Now to shift gears (ahem) to my original passion, bicycling. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as one can draw quite a few similarities between cycling and motoring in a British roadster… like wind in your face, being out there with Mother Nature, wire wheels… Just that for one of them it’s harder to shift into 14th!
Several people have asked how I got into cycling. Sometimes I joke that it began in 3rd grade, when I won the 1984 Lodi Unified School District Spelling Bee by spelling the word “bicycle” correctly. Actually, I suppose the love affair with man’s most efficient machine began when I was 14, when I picked up an old ten-speed labeled “Sportcrest” for 5 bucks. At the time it had 2 flat tires, green paint with garish stickers, and in need of some serious work. But for yours truly, the visionary who always was picking up cheap junk, it was gold, as it was perhaps 10 pounds lighter and light-speeds faster than my old BMX-style bike that my folks got me when I was 6 years old (probably for $5 too).
So the old paint was stripped off, and red and white paint was sprayed on. The tubes were patched, cables and brake pads were replaced, and the Suntour/Shimano components were fine-tuned. After a couple of days it looked pretty darn good… at least for one whose quality standards were typical for a 14 year old. And it seemed pretty fast… a dear friend once followed me in his truck and says he clocked me at 30 mph (although now I’m dubious…)
Now I was not–and am still not–a Greg Lemond (although Greg and I have the same birthdays -June 26), but was in decent enough shape to go anywhere I needed to. Once even showed up to a Saturday Chemistry class on it, 8 miles from home in the rain…some friends were impressed…
But really, it’s amazing that I never lost my enthusiasm for cycling. It didn’t take too long to realize that the bike was a genuine piece of crap. (Only took, say, 15 tire blow outs and a real axle that literally snapped in half. Oh, and the fork that would flex 1-3 cm whenever I used the front brake.) On the contrary, enthusiasm was increasing…I never could resist the adventures instigated by old unreliable machines, I guess. And those Bicycling mags that I was picking up, and memories of a dear friend who talked about mountain biking all the way to his old home of Turlock, only encouraged me…
But what really got me hooked was riding my very first 100 mile century with fellow athlete/adventurer, Ken. Ken runs, swims, and commutes on his mountain bike a lot, and was always up for a challenge. He brought up the idea of riding the Delta Century one day in March of 1993. Many of our schoolmates scoffed at the idea. “What-you’re actually thinking of PAYING to kill yourself on a 100-mile ride!” our flummoxed friends exclaimed. I confessed, however, that I had been pondering the Delta Century for a little while, and it didn’t take very long for us to commit ourselves.
Now that I look back I chuckle at such typical teenage machismo… why I had probably not even ridden much more than 100 miles in the entire 1993 up to that point, much less doing 100 miles in a month or even a week. Ken was in pretty good shape but, well, in 1993 I was spending most of my spare time on ol’ Migbee and consequently didn’t ride much. But, as fools as we are, we went for it…
And then the big day of the Delta Century finally came… May 2, 1993. I was fortunate enough to borrow a 5-year-old Bianchi road bike with Campagnolo components and 12 gears. Needless to say the ride was a struggle, as I cramped up, had saddle sores, and had to face the fact that one has to be somewhat conditioned (i.e., by actually cycling more than once a week) to do such a long ride. But our spirits never waned, and Ken and I finished in 10 hours. We did it, and what a glorious feeling it was.
So glorious that we decided to do another ride, the Eldorado Century, a few months later. We only did the 70 mile route, rather than the 100, but still, even the abbreviated “metric century” had 5700 feet in climbing. We had never done hills before, as Stockton is as flat as a pancake, but again there’s that teenage machismo. And this time, due to working for a few weeks at McDonald’s in the summer, I had saved enough to purchase Canny, my beloved Cannondale 3.0 race bike. What a bike…I still cramped up on a hill during the Eldorado Century and even had to walk, but no saddle sores or other discomforts, only the thrill of pounding away on a super-stiff and super-light state-of-the-art machine. Not to mention NUMEROUS 40+ mph descents.
A week later I moved to Stanford, California, just east of the magnificent Santa Cruz mountains, a cyclists’ paradise. And that’s where I’ll end this story. But the adventures still go on; Ken and I still maintain the tradition of doing a few long rides each year; and the thrills keep on coming.