Sunday, February 4, 2018

Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletters

The front page of one of the newsletters I edited. The newsletters varied between 8 and 12 pages. The pages were created by folding a standard 8½ x 11 sheet of paper in half. By photocopying on both sides, each sheet of paper yielded four pages. Photoreduction and other techniques were used to assemble each page. The photo the members received was of much lower quality than that above due to the primitive consumer-grade photocopying technology available at the time. I scanned the master page, used to create those photocopies, to create the image above. The artwork, some of it quite brilliant, was supplied by my roommate, Paul Rail, another UC Berkeley student who had no interest in bicycling or the Berkeley Wheelmen but provided the illustrations as a favor to me. Paul is a very gifted artist, I have some of his paintings hanging in my home.

While unpacking from my move from Texas to California, I uncovered another treasure trove of historical data relevant to my early biking history: 14 issues of the Berkeley Wheelmen Newsletter, dated between January, 1970 and March, 1971. I was the editor of the first 10 of these.

What is in these newsletters that makes them interesting to the reader(s) of this blog? One of the areas this blog covers is the history of cycling as I observed it, focusing on what was going on in the 1960s and 1970s. One set of posts on this topic were titled "Cycling in the 60s:..." and "Cycling in the 70s:...". These newsletters fill in a gap between those two series, detailing my cycling as a college undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, as a member of the Berkeley Wheelmen bicycle club.

So what did I learn? I learned that I did a lot more racing in college than I had remembered. I learned that, at the Senior level, many races had a Senior A race for the strongest riders and a Senior B race for riders like me, which may have been one reason I maintained an enthusiasm for racing. I learned something about the bicycle racing culture of the time; the number of riders in a race, the number of members in a club, the price of dues, entry fees, and the level of prizes offered. And finally, I learned something about the status of my high school bicycle club, the Modesto Roadmen, in 1970, a subject about which I previously knew nothing.

My Racing in College

The racing season ran from approximately April through October and these newly discovered newsletters reveal that I rode throughout most of the 1970 racing season. During that season, I rode in four road races and one time trial. There were about 14 road races in which I reasonably could have competed, so I was certainly did not race as much as I could have. The Berkeley Wheelmen had an annual competition for which of their riders did best in road racing. One acquired points for placing in races, 10 points for first, 9 for second, on down to 1 point for 10th. I never placed except in Senior B events, so comparing my points to those who won their points in Senior A events says nothing about who is the better cyclist, but it does represent some kind of measure of activity, and by that measure, I was about middle of the pack. Of the 30 or so members of the Berkeley Wheelmen, 21 accumulated points in road racing. Of those, 12 had more points than I did, and 8 had fewer.

How about before and after 1970? As documented in photographs, I raced extensively in 1967 as a member of the Modesto Roadmen, especially during the first half of the season. Although I have little data as to my level of participation during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, I do have pictures of me in a couple of races in 1968, so I think the most reasonable assumptions is that those seasons were similar to 1970. On the other hand, I didn't race at all in 1971, and in fact I didn't even renew my Berkeley Wheelmen membership. The reason was that I was increasingly focused on my future career in science to the exclusion of everything else, a fact that continued and resulted in a 30+ year neglect of cycling. In summary, the evidence indicates that I was a hard core bicycle racer 1965 through 1970, inclusive.

Bicycle Racing Culture of 1970

The bicycle racing scene, in Northern California at least, seems to have consisted of a bewildering array of small clubs whose names change and who appear and disappear rapidly. The Berkeley Wheelmen would appear to be one of the larger and more stable clubs, so in that context, the fact that we had about 30 to 35 members is perhaps interesting. Annual dues for our club was as follows: $10 for Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. In addition, to race, one needed to be a member of the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABLA) and dues for that were: $8 Seniors, $5 for Juniors, and $5 for Women. Entry fee for a race was $1 to $2. The total prizes for a high end race totaled a few hundred dollars in value. (For reference, First Class postage was 6¢ and a top of the line racing bike cost $200.) More popular races had between 50 and 100 Senior rides, with fewer number of Juniors and Veterans.

The Modesto Roadmen in 1970

By 1970, I had completely lost touch with the Modesto Roadmen. Everyone I rode with had graduated High School and moved on with their lives. According to former Modesto Roadmen member Roger Farschon, the club's center of gravity had moved from Thomas Downey High School, which I had attended, to Davis High School. Thus, it was of interest to see riders listed as members of the Modesto Roadmen showing up in race results printed in the newsletters. I counted six distinct Modesto Roadmen. (To be listed in the newsletters, they had to have finished in the top 10, so there have been more participants than that.) I was able to identify three as Juniors and one as a Senior B, the other two only show up in a handicap race so I was unable to determine their class. Of these, only one was someone I had ridden with "back in the day", the remaining five were riders I didn't know. I don't have the data to be certain, but based on these newsletters and my memories, I am pretty sure the 1970 Modesto Roadmen had a better racing record than we had when I was a member, during the 1965, 1966, and 1967 racing seasons.

Also of interest, in the list of races of 1970, I see no mention of the Tour de Graceada, or any race sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. Was there a lapse in sponsorship of that race? I did note the mention of a "Modesto Criterium" in a tentative list for the 1971 season.

Who Cares?

I get that this is a lot of arcane history, and that some will find it of little interest. Hopefully those folks stopped reading a number of paragraphs ago. The reason I find it of interest is that it is a glimpse into the origins of bicycle racing in the United States, of the very active and successful bicycle racing teams and riders that we have the good fortune to have today.