Originally I wrote this as a thought process for myself, but for the benefit of posterity I thought I’d publish it (and hey, 2015 will come around sooner than any of us expect!)
The following is an account of the stuff I took to Paris-Brest-Paris 2011. I travelled by train from Edinburgh to London, then by Eurostar to Paris, whence I built the bike and rode out to St Quentin in the company of Graeme Wyllie, a fellow member of Audax Ecosse.
Heading to the campsite – I didn’t ride with all of this!
The total weight of my bike plus gear was 22.5kg (50lbs), not including water, which was generally between 1 and 2 litres (kilos). Plenty of riders went round with bike plus gear combos of around 10kg. Of course, the overall weight is the interesting one. I started PBP weighing somewhere under 80kg this time (too much time off the bike in the run up!)
Nazca Gaucho 28. Delivery mileage and shakedown only, so in good working order. Not mine – a demo bike borrowed from Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh. I’ve discussed the Gaucho 28 at length elsewhere on the site. There are certainly (more expensive) options – the bike weighs around 14kg (31lbs) compared with something like a CA2.0 or M5CHR at 9.5kg (21lbs), but then you need to find a lot of money…
For tyres I used the Continental GP4000s, a 25mm on the front and 23mm on the (suspended) rear. At no point did I wish for wider tyres or suffer any discomfort as a result of this choice – I would have run them both as 25mm (or 28mm) if possible, but not at the expense of buying an inferior tyre.
Velokraft carbon tailbox, originally from my Raptobike. It holds about 25L. The fit is reasonable onto the Gaucho’s seat, I used camping mat foam to prevent any damage as the bike wasn’t mine! The box weighs just under a kilo (2.2lbs).
This compares reasonably well with a pannier rack but versus the saddlepacks used by many riders, it’s a lot extra (and holds a lot more). On the other hand it ought to save energy on the flats and downhill. Having said that, I’ve always felt the Raptobike is faster on brevets without the box…
Lights and avionics
I used a B&M IQ Cyo dynamo headlight wired in parallel with a B&M Toplight line plus rear, both taking DC power from a 5AA battery holder. The AA format would allow me to buy extras at controls if necessary (although in practice, they had all sold out and I got the whole ride out of the lithiums I brought with me).
There are definite advantages to both of these. From modest voltage DC, the Cyo draws very little current (under 200mA) despite providing a beam of very useable light. From 2900mAh Lithium AAs, for instance, the Cyo will run for almost 15 hours – the best part of three nights. The Toplight draws a further 30mA, is quite bright but also includes a large (and EU approved) reflector, so in the event of battery or wiring failure, a following vehicle will still get a lot of red light…
Separately switched Ay-Up narrow beam off road headlight, as a high beam. The Ay-Up draws a lot more current than the Cyo and doesn’t provide much more useable light on the road, if any – but it does excel at lighting up road signs, the sides of the road and white lines, providing valuable context when descending at high speed. A secondary (but almost as important) effect is to make dozy randonneurs think a car is passing them – keeping them a bit closer to their half of the road!
Also an Edge 705 with map and trace loaded. 4AA battery pack for power, with 8x Lithium AAs that are sufficient to power it for the full 90 hours (this was indeed the case). I love having a GPS bike computer, both for motivation (ordinarily dull statistics can become rather interesting in the long hours of the night, after all), as a safeguard against going off route (not needed in reality, the arrows were excellent), and as an analytical tool afterwards (did you know I spent the same time on the road as people finishing in around 60 hours? The difference was my 13 hours sleep and further 25 hours at all the controls eating and so on!)
Phone – for alarm and twitter. I didn’t need the former (although would still use, to be on the safe side) but my tweets became a welcome part of the routine (hit control. Get food. Try to work up appetite while sending ritual txt msg). Lots of surprising people followed them too, as well as the family. Definitely a win.
In total I took 18 AA batteries with me which were quite sufficient. At 15g a pop, that’s 270g (150g for lighting, 120g for the GPS). The alternative would have been something like a SON 20R with eWerk, but the eWerk alone would weigh as much, to say nothing of the constant drag (which I don’t overestimate, but over 90 hours that’s a lot of extra energy).
Finally, I took a conventional headtorch for work on the bike (and searching in the luggage) in the middle of nowhere. Just about the only disadvantage of fixed lights is that you can’t shine them on your own bike!
Silk liner bag (125g), eye mask and earplugs, plus foil blanket.
I used the liner at each stop and was glad of it, but not the mask or earplugs – I was simply so tired that I passed out regardless of the conditions around me!
The foil blanket was used at Brest to sleep on the wooden benches, after which I didn’t use it. For the size and weight, worth having as a safety guard if nothing else, in case you ended up stranded in bad conditions.
Tools and Spares
Tyre boot, two inner tubes and puncture kit, tyre levers and pump. None of these were used. The roads on PBP are really excellent – I can’t remember seeing a pothole at any point and only a few short stretches had rough surfacing.
Spare chain and powerlink. Again, not used. There’s enough tolerance in a recumbent drivetrain that the spare chain probably wasn’t needed, but having a powerlink makes it much easier to deal with broken sections, and it only weighs about 0.0001g
Spare gear and brake cables. Again, not used. On an ordinary bike I would not bother, but needing a tandem-length inner means it would be wisest to carry one (and they weigh almost nothing).
Assorted cable ties, and a good length of duct tape wrapped around stem. I used a few of the cable ties, some to replace my tailbox catch (a rubber o-ring which snapped) and some to secure the AA batteries for my lights. Weightless, no brainer. The duct tape didn’t stick, perhaps because of humidity, but still worth having.
Multi tool with allen keys, screwdrivers, spoke and chain tool. I used the allen keys to tweak a couple of things on the bike, and at ~150g it’s not much of a sacrifice for something that does everything.
Penknife. 20g – used a few times and with just a blade/scissors/file, again very light.
Nutrition / Hydration
One pack of electrolyte tablets. I used one tablet per litre, and had a couple left at the end (so I prepared ~18 litres of water over PBP).
One 2L drinks bladder. This is plenty to bridge between controls, even on the longest sections. I might go with a 1.5L bladder next time to save carting half a kilo of extra fluid around the place, but if I had been fit and making a better pace, 2L might have been the smart choice overall (although, at a faster pace I’d have spent less time between controls!).
Shot from Tinteniac control outbound – you can see the drink tube, magnetically attached to the underside of the seat – win!
I took 24 Fabulous Bakin’ Boys flapjack fingers – almost the only food I can manage under all circumstances. These little bars are bitesize and pack in 130kCal each (so I brought just over 3,000 kCal on the road). In the end I could have done with three or four times as many, as I was unable to eat properly at most controls. At 28g a pop, I already had 600g of food to carry through 1230km.
With a bag drop I could have carried the same quantity but eaten them three times as often, replenishing every ~400k at Loudeac. Going to liquid food might be a better choice (powder is probably a lot less heavy per kCal you get out of it?) assuming I could tolerate it.
I brought a single Audax Ecosse jersey, with a view to changing into the ACP official top at the halfway mark. This plan was marred only by the latter’s propensity to be extremely itchy around the seams, which tortured me for the next 45 hours… in retrospect I should have brought two comfortable jerseys!
For the bottom half, I had a pair of Nike running shorts which I’ve always found very comfortable. Unaccountably I didn’t pack any spare shorts, and by the time I realised I had to make the best of it (by the end, I would have killed for a change but not quite enough to splash £140 on the ones available at controls (!!)…
In future, I’d have a bag drop so as to change completely each 400km. The comfort of changing might not actually be all that great, but the motivation of heading towards a change of clothes is!
I wore Shimano road shoes with SPD (MTB) cleats. There’s no danger of these wearing down and they also grip on many surfaces where plastic road cleats are treacherous. I shed a pound switching to these shoes from MTB-style ones and they’re stiffer and nicer to ride in, too! The only caveat was that the ventilation hole under the toes presented an ‘edge’ which I found noticeable as the ride went on – I’d fit these with uniform plain insoles before doing such a ride again!
Official gilet – at 209g this was nicely windproof and had a good zip, so I was actually thankful of it at night. For a future edition I might cut it away a bit at the back or sides, and restitch.
Extra layers – arm warmers, leg warmers, spare socks, overshoes, waterproof, buff, thin gloves. I wore the leg warmers all the time and the arm warmers at night, swapped the socks at Brest (hmm!) and wore the buff during the day to keep sweat out of my eyes. The gloves and waterproof went on between Carhaix and Brest due to the rain, but frankly a much lighter waterproof would have been better, as I didn’t need any pockets or hood – 480g for the one I took, which is about double the weight of an adequate waterproof.
(In reality, it was so warm even at night and sweat rate so high that something merely water resistant would have been OK. I have a 100g DWR-coated gilet, for instance.)
I took sunglasses but didn’t have clear lenses. This was a mistake and in different conditions (drafting people in the wet, for instance) would have been a serious fail. As it was, I got away with it.
First aid / medication
Diclofenac and paracetamol sufficient for the ride. This kept the pain of my knees manageable (for a while at least).
Vaseline. This would be a big help preventing chafage, although in the end the constant sweat led to irritation from the seams of my shorts (not around the derriere, curiously). Shorts cut for cycling might have had less movement around the hips, reducing this risk. (And a change, such that the seams were in a different place for at least half the ride, might have avoided it altogether).
Mini deoderant and shower gel. Not much weight but welcome (especially at Dreux, where there was no soap to shower with). Something I’d keep in a bag drop at Loudeac next time though.
Physically packing the bike
I split the stuff I was carrying into three main categories: tools and spares (black drybag), clothes (brown drybag) and medical etc (yellow drybag).
The drinks bladder, space blanket and my waterproof went in separately, while the brevet card, mobile, cash, cards etc. all went in a small yellow dry case – similar to the official one but a bit bigger.
Finally, the headtorch sat in the back with the loop passing outside (under the taillight). This made it easy to grab by touch even with zero ambient light.
This system worked extremely well. It was easy to find things when I needed to, and if I got to a control and decided it was time to put on arm warmers or take a shower, I could just grab the appropriate drybag and go go go.
The only thing I would improve is to have the AA batteries in a separate kitchen ziplock bag or similar, to make them easier to grab (I already did this for the spare pads, chain links, cables etc, but the batteries were loose at the bottom of the black bag).
It’s not just (or mostly) about speed, either. When you’re catatonic after days on the move, a simple colour-coded system can save you a lot of pain and frustration!
Travel and preamble
Wheel bag, bike bag and tailbox bag. The latter two were homemade out of a dust sheet, and ironically it was the professional wheel bag which failed, the handles pulling free hopelessly before I even got to France!
I took a one man tent, using the liner bag, pillow and ventisit from the bike. In future I wouldn’t camp – it’s just not restful enough before the event and it’s definitely not what you’re looking forward to afterwards!
Over 5,000 people enter PBP every four years and I think there are probably 5,000 equally valid ways to choose what to bring and how to pack it. I definitely erred on the side of caution and took stuff for every eventuality. I don’t regret this but if I was to do a future PBP (aiming to go quickly rather than “get my money’s worth”) I would certainly strip down a lot of this, and make use of a bag drop if possible.