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Cultivating a passion for
VICTORIA, B.C. -- Ken Bonner's idea of a bicycle ride is 1,000 kilometres or so. A few weeks ago Bonner, 58, cycled 300 km from Victoria to Tofino, ran the Edge to Edge Marathon between Ucluelet and Tofino without any sleep, and headed home to Oak Bay on his bike again. For someone who has crossed the finish lines of 134 marathons and holds most of Canada's long-distance cycling records, it's only a middle-distance event. "I try to do 10 marathons a year between randonnees," said Bonner, referring to the ultra-distance style of bicycle racing that originated in France. "The loose translation is to ramble or wander, so randonneurs can choose to race the clock or smell the flowers." The Island isn't long enough for Bonner, who holds the record for Victoria to Port Hardy and back again: 1,006 kilometres from city hall to city hall and back in 38 hours and 41 minutes. He set the record for the first time in '92 and has improved it six times since, averaging 26 kilometres an hour on the last trip.
Why does he do it? "A lot of it is physiological, it's about the challenge of overcoming the obstacles. You live for tailwinds and the relief of the downhills." He discovered his passion for perpetual pedalling in '88, when he agreed to ride in a long-distance rally with some friends. Bonner credits his stamina in part to delivering papers in Cobble Hill when he was young, enduring several years of biking and walking around a nine-mile afternoon Times route. "My dream back then was to ride across Canada. "I saw this brochure about marathon cycling at a run in '87. By then I had done about 25 marathons. I decided to train for the 200- mile Seattle to Portland bike ride with some friends. That's really what got me going - we did the whole series that year." Riding in a similar event in '91, he crashed on a bridge deck at night during the Fleche Pacifique, a 24-hour team race near Arlington, Wash. His two teammates backtracked when they realized there was a problem, and found him. "I'd broken a clavicle and seven ribs, not to mention what happened to my bike's front wheel and fork." Three weeks later he was back on his bike, logging the necessary 600 km to qualify for the famous Paris-Brest-Paris, randonneuring's most prestigious ride, where he was the first Canadian finisher.
Bonner's wife Margot accompanies him on some of his cycling marathons, driving ahead and waiting for him at the checkpoints. Twice she has saved her husband from freezing temperatures when his determination to finish threatened to overrule his sense of self- preservation. Even when he's not freezing, it's a punishing sport. Bonner drops three to 10 pounds off his muscular 5' 8" frame during the course of a 1,000-km record attempt, even when he's eating on the fly. His bike is titanium, chosen more for its reliability than for the forgiving ride or light weight."I still get saddle sores after about 400 km, but a suspension seat post and a smooth seat with a dropped nose let me concentrate on all my other aches and pains."
Last July he set another record, riding non-stop from Calgary to Vancouver in 40 hours, breaking the record he set in '95 by two hours. Later that month Bonner was also the first finisher in the Rocky Mountain 1200, a round-trip randonnee starting in Kamloops, running through Jasper, Lake Louise, Vernon and back to Kamloops, with entrants from across North America and Europe. In August he drove to Boston and finished first in the Boston- Montreal-Boston randonnee, completing his fastest ever 1,200 km in 54 hours 26 minutes, defeating an international field of riders, stopping only once for three-quarters of an hour to sleep. Bonner still wants to make the 6,000-km ride across Canada. He figures there are a couple of years left before his muscles start fading. If he could swing the time away from his duties as a public service employee, he would start the trip tomorrow. "I ride the equivalent distance every year, but organizing it is a question of logistics." The current record time of 13 days and nine hours for cycling from Victoria to Saint John's, Newfoundland, will probably be broken by Ken Bonner one day.
There are 150 members in the B.C. Randonneurs Cycling Club holding recognized events with distances as short as 200 kilometres. Local chapters organize events called populaires, allowing cyclists to sample the sport in shorter distances, typically 100 km or less. The second annual Victoria Populaire takes place at 9 a.m., Sunday, July 22 at Oak Bay high school with routes of 50, 100 or 150 km. Call (250) 882-1239 for more information or check the Web site at www.randonneurs.bc.ca.