Monday, January 21, 2019

A Quartet of Coast-to-Coast Accounts

Just as many of those who ride their bike across the country don’t want to stop riding when they reach either the Pacific or the Atlantic, after I read a book about such an adventure I want to keep reading if only to continue stirring the memories of my crossing.  That is no problem, as there is a near bottomless reservoir of books about coast-to-coast rides. After reading the recently published “A Hole in the Wind, A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey Across the United States” by David Goodrich, and having my appetite whetted, I found three more books about coast-to-coast rides that I had yet to read among the extensive collection of cycling books at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, which I hadn’t browsed in a while. 

The most recent of the three, “The Road Headed West” by Leon McCarron,  was from 2014, while the two others, “Bicycling Beyond City Limits” by Michael Foley and “Free-Wheelin’, A Solo Journey Across America” by Richard Lovett, go back to 2006 and 1992.  All  were published six or more years after the ride, as if it wasn’t easy to find someone to publish another such book.  

Goodrich’s book from 2017 recounts his 2011 ride of 4,200 miles from Delaware to Oregon shortly after he retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration where he’d worked for twenty-five years, including three in Geneva as director of the UN Global Climate Overseeing System office.  He was the oldest by far of this quartet at 58, the same age as Steinbeck when he traveled with Charley, a trip mentioned in three of these books.

Goodrich brought touring experience as well as his extensive knowledge on the climate to his book.  He’d been a long-time cycling commuter and had  undertaken a handful of trips on his bike, including the 1,170 mile Nez Perce Trail.  He weaves memories of these trips into his narrative along with a wide-ranging commentary on the alarmingly sorry state of the climate. He had no need to pad his book with the mundane repetitive details of the touring cyclist’s regimen—needing a shower, battling fatigue and winds and  rain, trying to find a place to stay, mechanical difficulties and other commonplaces that often bog down these books.  He doesn’t avoid these subjects, as they are an intrinsic part of any bike tour, but he doesn’t harp on them bringing them up on every other page.  

He seeks out other scientists and speaks at schools along the way and asks those he encounters how their community has been effected by the changing climate.  It’s not a  pretty picture, though he does offer hope pointing out the once expanding ozone hole has been reversed thanks to the Montreal Protocol of 1987. That proves that governments can act and alter deadly trends, but the book is otherwise a compendium of impending doom. He is as well versed on the subject as anyone.  He could have overwhelmed his book with startling statistics, such as the unsettling increase in the ocean’s acidity and the staggering increase in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma from two a year to 183 in a recent six-month period thanks to fracking, but he maintains a good balance of cycling commentary and climate data.

He was one of three of these authors who had a wife or girl friend who are a faint presence in their stories, two of whom drop in on the trip.  Foley is the only one who doesn’t have the concern of staying in touch with a partner, as he is just a college kid.  He is a last minute addition to a ride five of his collegiate buddies are undertaking from Chico, California to South Carolina in the summer of 1992. The six are all racers and have an intense interest in The Tour de France that will be commencing during their ride with Miguel Indurain going for his second win.  It is a thrilling occasion when they twice come upon a store selling “Velo News,” which they take turns devouring.  

The guys talk about ex-girl friends and flirt with women when the opportunity presents itself, even wishing to turn down the invitation to stay at someone’s home when they were intent on reaching a college town that night.  Nothing ever amounts to their flirtations, which are just barely mentioned.  At just 158 pages, fourteen of which are photos, Foley’s book hops from incident to incident without going into much depth. One hardly gets to know anyone in his group, as he declines to offer more than superficial descriptions of any of his companions, just teasing comments here and there, such as of one who has an aversion to insects, so they take delight in placing them on him and in his gear.

He devotes two or three pages, but sometimes just one,  to each day of their ride, including rest days.  It is a group unlike just about any other that has undertaken this ride.  Their racing mentality prompts them to erupt into sprints on their fully laden bikes to town signs as they are prone to when out on training rides.  They are full of energy,  At night they’ll occasionally have enough left over to play three-on-three Ultimate Frisbee.   They are still capable of reaching the point of exhaustion, and towards the end, after describing themselves as “disheveled and grungy...looking more like weathered bums than college kids,” he adds, “We’re exhausted all the time.”  Foley describes one occasion when he staggers into a general store like a drunk and wanders the aisles shoving powdered donuts and small apple pies into his mouth while gulping Gatorade.  It was such descriptions that had me wanting more.  This book was all too short.  I wanted to learn more about these guys and what brought them together and what brought them to cycling and the fun they had on this ride.

This fun-loving, frolicking group attracts a surprising number of invitations to people’s homes. Sometimes they are leery to accept the offer,  but they are always happy when they do.  Their exuberant personalities reaps them many benefits.  At one campground that had a restaurant, they offer to wash some pots in exchange for dessert.  The owner says if they come back later and wash all the dishes, he’ll treat them to breakfast as well.  With the book published fourteen years after their trip it includes an epilogue that reports they remain great friends and get together for the annual Wildflower Century in Chico. Two of them went on to lead trips for Backroads. 

McCarron too was an entertaining, rambunctious character, who got himself into some hairy predicaments, fleeing once fearing for his life and dropping his trou another time to moon a motorist who had offended him.  His list of equipment included a hip flask of whiskey with the appendum “this is not optional.”  Like Goodrich he opted to ride east to west.  He was less than a year out of college when he set out from Manhattan for Seattle. It was 2008.  With the economy in freefall jobs in his field were hard to come by.  He had just completed a six-month term as an intern in the film industry.  He was Irish and felt lucky to have landed this position in New York.  As long as he was in the US, he decided to take a bike ride across it.

He had no experience and wanted to bring along his guitar and all sorts of unnecessary gear, so much that he supplemented his panniers with a trailer, a huge mistake he acknowledged, though he didn’t relinquish his trailer until well into his trip.  He didn’t have an abundance of warm clothes, so when he’s subjected to some cold nights in the Rockies he puts underware on his head to keep warm. He was the only one in this lot to give his bike a name, “Lola,” a rather cutesy gesture that women are more prone to than men.  But at least he dabbled in wildcampimg, something the others shied away from.  Along with the independence it allowed him, it also helped him get by on a five-dollar a day budget.  

He eats a lot of peanut butter, often by the spoonful.  He soon discovers how prone people are to generosity and  kindness towards a touring cyclist. He takes up the practice of lingering outside grocery stores hoping his “bedraggled appearance” will result in offerings of food.  In what he refers to as his “basic template” he asks people towards the end of the day where he could camp, hoping  they will offer him a place with the added bonus of a meal, which is what he’s really after. His Irish accent his his trump card.  He doesn't seem to mind having to entertain his hosts night after night with oft-told stories.  He calls himself a “highly-regarded public speaker” who has lectured at schools and motivational corporate events.

He fulfills the dream of many a coast-to-coast cyclist by continuing his ride down the Pacific coast to Mexico, where he ends the book, but not his travels, as he talked a large Kiwi coporation into paying for a flight to New Zealand convincing it that his blog would promote travel there.  Then it was on to Australia and Thailand and China, adding eight thousand miles to the six thousand he rode in North America, truly authenticating himself as a touring cyclist.  He says maybe he will write a book about that leg of his travels some day too.

As in all of these books he joins up with other cyclists along the way, injecting a little extra interest into the story.  For two different stretches he rode with a woman whose boyfriend is riding in Asia.  She’d like to be with him, but is dead set against flying, considering it destructive to the atmosphere.  She tries to harm the environment as little as possible living a non-consumerist life. She introduced him to dumpster diving in Toronto.  He is impressed, but doesn’t seem to pursue it after that, preferring to be a freeloader.

The fourth book, “Free-Wheelin,’” recounts a 1986 crossing from Sacramento to Maine by a law professor who also had a Ph. D in economics.  Richard Lovett doesn’t give his age, but it seems to be around 35.  He’d had a few previous tours, so we’re not subjected to the cliched learning curve of a neophyte. As with the six college kids, he takes us back to a period before the internet and cell phones, forcing hm to search for  pay phones to call his wife, a university professor engaged in a research project.  They intend to meet up at the end of his ride for two-weeks of leisurely camping and travel before she must return to teaching.

He isn't at all  disappointed when she gets so involved with her project she wishes to skip-out on meeting up with him.  That means he doesn’t have to cut his trip short or rush to complete it.  He’s continually battling to overcome his driven nature to achieve and shed the life of being a slave to schedule.  He is proud whenever he takes a detour from his route or doesn’t push himself, though it’s not easy to forego a good tailwind.  One day when he had ridden 145 miles, his best ever on a laden-bike, and still had a couple of hours of daylight left, he had to force himself to stop even though it was tempting to put more miles in the bank. 

The highlight of his trip was meeting Vera, a thirty-year old woman on her first bike tour who had the spirit of living for the moment which he wished he had.  They only spent five days together, but he devotes a lengthy 46-page chapter to that episode and dedicates the book to her.  She also gets credit for the photo of him on the book jacket.  Three times after they’ve had a final meal together he decides to continue riding with her even though it’s off his route.  Later in the trip he rides with a guy who is the antithesis of her and mirrors the self he is trying to be rid of. He’s a schedule-monger who is in such a hurry to start each day, Lovett has to forego his usual morning “prayer or devotional reading.”  Early on he mentions he’s a religious sort who believes God cares about every detail of our lives, but fortunately he makes far fewer references to religion than McCarron does to Lola.  Lovett doesn’t blame his failure to pray for a flat he has one morning riding with this guy, but he has to exhibit Christian restraint not to go ballistic when the guy pushes a button on his watch and says, “Let’s see how long it takes.” 

At the completion of his 5,400 mile ride he expresses the desire to ride back to Sacramento, but he can’t overcome his programming of being responsible, so ends his trip at the Atlantic. Time after time previously during the trip he had given into whim extending his ride, including a detour to Iowa to join a friend riding  RAGBRAI, never regretting a detour, but not this time.

All four of these books were the beneficiaries of good editing, relatively free of the typos that flourish in the self-published strain of such books. Lovett did manage to fall victim to that common miscue of using “peddling” rather than “pedaling” on one occasion. McCarron commits a similar stumble with “break” and “brake.” Twice Foley is attracted to Little League fields, once capitalizing it and once leaving it lower case.  Typos can be as deflating as a flat tire, so it was a relief there was such a minimum.

All in all, this was a most worthy selection of books.  I had a hard time putting any of them down, just as it is hard to stop riding on a good day.  Even though they spanned a period of twenty-five years, their experiences, particularly the bounty of kindness they encountered, were timeless and  indistinguishable from each other.  They were all written with a genuine passion and authenticity, qualifying each for my list of the Top Fifty coast-to-coast memoirs I’ve read.  

They each had me asking why am I reading about such travels and not doing it myself.  They have me all revved up for my next tour, either to California and it’s 87 still-standing Carnegie Libraries or to Savanah, Georgia where Don Jaime has proposed meeting up for another ride through the South if he can get away from his bed-and-breakfast in Ecuador.  I’d be gone already if Janina did not have an exhibition of her water colors opening at a gallery in Bloomington, Indiana February 1 that I wouldn’t dream of missing.  

It’s approaching three months now since my last tour, much too long.  I need to be living the touring life, not reading about it, though the reading has prompted a steady flow of memories and allowed me to relive my 1977 coast-to-coast ride and assorted other rides stateside and beyond. I will be happy to gather a new collection of memories  while continuing the harvest of those from tours past as I’m riding along.  And I’ll be searching the shelves of every library I visit for a cycling book I haven’t read.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

David Sedaris and the Bicycle

When David Sedaris was promoting his latest collection of essays, “Calypso,” he mentioned in an interview with Terri Gros that ever since he moved to England from France in 2011, he has been walking  the roads where he lives in his rural West Sussex community picking up litter for hours at a time.  His efforts gained him tea with the Queen and the honor of a local garbage truck branded with his name.  Since I’m very conscious of refuse along the road as I cycle, and often find items of use, it inspired me to read his book to learn what he had been finding and how his experience compared to mine.

He only devotes a couple of pages to his obsession in his short essay “Stepping Out,” which is more about a friend getting him hooked on the Fitbit pedometer and how many miles he walks every day than about his pickings.  He doesn’t find much to get excited about, as it is largely just refuse.  One item he doesn’t pick up is cigarette butts.  As an ex-smoker, he fears the feel of one in his fingers might encourage him to resume the habit.

He initially rode his bicycle on his rounds before he got hooked on the Fitbit and became obsessed with taking as many steps and walking as many miles as he could every day.  A further inducement to walk was he could be more thorough in spotting litter.  He made no mention of missing his bike, but I assumed he had to be a cyclist of some sort, especially since he mentions bicycling in seven of his twenty-one essays in “Calypso,” though never at great length.

The bicycle offered him solace after his sister Tiffany committed suicide in 2013 when he gathered with his father and three sisters and brother at their getaway home in Emerald Isle on the coast of North Carolina.  He mainly spent his days there bicycling up and down the coast alone in thought.  In the book’s first essay he tells of outings on the bike with friends when they come to visit him in England, where he presently lives.  In another he tells how his brother lost 65 pounds after buying a “complicated racing bike” and riding in cleats.  He refers to his Lycra outfit as resembling a “Spider-Man costume.”  These all are evidence of a bicycling-consciousness, though all are just mere drop-ins without any elaboration, as if the bike is a no more of an accouterment, than a toothbrush.

Still there was a hint that he could be attuned enough to the bicycle to have written about it with some passion or reverence somewhere.  Thus was I  encouraged to dive into his previous nine books to learn what else he might have written about cycling, hopefully devoting an essay or two to the subject with his unique sardonic slant,.  I was hoping for more wisecracks, such as his definition of well-meaning people as “the kind who wear bike helmets,” which he evidently does not, as he would be horrified to be considered well-meaning.  He had the potential to be more incisive than even the New York Bike Snob in mocking its adherent’s pretensions, while haranguing those who don’t bicycle.  He did observe in his diaries that while bicycling in France, “I tend to think of all the people who are too lazy to exercise.”  Since he uses his diary as a source for essay ideas, I was hoping thee would be one on this.  Somewhere in him I knew there had to be an ode exalting the bicycle above all else.  

I thought a potential gold mine of material awaited me somewhere in his writing when he mentioned in “Naked,” his second book, that he had worked as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco.  That would have provided him the material for an even more outrageous and incendiary commentary on those who inhabit planet earth than his renowned “Santaland Diaries,” about working as an elf at Macy’s in New York during the Christmas season. A bicycle messenger is afforded a keen eye to the slaves of the workplace as he zips in and out of offices all day.  Sedaris would have had a wide universe of surly security guards, lackadaisical receptionists, oblivious pedestrians, enraged motorists, impatient dispatchers, clueless fellow messengers, inconsiderate mail room flunkeys and hostile bicycle cops to inflame his pen. 

He could have let his sardonic wit explode with even greater venom and rancor than it had when masquerading as an elf towards all the moronic  building policies regarding messengers, some relegating them to freight elevators, and those who administer them.  The frustrations of messengering would have had him writing with unparalleled fury.   But I should have realized that his neurotic, cowering personality never would have allowed him to work as a messenger, or even give it a try.  Even if he’d worked just a few days, it would have left such a deep impression upon him, mentions of it would have turned up in his writing almost as often as his potshots at his father.

Sedaris has been accused of not being entirely truthful, or tending at least to exaggeration, in his story-telling, which should come as no surprise, as in a piece on attending a summer camp in Greece for a month, he claims to have been so stressed by the experience that he didn’t have a bowel movement the enitre time.  Yeah, sure.  So it can be assumed that claiming to have worked as a bicycle messenger had to be a fantasy.  If he had been a messenger, that would have been one of his choices of a job when he moved to Chicago in 1984 and was desperate for work. The messenger companies were always hiring in that era.  He couldn’t have missed the many want ads in The Reader, nor the legions of messengers rampaging around the Loop.  He would have known it would have given him plenty of material to write about, as any messenger with a bent towards writing thinks he wants to write a bout about the experience, as Travis Culley so magnificently achieved with “The Immortal Class, Bicycle Messengers and the Cult of Human Power.”

If Sedaris had messengering in his past the intensity of the experience would have given him a bottomless reservoir of material, much greater and much more entertaining than the two seasons he spent working as an elf, which he distilled into a masterpiece annually read on NPR.  He would have returned to his time as a messenger time after time in his future writing.  It doesn’t even merit a mention in the first volume of his diaries “Theft by Finding” covering the years 1977 to 2002 published last year.  It commences when he is twenty years old just after he arrived in San Francisco, as recounted in “Naked,” when he wrote, “My friend Veronica (to whom he later dedicates his sixth book  “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”) got me a room at a residence hotel and I found work as a bicycle messenger.”  And that is it on the messengering.  

Equally disappointing, he doesn’t devote more than a sentence or two here and there in all of his writing to the bicycle, despite occasional references that he does not drive and he utilizes a bike to get around.  He’ll mention he bikes to Central Park in New York, but then devote the next few paragraphs to someone who wants the bench he plops down on declared a “No Smoking Zone.”  He’ll casually insert he biked to a bank when he needed to withdraw the money a co-worker stole from the wallet of the person they are working for lest he be accused of stealing the money, but it is just another teaser remaining a mere accessory to the story. No where does it assume a starring role.

Not  only are his books bereft of an entire story devoted to the bicycle, there is not even a full-fledged paragraph.  The closest he comes is writing about his unstable sister Tiffany, who ran away from home when she was 14 and was placed in juvenile detention.  Prior to her suicide well into her 40s she towed a homemade rickshaw behind her bike for her rounds scavenging garbage while living in Somerville, New Jersey.  Woe is it the person who mocks her rickshaw, as Sedaris would like to do.  He does credit it for keeping her fit.

He references riding his bike repeatedly in his diaries and even offers up instances that could have been made into a fully-developed story.  During the six-and-a-half years he lived in Chicago while attending, then teaching at, the School of the Art Institute, he rode around on an old one-speed that cost him $8.  “Bad teenagers” mockingly called him Pee Wee.  “It gets on my nerves,” he wrote, “but if I had a better bike, they’d just steal it.”  He eventually does replace it with a bike similar to what he had back in Raleigh, North Carolina before he moved to Chicago at the age of 27.  He calls it a “Frankenstein bike, made of different bits and pieces...painted umpteen times.”  He could have written at length and with great affection about any of his bikes, but he declines.  Years later after he has gone off to live in Paris for a spell he buys a new bike for $300 rather than getting his old bike repaired.  He immediately is struck by remorse, feeling as if he betrayed his old bike.  

When he rents a bike while on vacation in Italy with Hugh, his long-time boy friend, it leads to one of their regular spats.  The light didn’t work.  Sedaris wanted to let it be, while Hugh told him no less than fifteen times to go back and have it fixed.  

Despite his wide acclaim, (Yale recently acquired the vast archives of his early unpublished writing and voluminous diaries of which only a tiny fraction will be published), Sedaria tends to the self-deprecating and shies from chest-thumping.  He does not write of his tea with the Queen, nor of the ceremony unveiling the Garbage truck named for him, only that he was asked what font he would like his name written in on truck. “Roman,” as in “roamin” he requests.  I’ll offer one final bike mention from his diary, the entry on July 17, 1999, the day of JFK Jr’s death.  Sedaris remembered seeing him several times in Manhattan, once on a bike.

Though Sedaris has yet to offer an essay devoted solely to the bike, it was  heartening to learn he is a bicyclist and acknowledges it here and there as if he were a subliminal proselytizer.  It was also nice to learn that he is an avid movie-goer.  When he lived in New York, he saw three or four movies a week.  While in Paris he upped it to six or seven, and without guilt as, “Fortunately, going to the movies seems to suddenly qualify as an intellectual accomplishment.” Even more than the bicycle he regularly inserts movie references, some of specific movies and others just generic, such as defining people who live in trailers as having no “working knowledge of any major Italian movie directors.”   He doesn’t name a favorite movie, but does admit to seeing “Planet of the Apes” seventeen times when it came out and many times since. 

Now I eagerly await the publication of the second volume of his diaries from 2003 to the present to see if he can top the forty-two mentions of the bicycle in his first volume.  His last two collections of essays, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” and “Calypso” with eight and twelve had more references to the bicycle than any of his preceding books.  He is a testament to the adage that with age comes wisdom and for the truly wise a bicycling-consciousness. 




Wednesday, December 26, 2018

“My World,” Peter Sagan

As energetic and fun-loving as Peter Sagan is and with a creed of “Live every day,” it is a wonder he would take the time to sit down and write a memoir in the prime of his career at the age of 28. He, of course, didn’t.  Though Sagan may masquerade as the author of the book, there is no disguising that is was written by another and that person is British cycling journalist John Deering, who also ghost wrote Sean Yate’s superlative memoir “Its All About the Bike.” Deering tries to write it in Sagan’s voice, and he largely succeeds, but it is interjected with Englishisms hardly a part of Sagan’s Slovakian vernacular, including the four b’s—bloke, bloody, bollocks and bugger. 

The book breezes along as if it’s one long conversation with asides such as, “Motorycles.  Don’t get me started.  I’m in a good mood.  Maybe I’ll come back to them when I’m in a foul one.”  He was talking about the Ventoux stage of the 2016 Tour de France when thick crowds forced a motorcycle to halt causing Chis Froome to crash and sprint the final meters to the finish without his bike. But Sagan fails to return to the subject of motorcycles..  Another time he says, “Somebody told me the other day that Belgium produces so much manure that it is the only country in the world that has to export it.  Is that true?  Hell, I don’t know.  I’m a cyclist, not an agro-economist.”  A quick google search would reveal it is not the only country to export manure, but the editors of the book let it stand, just as they do his comment that while in Brazil for the 2016 Olympics he watched the sun set on the Atlantic, the ocean it actually rises from there.

Though the book has the tone of being quickly dashed off without too much reflection or perspective, it does recount with some detail his biggest wins—the three consecutive World Championships from 2015 to 2017  (a feat no one else has accomplished), his Flanders and Paris-Roubaix wins and a few of his Tour stages victories. He resorts to YouTube on occasion to refresh his memory. 

He also goes into depth on the fourth stage of the 2017 Tour when he elbowed Mark Cavendish in the sprint causing him to crash and break his shoulder, for which he was banned from The Race, despite being its star attraction. He cites the discovery of a camera angle shot from behind them that shows Cavendish coming up from behind and hitting his right forearm with his left hand brake lever causing his elbow to jut out and knock Cavendish down, vindicating him.  Unfortunately it didn’t emerge until much later.  While The Race continued without him, Sagan quickly arranged the rental of Aristotle Onassis’ premier cruise ship, , “the most perfect floating palace” he called it, for a week and partied with 28 of his best friends.  He doesn’t go into much detail on his week at sea other than that he took a tumble and knocked out some teeth.

He was distraught that so much was made of the incident and the accusations that he purposely elbowed Cavendish, who he respects and considers a friend.  In a rare instance of profanity, he says, “For fucks sake, let it go.  It’s racing.”  He harbors no grudges and hardly has a critical word for anyone throughout the book other than Bobby Julich, who was his coach when he was riding for Bjarne Riis and Oleg Tinkov.  He blames Julich for over training him and being excessively meddlesome, undermining his success,  accusing him of “destroying” him with his “persistent interventions,” even wanting to know the color of his shit.  It was a relief when he spent a few days with his director Riis at his home in Switzerland and didn’t have to speak to Julich every two minutes. Team owner Tinkov and Sagan didn’t always get along, but Sagan appreciated his flamboyant personality, especially in contrast to the ultra serious Riis, who considered laugher an unnecessary expenditure of energy. Sagan is very sorry that Tinkov has left the sport and hopes he will return.

Sagan remains so positive and upbeat through the book he makes little mention of the pain and suffering that is a common theme of most cycling memoirs—how riders deal with the extreme effort required of them and how they come to savor the daily dose of suffering they must endure, whether training or racing.  He just makes an off-handed reference here and there.  As he neared the finish at his first World Chamionship win in Richmond, Virginia he admits his “calves were screaming at me with all the accumulated pain of 260 kilometers,” but leaves it at that.  Before his Flanders win, when he drops Michal Kwiatkowski he “senses he is going through the pain I had suffered three years previously.”  He accepts it as part of the sport and doesn’t go on and on attempting to wax poetic as so many do.

Since he was a dominant rider from his introduction to the sport, he doesn’t overly exalt in his triumphs. His favorite recurring expression throughout the book is that there are a hundred stories in every race and his is just one of them.  There is not a single mention of tears brought on by a great victory nor tears from a devastating loss.  His only acknowledgement of tears is hypothetical, saying the reaction of his Tinkov teammates to the mid-season firing of Riis by Tinkov was a cross of old women wailing, wringing their hands at a funeral and kids frolicking in a play ground.  

He gives glimpses of his fun-loving nature saying “something you may not know about me is that I have a thing for fire extinguishers.”  After his wedding when he moved into his freshly built house he celebrated by spraying it with a fire extinguisher.  It took a gang of professional cleaners three visits to rid the house of the mess.  He mentions another time in a hotel lobby when he was having a disagreement with someone it suddenly came to a halt when he made a move for an extinguisher.

Another of his favorite pastimes is when dining out with his cronies having everyone guess what the bill will be with the person furthest off having to pay it.  He’s always happy when his older brother Juray, who is a teammate, is part of the crowd, as he’s not very adept at the game.  He’s older by a year and when they were growing up he was the racing fanatic, wanting to watch it on television, while Peter wanted to romp about on his bike.  He’s a strong enough cyclist to have won the Slovakian national championship, as has Peter.

The book is dedicated to his son Marlon, but he is not included in the sixteen pages of glossy photos, nor is his wife nor their flamboyant semi-royal wedding nor their celebrated “Grease” routine, both of which are available on YouTube.  Before their marriage two months after becoming world champion he credits her with giving him reserves of strength he didn’t know he had.  She shared his exuberance for life and was an ambitious business woman.  But after their wedding she receives just two brief mentions, one of merely that it was nice to have a mid-season break with her and to be able to put his “feet up” (a cycling term for rest) at their home in Monaco.  But there is no mention of their divorce, which was announced at The Tour last year, as the book was in its final edit, with her being pretty much edited out of the book.

Nor is there mention of his pinching the derrière of a podium girl at the 2013 Tour of Flanders while she is kissing the winner Fabian Cancellera, another incident that brought him much unwanted attention.  He could have easily used it as an example of his joie de vivre and playful nature and that he meant no harm and was just playing to the crowd, as it was in plain view of everyone.  It too is there on YouTube.  But he chooses to ignore it.


Sagan is establishing himself as one of the all-time greats of cycling.  He shares the record with Eric Zabel of six wins of The Tour’s Green Jersey.  He’d already have his seventh if he hadn’t been so unceremoniously kicked out of  the 2017 Tour.  No one doubts he will claim the record for himself and will most likely pad it to an insurmountable total.  He could continue to be a dominant force for years.  There will be many more biographies of him in the years to come. This early “autobiography” will be a minor footnote, but for now it provides a glimpse into the man.




Tuesday, December 18, 2018

“The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling and a Legendary Tour de France,” by Daniel de Vise

One might be fooled into thinking that “The Comeback” is going to be an in depth, no-holds-barred biography of Greg LeMond, full of remarkable detail and fresh revelations, when within the first few pages he tells of LeMond as a thirteen-year old being felated by his older neighbor Ron, who his parents had entrusted him to on a ski outing.  His molestation originally came to light over ten years ago when Floyd Landis was defending himself against having doped in the 2006 Tour de France.  LeMond urged Landis to tell all, and revealed to him this secret he had kept for decades, and how it had weighed upon him.  “Free yourself,” LeMond told him.  Landis had so little respect for LeMond that one of his henchmen called LeMond and threatened to tell the world of his molestation if he didn’t back off from saying he was convinced that Landis had doped as he said of Armstrong.  

De Vise expands on the molestation story, saying that it lasted less than a year and consisted of  Ron slipping into bed with LeMond three or four times until LeMond’s mother banned him from their home for being an unsavory character.  Years later LeMond hired an investigator to track down Ron, but he fled to Italy when he learned LeMond was seeking him.  De Vise doesn’t say what motivated LeMond to do this or what action he intended to take if he found him or how this episode impacted him. 

It is a salacious incident he unnecessarily gives prominence, while neglecting perhaps the most significant aspect of the story, as he fails to mention that Ron lingered so deeply with him that when he was standing on the podium on the Champs Élysées after winning the 1986 Tour de France, becoming the first American to do so, he was wondering if Ron were watching, as Richard Moore revealed in his superlative book “Slaying  the Badger” on the 1986 Tour, which De Vise references from time to time.  

DeVise centers his book around the 1989 Tour, LeMond’s great comeback from a hunting accident in 1987 when he was shot by his brother-in-law and nearly died.  LeMond won the ‘89 Tour in most dramatic fashion by eight seconds, overcoming a 50-second deficit on the final stage time trial from Versailles to the Champs Élysées.  Many consider it the most exciting Tour ever.

DeVise is a first-rare writer, having won a Pulitzer and written other books, but he doesn’t have the depth of cycling knowledge of Moore, a former Scottish racer who competed in the Commonwealth Games before becoming a cycling journalist, to write a comparable book.  He makes a fine journalistic effort, spending hours interviewing LeMond and his wife, as well as LeMond’s father and all the principals of the story other than Landis and Armstrong, who declined his interview requests.  But without a deep-rooted cycling consciousness he doesn’t go beyond the essentials of the story.  

He wishes to convey the intimacy he had with Greg and Kathy by referring to them simply by their first names through the book, something he also does with Laurent Fignon, though he wasn’t available to be interviewed having died in 2010 at the age of fifty.  Fignon is a central character of the book as well, so much so the title of the book could have been “Comebacks,” as Fignon likewise was making a comeback in the ‘89 Tour, going for his third win.  Bernard Hinault is a nemesis of both of them through the ‘80s, but is only referred to by his last name.  

DeVise brought some knowledge of the sport to the book, as his father, an immigrant from bicycling-mad Belgium, was a devotee of the sport, enough so that he bicycled across the US as an eleven-year old with his father and younger brother and did a little racing himself.  DeVise admits he has never been more than a recreational cyclist, but he grew up watching his father race at the Northbrook velodrome, a suburb of Chicago, and watched what he could of LeMond’s exploits in The Tour de France beginning in 1983 with his father until he left Chicago in 1990 to pursue a career in journalism.  Away from his father he lost interest in cycling.  Armstrong rekindled his interest with his win in 1999, but DeVise soured on his dominance.  He conveys a strong prejudice against Armstrong in his book, regularly denigrating him, justifying his premise that LeMond is the “True King of American Cycling.”

If not for the hunting accident, LeMond would most certainly have accumulated more than three Tour wins and been one of the all-time greats of the sport along with five-time Tour winners Eddie Merckx and Jacques Anquetil.  LeMond was further derailed with advent of  EPO in the early ‘90s taking over the sport and preventing him from keeping up.  LeMond claims ignorance of the new drug.  Fignon, too, was oblivious to this new magic potion and was befuddled that he could no longer compete.  The decade of the LeMond-Fignon rivalry, two prodigies of the bike,  produced many epic battles that DeVise fully recognized would make for a fine book.  He doesn’t fail in that, despite his superficial knowledge of fhe sport. At least he doesn’t masquerade as something he isn’t,  acknowledging that though he grew up with a father who was versed in all aspects of the sport. he wouldn’t be able to put a spoke wrench to use, an operation not much more complicated than repairing a flat tire.

He vindicates LeMond for being a near lone voice early-on questioning Armstrong’s success.  It took an extreme toll on him, almost costing him his marriage. He had a two-year bout of depression, overeating and drinking, culminating with running off to Arizona from his home in Minnesota with a woman.  He paints LeMond as a sympathetic, if not admirable, figure throughout, though he does say he was cursed with the “attention span of a gnat.” 

He concludes the book with LeMond questioning the success of Team Sky, as he once questioned the success of Armstrong. He doesn’t accuse Sky of having found a new wonder drug,  but rather the dubious supposition that they must have motors in their bikes to be able to maintain the effort they do.  He said he had evidence that their bikes all weigh 800 grams more than all other bikes, implying they must have motors.  Richard Moore,  or any other self-respecting cycle  journalist, would not give such an accusation any credence.  

Those with knowledge of the sport know that motors exist, but know that no team or rider would dare risk such an innovation, knowing that they couldn’t get away with it for very long and that it would be the ultimate desecration of their career, much worse than taking an illegal accelerant.  It casts a pall upon whatever esteem DeVise might have built up for LeMond.  It is as questionable a way to end the book as raising the issue of LeMond being molested as a youth was to begin the book. It was as if he didn’t trust in the magnitude of the story and the quality of his writing to gain a readership, resorting to injecting some controversy to bring attention to the book, a totally unnecessary tactic.  LeMond deserves better.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“How the Race Was Won,” Peter Cossins

Bike racing is “chess at 150 beats per minute” is a central thesis of Peter Cossins’ book “How the Race Was Won,” attempting to elevate the sport to a battle of brains as much as legs.  The chess comparisons run rampant with the final line of the book “like chess—at 400 watts.”  He elicits agreement from two of the principal voices in his book, Matt White, who orchestrates the Australian Mitchelton-Scott team, and Nicolas Portal, a former French rider who is one of the generals of Team Sky, though neither show any evidence of knowing anything about chess other than that it is a cerebral game where one must think ahead, an esteem they are happy to confer upon their sport.  Neither of them though, nor Cossins, make comparisons to specific pieces or gambits, not even referring to a team leader as a King who must be protected, or discussing versatile riders who can execute extraordinary feats, such as a Knight maneuvering around others.

As an examination of race strategy, the book argues there is much more to the sport than simply riding hard.  There is no disputing that, but to compare it to the intricate game of chess, where every game came permutate tens of thousands of ways, forcing one to continually strain his brain, is a fanciful, unjustified metaphor that ought to outrage any aficionado of the game.

Teejay Van Garderen, another prominent voice in the book, prefers to compare bicycling racing to boxing.  Rarely is there fisticuffs, just elbows thrown from time to time, but the crux of the sport is trying to knock out (drop) one’s adversaries, pounding and pounding on the pedals, wearing out those one is riding against, trying to make them give up, to succumb to the pummeling, forcing them to essentially quit, falling off the pace.

Joe Dombrowski, another American Cossins prevails upon to explain the sport, further undermines his premise that bicycle racing is a cerebral endeavor.  He says, “A lot of great bike riders are kinda stupid.  You know, having nothing going on up there, just primal instinct.”  When Cossins asks Van Garderen if he agreed, he laughed and said, “I think some of the best cyclists in the peloton aren’t very intelligent and I reckon that’s often to their advantage.” 


Cossins is far from the first to compare bicycle racing to chess.  It is an all too common analogy. As a lifelong fan of cycling who has been reporting on it going back to the 1994 Tour of Flanders and the author of several other books on the sport, he ought to know better than to resort to this tired, cliched comparison.  Despite his expertise, he admits to being “often clueless as to precisely how a rider has won a race.”  This book was an exercise of talking to the principals of the sport to find some answers.  

Some of those he consults give tiny clues, such as Thomas De Gendt, a Belgian breakaway artist who this fall gained great notoriety by biking cycle-tourist-style 600 miles back to Belgium after the Tour of Lombardie with his teammate Tim Wellens.  He reveals that one way to extend one’s lead in a breakaway is going extra hard through a feed zone, knowing that when the peloton passes through it will be slowing to pick up their musettes. Peter Van Petegem says one needs to be a “nasty bastard” throwing elbows and shoulders to maintain one’s position, especially in the Classics, to come out victorious.  Cossins takes from Laurent Fignon’s book that one must never grip the handlebars hard on the cobbles.  These are all tricks, not chess-like strategy, just as a Canadian national champion once told me that he always pushed a little harder with his left pedal because it was the side his heart was on, figuring there must be more blood on that side of his body.

A racing friend who knew I was reading this book, whose subtitle is “Cycling’s top minds reveal the road to victory,” said that as far as he was concerned the largest single factor to one’s success is the “size of his balls.”  Cossins doesn’t say that, but he does dwell considerably on one’s ability to suffer, which could be related to machismo. David Millar says it is better to dish out the suffering, setting the pace, than to have it dictated, being in arrears trying to keep up and wondering how much longer one can take it.  Van Garderen recommends that one try to pass the pain one is feeling on to others, to “make them suffer more than you are.”  Bradley Wiggins simply advises, “Just try and soak up the pain, not show it.”  There’s no secret to success here, just ploys to endure, getting into “the mind set of suffering,” as Van Garderen phrases it.

The stronger rider doesn’t always win, even in time trials, where there is a modicum of strategy—how to pace one’s self and knowing the course.  It is possible to outwit one’s rivals, or bluff that one is suffering more than one is or bluff that one is stronger than one happens to be.  Racing can be compared to poker, not only bluffing, but taking outrageous, unjustified risks.  Portal much prefers the calculated, chess approach.  

White credits Johan Bruyneel and the Postal Team, which he rode for with Lance Armstrong, for pioneering recon, making more than a token effort to scout a race route.  “They caught a lot of teams out,” White said, knowing when to attack.  

Try as he might, Cossins doesn’t unearth any great secrets, as it’s unlikely that riders or directors would reveal ploys known only to themselves that make them successful.  The temptation might be to divulge bogus advice, to lead others astray, such as Sky claiming that riding on the front in a single line instead of being in the pack keeps riders cooler, “preventing the body’s core temperature rising to a level that would produce an added drain on physical resources.”  It would seem that the added effort, not being fully entombed out of the wind, might increase the body’s core temperature.  Sky has long trumpeted “marginal gains” as their key to success, which Cossins scoffs at as a “smokescreen.”

The greatest secret to successs would seem to be training methods and nutrition.  Geraint Thomas has said one of the keys to his winning The Tour was having two training camps at altitude, rather than the usual one. Sky has invested two such camps in Froome in years past, but none this year as he recovered from riding the Giro.  If one is asking “How the race was won” as regards his Tour de France, the answer could well have been on Tenerife. Yet Cossins doesn’t comment at all on training or nutrition.  

Though the book may not be as thorough or as well-conceived as it could have been, it is still a worthwhile contribution to understanding the sport, rich in  tidbits that give insight into life in the peloton.  White revealed that he once listened to music on his headphones to help him survive an hour-long climb in the Giro.  Dirk Demol, a director for Trek, won Paris-Roubaix in 1988, a rare year when it didn’t finish on the velodrome, but rather in front of the headquarters of the race sponsor La Redoubte.  Phil Anderson, riding for Motorola, was the first rider to be equipped with a two-way radio, implanted in his helmet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“Higher Calling,” Max Leonard

“Higher Calling” might be the ultimate title for the memoirs of someone who has made the bicycle his life, but Max Leonard has appropriated it for a book on the allure mountains have for cyclists, mainly of the racing variety.  It proves to be a worthy premise for probing the psyche of cyclists while recounting many noteworthy events from racing lore.

Leonard approaches his subject with the tenacity and thoroughness of an investigative reporter, not simply relying on old newspapers and books, but going to the scene of many of the events he recounts, seeking a story behind the story.  He makes multiple visits to the Col de la Bonette, the highest road of The Tour de France at 9,193 feet, gaining a true intimacy of the climb, hanging out with the crew that is clearing the winter snow covering it and returning along with the Giro d’Italia on May 28, 2016.


He gets a wave from Joe Dombrowski, an American climbing specialist riding for the Cannondale-Garmin team at the time, who is part of a six-man break.  He has become a friend and is a recurring theme in the book, as Leonard seeks understanding of the climbing mentality.  One of their get-togethers is an afternoon at the French National Sports Museum in Nice.  Among its collection of bikes is one alleged to have belonged to Eddie Merckx.  As they speculate as to its authenticity, Dombrowski takes a photo of it and sends it on the spot to Eddie’s son Axel, who was Dombrowksi’s director for two years before he graduated to Team Sky, asking if he can verify it.  Such is the personalized detail of this most readable narrative, full of fascinating tales as was the previous book by this British author, “Lanterne Rouge,” about the last place finisher in each year’s Tour.


He recounts the legendary story of Alphonse Steinès, assistant to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange, visiting the Col de Tourmalet in the Pyrenees to see if it would be suitable for the 1910 Tour.  Steinès encountered snow and barely survived getting over the pass in the dark of night, but informs Desgrange that it would be perfectly fine for The Tour’s first incursion into the high mountains, a year before the Alps were attempted.  Leonard goes beyond the dramatics of the story, detailing Steinès’ career working for the car manufacturer Martini testing hydraulic brakes on the cols of the Alps.  Steinès may be a minor footnote in Tour lore, but the bicycle manufacturer  Fiftyone just named its latest bike for Steinès.  It sells for $16,700 and was profiled in the October issue of Procycling.


One of the great services Leonard accomplishes in this book is getting to the bottom of the fable that the great French climber Rene Vietto cut off his toe during the 1947 Tour and that it ended up in a bar in Marseille.   He manages to track down the toe and even includes a photo of it in a jar of formaldehyde, label and all.  It once was in a bar, the Chez Siciliano of a military friend of Vietto’s, but now resides in the kitchen cabinet of a former bicycle shop owner who has a vast collection of Vietto memorabilia in his home.  Leonard compares it to a rarely glimpsed medieval relic of the saints, a bonafide link to the “Golden Age” of cycling.


Leonard establishes that Vietto’s small toe was amputated following The Tour, not during it, as some histories report.  Vietto injured the toe in Paris-Roubaix several months before The Tour.  It never fully healed and became septic to the bone.  Vietto received a shot of penicillin on a rest day during The Tour to cope with the pain.  Cutting it off would have been too severe of a medical procedure in the middle of a race.


Vietto is better known for a photo of him sitting on a ledge in tears during the 1934 Tour, his first as a 20-year old, when he gave up his wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne, who’d won the 1931 Tour and would win again in 1934.  Vietto was a climbing sensation, going on to win the Mountains competition that year and was a threat to win The Tour, though he was a domestique.  The photo is a potent symbol of the commitment and sacrifice that define the sport.  In his research, Leonard tracks down Vietto’s son, Jean, a truck driver, who says that his father never regretted his choice of giving up his wheel, and that the photo truly immortalized him.


Leonard also spends time with the the grandson of George Mallory, the Englishman who may have summitted Everest in 1924, twenty-eight years before Sir Edmund Hilary, but died near the summit.  His grandson George  invented the concept of Everesting, riding up a hill, any hill, time after time in a single session until one accumulates the vertical feet of Everest—29,028.  He first accomplished it in 1994 on a 3,300 foot peak in Australia near Melbourne.  Making the climb would be a feat for many.  Doing it eight times in a single go epitomizes the allure and challenge of climbing and the suffering cyclists willingly inflict upon themselves to accomplish something out of the ordinary—to claim some sort of bragging rights, though for an equal portion, simple personal satisfaction. 


This leads into a commentary on Strava, the Swedish word for “strive,” a widely popular program that archives the times of any cyclist who enrolls in it on any climb, long or short, in the world.  Now thousands of cyclists can compare their times to everyone else’s and compete to have the best time on any climb.  Retired racer Phil Gaimon is on a mission to accumulate as many bests as he can.  The program was created in 2009 by two guys on Harvard’s rowing team, one of whom was Swedish.


The breadth of his research includes Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and Don DeLillo’s second book “End Zone” a novel about football, though he identifies it as “End Game.”  That is just one of a small handful of faux pas. He refers to Pau as a “hilltop town.”  This frequent Tour Ville Étape is a large city near the Pyrenees.  It sprawls out on a small rise above a river, but would never be mistaken for a hilltop town which are common in Provence. He refers to Hollywood Westerns as Far West movies.  But his cycling knowledge is most astute and far-ranging, which is the essence of this superb book.  Just as after “Lanterne Rouge,” I eagerly await his next. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Ten People Who Will Inspire You To Never Stop Biking (from icebike.org)


By Euan Mackenzie of Car Free Living 

When he was 19, one of my friends biked everywhere. He biked to basketball practice, to class, to nights out, and to his part-time job.
He even rode the 15 miles to the nearest decent mountain bike trail so he could spend the day going up and down the side of the hill trails all day long (Admittedly he would often call for Dad to come and pick him up at the end of the day).
And when he got home, his Mom would hose him down outside and make him strip before he was allowed even as far as the porch. It wasn’t until many years later, he realized his parents could have made him take his riding gear off first…Looking back he wonders if his parents actually even liked him…
But the point here is that he was fit. Super fit. The fact his bike cost less than $400, was made out of steel, and weighed more than some compact Korean made cars didn’t matter. He could power it up any slope going, and could keep up with buddies riding bikes that cost 3 times as much. (And by buddies, he means me!)
It was just his life. But one day between the age of 20 and 42, he went from having a 6 pack stomach, to just having 6-pack of beer in the fridge. His doc. told him was seriously overweight…so he started playing basketball again.
He joined a local team, and prepared to amaze them with his Michael Jordan/Magic Johnson/LeBron James-esque hybrid collection of skills.
He strode onto the court like a pro, and collapsed in a blubbery mess of incompetence and heavy breathing on the side of the court. He consoled myself with the lie that he was just wasn’t young enough to play a sport like that.
So he tried something else. That something else was cycling

It was sheer luck that one day about 2 months into his cycling resurgence, huffing and puffing, as he was, to try and maintain a steady 19/20 kph average that a man in his 70’s pulled up alongside him on a road bike old enough to still have the gear levers on the lower tube, and started up a conversation.
My friend said he spent most of the time wheezing the occasional affirmative answer as the older rider happily chatted away in a walking pace style.
For my friend this was the final straw. Not only did he feel old and fat, not only had he been humiliated by teenagers at basketball, teenagers that had he been 20 years younger he would have taken to the cleaners, but now here he was being shown up by someone twice his age, and twice as fast.
Maybe, he said he thought, it was time to admit defeat and quit. But good manners, forced him to continue on.
Presently they came to a long steep backroad climb: The kind of near vertical ascent that buses would have to shift into the lowest gear in order to get up. My friend said he almost groaned, and was about to just tell the old man to f*** off and leave him alone, when the old man wheeled his bike to a stop and began pushing his bike up the hill, whistling as he did so.
My friend dismounted and walked up the hill alongside him. As they talked, my friend discovered that actually the old man hadn’t spent his entire life in the saddle, but had only learned to ride in his 50’s, that aged 55 he had a 42inch waist.
My friend couldn’t believe it. So why was this uber-fit old man pushing his bike up the hill when he could have been riding up it?
Word for word, this is what my friend said he said: ‘I’ve yet to discover the hill you can’t quite happily walk up. Why kill yourself doing it? I like biking, but I’ve no intention dying from a heart attack dressed in Lycra.’
And that was the thing right there my friend said he had forgotten. That was why he used to get up on a Saturday morning, at 6am and cycle the 15 miles to the mountain bike trail so he could be the first one down it that day. That was why he used to play sport 7 days a week.
He did it because it was fun. Because he enjoyed it.
At the top of the hill, the old man bid his farewell and rode off, literally into the mist.
To this day he wonders whether the old rider was real or whether he was a dream…But what did change, was my friend changed his outlook on cycling, and instead of constantly pushing, and huffing and puffing his way along the road trying to keep his average speed up, he began to just enjoy the ride.
He turned off the GPS, and just went out there and began to enjoy himself. He said he realized, the point of cycling wasn’t to lose weight that would happen if he just went out there, the point was to enjoy himself.
And just for the record, the old man was real. I know he is, because he lives 4 doors down from me. His name is Tom, and he’s originally from N.Y. State, and moved down this way about 40 years ago.
I sometimes wonder if I should tell my friend, but Tom thinks it’s hilarious that someone thinks he’s a ‘Ghost Rider.’ He says he doubles up in stitches every time he hears the story.
So, here’s the point though: You’re never too old to learn to ride, and you’re never too old to stop.
Tom won’t let me write an article about him, so here’s ten other people from the world, to inspire you to get out there and ride, and why you should never quit.

Robert Marchand

Trust the French.
At an age where most people are either long dead or dying, 103 year old Robert Marchand is beating records. In January 2014, he beat the world record for distance travelled in one hour on an indoor track by cyclists aged over 100. He managed to travel 26.9km in the time, beating the previous record by 2 km. That record was held by…oh…him, as well. He shows no sign of stopping either.
For his 103rd birthday, in November 2014 he celebrated his big day by climbing a mountain, named appropriately, the Col Robert Marchand…Yes, that’s right, he had a hill named after him. He claims his aim is to keep riding until his 105th Birthday, after which he will begin to slow down.
But Robert Marchand was no pro cyclist. Before he retired some 40 years ago, or so, he was a logger and firefighter. If that doesn’t give you a reason to get out there in the saddle, then perhaps this next one will.

Benjamin Piovesan

If this 80 year old cyclist defines anything, it’s passion. But passion is nothing if you don’t enjoy what you do.
“I’ll keep cycling. Because I really enjoy it. It brings me joy. So for the moment I don’t consider stopping. Even, even if…” – and isn’t that the thing. Benjamin came to cycling later than most did in life, only getting a road bike after his son began racing at an almost professional level.
He rides an average 8-9000 km a year, although he prefers to do it in good conditions. For Benjamin, it’s about having fun, not competing. It is as much about mental focus as it is about physical conditioning

A 74 year old woman from the UK is stopped by police…

Of course no matter how young you feel, or how fit you are, or even how many people stop and applaud you ‘keeping on riding as you advance through the years, if you do crazy things. In the UK, in August 2014, this 74 year old woman was stopped for driving down the ‘hard shoulder’ of a UK Freeway.
This is illegal in England, and rightly so because it’s seriously f***** dangerous. There are 3 lanes of traffic flying along at 70 mph. It is no place for a cyclist, of any age. However if you look at the video, she really seems to be going along at a fair rate of knots, and seems steady on her bike.
My heart was in my mouth watching her cross all those lanes…

Tony Stramipz

Tony Stramipz from Vancouver cycles every day around his local Stanley Park. He cycles around the park 6-7 times a day.
That doesn’t sound all that big a deal when you first hear it. But then you realize that that’s somewhere between 60-70km a day.
He’s also been doing it for the last 10 years. Last year alone, he clocked up around 14,000 kilometers riding round Stanley. To put that in perspective, he drove his car a mere 2000km. Even then you might think that that’s not all that impressive.
It’s also like he says in this video, that what else has he got to do with his time. He has to keep himself occupied.
But here’s the thing; Tony is 90 years old. That’s impressive. For me though, the most impressive thing is the bike he does it all on. It’s not even a fully-fledged road bike, but just look at him go.

Bicycles, and the art of Zen

Of course there’s never being too old to ride a bike, and there’s plain old bat crazy never being too old to ride a bike.
According to the comments section on YouTube, this man is apparently 76 years old. Another commenter also notes quite succinctly that this guy has the body of a 16 year old. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue with the fact that for an elderly looking gentleman the man has an extremely well-honed sense of balance.
But what is he at? Is he meditating or practicing a martial art? I can’t tell exactly where this video was taken, but that’s obviously somewhere in Seattle. Just kidding, it’s obviously San Francisco.
Well, wherever it is, no matter how Zen or New Age you may happen to me, can I recommend you don’t try this at home….

Carl Georg Rasmussen

Here’s a guy who proves that you don’t have to keep on riding like everyone else.
76 year old Danish cycling pioneer Carl Georg Rasmussen shows that age is just a number, and he shows no sign of slowing down. He decided he wanted to build a bike with a cabin on it like an airplane…and so he did.
Carl Georg Rasmussen is the man who gave Europe, and the world the first modern velomobile. That in itself is a fairly major achievement. With his experience building and designing gliders and planes, he came up with the idea of building the first modern, lightweight, and fast velomobile.
Carl built his Leitra as a compromise between form and practicality, and the result was something truly eye catching and exceptional.
Perhaps the most exceptional thing about this exceptional man isn’t the distance he still manages to ride; a mere 10-12000km a year at the age of 76 but the way he talks.
He says that riding his Leitras it what keeps him going, and it makes him feel good. It’s the fact he truly believed in his dream. He freely admits that he keeps making his Leitras because he loves to do it.
Just listen to him talking about ‘Peak oil’, and the future of mankind. It makes perfect sense. If I could meet for coffee with anyone on this list, it would probably be this guy.

Bill

New York. I don’t know what to say here.
This video is about a guy named Bill. He’s a 50 year old pizza delivery guy on a bike. Is he living the dream? Just watch it and see what you think.
I guess the upshot here is that he spends life on a bike, day in, day out. But he’s also homeless. Admittedly he’s quite a character, the kind of character shaped by the harsh reality of life and his environment. He says he enjoys it, but really I don’t think he does.
But would it kill either Bill or the guy who runs the Pizzeria to buy him a shelf on the back of his bike so he doesn’t have to carry the pizza with one hand…I mean, come on! Seriously...

Octavio Orduño

Octavio Orduño is unfortunately no longer with us. He passed, in January (2015) this year at the age 106.
Fortunately there is this, now, rather poignant video of Octavio from 2011. Octavio was known as the oldest cyclist on Long Beach.
The story goes that he took up golf in his 60’s, and only took up cycling when the State took away his driving license at the tender age of 100.
He started cycling on 2 wheels, but quickly found the 3 wheel variety was best for him. He preferred 2 wheels though, but his much younger wife, Alicia, (81) insisted he get a trike after a few falls.
I include Octavio’s story in this list not because he was setting records or doing 14000 km a year round a park, but because he was active.
Cycling helped keep him independent. It helped keep him fit, but he also ascribes his long life to not eating processed foods and being vegetarian. “Processed foods make you fat,” he said. “They poison you.”
Octavio didn’t travel far when he rode. He rode to the grocery store and farmers markets. He would also ride to the local Bixby Park where he would sit and watch the BMXers and skateboarders do their thing.
He only stopped riding his trusty red Torker trike, when one day some utter, b****** stole his front wheel. Perhaps time had caught him up with by then anyway, but what we should remember is instead a man who was always determined, disciplines, and more than anything had a lust and a determination to keep on going.
His secret to a long life? “Keep moving and eat healthy.”

George Christensen

Well, I should say I’m surprised that George Christensen is still going. Of course, I’m not. All you have to do is look at the others in this list to see that a man I first read about in 2006 is still out there touring the world.
Back then he was a 55 year old bike messenger who only worked the winters because there were less pedestrians, and the money was better because there were fewer messengers.
George has literally biked the world, including the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia, done Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Colombia, China, Japan, Iceland, Madagascar and Chile. He’s also travelled extensively across his own United State of America.
So when I was doing the research for this article, I remembered reading about George all the way back when I was honeymooning in Fiji, and set out to track him down.
It took a while because I couldn’t remember his name, but after about 10 minutes of Googling or so, I found him. At the time of writing, his daily/weekly blog has him on his way to Belgium in Europe reliving the 1947 Tour de France.
He’s seen and done things most people who ride will never see. His seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of previous Tour de France winners is fascinating, especially his hunt to find the memorials and shrines to its previous winners. He writes in a previous post: “The bicycle has the unique capacity for making one feel good, whether by riding it or looking at it.” I can’t help but agree.
A quick calculation on my part sees that if he was 55 in 2006 that would make him 67 now. This is also why I didn’t become an accountant. I actually had to work out that…

Darby Roach

And straight away here we are at another world tourer. You know I’m not an inactive person myself, and I feel I’ve done quite a lot with my life, but the like of George above, and now Darby Roach, is beginning to make me feel like I should buy some panniers and set off today.
Darby has had quite the life, having setup his own ad agency and raised 3 daughters. So at the age of 62 when most people would be considering slowing down, Darby instead decided to set off and bike his way around the world. But why?
Because he could. He said he realized that for the 1st time in 61 years that the only responsibilities he had left were to recurring bills.
So he sold his car, house, and almost all his worldly possessions and set off without a concrete plan in mind, and began to tour the world…How incredible is that. Now, I imagine the guy probably has some money saved away in a bank somewhere, but still, it’s a fairly radical step. His aim was simply to live simply and learn as he travelled.
He’s also written several books, 2 of which chart the life of a perennially consistent tourer. So yeah maybe you don’t want to tour the world, like Darby, or George Christensen, but you might find their words encourage to go out there on your bike a little bit more often.
Having read his blog, I’m not too sure if he’s actually finished riding round the world or not completely, but at the time of writing, he currently seems to be in British Columbia, and still having the time of his life.
One thing I noticed about all these riders is the fact that while all have much more experience than I do in general terms, you can’t help but notice how youthful most of them look. Yes, you can’t help????

The reason and the science

Here’s a fact. Cycling 4 miles a day decreases your risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
Here’s another one. One of the major issues with modern society is that as a species, we are becoming less active.
Sedentary lifestyles cause physical and mental damage. People are designed to be active. Sitting for long, extended periods of time, is just as bad for us as smoking.
It also helps you lose weight, and helps keep all those brain cells firing for longer than they might otherwise.
And that’s not just in people over a certain age. That applies to everyone. It’s also been proven that cyclists in their 70’s are physically much younger than most people their same age.
I have a motto I try to live by: It is my intention to die young at a very young age. So far I think I’m doing ok. But there’s more to all of this than the inspirations above. The lesson here if there is one, is that it is that you should never stop riding until you can’t ride any more.
Cycling is a particularly low impact form of exercise. It uses smooth regular movement, and doesn’t put a huge amount of strain on your body.

It’s never too late to learn to ride

There are classes, and bike clubs out there, instructors and family members who will be more than happy to help you learn how to ride.
Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you’re not a dog…and that’s not even true. You can always learn something new. No one is saying you have to enter the Tour de France or climb a mountain. Maybe all you want to do is ride to the beach, or the grocery store.

Fun and enjoyment

With the exception perhaps, of Bill, the pizza guy, the one defining characteristic of all the people mentioned above, is that they all enjoy cycling. And in the end, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 85. Get out there, and never quit.