"There's always a fine line between guts and stupidity," says Ken Eichstaedt. He might well cross that line on 20 August when he lines up with 4,500 other riders for the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris randonee -- on a fixed-wheel road bike.
"For me, frankly, I'm kind of lazy," Eichstaedt tells BikeRadar from his garage in Olema, California, where he and his wife Amanda own and operate the Bear Valley Inn. "A geared bike doesn't enthuse me like a fixed gear. The bike I commute on is the same bike I'll race PBP. There's a stronger connection with riding fixed-gear. For the most part riding a fixed gear connects me more to my love for being on a bike."
Universally referred to as PBP, Paris-Brest-Paris is the longest of the rides known as randonnees which participants must complete at a certain minimum average speed. It’s not officially a race, but it’s descended from one: a motor-paced epic that was first run in 1891. Today’s Paris-Brest-Paris isn’t supposed to be a race, but it has a massed-start and timed finish. You do the math.
Eichstaedt, 45, raced the 1987 PBP on a mountain bike in 60 hours; within the same six-week span he also raced in the first mountain bike world championships near Grenoble, France, on the same bike, because, well, he was in France. He choose a 1973 Schwinn Paramount for the 1991 PBP, finishing in 67 hours. Third time wasn't the charm, though, as Eichstaedt was struck by a car in 1995, taking him and his Land Shark road bike out of the race.
For 2007, a modified Santa Cruz Roadster is his weapon of choice. The battle-scarred white machine has permanent markings from Eichstaedt's Marin County commute over hill and dale to the Larkspur Ferry. Eichstaedt works in downtown San Francisco as a civil engineer. On a recent Randonneurs USA Google group chat, discussion of how many Americans will be riding PBP on a road fixie came up; at least five are known to have registered, including Eichstaedt.
Eichstaedt is looking to avenge his DNF in 1995, the year that was also the last time American PBP legend Scott Dickson won the race. Dickson began his glory years by placing third in 1979, though at just less than 49 hours he was four hours behind the winners. In 1983 he again came third, this time by only one hour. He won his first PBP in 1987 by breaking away in Brest, aided by a strong tailwind and a few strong riders from the "touring" group, which that year started many hours before the "racing" group. Dickson also won in 1991.
Eichstaedt returns to PBP to race like a true randonneur: on his own. "I plan to race PBP unsupported," he said. "In1987 it rained a third of the time. It was very cold. Half the Americans dropped out."
The entry fee for PBP is US$160US, and the field is limited to 4,500 participants. In 2003, France had the largest group, with 2,005 riders, compared to 458 Americans, 346 Brits, 214 Italians, and 195 Germans rounding out the top five countries. Eighty Australians made the trip. For 2007, 621 Americans have registered for PBP.
© BikeRadar 2007