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The Fastest Man Alive (on Two Wheels)!!!!

The Birth of a Bike Racer

Photo by Maico Amorim on Unsplash

I have a secret to share with my reading public. I have a secret identity. Up until now, I have shared it with a few people—family, a few friends, and neighbors. I always had a need for speed and my one passion has ALWAYS involved the bicycle. Not a motorcycle, just the human-propelled bicycle.

As far back as I can remember, my bike has always been a part of me. It was my extension. When I was growing up, I was always on my bike like the Lone Ranger was with his horse, Siler. We were a team. If I had to go somewhere, my bike, which I never named, got me there, flats and all. I was never fast with running as I proved by my extremely short high school track career, but I was virtually untouchable when I mounted my bike. I had a notorious reputation for speed. I took on any and every street race that I could. I was so fast that I was once challenged to a race against a minibike—an imitation motorcycle that was powered by a modified lawn mower engine. I accepted the challenge and won!

So, it was only natural for me to look for new challenges. If minibikes were going to be my next challenge, I must have been on the right track to some sort of change. So I sought it.

In 1976, a then-friend of mine—Freddie—told me how he and another friend of ours were going to take part in a cycling event in Central Park here in New York City. It was called the Pepsi Bicycle Marathon. Right away, I was attracted to the name. It had my favorite words in the title alone: Pepsi, Bicycle, and Marathon! It sounded like a dream come true. I needed to know more. Mostly, how to sign up for it.

Freddie gave me an application and I studied it like I was studying for a final exam. I went over every word until I was able to recite the application in my sleep. It was not a 26.2 mile race like a runner would partake in. This was a full 24-hour event in Central Park. I was used to being in the saddle for a long time, but I was never tested over a 24 hour period. Face it. When I was done cycling in my neighborhood, I was done for the day and it was time to go home for some sleep. Riding over a 24 hour period would be different and I wanted to try that challenge. Technically it wasn't a race, per se, it was an endurance event. You rode as much and as far as you could. I just had to do it because no one else in my neighborhood would be able to say that they could do this. I found my new challenge.

The very first thing I needed to do was some research. I needed to know all about the sport of bike racing, tools, equipment and even the lingo. Bike racers have a language and behavior all their own. When I used to go to Manhattan during my summers, I was truly amazed at the speed of bike messengers. Because CP was located in the same borough, it was quite conceivable that most of these guys (and gals) could also be my competition as well. I visited bike shops. I asked questions. I found and read EVERY issue of “Bicycling” magazine as much as possible. I made sure that I was as knowledgeable as possible. At 22 years old, I learned far more than I ever knew. At that point, I honestly never knew that there were professional cyclists out there. I even dreamed of becoming one. World, here comes a whole new Maurice.

I was all set to make my debut in the 1977 event, but I couldn’t do it. At the time, I was also working at a sacristan at my parish church. I had to be there on the weekends and I was too scared to ask my boss for the weekend off. It paid very little—only $30 total for two days of work at long hours. I asked for the job. I accepted the terms. I had to do my responsibility and show up for work. So, I passed up on the 1977 event. Freddie went on to the event. If I recall correctly, he and our friend only managed to cover about 20 to 25 miles. I knew right away that I could have done much better. Freddie was more into drinking his free time away. That is why I was surprised that not only would he sign up for this, but actually have the ability to cover that distance. Even in my condition as a non-drinker and partial athlete, I knew that I could do much better than he could. I have been to CP before, but I never saw the roads all around the place. I only knew the fields, the zoo and other parts. How tough could it be?

The next thing I needed to do was to get a hold of a bike. I had made a nice machine that I used to get back and forth to work on the weekends. It was not a store bought model. It was pretty much a homemade model. All the parts with the exception of the tires were trashcan parts. Simply put, whenever I saw a useable bike part like a wheel or seat or anything else came home with me. I simply cleaned it and put it on my bike. I remember the name of the frame. It was a Chiorda, a pure Italian street bike. I had put an old-fashioned speedometer in, a rear rack, and a saddlebag on it so that I could carry my books and packages. It took a while to get used to the handling as I rode, but after a while, I was comfortable with it. That is, until someone swiped it from me one Saturday night while I was at work.

I parked it in the storage area of the rectory garage. There was no way to monitor the door of the garage service area since it was around the corner of the garage doors themselves. If they wanted to, someone could have hidden around the corner and knocked me in the head, too. Nope. Someone was watching me every week as I went to work on my bike, watched my pattern and then took it at the right moment. I was fortunate to not have any schoolwork in the saddlebags at the time, but I did have two sodas and some food to snack on after work. As a result of my carelessness, I had a nearly two-mile walk home to serve as a lesson to me.

For my debut in the 1978 bike marathon, I managed to buy a new frame and assemble another bike this time with all new parts. It was a heavy bike. At times, riding it was like lifting weights. The fact that I was also a tad bit on the heavy side did not help either. Still, I rode that metal monster every day and chance I got. I also kept it clean. Although I just started teaching that year, I wanted folks to think that I was able to buy a new bike. Little did they know that I was about to study for my Master's degree and I really needed to have money for school, not bike racing.

Memorial day 1978 could not get here fast enough. I was about to take my place alongside many of New York’s racers on the same course I called home—CENTRAL PARK. I had been there hundreds of times before except this time as a bike racer. I looked at the other riders. Some were recreational riders. The rest had team names on their cycling jerseys and black shorts. The bikes obviously fascinated me even more than their riders. They, like their riders, were sleek and lean. There were no saddlebags or anything else that I carried on my bike. They also had one more thing which I did not have—a team. I did ask Freddie and our friend Bobby to join us. Freddie backed out at the last minute and Bobby only stuck around for a lap and left. He never even brought his bike, so I had to go this alone.

There had to be, without exaggeration, at least 5,000+ riders at the starting line. The elite racers stayed at the rear while the novices tried to get to the front at the starting line. I decided to get somewhere near the middle, but I really wanted to stay with the elite guys. Thanks to my “team” backing out on me, however. I had extra stuff with me that I did not want to see stolen. I planned to leave them at a campsite that I thought we agreed to. Now, I had no campsite because I had no team. If my bike was cumbersome before, it was even tougher to handle now. There was no way that I was going to keep up with the elites now. I had a good feeling that even though I wanted to complete this, I was in for I was in store for a nice butt-kicking today.

The announcer got on and got on and started to talk about the event

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Central Park and the start of the 1978 Pepsi Cola Bicycle Marathon. It looks like it will be a great weekend for cycling...Let me introduce to you some of the many well-known participants in this event today…and representing Team Toga Thunderbolts today is Dave White who is going to attempt to shoot for the world’s 24-hour cycling record of 480+ miles…….On your mark. Get ready….HORN!”

There we went. It was a sight to behold. There were all sorts of self-propelled machines there: tricycles, three-wheelers, English racers (which aren’t even racing bikes), homemade, store-bought, and ME. There I was in a group of novices with the only hope of completing this thing while the other novices thought that they were going to win it instead. In the distance, I could barely see Bobby standing in the shade drinking his beer. It was clear that he had no intention of riding anyway since his bike was home fighting dust.

We all started riding. Have you ever seen what happens when you have 500+ riders of all age groups and abilities on a starting line? I have. You see some of the best accidents in the world. I have always heard that one could fly over the handlebars. I just never saw it happen until that day. Another somehow hit a tree. I saw a guy hit the ground face first and leave three of his teeth in the CP pavement. Awesome accidents!!! Did you know that the human arm can only bend so far unless you decide to break it in two places? Yup. Hospitals must have enjoyed this event.

I had to be very careful. I had no car and it was bad enough that I had to get my bike and myself on an NYC subway. I did not bring my ID as I did not want to leave it anywhere or drop it. If I ended up in a hospital, I would have been in a pickle. I also had to make sure that my machine had no trouble. I already had enough non-bicycle tools with me to do a repair job with the weight to go with them. I could have changed a kitchen sink if I needed to, but changing a flat would have been a bit of a challenge.

It was also HOT. Why in the H-E-double hockey sticks did I bring my windbreaker? Oh yes! In case it rained. Well, I could always leave it at the team campsite. That’s right! I had NO team. The cowards backed out leaving this fast fool to ride alone. I looked like I brought EVERYTHING from home. All I needed to do was a Ride of the Seven Veils and start peeling clothing as I rode.

We started up the first hill. All I could hear from us novices was the switching of gears and grunts as we tried to chug up that first hill. I dropped my lever into first gear in order to take the stress off my legs. All I could think of is having my chain pop as I tried to scale this thing. Few folks decided to call it quits. The scenery was nice, but it was a challenge. For all I know, I could have been scaling Mount Everest. How some guy was going to ride over 400 miles in these conditions was bewildering to me. I could not quit. I did not want to go home defeated.

Photo by James Thomas on Unsplash

That was 1978. I managed to cover 100 miles in just 11 hours. After the last hour, I was tired. I had no car and needed to get home to get some sleep. Riding out of the park over a period of 25 more miles was just out of the question. I simply rode to a nearby train station, took my bike apart and rode home on the subway. I need sleep so that I could wake up in the AM and head back to the old drawing board.

When I woke up, my mind was wide awake, but EVERY muscle in my body ached. I was even hurting in places where I did not think had a muscle.  I slowly made my way around the house when I was able to get out of bed. I did not even want to see my bike at that point, but I still wanted to be a bike racer.

For the 1979 event, I tried a different approach. I decided to improve my training regimen. That meant more training AND more research. I purchased every available copy of Bicycling magazine I could find. I read them more than I have read a collection of Shakespeare. I needed to know everything I could about my sport. I even read about Greg LeMond, America's newest cycling superstar. I wanted to know whatever he knew.

My bike still looked like crap. The seat pole alone was about three times the height of its normal setting. To be very honest, it looked more like I was standing up as I cycled even though I was sitting down. It felt comfortable even though it would have been a loooong drop to the ground if I fell. As far as speed was concerned, I felt a bit faster even though it looked like I was riding a penny-farthing. Yeah. I was looking way too cool like this. Not!!!!

Still, I rode everywhere. Because I had no car yet, it became my daily rider. In time, I learned how to sprint with the thing. Angry dogs? No problem. I sprinted. Thugs who wanted to steal a bike? I sprinted even though they were probably standing around laughing at my ride. I wasn't even dressed as a cyclist. I had on my t-shirt, white socks, sneakers, and blue jeans., Nobody took me seriously. I compared myself to the real racers you saw in the books and magazines. They were aerodynamic in every way possible. I simply was not aerodynamic. In a good wind gust, I caught more wind than a sailboat.

For the 1979 event, I felt that I was in a bit better shape. I returned to Central Park and covered the same distance as last year except for this time, I improved my time by a clean 55 minutes. I covered the same course in ten hours and five minutes. The hills were still just as tough, but I was a bit better prepared. Instead of a racer's gearing, I used a tourist's gearing. I could not get up the hills as fast as the racers, but I was still able to get up and over those pesky hills. That is all that counted. I said that the one goal I wanted was to NOT hop off my bike unless I had to urinate or when the event was over. I accomplished my goal.I still needed to ride the train home. Still, every muscle hurt, but I saw that I was making some progress. 

Photo by Boris Stefanik on Unsplash

During the 1979-1980 school year, I decided to go all out. I wanted to make even more improvements. I had too much to do. One thing I decided to do was to change my exercise routine. I ran track in high school. Okay. I wasn't good at it, but I did see some benefits because of the jogging I added to my training. I also decided to set up measurable distances for myself like 10, 25 and 50 miles so that I could compare my times and see the improvements.

Most of all, I bought myself a bike that was a bit more suited for racing even though it was a touring bike. It was a Windsor. It had what is called double-butted tubing, tubing that was thick at the ends, but thinner in the sleeves. It was a steel frame that was designed to be a bit lighter than a standard ten-speed bike. It felt light even with a slight tool bag under the seat and a full water bottle. I really enjoyed it because I felt how much lighter it was compared to my previous bike. It wasn't, however, as light as a true racing bike, but I was on my way. My new bike, at that time, cost me about $400. A true racing bike that I wanted cost around $1,700 fully equipped. I wanted to get my bike to match a true racing bike as much as possible. I even invested in racing clothes although I did not buy cleats for the pedals. I also got my driver's license and another car for me to drive to Central Park. I was almost there.

I also managed to put together a team. I took some boys from my sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes along with a fraternity brother and a few of his friends. In other words, I put together my own team.

I also took my training to a velodrome nearby. I learned how to ride on a bike track even though I did not have a track bike. The track served its purpose as I rode it for up to 25 miles every time I was there. It was tiring, but I had my goal. I was determined to break the ten-hour barrier. Bring on 1980!!!!

I had the pieces I needed in place for the 1980 event. I had a far better bike, a support team, for the most part, a better understanding of the course, and my motivation in order to break the ten-hour barrier. And even though I had on running sneakers, I even looked the part of a racer. Part of my preparation for this year's event included a HUGE change in my training sessions. I decided to switch to a triathlon program with some modifications. A triathlete is one who competes in an event which includes a two-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon, all of which are stand-alone challenges, but extremely hard to do in one sporting event. Because I never took formal (or informal) swimming lessons, the training for a swim was out, but the other two legs were completely legit for me. I even lost a significant amount of weight which gave me even more determination to do well.

While I was getting ready to begin, I made friends with a nearby group who, like me, were a startup group as well. They were called Team Spring. We decided to do the event together. Our strategy was simple: ride as one group and share riding strategies.

When I was much younger, I was an only child until my sister was born. My dad sowed the speed seed into me very early. He had a beautiful little MG Roadster. It had a four-speed stick shifter and I enjoyed every second of it. In fact, I was really hoping to inherit that car one day. THAT was the point when I noticed I possessed the desire to challenge speed. To this very day, I am totally surprised that I made it to 62 without a speeding ticket or getting caught by a red light/speed camera. I like speed, but I am not stupid. That is why I flourished on a bicycle.

As the event started, I learned another technique that bicycle racers use. It really comes from auto racers in NASCAR and others. It is called drafting. drafting occurs when riders in a race sit behind each other to avoid the wind drag. In a pack, they take turns blocking the wind so that other riders can conserve their energy in a race. Shortly before that event, there was a movie about bike racing. It was called "Breaking Away." It starred Dennis Christopher as a wannabe racer. He had this one scene where, as part of a training ride, he drafted behind a tractor-trailer that did an awesome 65 miles per hour. After seeing that, I, too, wanted to draft a truck going that fast. I would draft them all the time, but it never could occur on a New York City street. Many years later, I did manage to find a long stretch of nearby road and drafted behind a truck. My electronic speedometer recorded me as going as high as 44.5 miles per hour, a new record. My previous drafting record was a measly 38.6 miles per hour.

At some point during the event, things were going very well, but it was almost getting dark. I was now fully committed to going for the full 24 hours. I already found myself making the progress I sought. Then, it happened!!! We were entering a tough section of the course. Somebody stepped onto the course and we had to break form in order to avoid an accident. I quickly shifted to my left but I did not see the teammate on my left side. In other words, I did not check to see if it was clear to make that move. In a car, I would have checked my mirror first. A racing bike has no rear view mirror. I needed to look first, but I neglected to do so. When I made the move, I accidentally cut off one of my new teammates. He went sailing onto the grass and slid on his tummy for a few feet.I looked at him as he was sliding at the same speed as I was riding. I was hoping that he wasn't hurt, but I stayed with the pack. When I got back to the campsite after that lap, I hopped off my bike to check on him. Fortunately, with the exception of his bike, he was fine. I was so sorry that I did that to him, but the move was unintentional. I apologized profusely to him.

During my time off my bike, I checked my stats on my speedometer. EUREKA!!!!! I broke my previous 100-mile record!!!!! I covered the first 100 miles in a swift seven hours and 30 minutes!!! My training and preparations paid off very admirably. I went on to finish the event and covered 200 miles in a shade under 20 hours. 

Over the years, I concentrated on riding time trials at five, ten, 25, and 50 miles after I fractured part of my hip during a training session. After I recuperated, I came back into racing a bit slower, but much more eager than when I started. I built a new bike, a Razesa, from the ground up. It had nothing but pure racing equipment including clipless pedals which required my Detto cycling shoes. I covered five miles in a time of 13 minutes 51 seconds indoors and one hour 16 seconds outdoors. My favorite was at 25 miles which I covered in one hour and 16 minutes outdoors on the road, but one hour and 13 minutes on a wind trainer. Outdoors, I covered 50 miles in a cool two hours and 42 minutes. When I did my last 100-mile time trial, I did so in six hours 40 minutes and 30 seconds.

Over time, I joined two cycling teams (Kissena Cycling Club and Century Road Club of America). I keep three of my expired USCF licenses in my wallet. I read extensively about my cycling hero John Howard and completed a few more Central Park races.

Because I decided to concentrate more on my work and returned to graduate school to work beyond my Master's degree, I happily retired from cycling in 1995. It was a great 15 years and I really enjoyed the experience. 

And so, nobody in my neighborhood has ever replaced the fastest man (on two wheels) in my neighborhood since.

Photo by Garry Neesam on Unsplash

This was now a year later. It was going to be a good year! I put my team in place. This was going to be the first time that I was going to stay all night pushing myself through Central Park. I was ready to challenge the big guys. In 1978, a guy named Jim Black won the event with 468 miles. Dave White came the next year in 405 miles. This year, there was a former Olympian named John Howard there. I remember reading about him, but I never got the chance to meet him. This was my chance to say that I was going to compete against an Olympian. 

Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash

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