by Rob Walker

There’s a saying that you do LEL for the ride and PBP for the experience. Having now done both I have to say that it’s fairly accurate although, for me, the scenery on PBP was way nicer than I’d been led to expect. Maybe it was the novelty of riding down serene little lanes and through old quaint villages, but I found most of it rather lovely – even the long rolling farmland stretches. The experience though is definitely what it is all about, and it’s very hard to capture every aspect of that in words. Definitely the support you get through the villages is a big part of it – not quite the throngs cheering at the Argus, but unceasing over the whole event day, night, and small hours of the morning.

Early on I realised that the only way I could actually “fail” this event would be not to soak up as much of that experience as humanly possible. Good preparation and careful pacing could not guarantee me a finish but the journey would only be a failure if I didn’t enjoy it, regardless of my time or the outcome. As a result, I rode a bit faster than I normally do (helped by the big bunches on that first night) and used the extra time to savour some sublime little café and restaurant stops and the odd roadside stall. I intended to sleep more, but after two really solid 3+ hour sleeps both ways through Loudéac I felt surprisingly fresh until the last 100km or so – by which time the heart took over the head and I pushed on to the end.

It’s impossible to sum up such a monumental ride, so here’s a few short snippets of some highs and lows.


Clearly the magical PBP moments that everyone sees and enjoys of course – legions of red tail lights, enthusiastic local supporters etc. Overall though, the groups of guys I bumped into and rode with along the way were a highlight. Some were random riders I ended up chatting too and riding with, and of course there were also a few of our own SA riders who I met along the way – in no particular order: Peter (we managed to stay together for about the first 100km or so); Nico (who I met both ways); Gideon; Ernst; Barry; Salim; Gerhard; and I’ve probably forgotten some. I have a vague recollection of meeting one of the Gerrit’s outside a café at daybreak on the last leg to Brest. Memory fails me now, but I’m guessing it was Gerrit The Younger since he was already on his way back (no offence there to Gerrit The Anciens). Also meeting old friends from Audax UK, including finally riding with the legendary Marcus JB, whose blog a few of us have enjoyed.

I’ve come to the realisation now the dust has settled that although I like to ride solo and at my own pace, I most enjoy it when done in the company of others. A strange paradox, but one which is completely feasible on Audax rides like PBP. You don’t ride for long with the same people, but you are never alone.


I had surprisingly few real personal lows. Unexpected for a ride of this distance was that although my spirits slumped on a couple of occasions in the warm afternoon sun, I never really had that “shoot me now” moment. Even a painful knee which needed to be strapped up over the last 300km held together and didn’t threaten my ride, although I think I ground a couple of teeth down until I was kindly handed some stronger pain meds. No mention of my supplier here, you know who you were and thanks, the beer washed them down well.

Bumping into Nico just before Mortagne-au-Perche at 140km was probably one of my lowest points – nothing to do with his company I hasten to add! He’d already suffered a puncture from a fishing hook (WTF!?) and his bike was limping along on three broken spokes. I feared his ride might end even before the first proper control. His message the next day, back on track around St Nicholas-du-Pelim, was a huge relief. Lowest after that was learning that Peter had been forced to retire within striking distance of the end – it’s good to read his report and see it was still a great experience for him.

Most Scenic

Easiest one of the lot – crossing the old Brest bridge just after dawn with the new bridge rising out of the fog bank alongside. Whatever else I forget about PBP, that image will last forever. The Rambouillet forest just outside Paris was a bit of unexpected magic too – even on the return leg when we had to climb back up through it.

Most Bizarre Moment

There were a few, but Barry and Nico (again) feature in this one. As we climbed the last ramp up to Fougeres on the way back we spied a McDonalds across the roundabout. We sat munching on their standard fare ordered through a rather annoying self-serve system. As I headed for the luxury of a clean toilet, some very non-standard McD’s music came blaring out over the PA – Rammstein’s Du Hast. Some moments later, my needs sorted, I opened the stall door into total darkness. Except – across from me, two purple alien eyes were glaring ominously back at me, thrash metal still blasting into my ears. I honestly thought I’d lost my mind, fallen asleep, or woken up. I couldn’t decide which, but I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The slightest motion of my hand resolved the scene in a way my sleep deprived brain could not – energy saving lights flickered on, and ahead were two urinals with some kind of UV sanitising light. Phew!

Would I do it again?

I always said no, this would be a one off but I’m not so sure now. I’ll definitely look for some other adventures first but I can’t say I’ll never return. There is something about that incredible atmosphere and the amazing experience which I suspect may lure me back to sample it all over again one day. Maybe I’ll have a go at one in my 6th decade, much like Gerrit The Anciens – although I think he must ride too then since he seems to be the PBP good weather charm. Barely any wind, and only a few showers right at the end. Thanks for organising that Gerritt!

Full, very long-winded, account slowly taking shape on my blog: