Rob's Raid Pyrenéen - A Cycle Adventure



Have you ever thought that cycling across the Pyrenees in under 100 hours is a good idea? Rob Penn has! This is bicycle touring in Europe; Extreme and for a good cause.

Rob Penn, a director of Bikecation, rode the Raid Pyrenéen last summer with three teenage lads - his son and two friends. The boys were raising money for charity. Rob was just trying to keep up.

(Ed - For those that don't know; the Raid Pyrenéen you must complete in under 100 hours, and is a timed 720km bicycle challenge that traverses the length of the Pyrenees).

By Rob Penn 

Thursday 18th January 2018 

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On the plunging descent from Col de la Perche, sinking the bike into a right hand bend, I glanced over my shoulder once again. They were still there – my son and his two mates. They were still upright. With fixed grins, with hands clamped into the drops, with elbows bent and weight spread evenly over their frames, they were easing their bikes left and right with the tiniest shifts in balance, breaking early, carving hard through the radius of each bend, and accelerating back to top speed. They weren’t just riding out that July evening. They were owning the road.

Eight weeks earlier, they didn’t even own decent bicycles. Their plan then – to ride the Raid Pyrenéen, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea (720km with 11,000m of ascent over 18 cols in 100 hours, carrying their own gear, to raise money for charity) – was wildly ambitious, at least for three 16- and 17-year old, novice road cyclists. None of them had undertaken an adventure like this before. They didn’t even know how to take a rear wheel off, let alone fix a puncture. You can’t deny youthful purpose, though. And, blind to where the angels had been fearful of treading, in I rushed. I offered to help.

I ride a bike for many reasons, not all of which are narcissistic. Sometimes I ride a bike for merely selfish reasons. When my son was young, I rode to skip bath time. Later, I rode to miss bedtime, football training and then homework. I like to ride on my own. I resisted encouraging my son to take up road cycling seriously so I could carry on riding on my own. Also, I can’t tolerate novice cyclists.

When the boys started training in May, they went out riding without a pump; they regularly forgot to unclip at traffic lights and hit the tarmac; gilets fell out of their pockets; they left tools by the side of the road; they dropped water bottles on descents; they rode off the front and went the wrong way, usually into a valley with no mobile reception. Riding with them was frequently challenging, often chaotic and occasionally dangerous.

All the irksome traits of apprentice cyclists were on the menu. For hors d’oeuvres, the boys lost bar end plugs, left sunglasses on café tables and lent their bikes up against mine (not in itself a grievous offence, but if you scratch my hand-painted, bespoke frame, I will consider executing you). For entrées, they forgot to change gear when stopping at junctions; when they set off, the chain crunch was excruciating. On steep hills, they changed gear out of the saddle. For dessert, riding in a chaingang, they forgot to take their pull on the front. When, after some encouragement, they did come to the fore, they immediately slowed down. I despaired, because I had now committed to doing the Raid with them.

Posing for a photograph on the Boulevard de la Mer, beside the Atlantic in Hendaye, where the Raid Pyreneen route officially starts, they did at least look the part. They had matching kit and decent bikes. Their helmets fitted. They no longer fell off at traffic lights. However, I still rated our chances of making it to the Med as 50:50. That morning, there was a lot of faffing – unpacking and repacking their lightweight bags, getting gps devices to work and tightening cleats.

Leaving the Atlantic, though, things started to improve quickly. On the first afternoon, the boys had their jackets on before it rained. Approaching Col d’Aubisque (Ed - video of this killer climb below) on the second morning, they reminded me to eat something before we started the climb. Heading out of Bagnères-de-Luchon, we rode ‘through and off’ into a headwind and they came to the front of the paceline without being asked, time after time. Rolling into St Girons after 160km, we had a serious sprint race for the town sign. Going up Tourmalet, they dropped me.

I was impressed. Riding with these lads was great fun: it was worth the lost multi-tools and the hours leading them out. The grousing veneer that I had maintained for so long was beginning to crumble. I was even proud of my son and that reflected back on him. He was getting good at something I love. We have an excellent relationship, but here we were cementing the foundations for future decades. Through the fatigue and the heat, he grew in stature in front of me, hour by hour. He was on the brink of something epic.

We all knew Col de la Perche was the denouement – if we made it, the Raid was in the bag. The last 130km or so were out of the mountains or flat, with a whiff of the Med. Cascading down through that red canyon as the blasted heat of the day leached away, fizzing through sleepy villages, forming a train whenever the road flattened, the lads were on it. I had no need to look over my shoulder again. They had become cyclists.


Lucas Penn, Adam Hart and Lucas Wagner raised over £13,000 for two charities:

The Hands-Up Foundation, a small, innovative charity raising funds and awareness for those affected by the civil war in Syria;

Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a British charity working to prevent sudden cardiac deaths in the young, through raising awareness, screening and research, and through supporting affected families.

If you would like to make a donation to either charity, please follow follow one fo the links above.

Thank you.


This article first appeared in Mondial Magazine.

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