Monday, April 8, 2013

Fleche 2013 - A just 'cause.

At 4:45 on Sunday morning, the temperature in Frenchtown, NJ, a small town on the banks of the Delaware River, hovers around 30 degrees. I lay on a sidewalk bench outside of a closed restaurant and a closed cafe, closing my eyes for ten minutes, willing myself to rest for just a little bit before the cold seeps into my body. My three teammates, Cap'n Chris, Janice and Chris are nearby, sharing fig bars and snack food while seated at a metal table. Our next official stop is 12 miles away and won't open until 6:00 am. We've been riding together, basically non-stop, since 9:00 am on Saturday.

Another team, Bill, Guy and Paul, arrive. They are riding fixed gear bikes. They cat napped in the bathroom of a State Park just a few miles away. It was 70 degrees in the bathroom. They are also headed for the restaurant that is 12 miles away and opens at 6:00 a.m.They've been riding together, basically non-stop, since 9:00 am on Saturday. After a brief conversation, they go their way and we go ours. We will meet again. That is the way of the fleche.

In a nutshell, a fleche is a 24 hour team ride. Each team, consisting of 3-5 bikes, starts at a different location and rides to one location following a different route. The rules require the teams to ride almost non-stop and without sleep for 24 hours. A fleche has a minimum distance of 360 kilometers - 223 miles. In a nutshell, that is why we are here.

Our team, Les Escargot Volants, met at Janice's house. After a breakfast of waffles and eggs, the four of us began the ride in the cool thirty something temperatures of an early April day. 

From the silos in the farmlands of Pennsylvania, we ride past the skyscrapers of Philadelphia, through challenged Camden, into the small towns of New Jersey. Our course is 234 miles.

I rode with experienced randonneurs. Each of us have completed at least one 1200K, there were 2 PBP anciens, 1 BMB finisher and me. That experience shown through in the calmness of the ride; the easy camaraderie of the company. We stopped when we needed to stop and rode when we needed to ride. Our conversation flowed between pools of comfortable silence.

Along the way, we stopped at Di Mattia's Restaurant in Allentown, NJ. It was open at 11:00 p.m when we arrived. It was warm, we were cold, and we had many hours of night left to travel. 

The few customers at the bar took instant notice of our reflective neon and obviously out  of place attire. Within minutes, they ask if we are riding for a cause. Jokingly, we reply that we are riding to combat obesity and fight diabetes. Someone says we are against cancer. The four at the bar take us seriously. Way too seriously. They offer to pay for our cokes. A woman asks if we want perogies with onions. When we try to subtly change the topic, they won't have it. The man keeps asking if we are going to sleep. The woman insists we need perogies. The bartender tells her it's an Italian restaurant; they don't sell perogies. She insists we need perogies. With onions. The man asks where we will sleep.

It becomes apparent that they can't imagine that someone would ride all day and all night without doing so for a noble and selfless cause. They tell us there is a special place in heaven for us. The bar is warm, the night is cold and we can stay there a bit longer and stay on schedule. So, despite the increasingly weird conversation, we do; until the fleche calls and we answer with a return to the night.

We ride to Princeton, then north on a small road that follows the Delaware River. The stars shine sharp and bright. Eventually, we cross the river and return to Pennsylvania.

On Sunday, after the frozen bench in Lambertville and breakfast at dawn, we climb 12 miles to the finish. Warming in the light of the morning sun. Warming in the heat of our efforts. Finishing what we started. At the hostel, we meet the other teams that took on the challenge of the fleche. We shared stories and ate food. The end of a fleche may not be heaven, but it is a special place.


  1. Succinct, and excellent.

  2. Wow, very cool!!! Here in Brazil, we, I and my team, we also Flèche. I really liked his account of the events that occurred during the Fleche here and I can say that the feeling was very similar. Big hug, maybe one day we met by audax around.

    P.S. I'm sorry if I wrote something wrong. I'm using Google Translator.

    1. Obrigado por seu comentário. Eu tenho um amigo que mora no Brasil. É um lugar que eu definitivamente quero visitar.

  3. Christien, Do you know Manual Tierra (not sure of the spelling) -- I met him on PBP in 2003, and I believe he was the only entry that year from Brazil. We shared many miles together, when we met in Brest.
    -Tom Rosenbauer, Eastern PA RBA

  4. I've ridden for a (good) cause twice before, but I don't know if the riding itself felt good.
    Can I ask what tires/rims you use that are reflective? I'm thinking I need to switch to those for night riding.
    Congratulations again for completing the fleche.

    1. The tires in the picture belong to Chris and Chris. However I do know that many tires come in a reflective sidewall version. I have reflective Vittoria Hypers in my Surly for example. If you look around they should be readily available.