I’m proud to say I used to write for Bicycle Guide, the world’s greatest sports magazine. It broke every mold by being irreverent, funny, and always on the mark. It was like Top Gear (the fun UK one, not the clueless US one), except for being a magazine instead of a TV show and about bikes instead of cars. Bicycle Guide never wasted editorial space sucking up to superstars or advertisers. I don’t know about them, but I and every other cycling freak loved it!
The magazine was run by Ted Costantino, the coolest editor of all time. His own writing was so astute and witty and flab-free, it made me laugh and cry at the same time. He had as many fans as Madonna and looked way better in Lycra.
I had a huge crush on Ted. I even saved all his letters, including the first one in which he doubted I had anything special to offer his magazine. I wrote regularly for Bicycle Guide for the next couple of years.
This was in the 1980s, a truly exciting time in the sport. The US hosted Olympics and (for the first and only time) the World Cycling Championships. There were spectacular pro events like the Coors Classic and Wheat Thins Mayors Cup Series. Greg LeMond became the first, second, and third American to win the Tour de France. Women were finally allowed to compete in Olympic events involving bicycles, so I got one.
Back then I spent roughly three hours a day on my bike, and I do mean roughly. I rode it to my job in Manhattan, through the slums of Brooklyn, and over busted glass and potholes to do a few laps in Prospect Park before dusk or D races on weekends. My daily misadventures involved cabs, crack heads, thieves, cops, flats, furious building supers, antifreeze spills, and unleashed dogs. And that’s what I wrote about for Bicycle Guide.
Ted gave me my first publishing break in 1985. But more important, he encouraged me to cruise on the edge and never look down.
The following article originally appeared in the November/December 1986 issue of Bicycle Guide.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Copyright © 1986 © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Racing? she asked. Who’s got the time or money? Then somewhere along the way, I decided tread marks on my back would make a great conversation starter and a few new enemies wouldn’t make an appreciable difference. I took the bait.
Once upon a time, I was a mere twit in art school. Painting was then the fashion and so was unbearable pressure on all us art twits to paint. I preferred constructing weird fetishes out of garbage. Frankly, smearing colors around a canvas that took two weeks to prepare was beyond my attention span.
I did eventually bow, ever so reluctantly, to administrative intimidation. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind painting so much. The results were even kind of likable. A good thing, because otherwise I’d still be there. But there were some unexpected bonuses: lessons in lightwave theory, timber framing, and creative b.s. techniques. All served me well in subsequent endeavors.
Likewise, I once detested Star Trek, Mexican food, most of the Rolling Stones, brassieres, New Yorkers … the list is endless. The only reason I mention this is because I seem to have developed a pattern regarding tastes that are acquired, a category into which bicycle racing fits neatly.
I certainly liked the idea of it, but my early impression of racers was that most were overbearing jocks who I didn’t care to emulate, and I didn’t know any women who raced. Then I started accompanying a friend who competes in local events. To my eternal gratitude, there were women there. Fast women.
One weekend the 7-Eleven team was in town. They made an appearance at a New York City training race, and my friend got dropped by national champ Cindy Olavarri. He was only impressed. I was dazzled.
Meanwhile, I graduated to a “serious” bike. I rode it briskly to watch the races.
One day I inquired as casually as possible of my competitive friend whether I might make a good racer. I figured he should know, having personally been used and abandoned by the 7-Eleven women. He gave me The Look. I dropped the subject faster than Olavarri dropped the weenies.
But at the park and on my way to work, I noticed cycling women crawling out of the woodwork. I initiated as many conversations as possible, most of which gravitated to what we perceived as pressure to compete. I kept hearing this whiney voice grousing about being run down by speed demons half her age, or making new enemies for being too bossy. The whiney voice turned out to be mine.
It was convenient to let it convince me that waking up at 4:30 a.m. to train is demented, and redirecting beer money to replace crashed bike parts is sick. I heard you need an Italian bike just to train, and a custom job for the real thing. Who’s got time, much less the funds?
But somehow, somewhere along the way, I conceded that bicycle tread marks on my face might make a fine conversation starter, and a few new enemies wouldn’t make an appreciable difference. I’d heard that nothing enhances one’s sense of immortality quite like crashing and spending. I could always live on credit cards.
The bottom line was this: Could racing be any worse than painting, or jalapeño peppers, or William Shatner?
I decided to accept the challenge. That Saturday I traded the week’s grocery money for a team jersey, the promise of high-speed thrills, and a blurry newsletter. In short, I joined a road racing club.
I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into. Fabulous prizes! Juicy gossip! Tight pants! Deal me in.
My new club’s D riders were a particularly desultory group. I fit right in.
I wasn’t expecting to win, of course; there are more important things in life than winning. By now I’d been making circles alone in the park for so long, what really mattered was the prospect of camaraderie, meaningful conversation, and a wind block.
The big day, as they say, had arrived. My wheels were true. My new cleats finally pointed in more or less the right direction. Even my two bikes were almost paid for.
The Ds lined up for the gun. The race was launched! Up the first hill with Herrera, Argentin and Muffy! Around a series of treacherous curves I stuck with the pack! Okay, so I was at the back, but I was there.
Things were going smoothly — too smoothly. On the next hill I shifted up to honk; everybody else shifted down and spun merrily away.
Well, I didn’t win my first race. Someone said it’s not whether you win or lose that counts, it’s how you lay the blame. But hey, who cares? Didn’t I meet a swell bunch of new people, get treated with more respect than usual, and get dropped by some first-rate tushies? Not a bad rush for a pink-cheeked pledge. Think I’ll go back next week.
All content Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
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