PBP 1891 to 2019: History Culture Passion.

1891, and a race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris is run. It’s the oldest continual cycling event/race in the world. Sponsored by Le Petit Journal and imagined by Pierre Giffard its origins were to sell a few newspapers and to marvel at the reliability and performance of a new generation of bikes. It sold those papers well, so much so that someone suggested to Henri Desgrange a co-sponsor in 1901 that he might try to organise another race, around France. 

The professionals and amateurs parted company in 1951 leaving the event to the Randonneur and Randonneuse to complete and enjoy. Since then it has become a World gathering of cyclists pushing them selves to complete a course through the small towns and villages of north west France. For four days, every four years, these towns and villages become the theatre of dreams as riders battle with themselves on the way to Paris. An event where every participant wants to see each other complete the course and every spectator on the way is cheering for the last rider louder than the first.

A flavour of the 2011 PBP

A collective madness of randonneurs and the communities along the route that support them on their journey. What else but madness could describe 6000 cyclists all who must qualify by riding 200, 300, 400- and 600-kilometre Brevet events just to get to the start line. Or for a 100 years whole communities, towns, villages and generations of families, set up sleep, food, coffee and water stops often for free to help this long chain of riders reach Paris? Why do the cyclists and spectators who share the 1200 Klm of road do this, for no prize, for no reward?  If this is not some collective madness, then it must be something beautiful, ordinary people doing something extraordinary.

Maybe a third of the world’s countries will have people in this Brevet, 20% of them might not finish within the required time but the ones that do will have an entry in the events “Great Book” that records the finishers names and times. A slice of history and a share in a century old event is there for all the finishers and possibly a few bragging rights at the coffee stop during October club spins.

There is a culture of self-reliance in this world of long cycles, there is a lot of time on your own. The bikes are many and varied the equipment used chosen by what best suits the individual. There will be night cycling, lights to see by rather than be seen are needed. The ability to fix a few problems on the road is no harm, certainly punctures and equipment failures will happen at some time during the event or qualifying. A rider will need to do some repairs.

Choosing a saddle that is “comfortable” for 20 hours cycling today and 20 hours tomorrow is a luxury. Shorts that you like and that will work for you, enough clothes that cope at 2c at night and carrying them at 20c during the day. Padded bar tape changes of gloves, high viz gelets, food, socks. Wet weather gear, mudguards, navigation, back up lights there are so many bits and bobs to get right. On these long rides sometimes, the logistics can be as important as the ability to ride the kilometres.

Of course, being France there is food right down to a pastry named after the event, yes it even has its own tray bake. Sold through France the Pares-Brest a rondel of pastry representing the wheel of a bike and a rich praline crème au beurre filling.


“when you can’t go on, keep cycling”.

There will be times you are burnt out, can hardly turn the pedals, you start to fall asleep on the bike, then an hour later you are pushing like your legs can spin those gears for ever. Will we all finish in Paris, who knows as we have all had our tough moments on the qualifying rides. I do think we will give ourselves every chance. The club has supported us with the van and the extensive experience in the club of successful PBP cyclists is available to us. The group itself is a source of strength, we have all had our struggles on various events and we have all being dragged home by others at some time.

August 19th at 20:45 hours, at the start line in Paris, there will a group from your cycling club who will do their best to complete this journey but also to enjoy the experience.


The 2011 Official PBP video


A personal account of the 2015 PBP