All Points West: The joys of amateur cycling
     2016-06-24      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
Buying a bicycle is more exciting (and I use that word sparingly) than buying a car.

My first bike was one I borrowed from my oldest brother Tom, who begrudgingly loaned one to me. I had a summer job before my sophomore year in high school in 1980, and I needed to get from my house in south Gering to a county administrative building in north Scottsbluff, roughly five or six miles one way. In a one-car family, not so easy. Hence, the question: What about that 10-speed in the garage? With dad as the final arbiter, he quickly and effectively ended the argument of what’s mine is mine and not yours, overruling my brother.

The bike wasn’t exactly in tip-top. It didn’t have much for looks either, with a silver paint job that was chipping, and the tape on the handlebars unraveling, but once I got my legs pumping, I felt unstoppable.

Often, I wondered if the brakes would give out on the return trip. A sloping highway made the bike feel like I was going 60 mph. In reality, I wasn’t going any faster than a parade float. For a teenaged guy with the wind in his hair (those were the days few people thought twice about wearing a helmet), I pretended I was Dave Stoller (Dennis Christopher) in “Breaking Away.” It is a 1979 film about a group of Bloomington, Indiana, kids coming of age. Dave, the central character, an exceptional cyclist, racked up trophies left and right in local competitions, and blathered on about the Italians coming, and how he would get to ride with them when they did. The Italians did come. In fact, Team Cinzano knocked Dave off his bike during the premiere race extolling the pros’ virtues. Maybe, they mistook Dave’s passion for being too big for his britches.
Nevertheless, their actions destroyed his bike, and his image of them. They were his fantasy heroes, guys who walked on water. He nearly gave up his passion. I thought the plot held little water – there’s no way I’d give up riding, just because I got knocked off my bike by a bunch of jerks.

There’s nothing like listening to the whir of wheels, the clicking of gears on a climb, dashing between cars at red lights to get across the intersection first. The greatest thing about cycling? It’s knowing you’re in control. First, there’s no real cost for maintenance as long as you can clean and oil gears, fix flats, and adjust spokes.

Don’t worry about stopping for fuel. These days, energy packets or GU and water will power you through the ride. With no emissions, there’s no real damage to Mother Nature. Getting on that bike made me feel as though I was in control of my own destiny. It was an extension of me. Then summer ended, and my brother took back his bike.

It wasn’t until living in California about three years later in 1984 that I bought an old iron frame 10-speed. It was mustard yellow, and two college friends who rode on the local amateur circuit invited me to tag along on a route on which they trained. It was a hilly 25-mile two-lane road around Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas. We called it Puddingstone. I’m sure they both thought I’d quit on the steep uphill about seven miles into the ride. I didn’t. In that way, cycling is a little bit like opera; you either hate the first time you see it, and never want to go back or you want to learn more.
Needless to say, I was hooked, despite the hacking cough, burning soreness in my legs, and my chafing behind.

The next thing you know, I bought a $700 Bridgestone, a purple, (according to my friend Matt Hutt, color matters) lightweight frame with Shimano components (gears and brakes), and a Biopace crank for improved pedaling efficiency, and I was off riding the course sometimes twice a day. Each week, I’d get stronger and faster, and want to ride longer and harder.

So grew the pitfalls of riding. My disdain for traffic grew. Drivers didn’t always see cyclists, so I kept my head on a swivel and banged on a few car hoods. I wasn’t as bad as a friend who ripped off a driver side mirror in frustration in Tokyo. My first wheels contained paper thin tubes. In hitting a steep curb, both my tires deflated in seconds, leaving me to walk the few miles to get home, then I got smart about puncture proof. Weight and wind resistance didn’t matter too much to a novice.

The more I rode, the more I paid attention to the sport. Cycling wasn’t hugely popular in the United States, not until Greg LeMond started to make a name for himself in Europe and beyond. He was the 1980 Olympic road champion. In 1981, under the oppressive guidance of French rider Bernard Hinault, LeMond, through fits and starts among European greats, suffered being a support rider. Not unlike Dave Stoller, LeMond had to wait. LeMond blew away the competition in the Tour de l’Avenir in 1982, then the World Championship in 1983.
Eventually, in 1986, he won the Tour de France, the Holy Grail of the sport, but it did not come without a price. As an American, he was alone. Later, another American, Lance Armstrong went on to win seven Tour de France titles from 1999-2005, but was later stripped after he admitted to doping.

Today, cycling maintains a niche fandom with a few professional competitions, including the Tour of California, and the Tour of Utah. About a half dozen other professional races faded away.

Outside the pros, Americans have found a variety of ways to entertain themselves on two wheels. Consider the Dead Baby Downhill in Seattle, Washington, and the Fall Allegany Rally for Tandems (FART), the Race Across America (3,000 miles), and the World Naked Bike Ride to name a few. Locally, we have the Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb (time trial format), which is a 1.6 mile sprint up the Scotts Bluff National Monument, and most recently, 87 gravel cyclists rode in the inaugural Robidoux Quick and Dirty, which started and ended in Gering.

This week, I pick up my new bike, a Giant Any Road2, and my wife is getting a bike of her own, complete with a bell and basket.

Happy trails to us. We’ll see you on down the road.

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