Monday, July 1, 2013

Cycling in the 60s: The Great Western Bicycling Rally

The Great Western Bicycle Rally was first held in 1965 and has been held every year since. That is 49 bike rallies! It was originally organized by Dr. Clifford Graves, a cardiologist from Southern California. In the 1960s, a number of cardiologists were starting to advocate the benefits of aerobic exercise in the prevention of heart disease, and Dr. Graves was particularly active and well known in the cycling community. Apparently, I first went to this rally in its second year, in 1966, but I have no photographs or memories to confirm that. The only thing I have is the patch pictured above. At first I thought I might have picked that patch up at a later rally, but I was chatting with my friend Peter1 and he tells me I went in 1966, though he did not. I definitely went in 1968 and 1969 and I have the pictures to prove it, so apparently I attended this rally three times. However, due to a lack of anything to show for it, this will be the last I say about 1966 rally.

Both the 1968 and 1969 rallies were held in Atascadero, California in March of those years. I have not been able to find any records of how many people attended these rallies. Forty people attended the first rally in 1965 and 1270 the 13th rally in 1977, so your interpolation is as good as mine. The history of this rally reads:
"The early Rally format followed a basic two day program. Friday evening was a time to watch movies, and to renew old acquaintances. Hostel facilities were usually provided in local high school gymnasiums. Saturday’s activities included a long, short, or medium bicycle ride to a local picnic area, followed by a picnic, and then return ride to headquarters. After showers, etc. a Saturday evening banquet was featured. Typically, Sunday’s activities included a short ride, or a for those competitively inclined…. a Velocio Day Hill climb, with prizes for the quickest in several age groups. Early Rally fees were $.50 per person."
...and this matches my memory. (By the way, registration for the 2013 rally was $60 with extra charges for some events.)

In 1968 and 1969, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bike club. However, the Berkeley Wheelmen was pretty much a pure racing club and did not attend The Great Western Bike Rally, so both years I returned to Modesto and attended with the Modesto Roadmen.


In 1968, I drove it back to Modesto, picked up some of the attending Roadmen, and then we drove to the rally. As best I can tell by looking at the pictures, there were four to six of us in attendance; me, "Terry", "James", "F", and perhaps one or two others.

Modesto Roadmen arriving at the rally. From left to right are "Terry", an unknown cyclist probably not a Modesto Roadmen, "F", and "James".

On the right, all in red, is Edifus, the friend I made touring Europe the year before.
The group ride.

This was a family event as illustrated by this rider.
Regrouping for Lunch at the half way point of the group ride.
A penny-farthing rider, being silly. As you can be by the second penny-farthing behind him, he was not alone.

The Modesto Roadmen packing up my 1950 Dodge to head home.


In 1969, we decided to bicycle to the rally. I drove to Modesto and then cycled with the Roadmen from there to the rally in Atascadero, a distance of about 200 miles. I am not sure how long we took, but there was at least one overnight during the trip. There were at least seven of us on the ride: me, "Terry", "James", "F", someone I will refer to as "JC", someone I will refer to as "RF", and someone whose name I cannot remember who I will refer to as "X". We split up on the way home, "X" and I rode Highway 1 north to Berkeley where I retrieved my car and drove him back to Modesto, the rest returned the way they came, over the Coast Range mountains to the Central Valley, and then North to Modesto. "X" was a very strong rider and I was feeling particularly strong as well so we rode very fast up and down the rolling hills of Highway 1. Presumably as a result, I seriously strained a tendon in my right knee, an injury which bothers me to this day.

The Modesto Roadmen, resting on the road towards the Great Western Bike rally. Left to right are "RF" (barely visible), "James", "Terry", "JC", "X", and "F". Note the Version 2.0 Modesto Roadmen jersey being worn by "Terry". I had completely forgotten about this jersey until I started scanning old pictures about a year ago, it is a regular, professional jersey which apparently we had made.

Camping in a city park overnight on the way to the rally.

"Terry" and "X" at the rally with other riders in the background.


1) Peter and I have gone on a second ride this June after our first ride back in April. We are now averaging a ride every 18 to 19 years, up from our previous average of one ride every 37 years. It was at this second ride we discussed the 1966 Great Western Bicycling Rally.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I love this blog! So cool to see the old photographs. We have just acquired the GWBR from Chris and Angie Merrill and we're very excited to be running it from 2015.

    I just wanted to get in touch and let you know about the change and that we have some new elements to the Rally planned for 2015. Our new website launched a couple of weeks ago here: I've used one of your images for the history page - hope that's ok!

    We really hope to see you back at the Rally in 2015!

    All the best