed to expand this further.
First Ontario, the Prairie Randonneurs of Saskatchewan, Rocky Mountains of Alberta and Club Vélo Randonneurs of Montreal, Quebec joined over the years. This bought us new and long-lasting friendships, but as with anything else, it is good to know when to stop.
The British Columbia Randonneurs Cycling Club, which started out with four members (G.Pareja, J.Hathaway, D.McGuire and Wayne Phillips, who was later disabled for life in a tragic crash with a vehicle), grew and quickly climbed up the ranks asone of the most active members.
The United States, led by J.Konski, also grew strongly and quickly thanks to his efforts, later to be criticized mainly because he wanted to to everything alone. However at the start, he had a fair number of members of IR (International Randonneurs) and above all some twenty states that backed him. For us James was a long-time friend (’75 PBP), and he is the one that turned the USA on to the open-speed formula.
Later, we witnessed the birth of RUSA;(Randonneurs USA) but more about this below. James Konski’s seminal work was to bear fruit, to be expected when the land is well plowed and seed well planted.
John Nicholas bitterly resigned his post to a new AUK Committee which included Noel Simpson. AUK has grown steadily to reach the current level of about 3000 members. The leaders keep busy with event planning (with several offshoots of ACP events:e.g. fléches, hill climb brevets, and later an Arrow to York, modelled on the Fléche Vélocio with the same rules, following the example of various national Fléches (Australia, Canada, Nordiques, USA etc.).
During his 4-year mandate, J.C.Muzellec got the Germans interested and encouraged the Belgians to get the Dutch to join up. Several years later, Germany sponsored Austria.
To wrap up J.C.Muzellec’s term, Ireland joined the RM family. An important protocol was signedby J.C. Muzellec and ACP’s President J.C.Massé. **
In 1991, the General Assembly elected Francesc Porta (Catalonia/Spain) President, with Gerry Pareja (Canada) as Vice President. R.Lepertel stayed on as Treasurer.
Francesc was not very active, in part due to his job, as a professor at the University of Barcelona, where the discovery of a mammoth was to keep him busier than first thought and family problems did not help a bit. Therefore, we had few or no outside contacts. Gerry Pareja also had work constraints. There was neither fax nor e-mail at that time, and long gaps between letters. Having received orders, I produced more than a thousand pins for the tenth anniversary of the RM after sending Francesc and Gerry brief notes. This generated a bit of cash flow; happily there were practically no expenses.
In 1991 there was a double anniversary: 100 years of PBP and 70 years of ACP open-speed brevets.Both events yielded great results, with PBP surpassing 3,000 entries and we registered well over 25,000 brevets over the traditional distances, with 300 brevets of 100km (3rd best performance of all time).
The Russians expressed an interest in joining the RM, with Valery Komotchkov of Velo Club Orion (Volgograd) becoming the contact person for Russia. They were to face enormous challenges in view of the country’s economic sutuation, but Valery’s guts and iron will carried them through the difficult phases.
In 1995 the General Assembly was held at France Miniature near St Quentin en Yvelines.
Three candidates ran fro the Presidency: Réal Prefontaine from Canada, James Konski from International Randonneurs USA and Jennifer Wise, representing the RM sanctioned Boston-Montreal-Boston. On the second ballot, Jennifer Wise received the majority of votes. Réal Prefontaine well versed on the issues, became Vice President, replacing Gerry Pareja who had chosen not to run.
It was natural for the presidency to move to one of the nine founding countries. R.Lepertel kept the treasury, mainly for reasons of cost for the members, who receive just one invoice at year’s end for ACP brevets, medals, RM dues and charges which can be paid with a single cheque, thus resulting in lower costs for all concerned.
This new team transformed the RM. Given the President’s energy, very frequent contact with the Vice President and the Treasurer, and taking the time to document points which might have remained obscure, benefitting those who may come later without knowing where it all started. We even held one three-way telephone conference for important issues.
A special Randonneurs Mondiaux medal for 1200km brevets was created with Jennifer and Réal’s acquiescence. I took charge of dealing with the maker and got very good terms, including delivery to the USA
We saw more development of brevets of 1200km and longer. Several new countries joined us (South Africa,Ukraine, Bulgaria and Costa Rica). In sum, a superb four-year term, bringing forward its momentum to 1999, when Réal Préfontaine took the position of President
At the General Assembly of 1999, in addition to the President, Don Briggs of Australia was elected, also unanimously, to the position of Vice President, R. Lepertel remained Treasurer, as ever, for the same reasons given above. Unanimous approval was given to a motion to include the price of the RM medal in the entry fees for brevets of 1200 km or longer, but keeping the 10FF fee to cover verification and validation of each brevet, and relevant shipping costs.
The General Assembly adopted relaxed time limits, by comparison with the 90 hours allowed for 1200 km brevets, for brevets of 1400 and 2000 km; this is natural. In fact, the overall average was lowered (12 km/h for 1400 and 2000 km events).
Réal Préfontaine oversaw the birth of the 2000-km brevets to welcome the year 2000. While there were only three such events, their very existence is worth recalling; 44 randonneurs earned the brevet, including 2 women: Birgit Henriksen and Ulrike Frost.
E-mail has shortened distances; nowadays more than 90% of RM’s contacts use e-mail. Collaboration amongst the President, Vice President and Treasurer is very close. On Don Briggs’ initiative, an RM jersey is in process. With the arrival of Japan, Brazil, New Zealand (reporting to Australia),Switzerland, Greece, and the expected but unsuccessful entry by Senegal, we now have all 6 continents at the table, and have passed the milestone of 25 member countries.
The workload of Thierry Rivet responsible and for the ACP brevets organized by French clubs, and of Yannis Varouchas, responsible for the foreign clubs, will increase sharply in 2003, year of PBP (Editor’s note: Yannis passed away in January 2003 and Suzanne Lepertel took over his duties for 2003).
In France the numbers of brevets organized in the years between PBP’s drops due to the number and range of events organized by the French clubs. In 2003 some 20,000 foreign brevets will be validated all of which will add up to a reasonable prediction of a total of some 35,000 brevets.
To everyone at all levels who have given of themselves to further the cause of randonneur cycling, we give our very sincere thanks.
If someone had told me, 20 years ago, that in 20 years we would be at this level, I would have given him a bemused and suspicious look. ACP’s international fame, the acceptance of its events and rules by randonneurs, now spread across more than 25 countries, fill us with happiness at the work we have done, and proud that we have been able to win others over to our cause.
The work everyone has accomplished is worthy of our respect and our most sincere encouragement to continue on the path agreed upon and forged by all.
Everyone, whether they were founders of the ACP, who participated in its growth or who are witnessing its current frailty, who had the wherewithal to create and develop the long distance randonnée, and all those who carry on with our concepts and our formula are worthy recipients of our big Thank You.
Robert Lepertel, Treasurer, les Randonneurs MondiauxNovember, 2002
**The protocol of agreement between J.C. Massé,president of ACP and J. C. Muzellec, President of les Randonnuers Mondiaux, had the intention of transferring control of brevets of 1200km and longer to the President of RM (the ACP was to limit itself to brevets up to 1000km, plus PBP). The objective of this exception was to push the development of brevets of 1200km and longer,by giving lesRM and their President an additional motivation to respond to requests (which have grown in numbers) and raising the profile of the President’s position in general.
There are two parts to this. The first part outlines the foundation of Randonneurs Mondiaux in 1983. The second part, called the “Addendum”, traces the organisation from 1983-2002.This material first appeared on the original RM website in 2003 under the presidency of Réal Préfontaine’s presidency (1999-2003). Sometime later it disappeared. Special thanks to Gerry Pareja for retrieving both the English and French versions from his files and forwarding them to me. The blue photos are from the 1983 PBP “plaquette” [Eric Fergusson, January 2008] Our thanks to BC Randonnuers for allowing us to use this articles and photos.
Of the “anciens” and founders of les Randonneurs Mondiax at the end of August 1983*,the only ones left are the Spainards Francesc Porta and José Luis Garcia-Rodriguez, contacts for Catalonia/Spain and the Basque Country respectively, and myself as Treasurer of RM.
First of all, here is the summary of the agreement signed at the founding meeting of les Randonneurs Mondiaux:
Other than the above founders, we recall:
Russell Moore, representing Australia
Marc Demaesmaker and Jacques Delava, Belgium
John Nicholas, England
James Konski, United States of America
John Hathaway, Canada
Jean-Claude Muzellec, Sweden
Marc Dobise, President of the French Cyclotouring Federation (F.F.C.T.), attended this founding meeting.
The 9 founding countries voted unanimously (less one vote) for President: Robert Lepertel; Vice President: John Nicholas; and Treasurer: Jacques Delava.
The main concepts outlining the guidelines for the future of the oganization were adopted, namely:
The President is elected for a 4-year,non-renewable term
Annual dues are 100FF
Admission fee, after two years probation, is 200FF
New countries must be sponsored by member countries, whose duty is to make sure that Audax Club Parisien rules for brevet organization are closely adhered to.
Member countries agree that the Audax Club Parisien is the only body that recognizes and registers open-speed brevets organized under its rules. Audax Club Parisien route cards are mandatory for organized events (later amendments allowed countries to have their own route cards, as long as they were registered and approved by Audax Club Parisien). All the foregoing formed part of a protocol of agreement to be signed by each country.
To our knowledge, this point causes no difficulties. From the beginning, the Audax Club Parisien has indicated that any interference with the internal affairs of a country was outside of its purview. When serious problems have arisen, we have acted as mediators, leaving it to the General Assemblies of each country to make their own best decisions by majority vote.
To our knowledge, there is no more underlying issues. This is a source of joy to us, as we see our concept of open-speed randonneur cycling as a superb facet of the practice of cycletouring.
We wish to extend our sincere thanks to those who helped at the birth of les Randonneurs Mondiaux. We hope they will continue to trust us, continue to help us out and reap their reward in the form of strong participation in our formula in their countries.
Robert Lepertel Treasurer, les Randonneurs Mondiaux
*All of the directors of Audax Club Parisien attended this meeting.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! My family left to the closest thing we have to a cottage, the parent-in-laws that live north of the city. For me it feels like too much time away from the projects, repairs and everything else that needs to be done at home. I stayed back and will take the train up to join them soon. After I investigated the to-do list, I found the projects to be wrapped up, the vehicles are running well, and the bikes don’t need much of anything repaired. Anything the house needs is a massive undertaking so… how about actually RIDING a bike?
This is something I used to do quite well and am trying to determine if I’m still able. I dedicated a lot of this season to randonneuring at the exclusion of gravel races and club rides. Two types of riding I dearly enjoy. Then my summer audax goal came and went and I was wondering what cycling meant to me now. The universe decided that it didn’t care what I wondered, and I immediately pulled something in my leg. A muscle or a tendon, it caused pain from the middle of my back to the heel of my foot. Then I got Covid. By the time I started riding again it was a full month off the bike. Please use your tears of sympathy for good purpose and clean your bike shoes with them.
Now I knew I wanted to ride on my day off of fatherhood duties, but with whom? Being a member of a few clubs, I shopped around. Dark Horse Flyers didn’t have any rides scheduled. Peterborough Cycle Club was the same and I’d be riding cyclocross with them on Monday anyways. Morning Glory had the bagel lined up, but knowing the pounding I would take on the loop north of Toronto pushed that thought from my head. Randonneurs Ontario, Toronto Chapter, had a 200 running out of Grimsby. I checked the route and it was perfect, places I’d never been on a bike and a bonus; the promise of anonymity and alone time.
Pardon you? Yes, the long ride, the brevet, guarantees you time alone with your thoughts and your issues and all the other “you” things that you’re able to accumulate and ignore in the course of daily life. Simply lag back or push on ahead and you’ll be guaranteed hours of silent suffering. With only 10 of the 20 registered riders actually showing up at the start location, along with a variety of strength and speed amongst them, it’s not hard to get lost in the wilderness. I also mentioned anonymity (no spell check required!) and yes, this too may be something you are looking for. Shallow talk of the weather, the scenery and the wind! That’s it. People to be present with in the moment! To be in the now for a short while is a great feeling. Nobody who knows me enough to be aware that even though I’m latched onto your wheel for dear life, I still am watching over your shoulder for the next town sign sprint. Maybe these things appeal to you too?
And yes… now that I revise this text and dwell on it… this anonymous conversation presents itself as the opposite of being alone. Can I blame it on being a Gemini? I’m of two minds and there is beauty on both sides of the fence. My love of a tightly packed paceline with long time cycling friends, catching up about what been happening in our lives, appeals to me equally as much as the alone time I search for on the rando rides.
As for the ride? It was perfect randonneuring. A punishing climb up the escarpment 10 minutes after we rolled out. Beautiful rolling hills taking us to the mechanical marvel that is the Welland Canal. Locks and freighters and drawbridges galore! First, I had a very pleasant conversation with a cyclist about our recent experiences of riding and it was delightful. Then another cyclist and I had a lengthy discussion about the pros of “good enough” bicycle equipment and I was happy to banter about hubs, bike fit and
tools. Then we reached the beauty of Niagara Falls and I walked on alone (literally) so that I could take it in by myself, for myself. I rolled on and eventually discovered a fatal flaw to my plan of riding alone… a serious headwind. Immeasurably (had to spell check that one) strong, I swear it would push you off the bike if you took your eye off it, even the wind turbines were spinning! HEADWIND! I hit the drops until my body reminded me that I don’t spend enough time down there to pretend to use them now. I held the tips off the hoods as though they enabled a reflector shield. I pushed down sections of road so bare and devoid of anything interesting, seriously one was 17km, the most typically mundane Southern Ontario farmland roads there can be. I was reminded how little I enjoy flat, straight, high speed farmland roads.
But then a beacon of hope… a blinking light from behind! I buried the urge to ask him to switch it to solid and instead asked if I could catch a ride. Salvation had come in the form of two riders and I couldn’t have been happier for the company. Oh how great it was to have people to talk to and banter with and draft!
Thank you, Erin M, for meeting us in the morning to give us the brevet cards. You’ll likely find yourself e-mailing me in a couple days asking for an image of mine along with the GPX file of the ride. I swear I will get it to you. But right now I’m in a boiling bath praying to the old gods that Epson salts really do work miracles.
Ride for yourself, ride to be with others, but get out and ride. Glory be to the bike (and to my wife).
Unofficial ride report captured from Slack I’ve completed LEL2022 and I couldn’t have done it without the events planned by Randonneurs Ontario. JungAh from the Ottawa chapter completed as well, she’s not on here, but I saw and spoke with her several times throughout the event. A huge congrats to her and her experiences. I’ll put a reply in this comment with my “thoughts a week later” that I created in point form a week later. To summarize… if you want to do it, create a plan and execute. I set realistic distance milestones leading up to the event, bought whatever equipment I thought would eliminate hurdles when completing the ride and just went for it on event day. Strava Link https://www.strava.com/activities/7630359149
– When packing the bike, I partially deflated the tires, leaving enough air to keep the beads on the rim (30psi?) – I used much Masking tape and many old t-shirts for tube protection – Everything had to come out of the bike bag at Pearson so have everything in separate bags (I had to dump the contents of my frame and top tube bag loose into the x-Ray machine) – Bike bag also contained shoes and helmet in their own bags, and “travelling compression bags” one with kit for the start line and two with the contents of each drop bag that went out – As you used a tool for disassembly, I should have put it in the bike bag (couldn’t remount fender without an 8mm wrench) – Get the basemap for where you’re travelling to! I run an old Garmin 520 and it’s memory is really small, this meant I couldn’t load the entire UK and had to spend time clipping the map close to the route – I brought the GPS to start line early to verify base map, and it didn’t work! I had to get the tech desk to help set it up (I hadn’t renamed the file correctly) – I was an hour early to the start line and was glad to have the spare 15 minutes to hit the bathroom – I worked with others for as long as I could, this kept the speed high for a long as possible, burnt down the kms early to create a buffer for sleep later (pack broke up around 10-midnight) – I wish I had more knowledge of each section and could have made better “keep going” decisions. Other people knew the elevation gain/kilometres of what was ahead, I would have stopped and slept at 8am if I knew the punishment that was to follow (and I was mentally annihilated by 2pm) – I started at noon and only rode overnight the first night. Other people stopped often for shorter sleeps. Whatever works!? – 2hr sleep followed by longer sleeps (said an experienced volunteer to me) and it worked for me. Nights 2-4 I slept from 4 to 5 hours – Carbohydrates in the water bottle, solid sugar snacks every 30-60 minutes, and emergency gels for the occasional bonk! (as it got cold I slowed down drinking, hadn’t thought about the reduction of calories going in) – Lemon meringue pie for breakfast was a-ok – I stopped for supplies mid-section only once as I wasn’t making it to the next control with what I was carrying, but it burnt a ton of time, so always pushed to the next control when I was able – Actually another time around 9:30pm I came across a country store with a dozen bikes and bought all kinds of novelty sugar & drinks (anybody ever have a Bakewell?!) – On food, the ride was a culinary treat – every control had something rich with flavour. Curries, haggis pakora, lasagna, soups of all flavours… SO MUCH apple crisp with custard! And a gooseberry crisp… neeps & tatties! Scrambled eggs, ham, has browns and square sausage and sausage links and WHISKY IN SCOTLAND, I swear I ate enough in food to make back my cost of entry – Wet wipes and chamois cream worked, but only for so long, everyone I talked to about butt-issues was going through it. Awful pain, giant sores, but around 7pm it got so numb I could sit and ride again (???) – A jersey can last forever, bibs… not sure. My first pair lasted 900km and I changed twice after that (bibs in drop bags sent ahead) – Energy foods and carb powder sent ahead in drop bags worked amazing – Tubeless is clutch. I went full-send on all descents and at one point I dinged a pot hole hard, no tube to pinch flat meant I rode straight past the two people changing tubes around the corner – I installed new tires, chain, derailleur cable prior to the right and regret none of it – I applied chain lube at overnight controls – New gel grip tape (Bontrager) and gel bar pads (Fizik) were a gift from the old gods compared to how I rode the bike previously – Some people talked, some didn’t, some wanted to be pulled after I went by, but when a group passed by it was mentally motivating to work harder, I’d push to stay on way harder than when I was riding alone – Time in hand meant a pint at the pub before bed! – I’d see the same people over the course of a day, sleeping different times at different locations, these encounters were fun andid look forward to hearing how they were making along – If I knee the next control meant sleep, then let it rip. We’d get moving and pick up people an hour out and absolutely freight train into controls – One guy went full TT for the last 32km into the control where we’d sleep, dropped 4 riders (one was a trike!) and I chewed my bar staying on for that time savings – I’d eat, rest and faff about at controls to let food work its way in and give my feet time to breathe. When I slept I’d eat straight away, then sleep & eat again as soon as I woke up. – The dynamo made this easier, the headlight with proper beam (German stvo(?) rated) was so good at night! Not having to charge the headlight or tail lights was great. And during the day with the lights off I could charge my phone and then I’d charge the garmin when the lights were on. – There were so many outlets at the stop that if I had of carried a plug charger/power banks it would have been fine as well – People rode any and every kind of bike. I have a basic steel road frame with clearance for 35mm tires (I rode 30mm and fenders) but people had everything from titanium touring bikes to decade-old rim brake aero roadies. I think the Euros don’t have the same space/spending that we do and make use of what they have for everything. It’s admirable. – So many mixed feelings on the last section. I put on a trigger song to get it all out early at about 40km to go. Elation of completion, sadness that it was all over, confusion about what to do next. – This was a two season journey of that took a huge amount of time and money, both for physical and equipment preparation. And it was amazing. Glory be to the wife and all hail the bike. – My toes are still numb a week and a day later – Cheapest self-guided, self-propelled, all-inclusive vacation I’ve ever been on
Pete had a fascinating setup with his 1200k that made maximum use of a very small group of volunteers that included his wife and daughter.
There is a cluster of hotels about 18km from his house. The ride started at a park near the hotels and each ride segment ended and started at his house – a clover. That sounds simple but the key was that the segments routed by those hotels late in each segment, with an info control in the vicinity of those hotels, so that in fact you ended each day’s riding before you finished the segment, ate some dinner, got some sleep, and then finished off the segment the next morning at “registration central” in his huge garage that had seating, breakfast etc. You then hit the road again, starting the next segment.
Thus my first day’s ride wasn’t the segment length of 407k but rather 389 (or thereabouts). Day 2 finished off the Day 1 segment and then ended back at the hotels; same with Day 3 finishing off Day 2 and Day 4 finishing off day 3 but ending at his house. This setup had the effect of shortening Day 1 by that 18k and lengthening Day 4 from the published length of 201 to the balance-of-Day-3+Day4 length of 219.
(Note that the 18k has a variation depending on which hotel you picked).
I visited a grocery store and stocked my little hotel fridge with enough for dinners and a small bite to eat as the main breakfast was at Pete’s place.
Not rocket science but I considered it ingenious. Otherwise there would have been extra hotel costs, more difficulty providing breakfast etc. There was no one frowning at us having a celebratory beer at the end. To top it all off, Pete and his main volunteer Marcia shuttled us to our hotels at the end of the 4th day.
Under-Promised and Over-Delivered always wins out.
Oh – and the route was interesting. I saw parts of Niagara Falls from the US perspective that I had not seen from the Canadian side. Other waterfalls within the Finger Lakes provided wonderful scenery (one of which is higher than Niagara but of course has a lot less water flow); I found out that according to local lore, Seneca Falls (the town), or at least the bridge, provided inspiration for “it’s a wonderful life”. I expected hills and the area delivered – not extreme but the third day had some real punch to it with short steep hills.
Last but not least, Pete ordered up a brisk tailwind for the last 100k northbound.
Next year will mark the 140th anniversary of an amazing group bicycle tour. Organized by the Chicago Bicycle Club, the Great Canada Bicycle Tour attracted 40 “practiced riders” who set out from Windsor on July 2nd, 1883 to bicycle a 640 km route across Southern Ontario.
“For the promotion of bicycling in its most legitimate field, viz., its use as a practical vehicle of transportation through the country where the roads are good, its health-giving elements as an exercise, and ability of the wheel, where the rider is skilled in its economical management, to carry him over greater distances, and more enjoyably than can be done with the horse, thereby affording a most delightful and profitable means of spending a short vacation and interchange of views, practically demonstrated on the road, with fellow-wheelmen, the Chicago Bicycle Club inaugurates this tour, and cordially invites the wheelmen of the country to participate therein.”
The Great Canada Tour announcement reads very much like a modern Grand Randonnee “sign-up” website. Here are a few examples that Randonneurs will find amusing:
“It is the intention to have a light covered wagon in attendance during the entire length of the tour, and therefore when starting out in the morning all baggage and other effects that the tourists desire to take with them will be promptly transferred from machines to the wagon.”
“In cases of break down to machines, repairs such as a blacksmith can accomplish can be readily made at frequent intervals en route, and delicate repairs can be accomplished at London, Hamilton, and Toronto… A set of tools for repairing machines will be included … and, so far as the standard machines are concerned, duplicate small parts liable to breakage, such as handle-bars, pedals, rear axles, spokes, springs, together with cement, will be carried, that no trifling break in a machine may mar the pleasure of the entire tour.”
“About sixty-five miles of roading in that vicinity [St Thomas and London] were wheeled over, and after a consultation with wheelmen who had been over every inch of the route, and knew every detail of the Canadian roads, a route was selected, daily mileage allotted and hotel accommodations agreed upon, that will take the tourists through all the principal places of interest in Ontario, over hard, smooth, and perfect roads, the daily allotments of mileage being those that have already been exceeded with comfort and ease by ordinary wheelmen, with fine hills easily climbed, except in a few instances, splendid coasting down the other side, a grand rolling country with varied scenery of hill, valley, woods, and streams, landing the tourists each evening at comfortable houses, with bills of fare equal to the emergency of the most voracious and particular appetite.”
…and of course, Expenses:
“Before the start is made … it will be expected every tourist will deposit with the treasurer… a sum at the rate of $1.25 per day while in Canada… The committee are assured by the Canada wheelmen, who have been over the same ground many times, that the expenses will not exceed $1.00 per day in Canada, in which case a refund will be made. This arrangement of appointing one man to settle the hotel bills on the tour will ensure the least inconvenience to the tourists, and favor the most liberal rates.”
Here is a summary of the planned itinerary for the Great Canada Bicycle Tour:
“Monday, July 2d. … wheeling through [Detroit to] the upper ferry; thence across river to Walkerville and road to Essex Centre, nineteen miles; thence to Kingsville, and following the shore of Lake Erie, through Ruthven, Leamington, Mersea, Romney, Dealtown, Buckhorn to Blenheim, sixty-five miles from Detroit
Tuesday, July 3d. From Blenheim to Wallacetown, forty miles.
Wednesday July 4th. [to] St. Thomas, twenty-five miles. Trip is made over the Talbot road, the road from Kingsville to St. Thomas the oldest and finest track in Canada. Dinner will be taken in St. Thomas at the Hutchinson House, … From thence the route winds out of the magnificent St. Thomas valley over the gradually ascending high hills, … until abruptly reaching the summit of an easily climbed grade, London, with its towers, steeples, and elegant buildings, appears to view down in the valley below. Then follows a long coast and a couple of miles more travel to the Grigg House, which excellent hostelry will do the hospitable in the way of supper and lodging for the night.
Thursday, July 5th. And now comes the event of the tour,—the wheel to Goderich, over the most famous road in America. This road can only be compared to asphalt, and many splendid runs have the Canadians made over it. The course laid out for the day is sixty-five miles, and passes through St. Johns [now Arva], Lucan, Ireland, Adare, and Devon to Exeter, thirty miles … mostly along the line of the Grand Trunk Railway. From Exeter the trip continues along the railway to Brucefield, when the road diverges to the shore of Lake Huron, which is followed to Goderich
Friday, July 6th. From Goderich the tour will continue in a straight line south-east … forty-four miles being the day’s allotment. The road follows closely along the line of the Grand Trunk Railway as far as Brantford. Dinner will be taken in Seaforth, A twenty-five mile spin in the afternoon through the picturesque villages of Carronbrooke and Mitchell brings the party to the commercial and railroad centre of the region, Stratford.
Saturday, July 7th. From Stratford down over the same road through Travistock (sic), Chesterfield, Bright, Drumbo, and Richwood to the large and thriving city of Paris, and from thence to Brantford, along the bank of the Speed river … The day’s journey … thirty-five miles.
Sunday, July 8th. From Brantford, over a part plank and part gravel road, to Hamilton. This will be a short trip for the day, twenty-five miles, but may be considered by some as harder, on account of the nature of the road
Monday, July 9th. From Hamilton by boat to Toronto, arriving there in time for dinner, giving an entire afternoon at the metropolis before leaving on the evening steamer for Niagara.”
As with many modern long brevets, the best laid plans for the Great Canada Bicycling Tour were severely tested during the actual ride. Intense July storms, bridge wash-outs, and unanticipated bad roads resulted in schedule revisions, rider group separations, and extensive use of the sag wagon (“ambulance”). Already a day behind schedule in Goderich, a small group set out into rainstorms, hoping to cycle all the way to Brantford in one day. They were soon forced to turn back and, along with the other riders, ended up taking the train to Brantford. “We caught fleeting glimpses of the fine scenery at Paris and other points of interest, deepening our regret that we had missed riding through this romantic section of picturesque Canada”
A very detailed ride report of The Great Canada Bicycle Tour was presented in “Outing And The Wheelman” magazine of April-Sept. 1884. The entire two-part article is well worth reading. The author claims that “No intoxicating liquors of any sort were drunk, even at the banquets provided in the cities we visited”. With that one possible exception, the shenanigans and experiences described in the 1883 account bear remarkable similarities to present-day Ontario randonneuring! Here are some examples, with which I could particularly identify in my own randonneuring experience:
The thrill of cycling in a good tailwind:
“…this wind was so powerful that nearly the whole line rode with legs over handles, and with brakes down, a mile or two, at a racing speed, the utmost care being required to prevent collisions…”
Trying out new rain gear:
“…when it began to rain (he) put on his wheelman’s rubber suit…he was the envy of the whole line, till it was discovered that this suit possesses one fatal defect…There is no device…to let out the water which runs down the back of his neck, and fills all his pockets and swells out the legs”
Riding after a Fall:
“…Approaching Bayfield…one of the most expert riders of the party was run into by another wheelman…and hurled down an embankment five or six feet high. The pit of his stomach struck one of the handles, knocking the breath out of him, and his left shoulder was badly sprained… [We] procured him an ounce of Brandy at a wayside inn, after taking which he was able to mount unassisted, when he rode with one hand so rapidly [he caught up to the advance group]”
The Great Canada Tour was clearly important in fostering enthusiasm for bicycling, and the founding of many local wheelman clubs, throughout Southern Ontario. In each community, the arrival of the riders was greeted with large crowds, brass bands, and, at the overnight stops, civic receptions and banquets. This excellent 2016 article documents the impact of the Great Canada Tour’s arrival in Goderich.
During the 1870s and ‘80s, illustrated “Historical Atlases,” with detailed county and township maps, were published for most Ontario counties. These County Atlases provide an excellent contemporary view into the routing and logistics issues faced by our Canada Tour bicyclists in the summer of 1883. (My father, Ross Cumming, republished many of these Historical County Atlases a century later, so I’m fortunate to have hard copies to pore over as I read the Great Canada Tour ride accounts). Based on the information in the “Wheelman” articles, I’ve charted my “best guess” of the route followed on the Great Canada Tour, in the maps below:
Clearly, the roads and municipalities of Ontario have changed drastically in 140 years! When our 1883 riders were cycling into St. Thomas or London, they were entering what we would now call the “city core” of those urban centres. At the other extreme, some villages with hotels, where the riders stopped for refreshment and accommodation, are now completely gone! Some roads ridden on the Canada Tour are now busy highways (Highway 3 “Talbot Trail” and Highway 4/Richmond Street) and others have long ago disappeared.
If we wanted to retrace the Great Canada Bicycle Tour, and rediscover the challenges and experiences of those hardy cyclists, what route would we take today? I have drafted a route which follows the (assumed) original route as closely as possible, and visits the significant landmarks and buildings identified in the original Canada Tour accounts:
As Randonneurs will suspect, it is no coincidence that this draft route is just north of 600 km in length! If there is interest among Ontario Randonneurs, a 2023 600 km Brevet or Permanent commemorating the 140th anniversary of the Great Canada Bicycle Tour could be as much fun as the 1883 original:
“The entire tour was ONE CONTINUOUS FROLIC OF FOUR HUNDRED MILES, through a strange and lovely country; and over each day’s run the imps of innocent fun and enjoyment presided…
…upon the termination of the tour…it was found that all [riders], except two, had gained weight during the trip; while all, without exception, had gained in health, elasticity of body and spirits, strength, activity, and vigor”
Of course, I make no promises that “no intoxicating liquors of any sort” will be consumed at the end of the ride.
The Mariposa Centenary was an exceptional brevet. Just being a Centenary had its own appeal as opposed to a brevet that can be repeated sometime down the road, but the special edition brevet card and medal was an extra incentive.
Years ago, I never had much of an appreciation for medals. Over the years the ones from my youth found their way into recycling as trinkets of little use.That changed with PBP. Here was an event that continues to inspire me even years afterwards, and the medal with it’s individual number is unique.I decided to buy some adhesive rare earth magnets and turned any remaining old medals into fridge magnets which we can’t seem to get enough of, so adding another to our fridge which holds up kids painting and family photos seemed desirable.
Over the years I’ve forged some great cycling partnerships, one of which happened on a rainy Hockley Hills 200 brevet. Jocelyn Delarosa had recently immigrated from France in 2018 and we chatted for a while as we rode away from the group.He then joined another club which I ride with, the GGG (Gravel Grinding Group) and over the years since we have shared many a great ride including brevets this year.Jocelyn & I agreed to ride the Mariposa Centenary together and we are in similar form these days so it was going to be a spirited ride. Better yet we invited Alex Stephen from the GGG to become an RO member and join us.
I arrived with time to spare and saw quite the gathering of randonneurs all well spaced apart except for a brief photo op. It was great to see so many familiar smiling faces.It was nice to check out some new bikes and catch up with fellow riders. Erin Marchak presided over the formal duties, and Martin Cooper gave a brief talk about the ride, and the history… Before long 7am had rolled around and we were off. I noted one of the riders had his dog in a chest harness. Cute and ambitious!
We started at a gentle pace, negotiating street car tracks and numerous turns away from the downtown core but it wasn’t long before we were heading east towards the Waterfront Trail. The pace started to pick up as we warmed up and by the time we left the Beaches only a handful of us were left at the front. I got to meet Burke Adams, who’s reputation preceded him as Jocelyn had filled me in on another rider that had been pushing the pace on multiple brevets.So Alex, Burke, Jocelyn & I formed a group of four and settled into a solid pace.
We made it to the first control at 9:23am and I set about orchestrating a coordinated refuelling. We each had an espresso, a bottle of water to refill our bidons and an ice cream sandwich.I had called a friend on route to the Coolest Ice Cream Shop, who lived around the corner and who’s son is my godson, but our stop was so brief that he missed us. No time wasted and legs still warm we were back at it.
Burke was feeling strong so we shamelessly let him be the locomotive for some longer stretches while we pushed our average speed to around 32km/hr. Before long we had reached the northern limit of the route and we turned west into the southwest wind. We knew winds were forecast to gust up to the 50s in the afternoon so settled into a working pace as we rode to Bradford.
In Bradford we stopped at Portugalia Bakery at 10:49am. Alex was starting to feel tired from the pace. On many days he is a locomotive, but that day he needed to hold back. We’ve all been there. Speaking Portuguese may have had it’s benefits at the bakery, if not for ordering, then just knowing about the desserts. We enjoyed a more leisurely break and then set off once more, but this time we knew we were in for a windy return and fighting wind is a battle rarely won but often endured. It wasn’t long before we came to Canal Rd and then went across the Holland March and south towards the rising tide of hills on Keele.
Burk & I spun our way to the top and waited for the other two who weren’t far behind. Alex offered to go solo and I had full confidence he’d be fine but we were having fun and it wouldn’t have been a pleasant return solo against the wind so we turned the pace down a notch and managed our effort. There were numerous lights going back into the City anyway and pushing a harder pace would have resulted in a series of intervals between lights so it was for the best anyway.
Before long we passed the current location for Mariposa Cycles and then came to Muddy York Brewing. Since we knew the finish was probably going to be anticlimactic we decided to stop for a beer and finish the ride in good style. If I had it my way the ride would have officially ended at the brew pub! It was the best part of the ride and we joked that there are easier ways to go for a beer.
Finally we wove our way back to the start, chatted a bit and with a little luck we’ll all ride together again soon.
A great day out. Thanks to Erin for organizing such a fun ride!