By Johnny Bertrand
PBP 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995
What's the best starting time for PBP? This question is often asked and often answered. In the last issue, Charlie Lamb gave you a good rundown on the 84 hour start. This time around, I'll try to point out the upside of the 90 hour start.
First, let's consider the obvious: there are three starting times for PBP, one for the 80 hr limit, one for the 84 hour limit, and one for the 90 hour limit. Each starting time has a number of takers. So, there is really no consensus on what the best starting time is. The best is the one that is best for you.
As to the 90 hour start, I have always chosen it, because it gives me the maximum amount of time to get done. I have more time to sleep, to get lost and unlost, to get my bike fixed, etc. It also meshes well with my tootle along pace and my touring mentality. I have plenty of time to socialize at the checkpoints and along the route. I can take in the countryside, practice my French, and stop for a pastry when I like -- and if you've seen my profile, you know I like! In short, I do PBP as a tour and the 90 hour start allows me to do so.
The 90 hour start is 10pm on Monday and it is the most crowded start. I don't have a problem with either of these. My internal clock is usually all messed up from the flight, so I still feel tired or slightly out of sorts on Monday. The crowd is easy to deal with. You just pull up some of the astro turf on the soccer field, rest a spell, and chat with other crowd avoiders.
In 1995 I had a nice chat with some French guys as the eager beavers strained to get on the road. The five or so of us were the last to leave the stadium and we made no effort to overtake those ahead. The hills, missed turns, flat tires, etc. will sort all of that out over time. The half an hour or so I lost at the beginning was more than made up for by the nice chat and the quiet start. The crowd will cheer for you whether you're fast or slow, or first or last.
The lines at checkpoints do tend to be longer for those doing the 90 hour start. This is usually truer of the food lines than the check in lines. The first checkpoint (Mortagne) is about 90 miles into the ride, so things are hectic there going out. As the distance increases the crowd will break up, as it does on the qualifiers, and lines will be less of a problem.
Since the first leg is long and at night, the first checkpoint is likely to be busy. So take along some additional food and water as an au cas. During the day, you can always eat at a restaurant or grocery, if the checkpoint lines are along. Either way is a cultural experience! As you ride along, chat with your fellow riders. Most bikers are friendly sorts and are eager to talk, even if the conversation involves more hand signals than words! So socialize and make some new friends. This will be my 5th PBP (I'm 3 for 4.) and each time I've made some new friends, met some old ones, or solidified some existing friendships.
In 1983 a Canadian I was riding with and I stopped to help an older French rider with a flat one night. Back on the bike, he was riding much slower than we and having problems seeing the road well, so we slowed down and rode with him to the next checkpoint. Sure, we lost some time, but we made a friend.
In 1991 I rode the whole ride with a good friend, fighting an 18 mph headwind most of the way back. By the time we were back to Paris, we were tired and irritable, but even better friends.
In 1995 I rode the last night leg with a Dane. We rode on either side of one of the younger Danes who had done the 84 hour start and was going to sleep on the bike. We kept him awake with more or less constant questions and got him into a bed at the next checkpoint. The night before was spent with a mix of French and folks from the UK. I met some of the Russian riders, spoke with a lot of the French riders, and ran into a several old friends from France. Along the way, I had lunch with a friend from Tennessee that I hadn't seen in several years. At the last checkpoint on the way in, I ran into an old friend I hadn't seen since PBP '83. We rode in together and had a hoot the last 30 or so miles -- two Southern hillbillies a ridin' there beyecycles in Fraince! And proud of it too, y'all!
So, if you want to tour and have a good time, take the 90 hour start. It's a great way to eat, ride, talk, sleep, and did I mention eat your way through a PBP you won't soon forget!