The First Brevet of the Year

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Every year, the first brevet of the season sort of sneaks up on me. I’ve been enjoying bucolic rides with friends for the first months of the year, and then suddenly, the 200 km brevet is just a few days away. It serves as a reminder that if I want to be in shape this summer, my training now needs to be a bit more focused. The brevets are part of that training…

There are many different approaches to riding brevets. I enjoy challenging myself to see how fast I can complete the course, in the tradition of the French randonneurs of the mid-20th century. This means that for the first time this year, “the clock is ticking”.

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Seattle has had a very warm and dry winter. The day before the brevet, errands took me to the University of Washington, where the cherry trees were in full bloom. Any hopes for a warm and dry brevet were dashed by the weather forecast, which called for rain and more rain. Welcome back to Seattle weather!

Having to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris this year means it is not an option to stay home and wait out the rain. As it turned out, that was a good thing, since the brevet was great fun.

A 200 km brevet is both easy and hard. Easy, because pacing isn’t too difficult – I go pretty much all-out all the way. Hard, because, well, I am going pretty much all-out for close to 8 hours.

The “Escape from Seattle” 200 km of the Seattle International Randonneurs used a nice course that starts and finishes just a few kilometers from my house, making logistics easy. The course goes north through Seattle, where there is little traffic this early in the morning. Then we follow scenic backroads in a large loop before returning to Seattle from the east. The course intersperses short hills, where  we get to stretch our legs, with flat roads, where we can recover from the hills. It’s a perfect early-season ride.

The start is always exciting. I greet acquaintances whom I have not seen all winter, and I meet new riders. We sign in, sign the waiver, and get our brevet cards. I fold my route sheets in what I think is the best way. (I prefer folds to be at a control or during a long stretch of road without turns, so I don’t have to turn over the sheet in a rush.) It’s a beehive of activity, and anticipation is in the air. And then there are a few words from the organizer, Mark Roberts, and we are off.

Right after the start, I found myself riding next to Theo Roffe, inveterate randonneur as well as Compass Bicycles’ newest employee. We spun up the long incline to warm our legs. We did not plan to ride the entire way together, but fortunately that is how it turned out, since our speeds and riding styles were well-matched on that day. Rather than drafting behind each other, we rode a little offset to avoid the spray on the wet roads. When it got truly wet and windy, we rode side-by-side and chatted a bit.

We climbed up the many short rises as the course traversed the hilly terrain north of Seattle. We swooped down the steep downhills in the aero tuck. We enjoyed roads that we rarely ride, and we took turns navigating, since our cue sheets were folded differently. This meant that turning the cue sheet could wait until a straight stretch of road made turning the cue sheet possible without stopping.

We did not stop unless we needed to. A few times a year, going all-out is an exciting challenge and welcome change of pace. We did have time for photos, cafes or taco trucks, which is a different pace and mindset from the rides I usually do. It reminds me of what I enjoyed about racing, but without the competition. It’s like being in a breakaway without having to worry about the final sprint. It’s pure teamwork, and it’s exhilarating.

It was a very windy day. No trees were blown over, but fallen branches littered the roads in the forests. On the open stretches, the wind was an invisible wall. Riding into head- and cross-winds isn’t either of our strengths, so we struggled at times. After the last control in Carnation, we slowed down a bit to recover before climbing the last big hills on the way into Seattle.

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As we descended toward Lake Washington, the clouds parted, and we got a gorgeous view of downtown with the Olympic Mountains behind. That’s when we decided that we wanted to try and finish the ride in less than 8 hours. So there was no time to stop, but I still snapped a few photos while descending at 30 mph – hence the blurry “impressionist” quality of the shot.

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We had a flat tire (sharp, long shard of glass picked up on a highway shoulder), and we didn’t know whether we’d make our goal until we climbed one last rise to the house of organizer Mark Roberts’ house. And then we were done! Volunteers signed our brevet cards for the last time. After 7:48 hours, with no more than 10 minutes off the bike (including fixing the flat), the clock stopped ticking.

It had been an intense experience, and great fun. One of the volunteers took our photo seconds after we dismounted our bikes in organizer Mark Roberts’ leafy garden (above). It was nice to finish the ride in such a nice setting, rather than a parking lot or a noisy pub.

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My bike was leaning against the railing, none the worse for wear. Thanks to its generous fenders, it wasn’t even very dirty despite having been ridden at speed in the rain all day. Unlike its rider, it was ready to continue for another 200 kilometers, or even 1000.

For me, it was time to sit down, catch my breath, enjoy a drink and some chili, and chat with friends.

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Sam (left) and Steve (right) arrived shortly after us…

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… and so did Ryan (right; with Theo). It was nice to see them all riding strong, but most of all, we all enjoyed the ride. It’s only the start to the season, but it bodes well for PBP. We’ll have a lot of fun this year!

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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36 Responses to The First Brevet of the Year

  1. My experience riding in the rain, is water sweeps into the tubing via the seat post – seat tube junction, the headset-stem junction and the tiny vent holes left over from the frame construction process. After a rain ride, do you make any effort to drain/dry the inside of the tubing? Frame Saver and Boeshield T-9 sprayed inside the tubing helps but does not protective all the metal in the stays. What is your approach for protecting the tubing and other metal parts after a rain ride?

    • My frame is fully chrome-plated, so all the holes were brazed closed… I don’t have any special precautions after riding in the rain. I find that with good fenders and a handlebar bag, no water enters the frame – when I took out my bottom bracket after riding for a few years, including many very rainy rides, there was not a trace of water or rust in the bottom bracket shell. I do treat all my bikes with Peter Weigle’s FrameSaver before I first assemble them. (By the way, I took out my bottom bracket only because I needed a shorter spindle when the René Herse cranks became available, and I installed one on my bike.)

    • I don’t make any efforts post-ride to dry any tubing, but I have noticed that if there is no weep hole at the bottom of the bottom bracket shell, any water that may enter the frame will pool there. I did experience water pooling in a bike that did not have a weep hole. I make a point of having a weep hole in all my bikes. Since then, no water issues.

      • I think it depends on the quality of the frame. If your seat tube is ovalized from excess or poorly applied heat, water will probably seep in. On my bike, it doesn’t – I’ve checked. That said, it may not hurt to put a weep hole in the BB shell…

  2. Michael says:

    Congrats on such a great ride. Thanks for sharing. I’m always amazed at the feats of Randonneurs.
    How did you keep so dry, riding in the rain all day?
    Looks like your jerseys and Theos hair are dry.

    • It stopped raining toward the end, so we were dry at the end when the photos were taken. However, talking to Theo a few days ago, neither of us really remembered the rain. Having good fenders plus a handlebar bag that further shielded us, we didn’t get very wet. And when going hard, you produce so much body heat that the water never penetrates beyond the outermost layer of clothing.

  3. erick says:

    that is fast, can you give me the total elevation of the ride for campare with my slower rides…..

  4. Gary says:

    What a great ride. Wondering what food and drink works for you on these rides.

    • I didn’t keep an exact count, but I ate maybe 5 Clif Bars, 3-4 Clif Bloc electrolyte replacements and a bottle of Ensure Plus. 1.5 bars of dark chocolate. Two water bottles with 2/3 water, 1/3 apple juice (more electrolytes). The chili at the finish was a welcome break from the packaged foods.

      On more leisurely rides, I prefer to eat “real” food. We stop at taco trucks and bakeries, when they are available. In Japan, we eat onegiri (rice with filling wrapped in nori seaweed) – I wish those were available in U.S. convenience stores!

  5. Christophe says:

    I rode my 200k brevet with friends last Saturday (ACP brevets start from the city of Noisiel, East of Paris, which is about 10 miles from my house). We had a great time without rain, no flat tire and not too much wind, but I could only dream of riding this distance in less than 8 hours (our time this year was 9:00, with about 45 minutes off the bike – guess we stop too much… but I’m not sure I would be able to ride this distance with just 10 minutes off the bike, including fixing a flat).
    I hope to qualify for PBP and see you there.

    • It’s not a race – the main goal for me is to be happy with my ride. 9 hours is a good time, and so is every other time within the time limits, as long as you are happy with it.

      The short “off-the-bike” time is the result of years of optimizing the bike. We really stopped only to have our cards signed, everything else we could do on the bike. There were three controls plus a secret one, so each of those took only a minute. The flat took maybe three minutes – the huge glass shard that caused it was easy to find, otherwise, I often spend quite some time trying to find and remove the debris that caused the flat. (If you don’t, your next flat is already pre-programmed.)

      I hope to see you at PBP!

  6. Grego says:

    Jan, that ride sounds great; thanks for sharing with us. I find myself wondering where your rear mudflap is, though. If you had one, you and your friend could have drafted without getting messy.

    I have seen your comment saying that you usually don’t use one, but there’s no need for a mudflap to impinge on rear wheel removal clearance to be effective. Here are the best mudflaps I’ve found. The long, flexible rear flap will stop the spray from your wheel from getting all over your fellow brevet riders, and won’t otherwise get in your way. Cheers!

    • Rear mudflaps can be a good idea if you plan to draft in the rain. The drafting bike still gets a lot of crud on it, and so do the feet of the drafter. As I said, I prefer to ride side-by-side when it’s that wet. Your riding style may be different, and fortunately, everybody can equip their bike as they like.

  7. Gert says:

    I also just rode the first brevet of the year on sunday. The start is 700 meters away, and the finish is at my home. It does not get any easier than that. I rode it ahead of time, The others are riding Saturday and I will have sandwiches and coffee ready, when they arrive. I am a slow rider so my time was 10h35m, Cold and windy with at least an hour off the bike with cakes at every control. The sun was out, and for me the first brevets of the year is all about sitting at a control in the sun somewhere out of the wind with cake and a cup of coffee
    I am so looking forward to P-B-P

    • Regardless of how slow or fast you ride a brevet, you are still lapping the “couch potatoes”.

      • Alex Gow says:

        As someone relatively new to cycling I can only just complete 100km in less than 6 hours. Granted the route I took was hilly, but I greatly admire any time taken to complete a ride.

  8. Remi says:

    Hi Jan, congratulations for this blog and Quarterly. I’m French and a fan!
    I’m preparing my first PBP this year.
    My first Brevet was March 15th with a beautiful sun. Last Saturday I did again 200 km in the rain this time. I put the shell but I soon preferred to remove it and I felt much better to ride and I was not more wet. The enemy is sweating…
    The Brevet we were two to ride 650 Randonneuse and many were surprised that I could complete 200 km 27 km/h. Steel frame, wide tire and fenders: madness!
    We are in Auvergne and a rider who had worked at MAFAC in the 60s in Clermont-Ferrand noticed that my brakes dated from that time. Maybe he made them!

  9. Great write up. I’ve just done a 215k ride with 3,100m of climbing. We mucked around a bit with stops/puncture/peeing etc. 8:39 of riding time but it took 10 hours all up. Prepping for a 400 in 3 weeks. My first Randonneur ride!! Great information on how you did it, I’m looking for knowledge to help me so thanks.Stephen.

  10. David Pearce says:

    Your bike looks SO GREAT, leaning against the stair railing! So nice and clean, washed by the rain, super-well-lit.

    AND, you’ve got cherry blossoms ALREADY, and here in D.C. our peak blooms are predicted for April 10-14 (approx.)! And we have none yet. And we’re even three hours ahead of you by the clock!

    Tch!

  11. David Pearce says:

    Your blog photos here just seem to POP. Really nice.

    Are you using a new camera? The colors are exciting and saturated. What camera are you using?

    • Most computer screens are not color and tone calibrated. PC screens are good but not as good as Mac screens for color, tone and contrast. One can use a photo editor to make colors “pop” on the PC/Mac screen by increasing the saturation by 10-15%. Adding a little additional contrast also helps. A small amount of “sharping should be applied to all digital photos. At the same time, images can be “ruined” by over tweaking the digital negative.

      • Most of the blog images are taken with a Canon G12. It takes great photos and is small enough to pack on almost every ride. As Rod suspected, I usually do a little tweaking in Photoshop to bring out contrast and tone. The same thing I used to do when I developed my own black & white photos many years ago.

        For Bicycle Quarterly, we use a more sophisticated DSLR camera (Nikon D610). For the printed page, we need higher resolution and a higher image quality. And we have professionals work on every image to make it “pop off the page” without making it look unnatural. Photo development is an art, and our guys (Color Group in Seattle) are among the best in the field. They spend the better part of a week on each issue, and it shows!

        It’s sad to me to see so many magazines, even ones with high circulation numbers (where the cost per issue would be negligible), have such poor photo quality. Not just among cycling magazines, either: I recently picked up a copy of Road & Track (the famous car magazine), and it was terrible…

  12. I notice you do not ride with a cyclecomputer. How do you judge the distance for upcoming turns from the cuesheet?

    • I know approximately the speed at which I am riding, so I estimate the time it’ll take to the turn-off. (For example, at 30 km/h, it takes 2 minutes per kilometer.) A minute or two before that time has elapsed, I start looking for the turn… Distances on cue sheets rarely match the distance on your computer exactly anyhow, so it’s really no different from riding with a computer, where you also start looking for the turnoff a kilometer or so before you should get there.

  13. Bill Gobie says:

    I thought the blurry photo at the top was a pun on your season coming into focus.

    I was glad to have a rain jacket when it was raining hard. It was hard to judge when the threat had passed, so I wore it too long and got a bit cooked — or steamed. My ride was much more pleasant once I took the jacket off. As Will Rodgers said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

  14. Cynthia says:

    Green leaves and cherry blossoms! I still have some snow in the backyard from another snow fall last Friday. I think NJ got Seattle’s winter along with our own this year.

    Your blogs about riding near Seattle give a nice account of how different the east and west coasts are for those of us who may never get to experience the side we don’t live on.

  15. David says:

    A lot to learn for a newcomer like myself. I rode my very first Brevet in Berlin last Saturday and was really surprised how hard it was. Actually, i was really thinking why i am doing this.

    The weather was hard on us. It was just a few degrees above 0°C and it rained during the whole ride.The rain did not stop for a single second. After 4-5 hours i was soaked like i never was soaked on a bike (and i had pretty decent gear, but just a wind jacket). To warm up we stopped a few times to have a warm coffee and ended up staying too long at the controls. When one feels tired, it seems almost impossible to generate enough power output to warm up your body, so it seemed like a good idea to us.

    I prepared a cue sheet with annotated map but noticed after 30-40km that it was really difficult (almost impossible) to concentrate on the sheet with such an amount of downpour. I am pretty sure i’d have not completed the Brevet if i did not ride with a guy with a GPS. It was especially helpful at the end, as we had to ride around 10km through a complicated part of the city in the rush hour, car and traffic lights reflecting on the wet road through my glasses. We were tired and just wanted to get it done. After more than 12 hours on the road we finally reached our destination. We were all surprised how long it took, since our pace was decent.

    At the end i think i learned a lot and will try to apply what i learned on the 300K Brevet next month. Hopefully the weather will be nicer this time!

    • Sometimes, the weather can be just terrible. I recall a 300 km brevet in 1999, where it rained so much – and we still were using SKS fenders that didn’t have enough coverage at the front and that had water drip off the sides onto our feet – that I was ready to abandon. The course was a large figure-8, so at the half-way point, we were about 10 km from the start… with 150 km to go. Fortunately, my friends decided to push on, and I did, too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone to PBP. In the event, we were lucky, the rain stopped, and the second half of the ride was pleasant.

      Fortunately, those rides are rare, and at the risk of being repetitive, excellent fenders (rolled edge to keep the water in, reaching far enough down to eliminate spray onto feet and legs) make a huge difference.

      • David says:

        Fortunatly i use 50mm wide Honjo Fenders so the spray was not the problem. My feet and my head were actually fine, but the penetrating water in my legs, my cold torso and most of all my almost numb hands (the gloves weighted about 1 kg when i put them off) were the main reasons for discomfort.

      • Sounds like some truly antediluvian conditions! I am sure the next brevet will be better.

  16. Michael says:

    I have a hard time keeping my leather saddle dry in the rain.
    I know you say that you keep yours dry by sitting on it.
    I tried that today. Saddle got wet anyway.
    Any tips? How do you keep it dry when you are stopped at a traffic light and dismounted?
    I don’t see how sitting on it can keep it dry when your shorts get waterlogged while riding in a downpour. Sometimes it just rains too hard.

    • You could try a raincover. I had little luck with those – I move around too much on the saddle, and they tend to come off. Waterlogged shorts are terrible, but good fenders prevent that as well… The nose of my saddle does get wet, but it doesn’t seem to suffer much. I treat it with Obernauf’s leather care after it dries.

    • Brook’s saddle covers work but are difficult to place over the saddle and leave excess cloth on the saddle top. The best saddle cover is the Aardvark cover. It’s easy to place over the saddle, provides a very smooth fit and is waterproof. These are sold by Rivendell Bicycle Works. In a pinch, I have used heavy-duty plastic shower caps and plastic bag.

  17. Bruce Hodson says:

    Seeing this frame so often makes me want to have mine chromed after I’m done knicking the paint so much.

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