PBP Planning: Two Years Out

If PBP in August 2015 seems like a million years away, it’s not. Sometime this Fall In early 2014, the ACP will announce the details for the 18th running of the event. If, as in 2011, there’s a lottery or other pre-registration system in place, the rides one does (or doesn’t do) in 2014 may affect your ability to register or qualify for PBP in 2015. The 2014 brevet season starts here in Florida in January, less than 5 months from now. So, by these measures, PBP is just around the corner.

Still, it’s not freak-out time. By other measures, PBP remains distant. Many people will take up randonneuring and distance riding for the first time in 2015 and they will qualify for, ride, and successfully complete PBP. It’s too early to get anxious about your “training” for PBP.

Here are the things to be thinking about at this point, two years out:

1. Money. At a minimum, you’ve got to do all the qualifiers in 2015 and then spend a week in France. Lay out a budget now that includes the entries to the qualifying rides and travel/lodging/meal expenses for those rides. Round-trip tickets to France run about $1000 if you’re lucky and $1500 if you’re not. Once there, you’ve got to stay somewhere, eat, and travel about (the ride-start is about 25 miles from the airport). Registration for PBP is cheap — about $150 — but it doesn’t include any food or lodging on route (nor does it include a bag drop). What can you afford? What level of accommodations do you need? Camping can be had for a few bucks a day; hotels in SQY run around $200/night. Are you taking your family? Doing sightseeing or other travel in Europe before or after the ride? Need a new bike or any additional gear? Don’t forget the cost of shipping the bike to and from France, which as of this writing can be as much as $200 EACH WAY depending on the airline. Work all this out now, and then figure out how you’re going to pay for it. However daunting the financial aspect of PBP might seem to you after reading this, it’ll only be worse the longer you wait to tackle it. So, decide what you need, do some math, make a plan, and put the plan into action.

2. Time away from home and time off from work. You want your family/significant other/friends/bosses on board with this whole PBP thing. It’ll cost real money to do the rides and go to France, and it’ll take significant time to qualify for the rides and get into shape so that you can complete the event. Get everyone bought in early so that there are no surprises/disappointments/conflicts about these issues when 2015 rolls around.

3. Parlez-vous? You can have fun a PBP without speaking a word of French, but you’ll have an absolute blast if you invest even minimal time into learning a few key phrases. If you can get yourself to the bathroom, order some food, and communicate with other riders (on your left/car up/this cold rain sucks/why are there so many hills in Brittany?) you might even get mistaken for a local. Even the smallest efforts to converse in the local language will be sincerely and warmly appreciated by French riders and event staff. And you’ll also be able to communicate minimally with everyone else, too. French — not English — is the lingua franca at PBP, so the astute Japanese, Ukrainians, and Brazilians will be learning the same few French phrases you ought to pick up, too. If you learn one new word a day starting now, you’ll have a 700-word vocabulary before you board your flight.

4. Special needs/diets. There are no gas stations in France. At least, not like we’re used to seeing on bike rides. Fueling your PBP with grab-and-go convenience store food — or even fast food — isn’t going to happen. You’re not going to find Gatorade, let alone your favorite energy bars or supplements. Figure out how you’re going to get what you can’t do without, and live without what you can’t get. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re going to have to figure that out, too. Needless to say, anyone on a medically restricted diet (wheat allergies in particular) should plan carefully for how their caloric and health needs are going to get met. (On the medical subject, the “medical certificate” has not been required by the ACP since 2007, but it should go without saying that your doctor should be on board early with your riding PBP, too.) This stuff is all possible, it’s just going to take more forethought and planning than you’re used to.

5. Your passport. When’s it expire? Get this taken care of now, so you’re not having to do the research in July 2015 on how much it costs to expedite passport renewal.

6. Bike assembly. How’s your bike getting to France? The days of wheeling it into the cargo hold, fully assembled and protected maybe by a plastic bag, are long over. Can you competently take your bike apart, pack it into a box or travel case so it’s protected from damage, and reassemble it in France? (And then reverse this process for the trip home?) The stress of figuring out how to reattach (and then adjust) a derailleur is something that you do not want on the eve of PBP. Learn how to do this stuff yourself and you’ll be furthering the goals of competence, confidence, and self-reliance that define randonneuring.

7. Aerobars. If you cannot fathom the idea of riding 750 miles without your bars, start fathoming it now because they are banned at PBP.

8. Training. Have fun riding your bicycle. That is all.

So … there’s a few things to think about now. We’ll tackle some of these topics in detail over the next two years. We’ll get into the qualifying rides and training and logistics. I’ve especially got some thoughts for you on the start times and managing the controls at PBP, which is a totally different experience than what you’ll see in the U.S. Stay turned, and until then, enjoy your rides!