My Life of Bikes & Cycling
by David Perry

Update Tuesday, October 29, 2013
copyright 2008-2013 All rights reserved.

That's me on my tricycle, a little cup of life. I was born at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, California, in the mid-1950s. There were lots of bikes around. I grew up in Redwood City, near Atherton and Woodside. A cul-de-sac is great place to learn cycling.

With my trike, I joined my first cycling team at age four and a half. My older brothers, Bobby and Billy are there with neighbors, Dicky, Emmett and Micky.

I got Billy's hand-me-down balloon-tire cruiser. Love those crazy bars! I was hip to Picasso's Bull's Head, thanks to aunt Rody.

I began using a wide variety of bikes every couple years. When I was eight years old, I rode a high-wheel bicycle my first time. My dream bike, the Schwinn Sting Ray was released. Along with Beatles records, and news of President JFK being assasinated. When I disobeyed my mother to go on a Sting Ray test ride, I realized how stupid it is to play with a bike thief.

It was weird to see kids in Schwinn catalogs that looked like me. My first new bike was a 10th-birthday present, a terra-cotta red 10-speed Schwinn Varsity, that was beat like a BMX on slalom runs at Woodside High. For "demolition derby" with buddies, I had a clunker named "Halloween Wagon." The small-wheel Moulton four-speed was my first British specialty bicycle. That bike was stolen, returned, and is still hanging around. I was learning how to crash-test bikes, with voluntary and incidental wipeouts.

When I was twelve, I clipped a news story about Jacques Anquetil, from a San Francisco Chronicle Sporting Green page. The Frenchman set a new world hour record after winning his fifth Tour de France. The story goes on, how his record was disqualified because he declined to submit to drug testing.

I got into cycling with my core sports buddies, searching for a world sport without playing ball games. My hand-eye talent was about drawing and fiddling with stuff. At 15, I bought this Gitane, but I wanted an Anquetil, a French velo for riding over our local Alps. On a ride to Half Moon Bay, we met our mentor, Larry "Daddy" Walpole, who introduced us to the world of European cycle sport. I learned the culture of le Tour de France, seeing the film "Pour un Maillot Jaune."

Here I am in my first pack race dropped off the back. This was a 1971 Tuesday Night Training Series, a flat criterium near Lockheed Airfield in Mountain View. It took two years for me win on this course, later we motor paced there, at over 55 mph. Here I rode a used Raleigh Competition with sew-ups. I wore black socks to be different and a hand-me-down Belmont Bicycle Club jersey, once worn by Jim Van Boven, when he won Junior National Championship road race.

I was a youngster at my first Marin Mt. Tam hill climb in 1971. (Click on photo for detail) I was learning how hard cycling is. How it defined a new religious experience: Agonistic.

My first big result came with cyclo-cross racing. In late 1972, at a Marin cross race, I battled superstar Mike Neel for the lead, finishing second after a face-plant in the mud. That performance encouraged me to gain a place on the U.S. Junior Worlds Road Team in June of 1973. Later that year I got a special award for muddiest face from the Northern California Cycling Association.

This photo by Peter Fronk, published in S. F. Chronicle's California Living in May 1976, was taken in late 1974. I'm carrying my first Eisentraut, wearing the Junior's U.S. National Team jersey and a Belgian Faema team cap. I learned, years later that those off-road cruiser-riding Velo Club Tamalpias hippies had invented a new kind of mountain bike.

My first win came in 1973 as a first-place tie in an uphill time-trial, at the Tour of Okanagan Valley, in British Columbia, Canada. We'd traded stuff with the Danish team (Me and Bike Barb Nik Farac-Ban are wearing Crescant caps). I had the same exact time, as a guy on the Danmark team. I couldn't handle the pressure of winning and finished my usual fourth place. Later I won the Mt. Whitney hill climb, and set a new record time.

We were the Juniors of Belmont Bicycle Club, the Northern California "Senior Slayers." I was eighteen and wearing U.S. Junior National Team jersey. My chief cohort during this time was Keith Vierra (front row, right center). He protested wearing his U.S. team jersey here. Tom Ritchey, another teammate, bowed out of this photo by Ted Mock, made near "Triple E" Cyclery in Mt. View. Managed by the Hjertberg brothers, of Wheelsmith fame, Rick and Jon, that was where I apprenticed. I learned a mantra of the bicycle at Triple E: "Economy, Ecology, Exercise."

I went to Belgium, to Antwerp, for two summers of kermese racing in 1973 and 1974. The racing was like going into battle. I scrambled to make finish lines in the money. The cobbles broke my California-made bike parts. Eddy Merckx looked at me. I learned later, I was a naive pioneer among American racing cyclists.

Here I am after lifting weights. I'm wearing number #1 of the Northern California Cycling Association. My team, the Palo Alto Cycling Club (PACC), sponsored by Palo Alto Bicycle Shop, included Tom Ritchey, Leonard Harvey Nitz, Keith Vierra, and eventually, Greg LeMond. Here, I was learning how to shake a sprinter Gil "Gibby" Hatton off my wheel, sometimes.

Cats Hill in Los Gatos, just like Nevada City, I never won it. I'm scratching and clawing with my good buddy Bill Robertson of Talbot's. I did win in Santa Cruz.

Around this time I learned a lot from Jobst Brandt. On epic rides, or sitting round his table patching tubulars, spoking wheels, with pant-clips on. Even if I was influenced by Wheelsmiths, besides Tom Ritchey, Jobst was the tallest of all. I was around when he introduced graphs for his book, The Bicycle Wheel.

In 1976 and 1977, I won two consecutive Northern California-Nevada Road Championships. Both times I won solo over the same 125-mile course around Petaluma in five hours.

A classic photo of me racing in a Burlingame criterium on the old Eisentraut with my saddle too low. We're leading up to the finale on the corner before the finish line. On my wheel was fast-finisher team-mate Leonard Harvey Nitz (PACC), and everyone's homeboy Bill Robertson (Talbot's).

I'm wearing my 1976 Northern California/Nevada District State Champion jersey, my #1 Northern California Cycling Association race number, Belgian leather helmet, clear-face Bolova wristwatch, my silver dbp power bracelet, without gloves. My bike was a 4-year old rebuilt Albert Eisentrout frame with Campy pre-Super Record titanium, Cinelli bars and stem. Wheels with Barum criterium tubular tires.

As everyone knows, you got to suck it in sometimes. It sucks when things go wrong and you know it shouldn't. Here I'm not sure if I won or not. My Palo Alto teammate Harv Nitz raised his arms and won, but it looks like I won it. I didn't fight it when an official gave me photo-finish evidence. Going mano-a-mano with Nitz was good enough.

The podium. Harv Nitz, Me clapping, Fast Freddy Markham.

My longest race was the two-week Vuelta Ciclista Guatemala in 1977. I finished 24th place, in field of nearly 200. I finished with the same weight I started: 132 lbs. Riding my 2nd custom Albert Eisentraut with Campy Super Record, on this climb, I'd seen the Colombian climbers, and learned the next step up in my racing career just around the bends.

Our EU-USA team was fanatastic, with Rich Chillingsworth (3rd in a stage), Jim Flanders (25th overall), Mike Neel (manager), Bill Woodul (mechanic), and all our Guatemalan friends.

I left Palo Alto Cycling Club for Team Talbots in early 1978. At a training camp near Sacramento, I'm there kneeling front center, with bleach-blonde Bill Robertson, tough-guy Dan Nall, my look-alike Tom Hardy, mechanic-wheelsmith Steve Aldridge, and super-coach Tim Kelly, who hired Eddie B. for us.

Here I am in a 1978 San Francisco race with the new turbo-charged junior, Greg LeMond. When he blew by me in a time trial at Vuelta de Bisbee, Arizona, I realized he had a natural talent that none of us could touch. That was my last race pursuing a professional career.

I stopped pursuing a bike racing career before I reached my full potential, before I finished growing. I gradually withdrew from the scene, just as the sport in the U.S. was taking off.

A new chapter in my life began as I set out across the country to find my talent and promote cycling. I went to Colorado with Rik De Jonckere to assist his brother Noel's team at Red Zinger Classic. I visited my brother Bobby, now Robert, at Indiana University in Bloomington, during the making of that corn-fed Oscar-winning movie Breaking Away. I stayed in Michigan to help assemble the Madison Velodrome in Southfield. Then on to T-Town, where I served in the realm of Rodale Valley, with Trexlertown Velodrome, Omni-Sports, Bicycling magazine, and Rodale Press. I was learning how to write, sketch, design, announce, coach, and best of all, I learned how to understand Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel in Philadelphia.

I moved to Brooklyn in 1979 and went to Pratt Institute to study art. I cycled everywhere in New York City, sometimes where it wasn't safe. I made a student documentary during the 1980 transit strike on the Brooklyn Bridge bike path, and another about a Brookyln bicycle racer training in Bay Ridge and Prospect Park.

One of my coolest feats on a bike, was carrying a five-foot tall refridgerator on the handlebars of a ladies Phillips three-speed, for five kilometers with sectors of cobblestone and brick road. It was a prop for a performance by Melora Walters.

I did a scene with rollers for a video called "Big Brother," by my friend Patrick Blower. I started going touring and camping, around New York and in Northern Europe, loading my bike with a time-lapse camera.

Here I am cooling off in the Williamsburg ghetto on my white cruiser. I kept five bikes around 1984: this 60s Sears cruiser, an aluminum Bickerton Portable three-speed, a '76 Raleigh Pro road bike, a Schwinn Breeze I rode without a headset, and a Lotus full-pannier 21-speed trekker. The white cruiser I gave away to a friend of a friend, who passed it on, and then some five years later I'd see it locked-up at Cooper Union.

I learned all kinds of photography and image-making at Pratt, and more on jobs, with friends, and on my own. I had more cameras than bicycles, my devotion to wheels turned to optics. I was a professional photographer for designers and artists, a color expert, making my own body of work, about carspaces, nature preserved, sky, atmosphere and waveforms.

Please take a look at My Photographs: 1982--1990

I moved to Carroll Gardens with my girlfriend Melora. She gave me my first personal computer, called a TRASH-64, with cassette tapes for memory. The neighbor kids kept stealing my new cruiser's seat. It was no different if I put on a white one, a greenie, or a pink seat. This is when I began serious development of my book, what I called "The Ubiquitous Bicycle." When I moved to St. Mark's Place in the East Village, I had a complete color darkroom, but my photographic career was beginning to mix with bike advocacy and my book project.

It was 1987, the year of Mayor Koch's midtown Bike Ban, when over 1,000 messengers and supporters grabbed headlines showing solidarity. I'd been asked to help at City Cyles, the shop on Broadway in Noho, with Keith Haring's bike logo on their clothing and characters around like John Campo and Sukeun Chun We tried to get young George Hincapie to ride on the team. Then I met George Bliss, builder of the recycled chaise-lounge trike, after one of his rolling parades.

I began volunteering at Transportation Alternatives, working on City Cyclist with Charles Komanoff. I also helped Steve Stollman's Lightwhels to promote cargo bikes, pedicabs, electric and solar vehicles. Here I'm at the Auto Show on a Sinclair C5, a kid-sized pedal-electric car-trike with a solar panel.

One thing I'm happy about is being part of TA's Bicycle Blueprint, published in 1993. Transportation Alternatives hired me to be their designer historian, with Michele Herman, Charles Komanoff, and Jon Orcutt. A project bringing an official NYC bike plan, and helpful change for other places.

Here we're receiving an award from bike-friendly George Plimpton and the Municipal Art Society.

With George Bliss, I ran Pedal Express, a cargo-bike delivery service. We distributed The Ride and Metro-Sports to bike shops and fitness clubs. My record load was an estimated 900 pounds on a flatbed trike from Varick to Crosby Streets.

After a dozen years of research and four editing, my book was published in July 1995. Thanks to publisher John Oakes and the editors at Four Walls Eight Windows on 14th Street, I was given a rare opportunity to write and design a book the best I could.

After producing Bike Cult, I tried to promote it a bit, but I wanted to get back to the nuts and bolts of cycling. Earlier, I'd been given keys to a squatters' bike recyclery on 13th Street, then George Bliss asked me to help when his first batch of pedicabs arrived.

Here we were when Bike Works was in the Hub Station, that's Rob Recumbent, Owen Chopper, Steve Klein and Dave Paramount... The Hub Station was a kind of paradise for wheels, next door to the Hell's Angels NYC clubhouse. One of my scariest moments was when I scraped one their cars with a rental truck. I couldn't claim insurance, had to pay in cash and face up to an angry Hells Angel on house lockdown. Luckily I feigned his roundhouse punch and that was that.

Back home for a visit to my family in Palo Alto, was climbing Page Mill on a fixed-gear when I got a flat. With a spare tire, tools and tubes in my pannier, I discovered my pump was back at the ranch. Suddenly Tom Ritchey appears on a publicity ride with his MTB team. It's a nice reunion even as he chides me for being stranded. I was surprised to see his pump, a well-worn Silca frame-fit, exactly the same as mine.

This is when I fixed Taliah Lempert's Klunker, and hung her bicycle paintings. She got her Duracycle and Rollfast tandem from me, then she took me home. Pretty soon we were a featured couple in The Ride magazine.

Here I'm sitting on my handlebars after a Prospect Park race. I was shattered after the masters group I was in caught the Pro-1-2s. My racing comeback began in 1999, thanks to Jared Bunde, Taliah and Steve, with Damien, Hermes, and the Cherries, we were team Bike Works.

I got the rollers, Barelli Competition set, made in Cambridge, England. Such is my passion I got them at Southeby's auction, thanks to my mom Hallie. Here I'm on display at the first NYC Bike Show at World Trade Center, RIP.

We became the Ridge Street Wrenches for the Warriors fun ride in 2002. Based on the classic NYC gang movie, we raced overnight from da Bronx to Coney Island. Our gang, Yac, John, Eric, Steve, Taliah and Dave, finished a close second to "Los Banditos y uno Gringo," but we won best co-ed team. Another great event organized by Squid.

I had a good time making bike frames. With a stock of tubing, Alex Badiak's Henry James jig and torches in my home workshop, I learned how much it takes to achieve precision craftsmanship.

It was the re-opening of Kissena Velodrome after two years of renovation. Here I'm with my old-school buddies, Jackie Simes III and Gil Hatton. Those dudes rule.

I was finally able to attend a Dino Ride, the annual gathering of Nor-Cal bike racers from the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Here we met at Crystal Springs and went over Old La Honda to Pescadero and back to Rossotti's in Portola Valley for ravitaillement. I rode full retro with my '71 Masi Grand Criterium, fixed-cleat shoes and wool clothing. It really hurt. As much as I love the classics, I really appreciate ergo shifters, floating cleats, padded shorts and more gears.

Taliah and I saw the 2005 Giro d'Italia, with Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter's Bike Camp. It was splendid, every climb, descent, hotel view and dinner table.

I try to support our local pro-bike-advocacy groups in one way or another. There's T.A., Times-Up, NY Bike Messengers, Kissena Cycling Club... but this one is especially close to me--it's the historians'-friendly City Reliquary. I've already shown three collections, my firecracker labels, chainwheels, and with Johnny Coast, frame-making lugs tubes and bits.

Sometimes I want to do it barefoot. I'm Californian. In a Bronx alleycat, I did a barefoot obstacle-course across a bed of nails, then blew downtown with Tropicana and Yac as if we owned it all. This was my spin in the NYC Goldsprints, a Chris Kim and Mike Dee show. Bike Works NYC was a sponsor, I went up against the ladies and beat Arone.

My second Rollers Grudge Match win against Andy Shen and Dan Schmaltz of nyvelocity.This time it was beer helmets and I almost lapped them. I'm two for two. Thanks to my handlers Jared Bunde and Gui Nelessen. It must be those ten-mile jogs I was doing.

Dino Ride 2010. 10th annual old-timer reuniion, organized by my look-a-like, often mistaken for eachother, Tom Hardy. Some irony? Tom wears the Brooklyn jersey. Let me name drop. Tom Ritchey, Oliver Martin, Rory O'Reily, Mark Pringle, George Mount, Joe Breeze, Ron Skarin, Lindsey Crawford, Otis Guy, Fred Fiske, Cris Haley, Calvin Trampleasure, Alex Rodriguez. We are the California/Nevada bike racers from 60s, 70s, 80s. Who's missing this year? Keith Vierra, Mike Neel, Greg LeMond, Owen Mulholand, Nik Farac-Ban, Jacquie Phelan, "Jaques" "Jock" "Jonathan" Boyer...

This is as good as it gets for me. I got dropped as my special cap was blown away. At the banquet I was awarded for longest distance arrival from NYC. I'm with Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze... Joe wants my signature on his Bike Cult copy. Tom tells me how useful it is.

It gets even better. Italy 2012. Thanks to the 50th wedding annivery of Taliah's parents, we rode Campy-equipped bikes in Tuscany near Lucca. Here we're in Zone, between Area 51 and Colodi, wearing our Devotion Cicli caps.

A Life of Bikes & Cycling
by David Perry