It all began with a crash.
Of course I rode bikes as a kid. As I wrote earlier, I taught myself how to ride by lugging my brother’s rusting, heavy, solid-tire 24-incher out of the garage to the top of the hill in front of our house and hopped on.
Nevermind that my feet lost contact with the pedals after about a third of a pedal stroke. I zipped down that hill with the breeze whipping through my crewcut confident I had the world by the shorthairs — until I realized I had no idea how to stop a bike.
First ride, first crash.
Fast forward to my teens, when I shoveled enough driveways in the Wisconsin winter to buy myself a sweet drop-bar Sears 3-speed with a stick shift on the top tube that I graced with the head of the Esso tiger plucked from my brother’s antennae.
I put a speedometer on the handlebars — oh, no, kids, this was long, long before computers, one of those circular babes with an needle to track MPH.
Out exploring new roads with friends I zoomed down a closed road clearing 30 mph on the speedometer when I hit a tight curve littered with gravel. Whoa! I knew any braking would send me into a death slide. I made it through the curve with white knuckles, upright only to find a six-foot high berm of dirt closing off the road at the bottom as I cleared 35 mph.
My buddies say I flew 15-feet high into the air and landed about 25 feet beyond the berm, face first, elbow second on the big rock gravel. After a bloody ride home I earned 20 stitches combined at the points of impact.
Life pretty much took over, and my bikes primarily sat idle through high school and college, aside from some long rides from the suburbs of Milwaukee to the Lake Michigan lakefront and one ill-advised ride home from college to see my girlfriend. Wearing nylon running shorts the final hour of the four-hour epic felt like samurai blades slicing into my inner thighs.
A few years into my second job out of college, I bought a nifty Trek road bike, then moved from the Midwest to the beaches of SoCal and it still collected dust.
One day I cleaned it off and hit the Pacific Coast Highway. I rode a whopping 3.5 miles down to the 7-Eleven in Encinitas and 3.5 miles back. I was cooked. And I was hooked.
That seven miles became 20, then 30, then 50 and eventually 100. Because I was riding my bike, I got assigned some bike stories for the outdoor section of The Orange County Register.
Yep, got paid to ride my bike.
Mountain biking with legends.
Then the newspaper needed to have an expert on bicycle racing for an event The Register was sponsoring, the final of a three-race series headlined by Tour de France champion Greg LeMond.
I landed the gig. Started a weekly cycling column. The rest, professionally, is history.
Time to ride.