Category Archives: Paris Brest Paris

From Randonneur Rookie to PBP 2015: An Interview with Eric Williams

This brevet season Felkerino and I had the great pleasure of getting to know Eric Williams, member of #BikeDC and the D.C. Randonneurs.

In Eric’s first year of randonneuring, he completed a Super Randonneur series, a 1000K brevet, and Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). And he just keeps on riding. He has the rando fever!

Eric’s enthusiasm for riding is infectious, and I’m so glad he’s part of our rando scene. We recently talked about how he became interested in randonneuring, his first year of riding brevets, and his recent PBP experience.

Eric PBP

You were riding a lot of miles before you started randonneuring, but what was the longest ride you had done until you began riding  brevets, and what made you want to give randonneuring a try?

Until the summer of 2014, I hadn’t been riding a lot. I mainly commuted to work a few times a week– three miles each way– and went on an occasional shop ride with Proteus. That summer my daughter went to Alabama to stay with her mother, and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands.

I knew my cousin Jarred had gotten into cycling and I was really inspired when I heard he had completed a TransAmerica bike tour. We hadn’t seen each other for almost 10 years, so I decided to purchase a touring bike and take a quick trip up to Boston (via car).

Jarred and I then rode 100 miles with camping gear and all from Barnstable to Provincetown and back to Brewster, where we camped out for the night. That was my first century. I’d hardly say it was easy, but I knew right then that longer rides are for me.

I headed back to Maryland and decided to ride the GAP & C&O Canal from Pittsburgh to D.C. I really wanted to do this alone and fully self-supported.

A few friends drove me up, dropped me off, and said see you later. I completed the trip in four days, with lots of rain. Having never even camped alone before, this was very challenging for me.

I rode the Sea Gull Century, because why not? It sounded fun. Fun it was, but the feeling of accomplishment paled in comparison.

I had recently met Rod Smith (#BikeDC legend), and he mentioned that he had ridden 140 miles the day before. I remember thinking, “That’s impossible!”

I had always thought of the century as the end-all ride, the long one. This simple limit conversation really opened my eyes and probably changed my life forever.

Sometime after this I told my friend Ben Bassett from Proteus that I wanted to do more longer rides, but didn’t want to be as well-cared for or supported like organized centuries. He mentioned the D.C. Randonneurs and I signed up for the Flatbread 200K ride they put on every November.

In preparation for the Flatbread 200K, I met up with Rod at the BicycleSPACE Hills of Anacostia ride. We decided to keep riding. That day we road 140 miles together. I’ll never forget it.


How did the brevets inform your decision to ride PBP?

It wasn’t until sometime just before the Flatbread in November 2014 that I heard of PBP. I remember thinking how insane that sounded– ride 1200K in 90 hours or less.

I decided I would ride the Super Randonneur series and not worry about this PBP thing. I’d work up the 400K and see what happened. I just kept wanting more.

It was through talking to Carol Bell and Chris Mento during the Team Carnivore Flèche about PBP that I realized it was possible, and I could do it if I wanted.

As soon as I completed the D.C. Randonneurs 600K in June, I knew I could do it and I wanted to. I registered that night when I got home. I couldn’t wait for the chance to really test myself.


I know you rode a 1000K in the months leading up to PBP. Do you think that helped you prepare?

Ahhh, the 1000K. This would turn out the be a lot harder than PBP in a very biblical sense. I don’t think I needed the miles but I was concerned I didn’t have to sleeping experience needed for a 1200K having only ever ridden one 600K (one overnight ride).

The 1000K was a triple loop ride that started and ended at the same place each day. This would give me a great opportunity to learn how to sleep quickly and still manage to ride 200 miles the next day.

As it turned out, the second day was one of the wettest days on record. I can’t remember it ever raining that hard.

Forget that we would be summitting mountain passes on bicycles. I learned a lot on this ride from rando veteran Jerry Phelps and Dr. John from North Carolina. We had about 640 miles to discuss life and other valuable rando lessons.

Long story short, the 1000K completely trashed me and actually made me think I wouldn’t be recovered in time for PBP. Looking back, I think it was the right decision to ride the 1000K and I’m proud to be one of five people to complete that ride.


What had you heard about PBP prior to going, and how did your ride experience live up to what you’d heard?

I had always heard that PBP would include cheering locals, classic steel, hardcore racers, and every manner of cyclist known to man.

Simply put, I had heard that PBP is the greatest cycling event in the world. And yes, it lived up to that in every way and more.

A lot of times something can be exaggerated or talked up so much that when you get there it’s a complete letdown. This wasn’t the case with PBP, and I knew it the minute I got off the airplane.

Eric- PBP

What were some of the highlights of PBP?

On the first day sometime just before dusk, probably around 200+ miles into the ride, I stopped to give three local children D.C. Randonneurs pins. The children looked so happy– a pure joy kind of happiness. The father stood there looking at me like, “Did he really just stop? He needs to be riding.”

He and some other guy ran over to me, picked me up, placed me back on my saddle, and started running me up the hill. I couldn’t believe it. It was the most exciting moment of my life, them laughing hysterically as they pushed me.

Otherwise, riding with people for all over the world, meeting new friends, realizing just how widespread and close the randonneuring community is. Seeing my friends from DCR throughout the ride. These were all great moments.

And actually pulling with people who have completed RAAM. I didn’t know I was strong enough to ride with these cyclists. I pushed myself harder than ever before and enjoyed every second.

The third day was really a highlight, probably because I expected it to be a low point. Other than a lot of ankle pain, I felt great and was riding faster and stronger than ever before. It was amazing to finish a ride like this feeling strong.

And, in addition to the feeling of finishing, seeing my daughter and my sister waiting for me at the finish line, was amazing. I was so proud that my daughter could be there to share that moment with me.

Eric PBP

Did you experience any lows or difficult times? 

There were two times I felt utterly horrible during the ride. During the first night I decided I would ride all the way to Carhaix-Plougers. That’s about 330 miles.

Sometime at about 3 a.m. I started catching up to the tail end of the 90-hour group. Suddenly I was riding through about 1,000 people zig-zagging all about the road.

People were sleeping any and everywhere, including on the road surface– not cool. The energy was gone. These people had been on the bike for about 36 hours.

It really affected me and it hit me. I was tired. It’s interesting how energy is contagious, or how the lack thereof can also be contagious.

Those ditches started looking really cozy! This would probably the most tired I’ve ever felt.

I knew if I just kept on it I would get through. I had a hotel with a bed and shower, I just had to get there.

The second low point was when I woke up the following morning. I had slept from 6 a.m to 9 a.m., and I woke up in a confused state. I didn’t stop for a second to think “What do I need?”

I just jumped on the bike and started riding again. About 20 miles down the road, I realized I could hardly even turn the pedals. I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with me? What did I do?”

I realized I never ate breakfast. The calorie depletion from the day before struck hard and I was bonkers!

I managed to push through about 100K, to Brest, where I had a huge meal and sat down for a while. Everything was better then.

Eric PBP

You completed PBP in 68 hours, right, a fast time considering most people have 90 hours to complete the full distance. You took the 84-hour start, but in addition to that, how did you approach riding PBP (miles per day of riding, sleep stops, food, etc.) and did you have a time goal?

I didn’t have a specific time goal, other than I would aim for 74 hours. That left 10 in reserve, which would be important for mechanical or body failure!

I booked a hotel in Carhaix and Fougeres. I thought if I could make it 330 miles the first day, I would be in a great position. The second day would be a hard 250 miles, with lots of climbing back to Fougeres. This would set me up for an easy last day of 190 miles.

I already knew I could function fine on 3 hours of sleep a day as long as I was tired when I went to sleep (that wouldn’t be a problem!). I knew if I pushed through the first night that meant pushing through the second as well.

I set myself up for a late start the second and third day with a lot of night riding. I never thought I’d start a 400k at 10 a.m. but it worked out. I don’t mind riding at night, I rather enjoy it.

I ate three meals sitting down, and the rest of the food was all eaten on the bike. At each control I would pickup a few bananas, pain au chocolate, and a jambon sandwich.

Eating on the bike really saves a lot of time, not only because you are moving but because you never really get full. Using the energy as you replenish it seems to work better for my stomach than eating a large meal.

It wasn’t until the middle of the second day that I realized the faster I rode and the harder I climbed the more the locals would cheer for me. They fed me energy (and espresso!).

The more they got into it the harder I rode. I realized that my averages weren’t slowing down as I expected they would. At this rate I could do 68 hours comfortably. I wrapped up the second day at about 6 a.m. again and started out the third day by 10 a.m.

Eric - PBP

Some have said that the 84-hour group was somewhat lonely and lacked the fanfare of the 90- or 80-hour start. What were your thoughts about taking the 84-hour start at 5 a.m.– the morning after the 90- and 80-hour riders?

I think the 84-hour start was the right decision for me. Although I chose this to help out with the crowds at controls, I caught up to the 90-hour group very early in the ride and was met with probably even larger crowds. Being at the front of the 90-hour group would have probably allowed me to completely beat the crowds.

I was really nervous to be in the last starting group in a ride this long. In the back of my mind I thought, if I get dropped it’s going to be a long lonely ride.

The night before I started my ride, I decided to go to the 80-90 start and watch all the brave randonneurs depart. I rode back to my hotel with a German fellow I had just met. It turned out he had lived in Maryland for a few years.

On the way back to the hotel the streets were covered with spectators cheering for us. They thought we were riding in PBP!

This would be the most excitement I would see the entire ride, so yeah, I suppose the 84-hour start really does lack some fanfare. We laughed hysterically as we rode by waving to our fans. All the excitement left me unable to get a good night’s sleep.

The next morning St. Quentin looked like a scene from a zombie movie. The streets were empty, the lights were off, and there wasn’t a fan in site. In fact, I don’t think I saw a spectator until past noon that day.


Would you ride PBP again and why?

I would definitely ride PBP again. I never really understood why people ride it so many times until I was about halfway through the second day. I already wanted to ride it again and I hadn’t even finished yet.

It’s really hard to say why, exactly. Most of our brevets are very lonely at times. I’ve ridden well over 100 miles solo on a brevet that had 20-30 people riding it.

PBP didn’t feel like a brevet; it wasn’t the self supported challenge I had grown to love. It was something else entirely different filled with non-stop excitement. I don’t now if I’ll be there in 2019 but I will ride PBP again, and again, and again….

How would you summarize your first year of randonneuring and PBP?

My first year of randonneuring isn’t quite over yet but I think I got through the hardest parts. I’ve learned more about myself and grown as an individual more this year than the other 30 I’ve been around.

These long rides offer endless amounts of time to reflect on your decisions and to think about what you actually want out of life. I’ve met so many amazing people, seen so much amazing territory, and covered thousands of miles on my bike. This has been the greatest, most accomplished, year of my life.

To summarized PBP, “Christmas Eve”…

Eric- PBP

What’s next?!

Last weekend I rode a 440K ride out into the Shenandoah Mountains. I realized while riding that I didn’t really have a goal to work towards. As a result, the ride felt somewhat less meaningful.

I would really like to continue randonneuring and I don’t see myself ever stopping. I plan to ride all the international brevets I can– London-Edinburgh-London, and the Miglia Italia, to list a couple.

However, I now know there’s a whole other level of crazy. I would like to attempt something like the TransAmerica or Transcontinental Race– maybe even the Tour Divide. These are unsupported bike packing races across the United States and Europe.

After riding PBP I believe I could ride 240 miles a day for two weeks straight. In fact it sounds like it would be a lot of “fun.”

What question did I forget to ask you that I should have?

I think you pretty well covered it. You never asked WHY, but then again if you have to ask why, this probably ain’t for you!

The Randonap

Since beginning my glamorous randonneuring career in 2005, I’ve not only ridden in places I never imagined, but I’ve dozed in an assortment of spots I never before would have considered comfortable or conducive to sleeping.

Ride long enough, sleep little enough, and you too will find yourself mastering the strategy of the perfect randonap. Continue reading The Randonap

PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go Again?

The turning of the calendar to 2015 also means the arrival of a “PBP year.” Paris-Brest-Paris, the most heralded, historic, and international of all grand randonnees now peeps its head around the corner and beckons to us randonneurs, a mere eight months away.

I thought that deciding on a return trip to PBP would take little internal debate. I would set my sights on it, no matter what. Yet, as of this writing, I feel mixed. Like the self-help books taught me, I drafted a list of pros and cons to aid my decision-making. Continue reading PBP 2015: To Go or Not to Go Again?

All Dressed Up For PBP: The Towns Along the Way

This is the latest in a series of posts I’ve been planning about the incomparable international randonneuring event, Paris-Brest-Paris.

Previously, I wrote about Drew Buck, who completed PBP 2011 on a 1900 Peugeot, a as well as the tandem bicycles (Post 1 and Post 2). Today I’m talking about the towns along the PBP route. Continue reading All Dressed Up For PBP: The Towns Along the Way

More Tandems at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

After digging through the photos archives, I discovered more tandem shots worth sharing from the last edition of PBP. That is, they are not hopelessly blurry or otherwise terrible. Perhaps you will even recognize some of the randonneurs. Continue reading More Tandems at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

Tandem Bicycles at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

Events like Paris-Brest-Paris are difficult to unbox all at once. Some aspects can be, such as the immediacy of the ride experience and the emotions and physical states experienced.

Felkerino and me, bike inspection

Others take time to absorb and appreciate especially when, for many of us, PBP occupies a small space in between a flurry of other activities and responsibilities. It also happens after an intense period spent building our stamina through longer rides, including a full brevet series and summer training. Continue reading Tandem Bicycles at Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

PBP Memories: Drew Buck and his 1900 Peugeot

This week BBC News ran a feature about Drew Buck, a long-distance cyclist from Somerset, England, who is famous in the randonneuring community for completing Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) multiple times on vintage bicycles.

Drew Buck arrives at PBP. Love this shot. Photo by Felkerino
Drew Buck arrives at PBP on his vintage retrodrive Peugeot. Love this shot. Photo by Felkerino

The article prompted me to search through my own set of photos from the 2011 edition of PBP, and I realized that Felkerino I had the pleasure of encountering Drew Buck at various points throughout the ride.

Continue reading PBP Memories: Drew Buck and his 1900 Peugeot

Paris-Brest-Paris by Tandem

Have you heard enough about PBP yet? Well, hang on just a minute, because I’ve got one more story to share with you.

Felkerino and I co-wrote a short piece about what it meant for us to complete this past August’s Paris-Brest-Paris by tandem. It was published in the most recent edition of American Randonneur, the quarterly newsletter distributed by Randonneurs USA.

Felkerino and me, with Rob Hawks on PBP 2011 (c) Antoinette Galon

Randonneurs USA members may have already seen the article, but for those who have not, we decided to post it over at one of my favorite blogs, The Daily Randonneur. Click on over and check it out. It will make you immediately want to buy a tandem and start training for PBP. Kidding, though I do hope you like it!

See you on the road, everybody.

2011 in Review: All Rides Lead to Paris-Brest-Paris

Now that 2011 is coming to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the year, as many people do. For me, 2011 was all about Paris Brest Paris, not just because of the event itself, but also because of all the careful planning and diligent pedaling it took to get there.

In early 2010, Felkerino and I decided that we would attempt to ride the 2011 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) together on tandem. Continue reading 2011 in Review: All Rides Lead to Paris-Brest-Paris

My PBP 2011 Story: You Have to Go to Know

Hey, readers. The Daily Randonneur, a mighty fine randonneuring blog written by this guy I know, is featuring my Paris-Brest-Paris 2011 story. Yeah, you know PBP, that 1230K ride that so many randonneurs rave about? That one.

It took four days to ride PBP, and another two months to write the story. I’m not sure which was harder. Wait, yes I do.

Day 3 on PBP, with Felkerino and Jon.

Felkerino has been rolling out the story in daily increments this week, with the grand finale going up this Friday.

So grab your favorite beverage, click on over to The Daily Randonneur, and take a vicarious trip to PBP. Hope you enjoy it!

Randonneuring, Twitter, and #PBP2011

When people first started talking about this new thing called “Twitter,” (which I know is not new anymore) I didn’t get it. I understood Twitter was supposed to work as a social networking tool, but social networking about what? What you ate for breakfast? Who cares about that? Twitter struck me as a self-indulgent waste of time.

Despite my initial skepticism, I kept an eye on Twitter to explore what the hype was about. Continue reading Randonneuring, Twitter, and #PBP2011

PBP 2011 Ride Reports from Other Blogs

Hi, everyone. What have you been up to? I’ve been living the post-PBP dream, which mostly entails going to my job, dreaming about randonneuring, and recalling fun times at PBP.

Felkerino has begun to post some good PBP accounts over on The Daily Randonneur to help keep the PBP memories alive. I’ve also been doing some internet sleuthing of my own, seeking out other people’s PBP 2011 experiences, and came across a few standouts to share. Continue reading PBP 2011 Ride Reports from Other Blogs

Saying Good-Bye to Thai

We lost one of our D.C. Randonneurs’ members last week.

Thai at a control on the Civil War Tour 200K

Thai Pham, a fellow randonneur, died while riding in last week’s Paris Brest Paris. We’ll miss him, and my thoughts are with his family and friends during this time.

Thai and the D.C. Randonneurs


My PBP 2011 Photos

Hard to believe that last week at this time I was still riding my bike through the French countryside on Paris Brest Paris. Where does the time go, ha!

Finally, after a canceled flight to Dulles that required a re-route and a mighty drive from Boston (in a tropical storm, no less) I have had a chance to get my photos of the 2011 Paris Brest Paris up on flickr.

More posts about the ride itself are in the works, but in the meantime I hope you will enjoy a vicarious visual journey of this amazing ride. Just click on the photo to be taken to the corresponding set. Thanks to all who rode with us and made PBP one of the most spectacular rides in which I’ve ever participated. Continue reading My PBP 2011 Photos

It’s official. Finished PBP

After months of prep, PBP 2011 is now in the books and so are Felkerino and me, successfully completing the adventure in about 81.5 hours. Continue reading It’s official. Finished PBP