Monday, June 3, 2013

Cycling in the 60's: Mountain Loop

"In the mid-‘60s, nobody over 12 bought or rode bikes ... in 1970, teenagers didn’t ride bikes. (if you were the exception, allow yourself a proud, private moment, and please don’t write demanding a retraction—because the statement is largely true.)" - Grant Pederson, Rivendell Reader #42

Thank you Grant, I will do that, but rather than allowing myself a private moment, I will indulge in a series of blog posts about Cycling in the 60's, starting with this one.

Please forgive the extensive color fading in this picture from the 1966 Mountain Loop. That year, we rode over the Sierra Nevada mountains via Tioga Pass and back via Ebbets Pass, shown here. My Peugeot PX10 is the bike in the front. I still have the bag on the front of my bike and, every now and again, threaten to use for brevet riding. I think everyone on this (minimally) loaded tour in 1966 rode on sew-up tires, something I find inconceivable today.

Another badly degraded picture, this one of the 1966 Mountain Loop contingent heading out of town.

I'm not sure if my memory was ever very good, but I am quite sure that it is now terrible. This is frustrating as I try to remember the history of my first bike club, the Modesto Roadmen. Looking back at old Schwinn catalogues, I know that I couldn't have gotten my first road bike, a Schwinn Continental, before 1963, the year I started High School. I know that my friends that became the Roadmen, "Peter", "James", and "Terry",  were friends before that, perhaps as early as 1961. When and how they got road bikes, what the progression of rides we rode was, at what point we called ourselves a club, I have no idea. For some reason, neither my parents nor I have many pictures from that era. I can remember some of our favorite rides, to Turlock Lake State Park, to the town of La Grange, to the towns of Sonora, Columbia, and Copperopolis in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, to Yosemite National Park. I think I could even come up with some of the routes we used to ride to get to these places, and I may at some point do a post on that. However, it is not until 1966, by which point I had traded in my Schwinn Continental for a Peugeot PX10, that I have any pictures. In fact, I didn't start having a significant number of pictures until 1968.

Four of the 1966 Mountain Loop contingent cooling off at the end of the ride. We are in my family's back yard, right after a jump in the pool, enjoying a large supply of "Original Coke." Left to right are me, "James", "Peter", and one of the second group to join the Roadmen, hereafter referred to as "F". We all appear to be wearing cycling shorts in this picture. If you look at the subsequent pictures, you will see this was the exception rather than the rule.

The culmination of my bicycle touring with the Modesto Roadmen was a more or less annual ride we did called "The Mountain Loop". The idea was to ride east from Modesto into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to cross those mountains at one of several mountain passes, to ride along the eastern edge of those mountains, to cross back over a different mountain pass, and then return to Modesto, a ride that would take us about a week. If you had asked me a few months ago how many of these "Peter" and I had done, I would have said four or five. A few weeks ago, when I got back together with "Peter" (whose memory is a lot better than mine), he assured me he had only done one, and as we talked back and forth, we concluded I had done two, an assessment supported by my photographs. As best I can tell, our first Mountain Loop was held in the summer of 1966 and both "Peter" and I participated. I assume a Mountain Loop was held in 1967, but I spent that summer bicycling through Europe and so would have missed it. I was home from college the summer of 1968 and rode my second Mountain Loop. ("Peter" had stopped cycling by 1967.) Thereafter, summer jobs and the like prevented me from doing any more. I don't know how long the Modesto Roadmen continued this tradition, or even when they disbanded as a club.

We now move from 1966 to 1968. Once again, we started the ride by crossing the Sierras at Tioga pass. This picture is looking down on Yosemite Valley which is at an elevation of about 4000 feet from the road climbing up towards Tioga Pass which reaches a maximum elevation of nearly 10,000 feet.

Here I am, lounging under the sign announcing Tioga Pass, the highest pass in the Sierras. Most Mountain Loops first crossed the Sierras at Tioga Pass because it is in Yosemite National Park, making it particularly attractive.

My memory tells me that a key event in the development of the Mountain Loop was an encounter with two other Modesto cyclists who I will call "A" and "M". "A" and "M" were not Modesto Roadmen, and were very proud of that. Both were older than us, "A" by about a year, "M" by more. "A" was the student body president of one of the other high schools in town, was a rebel and a trouble maker, and because I looked up to and emulated him, I ended up in a lot of trouble myself. On the bike, he was a very low key cyclist but one with almost infinite endurance and a very adventurous spirit. I have a photograph of "A" mooning a car on one of our rides, a photo which I will spare you the pleasure of viewing. "M" was a more serious and faster cyclist, and rides the same roads today as he did back then, though he has gone from being a stealth camper to a credit card tourist. If, according to Grant Pederson, the Modesto Roadmen were pioneers of cycling, "A" and "M" were pioneers of pioneers. We met "A" and "M" one day as we were out on a ride. They sped past, mocking us as they went by. Somehow, we ended up regrouping with them, and they allowed that if we tried very hard not to be annoying, they might be willing to show us how real cyclists rode. The result was the Mountain Loop, a ride they had been doing for some time.

The gentleman to the right of the picture is "M". The gentleman to the left of the picture was one of the second wave of Modesto Roadmen, hereafter referred to as "SD". In an earlier post, I commented that the Bianchi Specialissima was the go-to bike of the Modesto Roadmen. Note that all three bikes in this picture are Bianchi Specialissimas.

Most of the group on the 1968 Mountain Loop. Although I have no picture with more than six riders in it, by looking at all my pictures and identifying everyone, I conclude that there were (at least) eight riders on this trip, seven of whom I recognize, six of whom I can name.

This particular mountain pass does not cross the Sierras, it is on highway 395 which runs parallel to the Sierras on their eastern side.

I am ashamed to say that drafting trucks, as shown here, was part of our modus operandi. By following a truck very closely, we would get a significant speed advantage due to the reduction in wind resistance. For perspective, the speed record on a bicycle for motor-paced drafting is 167 mile per hour. This photo shows "F", pulling off from behind a truck, giving the truck driver a friendly wave in thanks for the lift. Don't try this at home kids, or adults, or anyone else ever! It is incredibly dangerous and you are likely to end up dead, crushed under the wheels of a truck. Smart truck drivers realized what a bad idea this was and would drive in a way to prevent us from doing it. This meant that the only trucks we could draft were the ones driven by stupid drivers, making this really bad idea even more dangerous. Why did we do this? Because we were bad to the bone.

"Stealth" camping as practiced by the Modesto Roadmen. We didn't take any particular precautions to avoid being spotted, we would just dump our sleeping bags directly in the dirt by the side of the road wherever we felt like stopping and call it a night. As best I can recall, our meals were all uncooked junk food.

Part of the group playing some snarky, teenage, and (at this remove) incomprehensible game in the road. The purpose of this photograph is to show "Terry" at the bottom right of the picture. "Terry" was the fourth of the original Modesto Roadmen. I know you can't see his face, but more important than his face, you can see that he is wearing one of the original, home-made, silk-screened Modesto Roadmen T-shirts.

Note the road sign. Were we intimidated? We were not!

One of the group grinding up that steep grade as it winds through the pine trees.

Off in the distance, near the top of the picture, Lake Tahoe can be seen. This is the view from the road leading up to Echo Summit.

For the 1968 running of the Mountain Loop, we began by crossing the Sierras west to east over Tioga Pass as noted above and crossed back east to west over Echo Summit, the mountain pass on highway 50 which runs along the southern edge of Lake Tahoe. From here, it was downhill all the way home. Another great ride, forever past.

I have a lot to say about my recent MAF test results, but because I have so much to say and because this post is already so long, I will save it for my next post.

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