Origins of the Toronto Randonneurs



Origins of the Toronto Randonneurs
by Martin Heath, 1997

Amongst the "cognoscenti" who frequented Bicyclesport, the word was that the "two Mikes" had some thing "in the works." During the early summer of 1982 they had constructed two touring bikes the like of which most us had never seen - just heard rumours. They were built of lightweight racing tube-sets, yet had longer wheelbases, more relaxed angles and wider clearances than a racing bike. They also had custom-made front and rear narrow lightweight racks, narrow mudguards, two or three bottle mounts and a generator that, whilst riding, could be activated via a lever near the seat cluster.

We scratched our heads. What kind of ride would require the generator to be turned on in motion? Answer - Alpine tunnels. It transpired that the two were planning to cross the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean by a prescribed route with time limits. Accompanied by Bob Zeller as their support vehicle driver/photographer/motel proprietor (this was early September, and all the hotels were closed), they were given a stern lecture by the organiser in Paris regarding the futility of their endeavour. Nobody had attempted the ride that late in the season. What with the mountains, cold, snow, and Mike Barry getting the flu, things got tough. But, of course, the tough got going, and they finished the ride many hours inside the time limit.

When Mike Barry gave their presentation and slide show of their exploits (very much in the vein of Don Quixote/Sancho Panza) at Bicyclesport, it transpired that he (taciturn fellow sometimes) was a friend of that famous cycling journalist Jock Wadley. Jock used to cover the TDF riding his Holdsworth bicycle to two or three points in the same stage by taking short cuts. His articles about the Tour would segue from the race to his own imagined participation whilst riding from one viewing point to another (aided also by the locals who will cheer anybody on a sports bike during the Tour).

In 1971 his enthusiasm and ability at long-distance riding had been noticed by some cyclo-sportif "randonneur" types and he was invited to participate in that year's "Paris-Brest-Paris". No doubt they turned a blind eye to his preference for "hushpuppies" over cycling shoes - the cleats hurt his feet and he couldn't leap off the bike and become a journalist with the required degree of agility. Hence the "Hush Puppies" - "Got to jump through this throng to get those succinct phrases out of "Pou-Pou", Graezyk, or Anquitel."

His experiences were recorded in "Old Roads and New", published in the north of England, read by thousands of club riders and led to the eventual formation of Audax UK, and a successful participation in PBP 1975 by (I guess) 75 Brits. We sat there listening spellbound to Mike Barry, because here was somebody that knew somebody that had actually participated in that mythical dream-event -the "Holy Grail" of cycling achievement, Paris Brest Paris. Yes, we had heard of it but it was regarded as unassailable - you couldn't just show up at the start and hope to ride!

This "Raid Pyrennes" that he and Mike Brown had just so spectacularly completed was, of course, organised by an affiliate organisation to the one that ran PBP. Like Svengali, Mike Barry was controlling our minds (and I am sure anticipating orders for some of those desirable Mariposa long-distance steeds). But he wouldn't commit himself, other than to say (to quote current popular or otherwise remarks) "Just watch me".

November and December passed and thoughts of cycling extended towards Rideau Lakes and great Canadian Bike Rally in Paris, Ont. - ideas of PBP were remote. In January, Bicyclesport announced that a presentation on PBP would take place the following week! About 25 eager-beaver starry-eyed wannabees heard Jerry Pareja from Vancouver relate his exploits in PBP 1979 and show the French language video. The enthusiastic response galvanized Mike Barry and Mike Brown into forming a new cycling club - the Toronto Randonneurs. Little did they realise at that time that future participation by the shop staff would curtail their own rides in the event.

While I was contemplating a choice of steeds for this pursuit of the Holy Grail, Mike Barry, Mike Brown, and Bob Zeller were plotting behind closed doors and open roads. Unbeknownst to us future randonneurs, they were concocting a challenging series of brevet rides to qualify us for PBP (assuming we made the mandatory and secret checkpoints). Randonneur riding is best described to noncycling people as a car rally on bicycles - you have to reach a certain point by a certain tune, have your card stamped, and proceed to the next control. At some time on the journey you come across an undisclosed secret check point. If this occurs on a gravel road in the middle of a miserable downpour, turning the surface into a quagmire, so be it.

They had designed some great routes - I forget the title of the 200K, but the 300 was the Tour of Lake Simcoe and the 400 was the tour (circumnavigation) of Lake Simcoe and Lake Scugog. They hadn't figured out (no time maybe) a unique 600K course, so it was a combo of the other routes, unfortunately returning to Yonge/Finch after the first leg (tempting to drop out here!). Anyway the route sheets they provided were impressive. Start here, proceed to there, turn left, proceed to there, turn right, and then you were on a gravel road. Go straight on this gravel road for 8 km, never mind the flat tires and wipe-outs.

Torture, we said! Mike and Mike said, Boy-Scout-like, "Be prepared - the worst may yet be to come!" Of course, there is minimal gravel in PBP. Some Audax Parisienne types who had admired the 2 Mike's "Raid Pyrenees" had probably asked them if there were any other riders of their calibre in Canada and I'm sure that Mike B. said "of course". In order to cover his ass/save face he put in these gravel roads - "to build character".

I missed the 200K, but by fall-back went with Florent D'Arras, Kasimir Sadek, and Hans Brucker to the 200K in Syracuse. This was a very wobbly event. The turns were marked by double painted arrows on the road. If you had made the correct turn, straight arrows were your confirmation. I was riding with (behind) Kas and Florent and I became quite agitated when I realised that we had passed a turn that was noted on the scheme-sheet (the large starting group had taken three different directions before this point!). I rode on cogitating, made my mind up and wheeled around on the road and retraced my cadence to Dotaxeur Road to rejoin the official route. Emerging from the checkpoint, I was delighted to meet James Konski, chief bigwig of Randonneurs USA (Editor's note: Jim Kronski was, in fact, the chief of the International Randonneurs, which ceased to exist in 2000, and was replaced by Randonneurs USA as the American randonneuring organization.) He wrote the route, so I decided to ride with him and not get lost. He was very friendly and chatty, and we got along great, but at such a slow pace I was worried about making checkpoints. Not to worry - he had done this before. We concluded the ride - the others had finished hours before. It was a happy experience to have qualified for the first brevet for PBP 1983!

Despite Syracuse being in a very hilly area, James Konski had cunningly engineered the route to be entirely flat and that really handicapped Americans in 83 and 87 at PBP (which is not flat - ever!)

Our 300K route started at Yonge and Sheppard, and saw a motley crew of ahout 30 riders including Kas Sadek on 50" fixed gear with one crank removed, his foot resting on the BB shell. He had done the Syracuse 200 in under 9 hours, but it had cost him an Achilles tendon - expensive!

The route went straight up Dufferin St. then over a roller-coaster of gravel and through Kettleby. On the climb out of Kettleby, I remarked to my companion Chris, "What a big gear he was using." By the time we dropped to the Marsh, he had blown up and the group was out of sight. Chris couldn't hold my wheel and told me to go ahead.

I caught glimpses of the group in the distance, which was good because I hadn't a clue where I was going, my route sheet was stashed away and I couldn't really make sense of it anyhow. So I had no choice - did I want to go to Paris? Yes! Engage large chainwheel and small sprocket and pretend to be Martin Merckx. I caught them on Canal Road cruising at 30 km/h. Connecting with the back of that bunch brought an overwhelming feeling of relief. Operating in a double pace line, I soon found myself halfway up the group, with Mike Barry making cracks about my hand made left hand crank. After Orillia it got harder and the weather deteriorated! Riders were going off the back at an alarming rate. At one point I remember sheltering behind Mike Miller (he's 6' 5") when a substantial gap opened between him and the other Mikes in front. I waited and waited for him to close it, but no, I had to do it myself and Mike Miller didn't follow. He was shattered! I stuck behind the two Mikes like tubular cement and wasn't going to let go - I still had absolutely no idea where I was or where I was going except in the general direction of Paris-Brest. Sometime after Uxbridge, the rain increased, fogging my glasses. I remember Mike Barry and Mike Brown stylishly peeling around the perimeter of a rain filled pothole whilst dummy here in the back slammed straight through. denting both rims. But I kept going!

Bob Zeller had fiendishly devised a secret control on a gravel road, which, with the additional liquid precipitation caused some riders to detour. This was unfortunate, as no secret control stamp meant no brevet! At the finish. angry words were muttered but no quarter was given. How I survived I don't know - it was the hardest ride I have ever done and I think it was just the motivation of PBP participation that got me through it. Also I had done a ride of the same distance 22 years previously- a club run on 66" fixed (six riders) from Leeds over the North Yorkshire Moors to Whitby and back. I think that once you have done something extraordinary like that, you never forget it.

Because the Bicyclesport staff worked Saturday (very busy) and Monday, it was decided that the 400K would start at midnight Saturday, allowing some sleep before the staff had to report for duty on Monday morning.

What with one thing and another I was 30 min. late at Yonge and Steeles. The group had left but Mrs. Barry and Mrs. Brown were there and duly marked my control card with a start time of 12:30- sending me into the night. On the gravelly roller coaster of Dufferin, I found Dan Herbert with a flat tire. Being on tubulars, I couldn't help him, so he sent me on and I soon found the entire group waiting for him. For some reason Dan couldn't continue, so we proceeded in double pace line to dawn in Barrie. As conditions were fast - little wind, we got to Orillia it 60 mins.! By the time we hit the restaurant in Kinmount, it was apparent that we were in for a scorcher in terms of temperature (if not speed). Going into Kinmount, as I dropped back from the front to the rear of the group with Dave Phillips (Bicyclesport frame-building apprentice), I was chastised by Florent D'Arras "What are you trying to do - kill us, you were doing 42 KM!!" Behind the Kinvale restaurant I found an abandoned washing-sponge, which I sliced in two with my Swiss Army knife, offering a piece to Dave Phillips. "Soak it in water and put it inside your hat - it cools the head." An old TDF trick. We soldiered on, and at Bobcaygeon. I screamingly insisted we make a water-stop at a corner store. Sometime after Blackstock and before Uxbridge. we made a left turn and dismounted to regroup. Looking back, we saw Mike Brown and Mike Miller, both glassy-eyed, coming around the corner. Having made the turn they were unable to straighten out or undo their toestraps, consequently tumbling into the ditch. Heat prostration, lack of fluid etc. was to blame. Remember, this was "before Cytomax".

Magically a nursing angel in the bodily form of Mrs Brown appeared in a very terrestrial VW van and carted off the afflicted. I like hot conditions, partly because I know how to deal with them (water, water water) and we finished the ride in 20 hours, but of course I had the fastest time of all - l9h30m!

I don't really want to describe the 600K - not enough nasty epithets exist. As I previously mentioned it was a combo of 200K and 300K routes with extra mileage but involving a return to Yonge and Steeles after the first leg. I was so tired that I declined Mrs. Brown 5 hospitality and "slept" in my van with no change of clothes, shower or anything including sleep - for the traffic noise was relentless and amplified by the thin walls of the van. Consequently I had a miserable conclusion to the 600 and the others had to drag me along and feed me Mars Bars to the finish.

Now I felt that I could relax, having qualified for PBP, but I overdid it. You should really refer to my article in the newsletter of 1984 "How NOT to train and ride PBP!


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