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Thread: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

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    monadnocky's Avatar
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    Default A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    As I was going for a quick (albeit painful, given my conditioning right now) spin yesterday, I was thinking about how it's easy to take for granted that, for the most part and in many parts of the country, cyclists are pretty much a feature of the landscape at this time. Not necessarily accepted, of course, but hardly something that would catch your eye or stand out.

    So it occurred to me: What was the attitude towards serious cyclists back before the "collegiate" bike boom of the 70's? For those people who rode seriously back in the 60's (or even before that), did people view you as a curiosity, or as some sort of freak? The impression I get is that before the Schwinn Varsity boom, bikes were viewed as children's toys, and to see an adult riding one would be socially frowned upon in an automobile-crazy culture (or at least this is what my father tells me). Of couse bicycle racing was huge in the States during the beginning of the 20th century, my understanding is that the sport was very quickly forgotten about by the general public (no, not the bad 80's leftovers of the English Beat, I mean the real general public). But this is only my nacent understanding.

    So... I was wondering if anyone here is old enough to have logged miles during these years. Were you tolerated? How did people view you? How did you come to find the culture - was it passed down through family, did you live in a geographically quirky area that for some reason supported the sport, etc? I'd love to hear about it.

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    Saab2000's Avatar
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Not '70s but I remember going to college in rural southern, MN in the mid-80s and having a bunch of close calls. I was just about the only cyclist there at that time. It got a bit better by the time I finished but not much. But I would see another 'cyclist' only every few weeks it seemed. Definitely on my own on the roads. One particularly scary encounter with a pickup truck driver stays with me. Buzzed me intentionally and then hung about 100 yards in front of me waiting for me to flip him off or something. I slowed to a virtual standstill and so did he. Eventually he took off but that was one of the few times I've actually felt legitimately concerned for my safety. Already threatened with a deadly weapon (his vehicle) and he was probably packing too. And very quiet, deserted rural roads without the backup of other traffic. That was 25 years ago and while not "Breaking Away" early it wasn't during the Lance years of popularity either. Definitely an oddity on the roads back then. Now I feel like we're a nuisance rather than an oddity.

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Another 80's cyclist here. As far as road cyclists, you have to look beyond the Schwinn boom and look at the advent of SIS shifting. Before that, it took some eye-hand coordination and confidence in reaching down to overshift-and-back while riding down a road. With SIS and then STI/Ergo, click and done. IMHO, this opened up cycling to more people who might not have ridden otherwise. It was nicer in the earlier days when we were an oddity, but more cyclists meant more people to ride with, larger fields at races, and more innovation from component and bicycle manufacturers.

    I live in NE Texas, cyclist are still an oddity there.
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    Too Tall's Avatar
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Washington DC has had a fairly vibrant bicycle race scene for a long time. When I was in HS there was a small informal race team, we trained together twice a week. Maybe I've got selective memory for the attitude that drivers had but it seemed very neutral. Nobody really bothered me.

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    monadnocky's Avatar
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    My riding started in the mid-80's. I remember watching some races (and participating in one) where helmet use was optional. Wool shorts were still pretty commonplace, and lycra, while gaining in popularity, was that awful shiny stuff. I wore a chartreuse cinelli hairnet for a while. My mother would make me wear my V1 Pro and I would ride off with it, hide it in a bush somewhere, and put it back on when I got close to home.

    Yep. I did.

    My recollection is that people were generally fine with me on the road, but I was a dumb kid who wasn't aware of anything and for the most part I was riding with buds. Plus this was suburban Boston, hardly backcountry Gaptooth County, Arkansas*. I think that the mid-80's marked the transition from "what the hell is that guy doing on a bike" to "oh look a cyclist" but I don't know.

    I realize that for someone to have seriously ridden in the 60's or (very early) 70's they would have to be around 70 and I'm not sure if there are any readers who might be this age. But I'd love to know what riding was like during these decades- my assumption is that these decades were pretty dead in the US, cycling culture-wise.


    *apologies to all readers in Gaptooth County, Arkansas

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    I was riding regularly from around '75-'76. To be honest, in the rural parts of CT, not much has really changed. I see a few more cyclists than back then on the roads but as for the cars, not much different. They either buzz you 6 inches off your shoulder or pass completely in the other lane causing even bigger problems. I've always liked the "horn honkers" too....do they think we can't hear them behind us?

    Bikes are toys. So it follows they would be seen as such. But I like'm...

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    YO!!! is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Riding on the rural roads of western Pennsylvania in the late 60s-early 70s was pretty uneventful.

    That is except for the local farm dogs trying to chase you down while passing through their turf.

    I was not into the racing scene, rode alone, and rarely saw any other vehicles let alone cyclists.

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    Tom Officer is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    I was riding in NH back in the '70's and very rarely saw other cyclists and almost never had any incidents with motorists. I live in NW CT now and I think because there are so many cyclists on the road these days, it has created a cultural war between the two. I have had more incidents of road rage, brushing too close, oncoming traffic pulling out to pass when I'm coming at them, than I ever did in the old days. At least there are tons of back roads around here, so I stay out of harm's way. Not sure I'd ride as much if I lived in a more populated area.

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    EFHeath is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Quote Originally Posted by Saab2000 View Post
    Not '70s but I remember going to college in rural southern, MN in the mid-80s and having a bunch of close calls. I was just about the only cyclist there at that time. ....
    One particularly scary encounter with a pickup truck driver stays with me. ....
    And very quiet, deserted rural roads without the backup of other traffic.
    I grew up in southern MN and had very similar experiences in the mid-to-late 1980s. Basically NEVER saw another cyclist. Unwelcome attention from a lot of pickups. Probably my celeste Bianchi didn't help matters.

    As a kid I would have loved to race, but never heard about anything in MN. Bike racing seemed to be something people in California and other cool places did.

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Quote Originally Posted by Too Tall View Post
    Nobody really bothered me.
    This does not surprise me!

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Officer View Post
    I was riding in NH back in the '70's and very rarely saw other cyclists and almost never had any incidents with motorists. I live in NW CT now and I think because there are so many cyclists on the road these days, it has created a cultural war between the two. I have had more incidents of road rage, brushing too close, oncoming traffic pulling out to pass when I'm coming at them, than I ever did in the old days. At least there are tons of back roads around here, so I stay out of harm's way. Not sure I'd ride as much if I lived in a more populated area.
    I'm not that far from you Tom. I agree with you totally about the road traffic issue. The rural back roads are so great to ride on and I go out of my way to stay off the state roads or even the high traffic cut throughs. If they were my only option I might even go back to mtb's...

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Quote Originally Posted by witcombusa View Post
    I'm not that far from you Tom. I agree with you totally about the road traffic issue. The rural back roads are so great to ride on and I go out of my way to stay off the state roads or even the high traffic cut throughs. If they were my only option I might even go back to mtb's...
    This.

    Here in Boise, I will admit I have a hard time getting motivated to get out on the road bike. Ever since Kevin Pavlis died, I have simply been too nervous about distracted/wreckless drivers. If I fall and get hurt, I want it to be my fault, not the 15 y.o. drivers. This is why I mountain bike around Boise. For road riding, I go up north to the rural roads of Mccall to road bike. Hardly any cars, and the ones I do encounter are almost always courteous and respectful (knock on wood).
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    PJC
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    I started in the early 80's in rural WV. I might as well have been from outer space.

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    I started in the late 70s here in Portland and found the place basically accommodating. There was an incident or two, but they were just as much caused by my young punk rooster self as the driver's. I'd say about 10 years ago culture war somewhat started to brew and is still bubbling along. I think what's kept it from boiling over is cycling infrastructure and ghost bikes i.e. deaths. Every time there's a cyclist fatality, a bike sprayed completely white is placed at the scene of the death. They are a stark reminder that bikes/car mash-ups can easily end in death. Even jack-hole motorists don't want the inconvenience that comes along with killing a person on a bike.

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    No difference, just more people out there riding now.

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    d.wilson is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    out near loudoun county VA in the mid 80s, there were a few of us riding- but you'd take SOME shit, particularly well off the beaten path 'cause you looked more or less like a martian compared to a tractor... but it wasn't any worse than it is now, and in some ways, it's actually worse NOW... 'cause there's so MANY cyclists that people have expressed aggravation at cyclists as a TYPE- less than as an anomalous rare wierdo in lycra, or as the case may've been, wool.

    it's similar, but different. there sure WERE a lot less cyclists back then... but i got hit with bottles and cokes and burgers more frequently then... I get yelled at a lot more now, and still for no particular reason- it's still relatively rare to get harassed too bad in either era.

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    SteveP is offline vSalon Legend
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    i used to get a lot of clothing comments...
    black wool shorts and cleated shoes...
    it was rare to run itno any cyclists then but when you did...
    everyone was friendly.

    i grew up south of boston... dragged into mbrc, which was a big regional club at that point.
    at that point there were a few bodies to ride with...
    we started the wompatuck crits.. which continue to this day.. nice little loop at the back end of a state park.
    eventually i moved to the north shore... and thats the tale.

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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    1970's, Northern Califonia, college towns and larger urban areas were incubators for cycling and especially racing. You had to read Competitive Cycling and the District Newsletter to know what was going on. LBS's were primary sources for: equipment, clothing, tribal knowledge. And for copies of Mirror de Cyclisme. Racing clubs were a valued tradition; you could learn from some very skilled riders.

    Many areas had standing Saturday or Sunday rides. In my college town typically 6 of us would show up to the Sunday ride. When I visited So Cal, 80 people would show up for the Malibu ride. Everybody knew everybody or your friend did.

    People were really curious about our shaved legs.

    The internet hadn't been invented yet.
    ...just to win a salami in ridiculous races.

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    rabo is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    Hate to say it but I get in more road rage (deliberate buzzing) in a month in NC than I got in 30 years in western europe. Maybe I'm more sensitive to it now, but I don't see me ride a touring bike with luggage through the country here for fun. On some roads I sometimes wish I had a frame pump sticking out from the handlebars to give my 2 ft clearance more respect.

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    Doug Fattic is offline VSalonistas
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    Default Re: A question for the folks who rode back in the day

    I was one of those that owned 10 speeds before the big boom started in the early '70s throughout the US. The first time I heard of a 10 speed was when one of my freshman high school classmates rode one to school in the fall of 1961. I wanted one immediately. Later that school year I swapped out the upright handlebars on my brother's 3 speed to turned down bars I bought from the Sears mail order catalog so it would look like a 10 speed. One could buy a "Ted Williams" Campy equipped bicycle from Sears back then. They sold separate components like a Campagnolo Gran Sport rear derailleurs. For Christmas in 1963 my dad got me a real ten speed he ordered through the Western Auto store for $60. It had 26 X 1 3/8" tires. In Southwest Michigan where I lived it was an oddity but not strange to ride a bicycle for enjoyment (in other words my bicycling hobby was seen as rare but not peculiar). I never came across any other cyclists on the country roads I pedaled unless it was a kid too young to drive a car. There wasn't much car traffic so my being on the road didn't annoy drivers. There was no racing scene that I knew of in my area. I visited every library for miles around including Andrews University my alma mater and Notre Dame U. just a few miles away. The only books I found on bicycling was about Boy Scouts getting an honor and riding safely.

    My Freshman year in college in the fall of 1965 the men's dorm held a bicycle race. Most showed up on an odd assortment of single and 3 speed bicycles with upright bars. Stuff for getting around campus. I was on my 10 speed Western Union "Ascot Flyer" and another high school classmate had a Schwinn Super Sport – which at the time was the model just below the Paramount. Knowing absolutely nothing about training or bicycle racing my classmate and I were soon in the front of the pack and it wasn't long before rode away from me too. The concept of drafting never crossed my mind and I would have been afraid to ride that close to his back wheel without practice anyway. I still remember my time of 21 minutes 21 seconds for the 7 mile race. I asked my classmate about his bike and he said that he had done a lot of research and this was the best bicycle available. My dad got me a Super Sport for Christmas that year. He paid $96.50 + tax and that was seen by most as an extreme cost for what was considered a child's toy. A few years ago I called my classmate to find out if he still had his bike and discovered Viet Nam and not been kind to him.

    In the summer of 1966 my cousin and I did a 2 week bicycle ride in Vermont and surrounding area. We didn't see any other touring cyclists and everywhere we went people just thought we were crazy college kids for choosing that way to get around. My sophomore year in college ('66/'67) I bought a true used Italian racing bicycle with tubular tires from a student from Southern California. He indicated that 10 speed bicycles were not rare in California.

    I read my 1st magazine about bicycles in 1967 called American Cycling (that later became Bicycling) in the college library. It was more like a club newsletter than a real magazine. However it did introduce me to Cinells and Hetchins. It was the only way I could find out who won the Tour de France in September. There were 2 other students who had good bicycles on campus before 1970. One was from Canada and the other from the Philippines. The guy from the philippines had raced over there and thought me about gear ratios and such.

    The sea changed in bicycles becoming a popular adult recreation happened around 1970/71 (at least in the midwest where I lived) when I was teaching English in Japan. I read an article in Time magazine entitled "America discovers the 10 speed bicycle". I was shocked to read that my hobby had suddenly become popular. When I went back to the US to get my masters in education in the fall of 1971, everyone was asking my advice on what to buy, etc. It was like living in a different time period.

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