Off the grid


Soon, I shall awaken.

We’re Here to Kick Your Ears in the Nuts*

David Lee and Colonel JD Wilkes of Th' Legendary Shack Shakers
Photo source:

In the not-too-distant past, I happened to be rummaging through my oversized loose change jar and came across a ticket stub from Sleazefest–one of the all-time great, now non-existent, garage-rock/rockabilly musical festivals of decadence which happened to take place right down the road in Chapel Hill.

Sleazefest usually took place in mid-August, frequently coinciding with the French Broad stage race in the Asheville vicinity. French Broad was usually run as an omnium and I dutifully took advantage of its a la carte racing menu to forego the Friday TT and Sunday crit to partake in the yin and yang balance of health and decadence in a single Saturday: brutal road racing in the mountains in the am and hours of an ear-shattering, eye-popping, rock n’ roll freak show replete with cages alongside stage for go-go dancers, Beatle Bob, more ink than a Bic factory, more wallet chains than Sturges, all fueled by gallons of watery beer and buckets of greasy french fries in the pm. I’d leave Durham at the crack of dawn, race my bike about 70+ miles, drive back home, then immediately head off to Chapel Hill for an evening of ill repute.

And any time I’m reminded of Sleazefest, I immediately think of the one and only time I witnessed Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers live in person. At Sleazefest, appropriately enough. Colonel J.D. Wilkes, pictured on the right wearing some fetching lederhosen, is a front-man of unparalleled charisma, verve, and manic energy. I’m almost certain he was dressed just as he appears in that photo while playing in Chapel Hill. And as one can tell, Mr. Wilkes is freaky skinny. And when he sucks in his non-existent gut to take a deep breath a gap forms at the waist between his torso and said lederhosen waistband. And I’m pretty sure J.D. is sans undergarments, to boot. For what I witnessed, at the crescendo of a Shack Shaker number, was Colonel J.D. Wilkes’ hand reaching inside his lederhosen and emerging with a clenched fist full of pubes freshly ripped from his loins which he proceeded to sprinkle on the heads of those brave souls pressed against the stage. Un-fucking-believable.

But let’s not forget the guitar player…a certain David Lee. For some inexplicable reason, I happened to be on the band’s website and there was a mention of David Lee leaving the band earlier this year. And in the message board,the reasons mentioned were that Lee needed some more time to pursue other musical opportunities…and cycling. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that David Lee indeed has a passion for riding: it seems that Lee would ride his bike all over the place snapping photos while the band was touring in Europe plus there was an account of Lee being hit by a car a few years ago while out on a 100 mile training ride (thankfully he wasn’t too seriously injured, but fundraisers were necessary to defray his medical bills). And through the magic of the internets, it seems that the former Legendary Shack Shaker guitar player rolled up to the start line of 35+ crit nationals last year and did all right.

How about that, a pretty fast Cat. 2 who’s also living the rock n’ roll life. But of course, I’m late to the party. The Bike Game already knew this 2 years ago.

*An actual Colonel J.D. Wilkes quote upon taking the stage.

Al Trautwig asserts his A-thaur-i-tah

I must confess that I’ve never really been much of an Al Trautwig fan during his forays into Tour de France talking head-dom. That being said, it was quite amusing to hear Trautwig rip into his fellow announcers and the Flyers home office regarding Sarah Palin’s recent puck-dropping episode on Philadelphia home ice. I rarely find myself viewing professional sports outside of pro cycling and Formula 1 so my breadth of sportscaster experiences is rather limited, but these clowns on air with Trautwig make my regular cast of characters all sound like Rhodes scholars. About Palin — “Look how HOT she is!”…describing the presidential election as “entertainment”? Trautwig must have to down a fifth of bourbon and take a long shower each and every night to counteract the effects of the bottom-feeding braintrust on air with him during hockey season.

Beer, Bradley, Bonnets, and Beijing

Ryan Trebon gets the big beer.

Amy Dombroski gets the big beer.

Jamie Driscoll gets the big beer.

Bradley Wiggins does not need the big beer. Wow. I know what’s on Bradley’s wishlist for Christmas…a new liver. I hope Bradley’s rudder is sufficiently strong to combat the demons which plagued his estranged father. And while one shouldn’t glorify the drinking of someone who’s genetically susceptible to boozy self-destruction, his post-madison story from Beijing is rather humorous. It seems that Bradley was rather chuffed at not winning gold, or any medal for that matter, in the madison as well as letting down teammate Mark Cavendish (the only British track cyclist not to win a medal in Beijing) so he started drinking pretty much immediately after rolling off the track. Fast forward a few hours later into the evening and saucy Wiggins does a T.J.Hooker across the hood of a Beijing cab. Unfortunately, said cabbie is hardly impressed with Bradley’s hood-sliding prowess. Thankfully, cool heads prevail and Wiggins doesn’t disappear into the Chinese prison complex.

Adam Craig puts away a beer hand-up of unspecified proportion on the Cross Vegas start line [scroll down the page a bit to find the quote]. And podiums. Sweet. Note Craig’s new criteria for ‘cross racing…”I only race under the lights.”

Mark Cavendish’s posse gets the big beer. It seems that Cavendish’s fans on the Isle of Man brewed a special edition beer for consumption while viewing the Olympic madison event in Beijing. The beauty of beer is that it’s equally adept at drowning one’s sorrows as it is in lubricating raucous celebrations.

Geoff Kabush chugs multiple beers in the Beijing Olympics closing ceremonies. One with a certain Yao Ming.

Eddy Merckx rocks his Adidas

A 1973 adidas ad for Eddy Merckx edition cycling shoesWho knew that the athletic shoe dynasties of Adidas and Puma were founded in a tiny Bavarian town during the late 1940s by a pair of German brothers who hated each other. While I knew that Adidas was a German brand, I had no idea that Puma, too, was German and I had no knowledge of the companies’ intertwined lineage. Quite by accident, I recently stumbled across the fascinating chronicle of their story: Sneaker Wars—the enemy brothers who founded Adidas and Puma and the family feud that forever changed the business of sport by Barbara Smit.

Adolf Dassler and Rudolf Dassler jointly ran a successful athletic shoe company in the 1930s, turning out renowned soccer shoes and track spikes (despite their Nazi party affiliation, they outfitted Jesse Owens with track spikes for the 1936 Olympics). Adolf was the introverted technical genius responsible for the design of their footwear while Rudolf was the extrovert central to the sales and marketing of their products. Family drama, culminating with accusations that Adolf was responsible for Rudolf being arrested by Allied forces following WWII due to ties to Nazi intelligence and secret police forces, led the brothers to split their company into separate, rival businesses in 1948. The name Adidas comes from its founder’s name Adolf “Adi” Dassler (ADI + DASsler=Adidas) while Puma was originally called Ruda, derived from Rudolf Dassler’s nickname. Ruda was rightly deemed a wee bit clunky, and the more svelte, marketable Puma soon replaced the company’s first name. Sports as we know it today—a colossal global business and marketing endeavor—has its roots in the Dassler brothers and their children’s dealings (most notably Adi’s only son Horst Dassler’s stewardship of Adidas) from the 1950s through the 1980s. It was Adidas’s and Puma’s rivalries and spy vs. spy shenanigans of trying to outdo each other’s presence on prominent athletes’ feet which ultimately led to huge salaries, huge endorsement deals, the professionalization of the Olympics, the frequent, unseemly corruption which occurs with so much money at stake, and the blinders which enabled upstart Nike to kick their collective asses. It’s quite an amazing journey of the forces behind many of the most memorable sporting events of the latter 20th century.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that cycling was not at all mentioned in Smit’s book, despite the Eddy Merckx/Adidas connection. Eddy Merckx is every bit the sporting juggernaut as other Adidas-clad athletes of his generation, but professional cycling did not line Adidas’s coffers. However, despite the focus on marquee sports like soccer, track & field, basketball, and tennis, a pair of characters with a cycling connection do make an appearance in Smit’s book.

First, Dick Pound is mentioned for his behind the scenes arm-twisting of National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in the early 1980s. Pound, tightly connected to IOC chair Juan Antonio Samaranch, made the rounds of the world’s NOCs in order to convince them to give up their marketing rights and sell them back to the IOC home office in Switzerland. The end result was that the Olympics could then have a single, global marketing campaign and the beneficiary of this was Adidas’s Horst Dassler. Surprise, surprise…Dassler was a major force in getting Samaranch elected as IOC head, and as a payback Samaranch would contract Dassler’s shadow sports marketing firm to handle the Olympic marketing campaign.

Next up is none other than Bernard Tapie, best known in cycling circles for his 1980s powerhouse La Vie Claire squad. Tapie’s personal fortune came from his knack for rescuing floundering corporations, and in 1989 the French industrialist purchased Adidas. His revitalization efforts were not quite successful. Tapie’s financial house of cards propping up Adidas crumbled in 1992 when he was unable to pay the interest on his loans used to purchase the company and he was soon forced to turn it over to the bank Crédit Lyonnais.

To the best of my knowledge, Eddy Merckx sported Adidas cycling shoes from 1971 through his retirement in 1978. Peruse the photos of his most legendary triumphs—the Mexico City hour record, the 1974 Triple Crown, along with numerous Classics and Grand Tour stages—and you’ll see the distinctive three-striped Adidas design on the side of his shoes. It’s only natural that Merckx, professional cycling’s most dominant athlete, would attract the attention of Adidas, a company determined to provide the best-engineered footwear to the most visible athletes of any and every sporting discipline. I’ve never heard about the specifics of Merckx’s Adidas endorsement—how it came about and the finances involved. For comparison’s sake, a contemporary of Merckx in the early ‘70s, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, became Adidas’s first contracted NBA player for the sum of $25,000 per year (which sounds like such a absolutely ridiculously low sum when compared to what star athletes pull down these days). For all I know, the extent of the deal simply was that Eddy and his teammates received a pipeline of free shoes (you can see photos of Eddy’s Molteni teammates sporting Adidas, too). I wonder if all Adidas cycling shoes of this era sported the Eddy Merckx label. A comical moment in Smit’s book concerned another Adidas icon: the Stan Smith tennis shoe. The American tennis pro Stan Smith enjoyed a solid career in the ‘70s, but he began to get a bit miffed when he started losing to guys also sporting his Stan Smith edition shoes. Perhaps Merckx experienced a similar comeuppance in the Euro pro peloton.

The advertisement itself seems almost comical in its black and white blandness, although it was assuredly par for the course advertising-wise in 1973. And not only is this ad visually uninspiring, the irksome misplaced apostrophe rears its ugly head in the copy. There’s so little text to proof and yet Distributor’s still slipped through uncorrected. D’oh!

One point brought up by Barbara Smits in her book was that Adidas executives were exceptionally parsimonious and conservative when it came to advertising. When Adidas was trying to gain back some market share in the mid ‘80s after being totally wiped off the face of the athletic shoe map by marketing-savvy Nike, Adidas’s newly hired ad agency for their revamped global campaign were stupefied to discover that Adidas’s annual global ad budget was less than what Ford spent in Germany alone in a year. Adidas was run by engineers who believed that quality products sold themselves. They were so fixated on providing footwear to be used by professional athletes that they totally missed out on the leisure market for their products, a void in their psyche which Nike utterly pummeled them for first in the United States and then the rest of the world.

“Nice Suits”

Way back in the ’70s, prior to my baptism into The Church of the Big Ring, my existence was defined by big air on BMX bikes and sheer velocity on skateboards.

But nothing…NOTHING…I ever did compares to these freaks. This video has been making the rounds and I’m just stunned. And awestruck. And laughing my ass off with glee.

Truth and Soul

Cover of Joe Parkin's book A Dog in a HatA Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium by Joe Parkin.

The April 17, 2000 issue of VeloNews closed with a typically fervent Bob Roll screed entitled “51 Things To Do Before You Die”. Part Martin Luther’s The Ninety-Five Theses, part Roy Batty’s Tears in the Rain speech near the close of Blade Runner, part Unabomber Manifesto, Roll lays out a grandiose array of activities which collectively define the essence of soul cycling (or at least replicate Bob Roll’s life’s quest for enlightenment). There’s quite a bit of intercontinental travel involved, expensive equipment purchases, some tasks are quite physically painful, other items involve a serious investment of time, and more than a few may result in being arrested if witnessed by law enforcement personnel.

Of course, a few of the things to do before you die are quite simple to achieve. Every list needs some low-hanging fruit to motivate the masses. The easiest to check off is this one:

34. Count eight seconds. Imagine, Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon by this margin in a race that is three weeks long.

Done? Well, now only have 50 Things To Do Before You Die.

And thanks to VeloPress, the 2nd easiest task to achieve on the list is only $21.95 away:

36. Learn from Joe Parkin’s life story.

I’m not sure if Roll’s list had anything to do with Parkin finally putting pen to paper to detail his 6 years of hard living/hard racing in Belgium, but it’s completely apropos that Bob Roll penned the foreword seeing as how it was Roll’s words which propelled a wide-eyed, 19-year old Parkin to venture across the pond to Flanders and metamorphize into the wraith-thin Lone Biker of the Apocalypse Roll randomly encounters along the Schelde canal bike path five years later.

And what exactly is there to learn from Joe Parkin’s life story?

The Joe Parkin Archives of Professional Cycling is rather sparse. In fact, the collective contents would hardly fill up a decent-sized messenger bag:

My souvenirs are a handful of photographs, two pieces of fan mail, one Tulip team riding jacket, and a trophy from my amateur days. The magazine articles and photographs of me can be counted on one hand. The money has long been spent.

There’s not much too to glean from the physical evidence, but Parkin’s prose fills in all the cracks . Quite simply, the man’s tough as nails and chose the absolute hardest way to break into European professional cycling: just showing up in Ghent with a bike, a duffel bag of clothes, three months worth of cash, and a phone number to call scrawled on a scrap of paper. It sounds remarkably familiar to the tale of a certain Mac Canon–in fact several key characters play a role in each tale (Allan Peiper, Johan Lammerts, Eddy Planckaert)–except Parkin chose to sign on the dotted line and remain in Belgium for 4 1/2 years of professional cycling.

It’s quite a challenge for a cyclist with talent and desire to come to grips with the reality that victory at the professional level is nigh unlikely if not out and out impossible and that careers can be made in service of others who win, and win consistently. Finding exactly where and how he could fit into a team became Parkin’s mission.

And here’s some random, fun facts I learned from Joe Parkin’s life story:

  • Flemish fans are a fickle bunch and only like winners. Joe Parkin finished just one Monument of Cycling in his career (the 1988 edition of Paris-Roubaix, 26 minutes back in 74th place and about 1 foot shy of DFL honors) and that race is also the only time he crossed the finish line of a bike race covered in beer. Said Parkin, “…we were the clown show that existed only to be heckled”.
  • What might have been. Every cyclist’s 20/20 hindsight lament. And Parkin had a couple of major letdowns. First, Parkin was feeling pretty frisky in the 1988 world pro road championships but was denied the chance at an endgame due to an untimely flat. He was Claude Criquielion’s shadow that day, and had to witness the Bauer/Criquielion/Fondriest meltdown from the sidelines instead of the other side of the fence. Second, Parkin nearly pulled off a top 15 finish in the 1991 world pro cyclocross championships. You just have to read it to believe it, but the stars nearly aligned that day until Parkin crashed spectacularly with about 10 minutes to go. And it never hurts to have Adri Van Der Poel as a teammate on your pro road team to train with and receive some insider ‘cross knowledge. It would be ten more years before another American, Marc Gullickson, did finish in the top 15.
  • The hair. Evidently, Parkin influenced some big-gun Euro pros (such as Eddy Planckaert, who had a bizarre conversation with Parkin about handguns) to embrace what Parkin called his “white trash” look. Business in the front…party in the back. But man oh man, Joe, you just have to know when to stop. At least Parkin sees the humor in it these days.
  • Ronny Van Holen. I joked about my obsession with Mr. Van Holen a while ago, and lo and behold he turns up as Parkin’s teammate for two years. And now I know the rest of the story.
  • This is outside the realm of A Dog in a Hat, but how exactly does Johan Lammerts end up on Scott-BiKyle in his last year as a professional? Just click on his name and read his palmares. Also on that team was Roger Honneger who ended up 7th in the 1991 pro ‘cross worlds in which Parkin crashed out of the top 15 with 10 minutes to go. And yet another reference from the ‘91 pro ‘cross worlds is that Parkin lined up next to the only other American in the race, Kent Johnston, who may or may not have been rocking a BiKyle rig. A small world indeed.
  • Praise from Belgian director sportifs is as rare and precious as diamonds.

I had a notion in the late ’80s that I should get my ass to Belgium and find out once and for all if I had the grit, predilection, and temperament to find my way as a professional. It never happened. Not even close. But I’m glad that brave souls such as Parkin headed to Flanders, lived like monks, and truly tested themselves in a manner beyond anything possible on this side of the Atlantic.

Bob Roll considers Parkin’s work “the most authentic ever written about making a two-wheeled living as a pro cyclist in Europe” and I’m inclined to agree. He also chimed in with “feel free to fuck off and die” if one takes umbrage with Parkin’s tale (how’s that for literary criticism!). I’m sure he’s tracking down those who gave the book a lowly 2 star rating on Amazon this very moment. But I’d venture that anyone who’s a devotee of the Bobke Strut experience is appropriately wired to truly appreciate living (or re-living) the squalid truth of late ’80s Euro pro shenanigans.

King of the World

The US team assembles prior to the 1983 Professional World Championship Road Race
Calm before the storm.
(l-r) John Patterson, Greg LeMond, Eric Fetch, Gavin Chilcott, Jonathan Boyer, John Eustice | Photo ©: Assos clothing ad

September 4, 1983. Altenrhein, Switzerland. Twenty five years ago today, Greg LeMond laid waste to the cream of the world’s professional peloton en route to his first professional world championship. In a stunning display of patience, tactics, cunning, verve, and nerve seemingly beyond his 22 years, Greg LeMond finished the 270 km championship event in 7:01:21, 1:11 ahead of his nearest competitor–a margin of victory yet to be equalled or exceeded since. In fact, you’d have to go back to Vittorio Adorni in 1968 before you’d find a larger margin of victory. Including Adorni, only four world champions post-WWII have had more distance between themselves and 2nd place than LeMond.

One of LeMond’s early mentors, Eddy B., was fortunate enough to witness history in the making first hand and chronicled LeMond’s victory in this clinical, analytic manner:

As smart as [Giuseppe] Saronni was in 1982, that’s how smart Greg LeMond was in 1983. He gave us an incredible show at the World Professional Championship in Switzerland. I was so happy to be there and watch him do everything perfectly to earn that victory.

LeMond became visible at the front after the halfway point. He knew that nothing important would happen in the first 100 km–it never does in pro races because they are so long (this one was 270 km). At midrace a dozen riders moved off the front and LeMond was right there. He saw potential danger because Phil Anderson was involved, but it was too early. LeMond pulled through but didn’t work hard, and the group was caught after about 25 km.

Next, seven riders escaped and this time LeMond was not with them. The gap reached three minutes before the field began its chase. All seven riders were from different nations, so no team was interested in trying to block. LeMond was a beneficiary–it meant he did not have to exert himself to close the gap. He let the work be done by the Italians, who seemed intent on getting Saronni into position for another championship. In a way, the 1982 table had been turned.

With less than 40 km to go, six of the seven riders were caught. A Swiss remained out front, but his lead was shrinking. Now LeMond made his move. He attacked and only two riders, an Italian and a Spaniard, were able to go with him. The field had just completed the long chase and LeMond caught it off guard. It was the classic bridge. He jumped away instantly and powered right into contact. Then he kept the pressure on. He pushed hard because he was feeling good and the end was close. He believed he could succeed. He also was lucky, because he got some unintentional but valuable help from the Italian team. It went on the front of the field to block because the Italian in the group, [Moreno] Argentin, was a strong sprinter. His team figured he would beat the other three at the finish.

Again LeMond did the right thing. He kept the pace hard on the hills to take the speed out of Argentin and the others. He was glad for their help on the descents and flats, but didn’t need want them conserving any energy. He knew they would get no help from his draft on the climbs, so he willingly set a fast pace. They had to ride very hard to stay with him. The tactic worked well.

Maybe too well, I thought, when first the Swiss and then the Italian lost contact. I feared it was too early to drop Argentin because it would make the Italians stop blocking. The door would be open for a strong chase by the field. This made me very nervous. But LeMond sensed that keeping Argentin would cost him too much time. There came a point when he felt it was better to gamble his strength against the response of the field. He took the challenge.

Now it was LeMond and the Spaniard. Behind them the Italians knew the game was over and several of them abandoned. The chases began, but they failed to pose a serious threat. The field was almost a minute and a half behind–too far back if LeMond could maintain a strong pace to the finish. Again he was very smart. He knew he could drop the Spaniard, [Faustino] Ruperez, if he attacked him on the climbs, but he also knew that Ruperez was still strong enough to help him make time on the descents and flats. So LeMond waited until the final 15 km lap had started. Then he pulled away from Ruperez on a hill, using only as much energy as necessary. From there it was a time trial to the finish line. LeMond was wonderful! He did not lose a second during the lap and he arrived more than one minute ahead of the next rider. It was one of the largest winning margins in recent World Championships. LeMond left nothing to chance. In 1982 he finished second to a sprinter, in 1983 he made sure the sprinters were nowhere close.

Bicycle Road Racing. Edward Borysewicz. Velo-News Corporation, Brattleboro, VT. 1985. 144-146.

1983 Worlds Tidbits:
1. For a superb account of the race through Greg LeMond’s eyes, read John Wilcockson’s feature (Part 1, Part 2) about that special day in Switzerland. I don’t think I ever really knew how tight LeMond and Phil Anderson were, and how they prepped & tackled the race together.
2. Jonathan Boyer was the only other American finisher (30th place).
3. Gitane is particularly proud of LeMond.
4. Some ‘83 worlds footage, among other things.
5. To the victor goes the spoils. What could be sweeter than to rock the Koppenberg on a training ride ensconced in the rainbow jersey?

Greg LeMond takes on the Koppenberg
The opening spread of Greg LeMond’s first feature article in Sports Illustrated | Photo ©: Sports Illustrated. September 3, 1984. pgs. 54-55

Rare Groove: The Bill Walton Chronicles

Bill Walton on arguably the largest track bike in the world. Photo from Eddy B's Bicycle Road Racing book. When it comes to sportswriting, David Halberstam resides in a world of his own.

Halberstam penned one of my all time favorite works of journalism, The Amateurs: The Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal, a book which seemed to leap off the shelves of a dusty used book store collection and soon became spot welded into my cerebellum back in my high school days. I’ve been a fan of rowing ever since, even dabbled in the sport while I was abroad in Ireland during college (training with a few freaks, and I mean freaks, of nature on the Irish national team), and the recently concluded Beijing Olympics again sparked my memories of the sport (and of The Amateurs). If my body was the archetypical rower’s physique who knows what direction I would have taken, but stubby legs and a dearth of opportunity stateside torpedoed that proposition.

But the sportswriting which Halberstam is likely most know for is The Breaks of the Game, the embedded chronicle of the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers’ tumultuous NBA season, a book recently brought to my attention by one of the most fascinatingly cryptic and esoteric insider sports blogs anywhere: Free Darko. And little did I know, tucked away near the book’s conclusion, would be a single sentence which got me thinking about Bill Walton:

One night a San Diego sportswriter, covering a bicycle race at a local arena [the San Diego velodrome] because Olympic skater Eric Heiden was supposed to be competing, was astounded to see Bill Walton there, careening around the track at breakneck speed. pg. 347.

The iconoclastic Bill Walton–champion collegiate and professional basketball player, vegetarian, peace activist, pot smoker, Deadhead, musician–has been and always will be a cyclist, too. Poking around a bit online led me to the introduction of Walton’s book, Bill Walton’s Total Book of Bicycling, in which his fascination with cycling was fully elaborated (including his time spent training with future 1980 Olympic track cyclists in San Diego).

My first derailleur bike was a green Bertin, which I bought because it was the tallest bike I could find - about a 25 1/2″ frame, I think. It came from Hans Ort’s Westwood bike shop, and they fixed me up with an extra-long seatpost which let me stretch out my legs for the first time in years. It also gave me a pretty radical position on the bike, since the handlebars were about five inches below the seat. After buying the Bertin, I took to dropping in at Hans’ shop when I had free time, and it was there that I found out about more serious cycling. I went out on rides with the guys who were racing, and through this I learned to respect the sport and the people involved in it. On the bike I was no star, just one of the group.

In college I got in the habit of riding quite frequently, especially in summer. Usually 40-60 mile rides, long enough to loosen up and unwind. I would do that probably four days a week during the summer. A couple of hundred miles a week, probably. I never consciously rode for fitness, but I know now that those rides were very beneficial in a variety of ways. I’m sure they gave me stamina and leg strength without putting stress on my knees and feet, and it never felt like work. It was the kind of activity that settled me down. I’ve always had to respect what a good ride can do for my mood. Going out on a bike is my idea of an excellent way to enjoy a sunny day. Being outside, getting into the movement and joy of the bike - it’s very satisfying to me, that feeling of freedom.

I took advantage of something else about the bicycle then, too: the privacy. There were a lot of basketball fans at UCLA and it could be difficult to cope with this at times. Between playing basketball and attending classes, I needed to get away, so I rode around campus rather walking. On the bike I was a lot less vulnerable, you might say; I was moving too fast for conversation. The bike gave me time by myself to digest the experiences I was having, and this was really important to me.

I finally hammered that poor Bertin to the point where I needed something new, and was lucky enough to meet a British professional rider named Norman Hill. He runs the Vancouver velodrome now, but at the time he was associated with the Falcon team. He arranged for me to get a road and a track bike. These Falcons were a necessity, actually; my size and weight were wrong for any stock bike. The were made of stronger tubing and had less flex; and I could feel the difference, especially when hammering a big gear or climbing hills off the saddle. My first ride with the track bike was a completely new experience, and I found I was still learning a lot about bicycles. These bikes were still a little on the small side, though; manufacturers aren’t geared up for out-size frames, basically. I measure out to a 29 1/2” frame, which creates all sorts of problems for the builder.

I might still be riding those Falcons except for a coincidence that brought me in contact with the 1980 Olympic track team, which moved to San Diego for quite some period of time to be near our velodrome. Harvey Nitz, Eric Heiden Mark Gorski, Brent Emery, John Beckmann, Dave Grylls - I can’t remember all the names - they were at a hotel near my house, and I’d go out with them, riding my Falcons. I learned a lot chasing them down the road, and missed them when they left. At that time, Eddy Borysewicz, the National coach, did me an important favor, by measuring me and arranging for Ted Kirkbride, who also built the American Masi bicycles, to build me a pair of bikes that really fit. Ted sent to England for special heavy tubing normally used on tandem bicycles, then built me both a road and a track bike, and they were just fine. It way my first experience with what it’s like to be on a bicycle that really fits and has good rigidity, and I can vouch for the advantages of this.

I’m not sure what was in the water in California which led freaky big, ex-UCLA centers to so completely and publicly embrace cross training (remember Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s big screen debut?), but I think it’s pretty cool that Bill Walton to this day is still a fixture, a rather unmistakeable fixture, on the Southern California cycling scene. And if Cycle Sport ever brings back their Rare Groove series of features, Bill Walton would be a shoe-in for inclusion.

Here’s some additional Bill Walton references for your perusing pleasure:

  • Dave Moulton has the full skinny about the Ted Kirkbride-built custom frames. Damn that bike is HUGE!
  • From the Sports Illustrated vault: a sportswriter tags along (sort of) on a 2-day, 150-mile bicycle ride with Bill Walton in 1977. There’s shades of Svein Tuft tucked away in there.
  • A bit more about Walton’s 150-mile ride, which was captured in a documentary.
  • Even more about the documentary
  • Walton has ridden the last three editions of the Death Valley Century.
  • A 1974 Time article with mentions of cycling in general, Walton’s racing aspirations, and mentor Norman Hill.
  • Random Bill Walton sighting.

Freaks of the Industry

1st...Samuel Sanchez...ESP 2nd...Davide Rebellin...ITA 3rd...Fabian Cancellara...SUI 4th...Alexander Kolobnev...RUS 5th...Andy Schleck...LUX

If you happened to see this rogues’ gallery clustered together on the front page of your local newspaper, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to wonder, “Huh…I wonder what kind of nefarious deeds these miscreants have perpetrated?” But if you’re NBC, and you’re trying to show what pro cycling is all about, these are the kind of photos you provide the curious viewing public.

Since I’m an Olympics zealot, on top of being resolutely messianic about all things pro cycling, I watched the entire length of the men’s road race live online all of last night. When there’s no announcers, coupled with the initial several hours of, quite honestly, not exactly scintillating action you’ve got to create some diversions. So I started to explore the photos and bios provided online by NBC of the cream of the planet’s pro cycling community. And holy crap, when you put them all together it’s a pretty comical collection. It looks like a compilation of webcam screen captures, discarded passport photos, characters appearing on milk cartons, high school yearbook out-takes, and FBI most-wanted mug shots. Nevermind the fact that quite a few pros don’t have any photo or bio (hence the “?” placeholders). Don’t worry too much, they’re only lowly unknowns such as Santiago Botero, Carlos Sastre, Franco Pellizotti, and Stuart O’Grady. NBC even threw one of our next door neighbors under the bus, providing absolutely nothing for Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, and duplicated the treatment for the sole Chinese rider Liang Zhang. D’oh! Maybe that’s why he made sure he was prominently positioned at the head of the peloton for the opening kilometers in metro Beijing.

A few random Men’s Olympic Road Race notes:
1. Absolutely stunning venue/scenery, despite hefty doses of haze.
2. What’s all that crap on the roads? Oh yeah, it’s discarded musette bags and water bottles. In Europe those would be scooped up in seconds, in China not so much. I bet the heavy security presence made sure nobody dared set foot on the course. [Addendum: apparently the Aussie contingent’s family members had access issues at the road course. There’s an awesome quote from O’Grady in there concerning the lack of fans: “It was like silent murder.”]
3. Wow, somebody figured out how to have crystal clear, live television transmissions inside tunnels. Pretty cool to see, instead of the usual helicopter shot overhead waiting for the peloton to emerge.
4. When riders retired and headed to their team digs, it looked like they were entering self-storage facilities.
5. Overall, quite a collection of not-so-aesthetically appealing national team kits. You can never go wrong with the classic Belgian kits, Luxembourg looked cool, I liked South Africa, but far too many looked like bargain basement club jerseys.
6. While the riders were trying to be discreet in the opening kilometers, quite a few riders “watering the lawn” were doing so in view of Chinese citizens within metro Beijing. Not quite sure if they’re aware of Euro tradition in such matters or if they cared.
7. I don’t have any idea how riders stayed sufficiently hydrated. There didn’t appear to be any neutral water motorcycles (like the Tour), I believe each team had only one support vehicle making reaching all the riders more difficult (at least there were no more than five members per team), and that feed zone looked pretty sketchy. The shower was pretty cool. I wondered how one man squads (like Cancellara) dealt with getting water outside of the feed zone. When you’re simultaneously the team leader and domestique, I guess you have to head back on your own and scoop up some bottles. Or intimidate lesser riders into giving up theirs.