Fortuitous find: How covering the Tour de France led to one stunning bike collection

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Back in July, when CyclingTips was covering the Tour de France, our on-the-ground team opted for Airbnb when finding nightly accommodation. Some places were good, others weren’t, but from a cyclist’s point of view, one stood head and shoulders above the rest.

In the town of Viviers, in the Ardeche region of south-east France, the team was fortunate enough to stay with Richard Leon and his wife Marie. As our reporters would soon find out, Richard was a mad-keen long-distance cyclist with a very impressive bike collection and many engaging stories to tell …


Why do you ride? Is it for the health benefits? The feeling of freedom? Or maybe the rush you get after accomplishing a long ride? Or is it because you wish to emulate the pros? The answer is different for most riders. But for some, it all boils down to one simple thing: a passion for cycling.

Passion is something that can’t quite be summed up. It’s mix of everything mentioned above and more; a love for the sport that seems undetachable from the person you are. For such people, cycling isn’t just a sport or a transport option: it’s a lifestyle.

The cycling community is big and amazingly diverse. It crosses borders, cultures and languages. People from all different walks of life enjoy cycling in their own unique way and if you’re a cyclist, you’re bound to find someone with the same passion as you, regardless of where you go.

On the odd occasion you come across someone’s connection with cycling that’s especially unique and well worth sharing. Such is the case with Richard Leon.

Richard Leon. Airbnb host and owner of an Aladdin's cave of cycling goodies.
Richard Leon, Airbnb host and owner of an Aladdin’s cave of cycling goodies.

The best AirBNB

While covering the Tour de France this year, my CyclingTips colleagues Shane, Matt and I had the pleasure of staying with Richard and his wife Marie. The house looked nice when we booked it online; it turned out to be possibly the greatest single Airbnb property a cyclist could ever dream of staying in.

The old stone house, dating back as far as the 16th century in the French Ardeche region, screams passion as soon as you walk in the door. The walls are covered in cycling-related trinkets and bike parts, wheels hang from the wall and a collection of well-used cycling shoes sit in the corner. For the cycling nut it’s a true Aladdin’s cave.

Of particular note is the huge collection of bikes that sits in the basement, the old French machines dating back generations. There’s steel, there’s alloy, there’s even a titanium frame thrown into the mix. Notably, there’s no carbon. It’s all honest, workman-like equipment that’s comfortable to ride.

 
Just part of Richard Leon’s impressive collection.

All of the 25 bikes Richard has built have a simple and clean look to them. All are built for a single purpose — to go far and to do so in comfort. The reason? Richard, even at the age of 62, enjoys to challenge himself.

Some people crave attention or adulation when it comes to their cycling adventures, updating their social media accounts with photos and news on their latest adventures. Others, like Richard, do it for the soul, the sheer pleasure. Quietly going about the training and events, stopping only for food, water or sleep; never for a good photo that would look great with a Hefe filter over the top of it.

As we sat around the breakfast table that morning in July, tucking into fresh bread, homemade cake and French coffee, Richard recounted some of his favourite and most crazy long-distance rides, and all with zero ego or desire for recognition.

Headlining Richard’s achievements are an impressive 11 starts at the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris, the world’s most famous long-distance randonnée. So how many did he complete?

“I finished only nine. The last I didn’t finish was just because I was ill,” Richard said. “I knew I wasn’t able to finish but it was impossible for me not to be at the start.

“The first I didn’t finish was in 1983; I was faster than I [am] now. I wanted to be with the first racers. But when you are doing a long-distance ride what is very important is not to think about your place, your time. You have to finish first. And then maybe to be with the first racer. And I forgot that.”

Honesty in spades and advice I’m sure we can all take on board. Richard even made the lack of sleep sound alluring when taking on big multi-day rides.

“It’s possible for me to stay awake for two days and two nights with no sleep,” Richard said. “But for example, London-Edinburgh-London that takes for many racers three nights. So during the third night I have to sleep one hour 30, maybe three hours, depending on my sleep cycle.”

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As if taking on Paris-Brest-Paris 11 times wasn’t impressive enough, this isn’t what Richard regards as his most “crazy” achievement.

“The craziest was probably the what I call the double, in 2005,” Richard said. “I participated in Madrid-Gijon-Madrid (MGM), [had] just one night to recover then I flew directly to London to participate in London-Edinburgh-London. So I finished with the first racer in MGM and I did the third fastest time in London-Edinburgh-London.”

Richard’s stories impressed us just as much as the feats we were seeing at the Tour de France we were covering. We’d love to have stayed longer, to get lost in the many stories he clearly had to share.

Richard Leon clearly rides for the love of it, to see how far bike and body can go. His stunning bike collection is an extension of that philosophy; of his passion for the sport.

Leaving Viviers that day, we were left motivated and enthused by what we’d seen. It was a reminder of why we ride, of the need to strip away the carbon, the expensive clothing, and the over-priced coffee and to take cycling back to its simplest form. At the end of the day, cycling should be about you, your bike and the challenge.

Check out the video at the top of this article to see our interview with Richard Leon and the gallery below for some photos of his amazing collection.

Photo gallery

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