My History with Bicycling

I’ve been writing a series of autobiographical essays recently, to supplement the photo sets of scanned slides and prints I’ve promised to gather on this site. Most will be installed as WordPress “pages” which then automatically appear in the menu bar at the top of each page, though I can create parent/child relations and orders to control how the links appear as drop-down menus. As the pages multiply, I keep tweaking that drop-down menu structure. So I think for the time being I will be cross-posting such essays as ordinary posts, that will appear automatically at the top of the homepage; otherwise no one will notice new “page” essays without my pointing them out. Here’s one about my history with bicycling.

At my peak, in my late 20s, I bicycled obsessively, taking long rides on weekends, riding three “century” rides of 100 miles to Apple Valley or back, and two others as long or longer in Solvang and to Devil’s Punchbowl. In contrast to my school disinterest in P.E., I became very fit by bicycling. I was a slender 135 pounds with a resting heart rate of 48.

  • How did this begin? How did it end?
  • There were a couple false starts. Very early on, in Apple Valley, my father taught me how to ride a bicycle with some red bike he had, perhaps leftover from his own childhood and moved from Illinois. Don’t know whatever happened to that; It didn’t go with us to Santa Monica or Reseda. In Reseda I had a tricycle that usually I zoomed around the back yard, not sitting on it, but riding skateboard like with one foot on the rear platform and the other pushing off the ground, half-standing up.
  • In Reseda, so sometime during elementary school, I was given a full-size grown-up bike for birthday or some similar event. I never had one of the then popular Sting-Ray bikes with high handlebars and banana seats, that were so popular with the other kids. The full-sized bike intimidated me, and I didn’t want to ride it. My father sold it. Another disappointment for him, I suppose.
  • When I started at UCLA in the Fall of 1973, I saw hundreds of students riding back and forth across campus on bikes. The campus was large enough that it could be difficult to get from one class to the next in the 10-minute interval between session times. I became obsessed by wanting a bicycle, arguing to my parents that Phil (my UCLA car-pooling partner) and I could save money at the parking garages by parking off campus on residential streets, and riding into campus on bikes. That never did happen, but I did get a bicycle for Christmas that year. Typically, I’d done some research and picked a model, and when the time came, my mother and I went to the bike shop (on Sherman Way in Reseda) and bought the one I wanted, for something like $110. It was a white Nishiki, a 10-speed with the standard curled-down handlebars of a road bike. (And then in cruel irony, for a week after we brought my new bike home, it rained.)
  • I did ride that bike off and on over the following years while in college, mostly from home to one bookstore or another. (For magazines and paperbacks my go-to place was Reseda Books, a small shop that sold magazines and paperbacks, at Reseda Blvd and Sherman Way, 5 miles from home.)
  • And then I graduated from UCLA and couldn’t find a professional job; I’ll go into that elsewhere. As family plans for the move to Tennessee solidified in the Fall of 1977 after my graduation, I searched for any kind of job and got one with the County of Los Angeles (I’ll go into that elsewhere) at a facility in Reseda, just down the street from Reseda Books. Within a few weeks, from January to March of 1978, I began this job (on 17 Jan, initially driving the family’s second-hand Buick), the family departed for Tennessee (on 17 Feb), and I found a one-room apartment in Northridge and moved in (on 6 March). I’d stayed in the house on Hayvenhurst until then because it hadn’t sold yet. Once the family left… I bicycled to work. From Vincennes Street in Northridge, a couple blocks off the Cal State Northridge (CSUN) campus, to the job at Sherman Way & Louise Ave, was 4 ½ miles.
  • So I bicycled to work for some 2 ½ years until I quit that job and went back to college, at CSUN. Weather in southern California is good most of the year, of course, but on those occasions that it rained, I took the city bus, an easy run down Reseda Blvd. There was one occasion rain hit unexpectedly during the day, and my Uncle Bob came to drive me and my bike home.
  • After locking up my bike outside at the corner of the office building where I worked, for a year, one day it was stolen, the cable locking it to the rack cut. I had to get a loan to buy a new bike, a Centurion Le Mans.
  • This is the Centurion Le Mans, or one of them; the photo would have to be 1979 or 1980. Centurion Le Mans, with a kickstand and horizontal brake handles. The latter were called ‘safety levers’ or ‘extension levers’ that experienced cyclists would never use, since their grip is indirect and riding with your hands on the crossbar isn’t the best way to keep control.
  • I also used the bike to cycle from Northridge to Westwood, to Change of Hobbit bookstore, which had all the new science fiction books that the local mall shops (Walden and Pickwick) didn’t carry. That entailed cycling up Sepulveda Blvd over the pass from the valley to Westwood. I had a big orange luggage bag that mounted in front of the handlebars that would easily hold 4 hardcover books.
  • Over the following two or three years, I went on increasingly long recreational rides, some half the day. South to Venice Beach (via Topanga Canyon or Sepulveda Blvd alongside the 405 freeway; north to Canyon Country (via the Old Road alongside Antelope Valley Freeway); northwest to Simi Valley over Santa Susanna Pass; east through Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena as far as Arcadia. Only the last route was mostly flat; the others all involved climbs over passes. So I necessarily got quite fit, at least aerobically.
  • My ultimate rides were three, in 1980 and 1981, from my apartment in Northridge, all the way to Apple Valley where my grandmother lived – or back. In each case I coordinated with Uncle Bob for a ride in the other direction. Two of these were over long weekends, but one, the last one, came at the end of a week-long stay in the desert, returning home at the end of it on that long ride. Each ride took 7 or 8 hours, if I recall, and avoided heavily trafficked highways like 138 and 18 across the desert. Instead I took remote, empty streets like Avenue T, Palmdale Blvd, and El Mirage Road, all two lane highways across the desert flats. Fortunately I never had any serious accidents. A lot of flat tires of course. At worst, on long rides, I was very dehydrated at the end.
  • (I don’t have any photos of these rides. Though I’d acquired a camera in 1979, it was too bulky to take along on such long trips when I had other stuff to carry.)
  • My single longest ride was a run-up to the first Apple Valley century: a ride from my place in Northridge to Devil’s Punchbowl, an LA County park at the edge of the Mojave Desert and San Gabriel Mountains, near Pearblossom. 60 miles each way.
  • In 1982 I got my first (and only) professional job, and first car. I didn’t need to ride as much, and cut back significantly.
  • Here’s a later bike, another Centurion, with no kickstand, no horizontal brake levers, and toe straps on the pedals. (I never did use the cycling shoes that clip into the pedals, as most serious bikers do.)
  • In the first couple years that I had my car, and a job, I tried various ways of socializing, and one was to join a gay bicycling club. It was called Spokesman at the time, and later replaced this rather sexist name with Different Spokes. Since cyclists are a passionate bunch, the group did lots of events: at least one weeknight evening ride in Griffith Park (convenient for those who lived nearby), and one longer ride on the weekend, in scattered locations (rather analogous to scouting campouts) that required driving to a particular location with bikes in your cars.
    • The first began out in Palmdale and took a path along the aqueduct for an hour or so, then came back. I had naively thought I could fill my water bottle at the parking lot. No. I was dehydrated to the point of cramped legs by the time we finished.
    • Another began in Redondo Beach and went through part of Palos Verdes.
    • Another up and down along Venice Beach. I have some pictures from this!
    • Here’s an iPhone photo of a page from my photo album, four shots from the Venice trip, with Larry Kramer in sweaty gray shirt, Alex Hernandez(?) in yellow and black.
    • And another, my friend Larry just reminded me, of a “citizen’s race” out in Calimesa, southeast of San Bernardino along Interstate 10, in which a team of five of us, Larry, me, Alex, Howard, and Kim, won.
  • And the ultimate ride for southern California cyclists was the annual Solvang Century, a 100-mile ride that began in the quaint Danish town in the wine country northwest of Santa Barbara, went west to Lompoc, north past Vandenberg Air Force Base to Santa Maria, then southeast through Sisquoc amid many wineries along Foxen Canyon Road to Los Olivos and then back to Solvang. I did the ride just once. My friend in the club Larry Kramer did it a second year, while I provided driving support. Larry did an even more ambitious ride a year or two later: A Death Valley to Mt. Whitney ride, where again I accompanied him for the weekend and drove the car as backup support for the riders, since it was a one-way trip. (I have a bunch of photos from that trip that I’ll add here.)
  • At some point in ’84 or ’85 I withdrew from the group’s busy schedule. Most of the members were passionate riders, riding every week, tinkering with their bikes, upgrading their bikes to more and more expensive models. I wasn’t that obsessed, or inclined to invest. Even before leaving my single-room apartment in Northridge, in mid-1984, I’d decided to take up jogging instead, to stay healthy, and to do something I could do in the evenings even after dark. By the time I moved to Tarzana in 1985 I had stopped biking altogether, and sold my bike.
  • Decades have since past, and the only time I’ve been on a bicycle in those decades was May 2011 when Yeong and I did a weekend trip to Santa Barbara and stayed at Hotel Oceana (which doesn’t seem to exist under that name anymore), right along the boulevard across from the beach. They had bikes for hotel guests to use, and we took them out one morning. They were fixed single-gear bicycles, horrible things, that had to be kept pedaling; you couldn’t coast, and to brake you had to pedal backwards. We rode a mile or so west, and back.
  • In recent years Yeong and I have hiked a lot, both in Southern California and here in Oakland, and for a decade I’ve thought about buying a trail bike to ride on the dirt fire roads, those part of Mulholland Drive that are dirt. Here in Oakland, our section of Crestmont Drive is very popular with packs of cyclists who pass by our house in the mornings, on weekends and weekdays. Again I’ve been tempted to invest – especially since our current living situation isn’t as amenable to gym visits, or jogging – but have been dissuaded by those same circumstances. Our street is flat for a few hundred feet to the southeast. Beyond that, any possible bike route involves going up and down hills, usually down and then having to come back up. If I had an easy place to ride on the flats for an hour, I would do so.
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