I have an awkward relationship with bicycles. Bicycles have been involved in two of the most dramatic events in my life. In 1984 I was struck by an automobile while riding a mountain bike on a closed road outside Aspen, Colorado. I flew through the windshield face first and ended up in surgery for six and a half hours– total stitch count: four hundred and thirty-five.
In January of 2005, while crossing the three-way intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen in Wicker Park, I was struck by a bicyclist and suffered a severe brain injury. I crashed to the ground and cracked my head against the curb in a classic coup-counter coup trauma– total days spent in a coma: ten.
But the thing is not all my interactions with bicycles have been bad, brutal or bloody. Starting as a boy, somewhere around the spring of 1982, I began racing bicycles. My dad had been a bicycle enthusiast for a long time. While in college, he took long trips on his bike. He commuted into the office when we lived in Washington D.C. And he raced competitively for several years before I was born– including a qualifying entry in the the Nationals. When I took an interest in bicycles, dad renewed his. I was old enough that dad had someone he could ride with from time to time, and when we traveled to races together it was a trip we took together. I joined the United States Cycling Federation (USCF), the organizing body for amateur bicycle racing, and raced Juniors, kids 18 and younger. Dad had been a USCF member before, renewed and now raced Veterans, racers 35 and over.
The 1980s were a great time for cycling in the United States. The Coors Classic stage race was the largest stage race in the US– and fourth largest stage race world wide– and it ran for two weeks through my home state of Colorado. Greg LeMond won the Coors Classic in 1985. Bernard Hinault won it in 1986. LeMond would go on to win the Tour de France three times. Bernaurd Hinault had already won the Tour de France five times when he won the Coors Classic. The 1985 Kevin Kostner movie, American Flyers, is set during a fictional American stage race based off of the Coors Classic. They shot part of the movie on the brutal Morgul-Bismarck course– a road course I raced that year.
In 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics. Americans Alexi Grewal, Connie Carpenter, Rebecca Twigg, Steve Hegg, Mark Gorski and Nelson Vails all won medals in cycling that year. The United States Olympic Training Center is in Colorado Springs, just 40 miles from where I grew up, and when McDonald’s built the velodrome in Los Angeles for the Olympics they built an exact duplicate of it in Colorado Springs. For four years Dad and I would go to Colorado Springs to compete in the Tuesday night track racing series.
This heightened interest in cycling in Colorado granted me the opportunity to meet and ride alongside Carpenter, Twigg, Gorski and Vails. Gorski and Vails just showed up at the velodrome one Tuesday evening on a lark. They demonstrated tandem sprint riding for us– some of the fastest, most explosive cycling you will ever see. I met Carpenter at the 1986 State Track Championships being held at the OTC Velodrome. I met Twigg at the 1987 State Road Championships at the Air Force Academy.
Spring and summer in the mid-1980s, Dad and I raced most weekends somewhere along the Colorado Front Range. We raced track races, road races and criteriums. When we were not racing, we were training or touring. I completed three centuries in those years of racing: a ride of 100 miles in one day. When I moved away to college, I sold my car but kept my bicycle. I continued to ride regularly and race somewhat irregularly through college. When I took a year to study in Germany, I did not bring my bike with me and that decision marked the end of my racing career. When I came back to the US, I continued to ride, but more as general exercise and for fun, rather than competitively.
Now. Today. My bike terrifies me. — What troubles me is that I was good at cycling. I had the endurance for it, I understood the tactics of it. Moreover, I enjoyed it. I still have the bike I rode to a silver medal in the Colorado Road Championships in 1987. I still have it and I cannot bring myself to ride.
I’ve written about my resurgence in my interest in photography. This weekend, I used that renewed interest an alternate angle to approach cycling. One fraught with less anxiety and with the promise of allowing me to enjoy something I once loved from a new perspective. Chicago hosted a criterium in Grant Park— an event they hope to make recurring in years to come. Grant Park is just a couple blocks from my house, so I grabbed the camera and spent the day at the races. I have been out of the sport so long that I don’t recognize any of the names of the riders. The gear has changed as well. But the energy and the emotion is still there and just as tangible. I took hundreds of pictures of the races. I came home and dumped them all from the camera and then ran back and took hundreds more.
I had a blast.