Sunday, April 15, 2012

1974: First Century

My first century patch from 1974 - I was a real cyclist!
As I picked up more books and magazines about bicycling that first year or riding, it was not the racing that drew my attention. Growing up, anything with athletic competition had not gone well for me, and I shied away from it. Bicycle racing looked like just one more humiliation to add to the list. Bicycle travel and distance rides were what always captured my interest. And then I learned about this this ride called a century.

100 miles in under 12-hours was THE event in midwest club bicycling. I leaned that the “century” itself was then approaching 100 years in history. It went to the heart of “The Wheelmen” clubs of the 1880’s and 1890’s, where a century was ridden on 80-pound, single speed high wheelers over gravel and macadam roads. By the early 1970’s club century rides were being hosted all over the midwest, and you could find a ride or two every weekend from May 1 to the end of October, many offering just a century route.

After my first year of riding I was doing 50 and 60 miles rides on my own pretty regularly. I couldn’t get to one of the century rides, since I did not have my own car, and I would have to arrange to have someone cover my Saturday and Sunday morning paper route. And I was still just 16, and most rides required you ride with an adult.

In the spring of 1973, I learned the county American Cancer Society chapter was sponsoring a Bike-a-thon with 20 mile loops, starting from a church just south of Jackson. This was close enough that I could persuade Mom to drop me off and pick me up, and the start time allowed me to do this after my Saturday papers were delivered. And they didn’t have that pesky adult restriction stuff in any of the paperwork.

I was on my fourth year on my paper route, so I was well known and liked by my customers, giving me a captive audience for pledges. That first year I only discussed 3 or 4 loops, and over half my 75 customers pledged in 5 cents or a dime a mile. Riding 4 loops for 80 miles, I raised about $300. And I set my goal for next year.

I did a lot of riding that summer (1973), but never broke the 100 mile mark. The fall was my junior year in high school, and with running high school cross country, I didn’t look at any more rides. But in the spring of 1974, I picked the Cancer Society forms, and started collecting pledges, this time committing to 100 miles.

The reaction to 100 miles from my customers was really a surprise. They all knew I liked to bike. And I imagine that most of them had biked has kids themselves, but all on just around town on heavy coaster brake bikes. There were no “real” bicyclings in Brooklyn. And traveling a 100 miles is a big deal, a 2-hour car trip, a real distance. So most challenged me with “Can you really ride that far?”.  For a few, the pledges were almost a bet that I wouldn’t make it. I was getting pledges of nickels and dimes per mile. The local car dealer even pledged $ .25 a mile, grinning that he wondered if would ever have to pay the $25. When it was all done, with family, friends and customers, I was pledged up to $1.20 per mile.

The ride came up on the first weekend in June, and we drove up after finishing my paper route. One of my younger brothers and a friend also came along to ride a couple of loops. I started at 8:30, behind the lead group, and just began riding at a steady pace. There were sag stops of cookies, fruit and drinks every 5 miles, and most of the riders were only going for one or two loops. But I had a water bottle, and you can only eat so many cookies, and I began skipping the stops to save time. I was still on my first 30-pound steel bike, and riding in shorts and a basketball jersey, tennis shoes, and off course, no helmet.

Looping back to the start, they had sandwiches out by Noon for lunch. I only saw my brother and friend once or twice during the day. It works out that I was probably averaging 14 to 16 mph, finishing every loop in under 2 hours, riding mostly by myself. I saw a number of the “real” bicyclists from the Jackson Freewheelers on the ride; I did not know them yet, but they would become friends in the years and rides to follow.  I finished 80 miles by 3:30 and there were only a handful of riders still out as I started my fifth and final loop. I finished a little after 5, and then sat in the parking lot in the late afternoon shade, waiting for Mom, and casually wondering where my brother and his friend were. He showed shortly after I finished, with his own adventures, dog that a dog that him around the loop, and riding off the road and down a shallow embankment, with only few grass stains to show for his tumble.

I was none the worse for the wear, except for my sunburn. My back, shoulders and arms were blistered and peeling for the next week, and I never made that mistake again. I also spent the next week collecting my pledges while showing everyone my first 100 mile patch. I had hoped to have raised enough for the new bike prize, but $120 was only good enough for an honorable mention. Mom had a little bit of fit having to deal with the check for the cash from some of the pledges, since that much money was a big deal.

That was my last big ride on my first bike. I was signed up for my first long tour, DALMAC, at the end of summer, and was already shopping for a lighter bike. That first bike had served me well in two full summers of riding and my first century.  And in making the that magic 100 miles under the 12-hour limit,  I began to think of myself as a “real” bicyclist.

1 comment:

  1. ref: "“The Wheelmen” clubs of the 1880’s and 1890’s, where a century was ridden on 80-pound, single speed high wheeler"

    You might be surprised to know that some of those high wheel bicycles back then were in the 30+ pound range! Columbia Light Roadsters from that era, for example, are still being ridden today! One of those won the men's high wheel division of Calvin's Challenge last spring at 132 miles in the 12 hour Time Trial.