RUN AMOK! | Mapping the Tour de Trump’s Mishaps, Foul-Ups and Egregious Exaggerations

Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Did you know that before Donald Trump was buying presidential races, he was buying bicycle races? Here’s a 1989 article I wrote for Spy Magazine about the Tour de Trump, an extravaganza of cheating, demagoguery, and over-the-top hyperbole. Some things never change.

The complete article appears in a readable format after the too-small-to-read screencap of the original (below). But do take a look at the awesome Spy map, illustrated by John O’Leary. The text is keyed to it. The intro was written by Spy editor Jamie Malanowski.

Before we get started, here are some insider fun facts about the Tour (and things Spy wouldn’t print):
🚴 When Olympic gold medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov was assaulted, the only racer who stopped to help him was three-times Tour de France champion Greg LeMond.
🚴 The New York City stage almost didn’t happen. Gotham has a long and illustrious history of shaking down bike racing promoters, and Trump was no exception. He ponied up a five-figure cash bribe to nail it down.
🚴 The finishers of Stage 1 were greeted by a mob of protesters with signs reading “Fight Trumpism” and “Eat the Rich.”

Protesters at the finish line of Stage 1 in New Paltz, NY. Copyright Kevin Hogan

Finish line of Stage 1 in New Paltz, NY. Copyright Kevin Hogan

🚴 When Trump wanted to ride bitch to view the race from a support motorcycle, officials made him wear a helmet. Think his hair’s bad now? You should’ve seen it then.
🚴 Trump brought his yacht to the race. The $100 million Trump Princess was formerly Nabila, the yacht of Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. It had a disco and helipad. (When it was Largo’s Flying Saucer in the film Never Say Never Again, it had nuclear weapons.) When Khashoggi was arrested for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Trump scored the tub at a fire sale for $29 million. In 1991 Trump sold it for $20 million to pay debts when his Taj Mahal casino went bankrupt.

1

Read about everything else that happened at the Tour de Trump below the following screencap. It’s a pretty solid preview of a President Trump Administration.

On Your Mark, Get Set, RUN AMOK!
Mapping the Tour de Trump’s Mishaps, Foul-Ups and Egregious Exaggerations
originally published in Spy Magazine, September 1989
Text Copyright © 1989, © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

The Tour de Trump: who can forget the fun we had? If we couldn’t join sports nuts who flew into Atlantic City to attend the showdown, then (after calling our bookies) we joined our friends in front of the TV for a festive, sure-to-be-annual Tour de Trump party….

Oops — sorry! We were thinking of the Super Bowl. Actually, the Tour de Trump was that curious event last May that, according to its namesake, was supposed to have cycling’s hottest stars and the world’s most lucrative prizes (at least three European races award more), and was generally sold as being the premier cycling race in America. Maybe it was. However, it was also certainly an over-hyped, under-scrutinized event, characterized by snafus, Wile E. Coyote shenanigans, critical errors and a remarkably casual approach to facts. Cycling expert SYDNEY SCHUSTER recaps the highlights.

TRUMP TOWER, MANHATTAN
SUMMER 1987
Basketball analyst and entrepreneur Billy Packer, one of three partners attempting to launch an American bicycle race on the order of Le Tour de France, seeks the financial backing of Donald Trump. Before their meeting Packer thinks, If he asks me, “What’s the race’s name?” I’ll say, “Tour de Trump.” As Francophones know, this term actually describes a race where competitors travel around Trump’s body. Depending on which newspaper note-taker received Trump’s more accurate recollection, he replies either “You have to be kidding…. The idea’s so wild it’s going to work” or “Are you kidding? I will get killed in the media if I use that name…. You know, but it is a great shtick.”

THE PLAZA HOTEL, MANHATTAN
DECEMBER 6, 1988
This marks the third occasion on which Trump announces the race. At various times before the event, the promoters issue press releases that describe the Tour’s distance as 837 miles, 850 miles, 900 miles, 925 miles, 937 miles, 950 miles and 1,000 miles. The length is actually 782 miles. At the press conference. Trump unveils the obligatory commemorative LeRoy Neiman poster, showing a bareheaded cyclist crossing the finish line with arms upraised against a backdrop of the Atlantic City casinos. (In real life the cyclist, being helmetless, would have been disqualified.) Trump writes in the event’s official program that the Tour will feature the American debut of “the first Soviet professional team…a thrilling breakthrough in international sports history.” The Soviet team, Alfa Lum, does not show; they are racing in Spain. Trump, who has never seen a bike race in person, goes on to promise that the event will be “the most unique and spectacular event on the Eastern seaboard this year.” Unique, certainly.

ALBANY
MAY 5, 1989
(illustration 1) The prologue to the race is a two-mile individual time trial, in which each rider races alone against the clock and the best time wins, thus establishing a race leader. Governor Cuomo is supposed to fire the starting pistol but backs out. A Trump spokesman describes Trump’s reaction to the news: “Privately, he might be a bit angry, but publicly he didn’t flare up at all.” At the last moment Cuomo finds time in his overbooked schedule to appear.

ALBANY
MAY 6
The first stage of the Tour is a 110-mile race down to New Paltz, New York. Though Soviet amateur Viatcheslav Ekimov is the world’s fastest track racer, the pros are flummoxed when he soundly beats them on the open road. This is not because he surprises them with his ability but because he has broken a tacit rule of racing etiquette: Amateurs do not show up the pros. (2) Trump watches this leg of the race from the caravan of 100 or so support vehicles following the cyclists, his stretch limo standing out among a pack of bicycle-laden hatchbacks, vans and Jeeps.

THE PLAZA, MANHATTAN
MAY 7
(3)
Trump wanted to start Stage Two of the Tour in front of Trump Tower, where, he had rhapsodized in the program notes, “more than 120 cyclists will explode onto Fifth Avenue.” Unfortunately, the city has regulations curtailing public gatherings on Fifth Avenue (and may well have an ordinance against exploding bicyclists), and the start is relocated to another Trump venue, the 59th Street side of The Plaza. The new location guarantees that the Tour de Trump will cross paths with the 25,000 recreational cyclists involved in the American Youth Hostels Five-Borough Bike Tour.

Though Trump promises that Mayor Koch will launch this leg, a 123-mile race from Manhattan to Allentown, Pennsylvania — “I just hope he doesn’t point the starting gun at me,” Trump says — Koch declines to make nice to his antagonist and stays home. [Trump had threatened Koch over his never-built Television City development; Koch called Trump “piggy, piggy, piggy” and “one of the great hucksters.“] In fact, the city denies the Tour a racing permit, effectively rendering the first 35 miles of this leg an escorted parade out of town. Meanwhile, little things go wrong: Clif Halsey, cycling expert for NBC (the network provides financial backing for the event as well as broadcasting it), fails to identify cycling superstar Andy Hampsten [two-time winner of Tour de Suisse, three-stage winner of Giro D’Italia, one stage win in Tour de France], and the racers discover that the hot-pink-and-black Tour de Trump race leader’s jersey bleeds profusely when washed (4).

BETWEEN GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, AND WINCHESTER, VIRGINIA
MAY 9
(5)
The professional racers choose this stage of the race to send a subtle message to the precocious amateur, Ekimov. Fifteen or so racers surround him, grab hold of his jersey and jam a feed bag into his wheel, allowing 7-Eleven, Panasonic and PDM team members to speed away in front. Ekimov has to stop and remove the feed bag, which places him so far behind that it becomes impossible for him to win.

BETWEEN FRONT ROYAL AND CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
MAY 10
(6)
The amateurs retaliate. Inspired by the Soviet coach — who commands his men, “No pee-pee today!” — the amateurs burst past the professionals at the moment the pros slow down to relieve themselves. US national road champion Rishi Grewal establishes an extraordinary lead that lasts well over half the 107-mile race to Charlottesville. The pros eventually catch up, after which Grewal is “accidentally” hit by a support-crew Jeep. (7)

BALTIMORE
MAY 13
(8)
As the pros and amateurs continue to battle extralegally, Trump chooses to watch the next stage of his Tour, a 51-mile circuit race, from the Trump Princess. Later that day in Atlantic City he brushes off the cycling press and spends his time showing the boat to bigwigs.

ATLANTIC CITY
MAY 14
Pro races usually don’t end with time trials, but this one does. Because of the way time trials are held (racers go off at specified intervals), they offer Trump the picturesque vision of racer after godlike racer thundering past the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in prime time — indeed, he has it contractually stipulated that the race end this way. As befits an event run by amateurs and media hogs, the 24-mile time trial is marked by numberless incidents of hanky-panky. Racers illegally cut their times by riding in the slipstreams of their escort motorcycles. (9) Three riders converge head-on from three different directions at an intersection, meaning that at least two of them took shortcuts or wrong turns. Many riders go off course because of poorly placed markers and a lack of road marshals. One of the world’s foremost time trialists, Eric Vanderaerden, misses a well-marked turn, prompting speculations that either he was intentionally misdirected or he wasn’t exactly trying to win. Trump and his armed bodyguards commandeer official motorcycles to see the action better.

FINISH LINE, ATLANTIC CITY
MAY 14
After a race full of small disasters (a support van drives into a ditch, the chief motorcycle marshal totals an $11,500 BMW and a sportscaster on a motorcycle trashes an ESPN video camera), $93,150 is awarded to first-place finisher Dag-Otto Lauritzen and his 7-Eleven team, the same team that was featured earlier in the day in an elaborate three-and-a-half-minute NBC documentary — almost as if someone knew the results ahead of time.

The real winner, of course, is Trump. In return for his $750,000 sponsor fee, he has got an estimated $4.5 million worth of promotion for himself and his buildings on NBC and ESPN, reams of uncritical newspaper attention, and even some bonus publicity for his not-yet-completed Atlantic City Taj Mahal when a racer plunges into a barrier around the construction site (10).

🚴🚴🚴

Sports Illustrated ran a great article about the Tour de Trump, with lots of details about the racing. Read it here.

🚴🚴🚴

Copyright © 1989 & © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

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Memo from the Dead Zone | 1986 World Cycling Championships

Let’s take a trip back in time. The year: 1986 — the last and only year the US was allowed to host UCI World Cycling Championships since 1893. You’re about to find out why.

In the mid-1980s I was a columnist for the greatest cycling magazine ever, Bicycle Guide. They sent me to cover the Worlds in Colorado, and the following is my report. Consider it a little taste of what to expect next year when, for better or worse, the Worlds return!

That’s right, in 2015 the World Cycling Championships road race is scheduled for Richmond, Virginia — a state with hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous seismic activity, toxic waterways, 31 Superfund sites, doctors in tents instead of modern clinics, a governor convicted of 11 felony corruption counts, and police who tried to force a teenager to have an erection to prove they saw it in private emails they spied on illegally. Yup, Virginia is for lovers. And, uh, racing.

 ★★★

MEMO FROM THE DEAD ZONE
originally published in Bicycle Guide, January/February 1987
Text and Photos Copyright ©1987, ©2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

Colorado Springs, America’s largest small town, wasn’t quite ready for the Worlds. After all, who else would sic police dogs on the World Pursuit Champion and ask you not to ride your bike in their hotel rooms?

***

I’m no good with small towns. I need large quantities of food at odd hours, department stores open ’til 9, all-night newsstands, winos who wipe your windshield because gas stations won’t, and 24-hour greaserias serving rotgut coffee. I’m a New Yorker. Bite me.

In the pantheon of small towns that should be avoided, Colorado Springs may be America’s largest. Its population, mostly somnambulant, consists of 375,000 tropes who seemed utterly unaware they were hosting a major international sports event.

Upward of 100,000 bikies had been making World Championships-related reservations since the previous January, but by August the Springoids remained staunchly oblivious even as cycling interests mainlined $10 million into the local economy. Few area businesses benefitting from this windfall reciprocated by donating primes to the Wheat Thins Mayor’s Cup street races, pretty much the only recreational entertainment available (and organized by David Pelletier, a savvy non-USCF East Coaster, natch). Because, you know, … duh.

Me, I saw the planets lining up upon my arrival at my fancy B&B, which was more like a dorm in hell. The headmistress saw our bikes and demanded to know — wait for it — if we intended to ride them in our room. Huh?!

I tried to imagine her scenarios: The next track session is three hours away and every restaurant in town is closed (yes, that happened): “Honey, I’m bored. Let’s ride bikes around the room!” Or I’ve just met some interesting people who also shlepped bicycles along, like the Italian team (that happened, too): “Hey, let’s have some fun riding bikes around my room!”

Soon the headmistress found out I was press, which resulted in surveillance of my “gourmet breakfast” plate. Her “inn” publishes and sells a collection of its “special recipes” (too special to actually waste on guests, apparently; I was never served any). My leftovers (ie, everything — hippie moderne crap!) elicited a stern lecture from the management, who considered that a smart way to avoid bad publicity.

I have to tell you, this grub nouvelle was everywhere, like acid rain. And they couldn’t even get that right. Hungry bikers turned militant as they searched in vain for bacon and eggs and burgers, and starved altogether from 3 to 5 pm and after 9, when Colorado Springs rolls up its streets — even when 100,000 tourists blow into town, dying to burn $10 million.

The city has exactly one diner (which I discovered on my way out of town) and barely enough late-night eateries to count on one hand. These establishments are distinguished by religious graffiti in the restrooms and menus featuring airbrushed, highly idealized photos of food-like matter. The pictures came in handy when the Japanese team (whose English was better than ours) failed at verbal communication with the waitresses, who eventually took orders by pictures. That is, after they finally stopped laughing and got up off the floor.

Where's the beef?

Where’s the beef?

Basic math

Ever notice how the ratio of small brains to small towns is in direct inverse proportion? I went sightseeing by bike and a local passed me in a tricked-out RV, yelling “Go Germany!” The jersey I wore was yellow, with my New York City club’s name on it. The Germans wear silver ones (East), or white (West). With German words, usually. Go figure.

I was luckier on my ride than others. Another hayseed drove his car over Olympic track star Shaun Wallace, and the police sicked an attack dog on world pursuit champion Tony Doyle. (Said Doyle after winning the pursuit gold with the teeth marks still visible on his calf, “I’ve got three legs he could have bitten. I’m glad he chose the one he did.”)

The Russians rode their bikes over to K-mart and were orgying inside when some hoods swiped their rides parked outside. Their bikes were recovered only because sharp-eyed neighbors noticed the $2,000 custom Colnagos with Cyrillic decals parked beside the Carrillo’s trash. [$2000 was a LOT of money in 1986. — ss] Sensing something not quite right about that, they called the cops, who clearly need all the help they can get. They never did find the $25,600 worth of equipment stolen from Campagnolo’s service truck.

Colorado Springs — a national treasure

No, really. Where else would contractors build bleachers to seat 8,000 by balancing them on little piles of sticks and sand? Where else would an elite international audience be expected to sing “Home on the Range”? Where else can you spend $100 on dinner and get food poisoning? (The Broadmoor, y’all — plan accordingly.) Where else would the Soviets end up in the Satellite Motel?

It’s somehow fitting that the United States Cycling Federation* is HQed in Colorado Springs. As small-time as small-town operations get, the USCF was unfortunately the organizer of this event, and mired in provincialism to the bitter end. First they blew a deal for network TV coverage. Then they let sponsors paint advertising directly onto the brand-new, state-of-the-art track surface at the US Olympic Training Center, on which many racers subsequently slipped and crashed. They mounted signs on all the velodrome’s rails, blocking most paying folks’ view. They recruited redneck road marshals who’d never seen a bike race before, much less hoards of hardcore bike racing fans, with whom they interacted like the Berlin border patrol. There were a lot of fights.

Strategically placed advertising is key to viewing enhancement.

Strategically placed advertising is key to viewing enhancement.

Judging by how late the town got the event memo, I’m guessing the USCF dropped the ball on publicity, too.

The one thing that was micromanaged was the press. The Federation demanded that we send in passport pics for mandatory photo IDs, which the Federation immediately lost. Then the USCF generously reshot them, thoughtfully providing a broken laminating machine to seal the magic passes. I call them magic because, although they looked alike, women’s prohibited them from bringing anyone inside the press area, while men’s allowed access by their entire families plus their analysts, stockbrokers, refreshment dealers, Akita trainers, et al.

Olympic and World Champion Jeannie Longo looks for an exit.

Olympic and World Champion Jeannie Longo looks for an exit.

A night out in paradise

Every convention has its party scene and this Worlds was no different. The only thing was, utterly no entertainment was provided for athletes or press, so improvisation was necessary. The trick was finding a decent location for a party.

One nightclub deejay proudly informed me, “I’m from Iowa, and we’re at the same level musically as New York.” Sure. Whatever. He demonstrated by spinning up a stupefying disco cacophony of stuff listened to in New York by people who wear vinyl pants and shower caps.

I pounded the buckaroo meat beat until I struck gold. Everyone else seemed to have found it first — including the hardhats, food designers, RV fans, waitresses, merchants, graffitists, thieves — even the deejay from the other club was there. One townie flew at me out of nowhere, shrieking that I better dare not take the empty barstool that was obviously hers because she’d left her wallet on it while she was gone. Like, to reserve it. I am not making this up.

The track events had just concluded and the biciclisti were there, too, boogying with a vengeance. The crème de la crème of sports proceeded to rout the scum de la scum of Colorado Springs. By midnight the townies had retreated in disgust.

Closing time came and went (too many receipts to skim). The morals squad came and went (not enough paddy wagons). Into the wee hours the bikies danced on the tables, danced on the chairs, danced on the bars. Had there been rafters, they’d have swung from them. No big deal, our clueless bartender assured us. “It’s always like this on Ladies’ Night.”

The next day I called it quits. A simpatico native asked to beam up with me.

“The people who live here think the UCI championships are an annual local event,” he told me, incredulous. “They’re already talking about next year.”

Call it a hunch, but I’ll bet it’s a cold day in hell before Colorado Springs hosts another Worlds. And that’s just fine with me.

Many-times Tour de France winners Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinault, and Jacques Anquetil (and some guy) at a Colorado Springs press conference, wishing they were someplace else.

Many-times Tour de France winners Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinault, and Jacques Anquetil (and some guy) at a Colorado Springs press conference, wishing they were someplace else.

Text and Photos Copyright ©2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
May not be reproduced without permission.
*In 1993 the USCF was incorporated into USACycling. It didn’t help.

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HELP WANTED | The Myth of the Mighty Bicycle Messenger

Back during The Great Bike Boom of the 1980s, I wrote for an assortment of cycling publications. Mostly I covered racing.

At that time there was this inexplicable American obsession with big-city bicycle messengers — or rather, the idiosyncratic romantic heroes Americans imagined they were.

I knew many New York City bike messengers and was mystified by the out-of-towner’s fascination with them. Romance, my ass. We were in a recession, and they were just a bunch of good kids making a bad living the hard way. In 1987 Cyclist magazine asked me for a report. Here it is. Enjoy!

HELP WANTED
Originally published in Cyclist Magazine, August 1987

Copyright ©1987 ©2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Kevin Bacon making a delivery.

Kevin Bacon making a delivery.

Let’s start this thing off with a fairy tale that came true. The prince is Nelson Vails — Olympian, film star, and officially New York City’s most famous ex-bicycle messenger.

Popular legend holds that Vails was snatched from obscurity by Fred Mengoni, the US Bicycling Hall of Famer who founded GS Mengoni USA. That’s the NYC farm team that produced international champions Alexi Grewal, Leonard Harvey Nitz, Mike McCarthy, Steve Bauer, and George Hincapie.

The story goes that one day Mengoni spotted the Harlem native chasing racers on a beater bike in Central Park. Profoundly impressed, Mengoni was moved to buy Vails his first good racing bike. The rest — Olympic stardom, product endorsement deals, film role, nice house in fancy neighborhood — it’s all history now. From ghetto to Gollywood on the express track.

Vails became the first African American to win an Olympic cycling medal (the silver), back in 1984. He also won a gold medal at the prestigious Pan Am Games in 1983. Not for nothing, but Vails’ messenger nickname was The Cheetah.

In the press, Vails’ story sold like ice water to bedouins. Hollywood couldn’t resist. So instead of making a movie about that, Columbia Pictures pandered to the appetites of drooling yahoos enraptured with idealized urban rebels (or the idea of them, anyway). The result was the fawning 1986 tribute to bicycle couriers, Quicksilver, about a fictional white stockbroker played by Kevin Bacon. Vails had a cameo. He played a bicycle messenger.

The best part of Quicksilver is the exciting opening action scene: a street race between Vails on a bike and Bacon in a cab. (Saw it or not, you know who won.) The movie goes downhill from there. New York Times reviewer Walter Goodman wrote: “Quicksilver is as much fun as a slow leak.”

No doubt about it. Bike messengers are hot stuff. But are the genuine items really the scruffy-yet-lovable street urchins portrayed in the media? Or are they slumming yuppies like Kevin Bacon, or sports champions in training, or something else? Who the heck becomes a bicycle messenger, anyway? And does the reality live up to the hype?

Nelson VailsNelson Vails delivering the bacon.

☆☆☆

At a spartan loft space one flight up from Park Avenue’s glitz, you’re welcomed into Amazing Racing Messengers by a scrawled Kilroy with a hole in the plaster instead of a nose. A crazy quilt of receipts, bike frames, posters and flags is the backdrop for Stella Buckwalter, a former racer. She looks like a fashion model, talks like a corporate executive and manages the business like an air traffic controller.

Most messengers, including Buckwalter’s, work part-time, furnish their own equipment and get a commission. Buckwalter’s are independent contractors who keep the standard 50 percent of what each trip nets, which is about $10. Buckwalter feels they don’t get compensated enough and loads them down with quarters out of her own pocket, she says, “to make sure they call for pick-ups.”

Not far away from Amazing Racing Messengers is its competitor, Born to Run. On the surface it seems antithetical to the standard courier company model. There are no random arrangements of tire tracks and chain grease. Floating amid glowing oak floors and pristine white walls is the only decoration: a landing strip of a desk covered with phones. Born to Run looks like an art gallery, sans the art.

“We just moved in,” apologizes owner Shelly Mossey, a former messenger with some great stories to tell.

While back office decor may differ, the function served by bicycle messengers stays the same. Or as Mossey puts it, couriers accommodate “anybody who can’t fax their package across town.”

Even with the proliferation of telecommunications and overnight air delivery, the cyclists’ immunity to gridlock and AT&T strikes makes them tough to beat.

Road to Riches! (Not)

Just so you know, messengers don’t get rich doing this. For 40 or so miles of daily riding, the average week’s messenger pay is a modest $250 to $300. A little ambition guarantees $450 to $600, and $1,000 weekly isn’t impossible for top earners.

But employee turnover is rapid — a messenger’s career is as spasmodic as a cabbie’s driving. And while they may have transformed communications, New York’s 3,000-plus messengers haven’t endeared themselves to the man on the street.

Despite superior bike-handling skills and a competitive attitude (plus any bull you’re asked to believe by Hollywood about stockbrokers-turned-messengers), these are not all middle-class bike racers.

The reality is that a relatively lucrative job with limited educational requirements is flypaper to immigrants and the underclasses. The racer look is often just vigorous posturing by wannabes with every reason to emulate athletes and no reason to take a driving test or learn vehicular law. Language comprehension and social graces are not givens, either.

The picture New Yorkers see frequently looks like this:

• A messenger zigzags the wrong way down a one-way street and then peels south on Madison Avenue, which goes north. He hits a pedestrian, who lies unconscious in the intersection. As a crowd gathers, he takes off without so much as a wave. Don’t want that pizza to be late!

• Joey is famous for his delivery uniform and style, which includes a hockey helmet complete with goalie’s mask. “He’ll ride the wrong way up Fifth Avenue, weaving in and out,” laughs Mossey. “At full speed. He’s totally crazed!”

• A non-English-speaking messenger drops off a package at the wrong address. The client is desperate. The frantic dispatcher tries to reconstruct the messenger’s trip. “Where did you come from?” he asks the messenger. The reply: “Cuba.”

• A messenger cuts off a bike commuter, hops a curb, scatters a gaggle of terrified pedestrians, and is stopped. A shouting match ensues. The messenger reaches into his pants as if to seize a weapon. Lycra doesn’t lie, clearly indicating the limitations of his defense options. Bewildered but relieved victims close in.

Despite the inherent chaos, it’s wrong to assume all messengers are guerillas. You’re just as likely to find gentle folk who can’t abide suits, or need flexible hours for auditions or classes. A cross-sampling of employees discloses lots of moonlighters from other trades: musicians, students, writers, artists, models — yes, even bike racers.

One of the latter is Craig Cook, a USCF-licensed junior racer. At 17 he’s more articulate and self-assured than your garden-variety teenager (or even your garden-variety racer). He looks like a choirboy from the waist up and a power sprinter from the waist down and doesn’t wear weird outfits.

Initially Cook was attracted to messengering by its mystique. That was before the pick-up that turned out to be a stack of dining chairs.

“But it also looked like a way to combine race training with a summer job,” he says. Now he finds that riding in fits and starts all day is stressful, and after-hours laps and Saturday races feel redundant. “By the end of the week,” Cook admits, “you’re sort of sick of bicycles.”

An interesting messenger subset is the small but growing contingent of women invading what’s considered male territory, because of the risks. One of them is Julia Ashcroft. Her purple locks are souvenirs from her last job, writing for a rock music publication in London. This American adventure junkie shifted to bike messenger mode, she says, “because the pay is better than a staff journalist’s, and I love riding.” She also loves the undeniable glamor of being a road warrior.

That last part, of course, comes with a downside.

Wild Kingdom

“It’s not an easy job, and it’s dangerous. It gets pretty wild for them out there,” insists Buckwalter. She estimates Amazing Racing Messengers’ crashes at one per week, “mostly minor. We try to get them to wear helmets.”

Trouble is a messenger’s shadow. Car doors open unexpectedly. Pedestrians cross against the light. One time a chicken-playing bus driver intentionally broadsided Mossey.

“Compare it to skydiving,” he suggests, remembering a messenger who lost two front teeth in an accident. “Take your eyes off the road for one second, you end up under a truck.”

Cook was prepared for bad surprises like oversized deliveries and rushes, but not certain others, like getting hit by a limousine that ran a light.

Casualties, which have doubled over the last five years, are a touchy subject. Sizable taxes and licensing fees are derived by the local government from commercial delivery activities, and the city doesn’t want the negatives publicized. But in 1986 there were 2,629 injuries and 7 fatalities in bike/motor vehicle accidents in New York. Pedestrians in the wrong place at the wrong time numbered 617, one of whom checked out permanently.

Who’s minding the store? The city claims courier services are responsible for insuring their messengers. Services claim their messengers are responsible for insuring themselves.

Just call it a free-for-all, because that’s what it is. Tired of dodging two-wheeled projectiles, irate citizens and businesses lobbied for citywide bike control several years back. City Council members and even Mayor Ed Koch jumped in, although Koch would jump into a vat of boiling Afrosheen if a camera was there. Steady streams of damning legal documents flowed between lobbyists and City Hall. Guess who was hired to deliver them.

The upshot was a toothless commercial regulation passed in 1984, Local Law 47. It requires company uniforms on messengers and identification plates on their equipment, so they can be more accurately fingered in the event of mishaps.

With messengers pretty much left to police themselves, compliance is unsurprisingly lax. Improvised head protection and comic book onesies rule. A courier named Juda authored and distributes a handout entitled Safe Cyclists Code [sic] in a sincere (if bone-headed) attempt at self-government. The Code dispenses jewels of advice like this one: “Don’t run red lights or ride against traffic without giving everyone else the right of way.”

So are couriers above the law, or what? Let’s just say they’re in a grey area of enforcement. This fact contributes substantially to their fearlessness, or foolhardiness, depending upon your vantage point.

One fellow sure to take the long view was standing on Wall Street recently, minding his own business, lost in thoughts of blind trusts and insider trading when one of Mercury’s own zoomed out of nowhere. Pedal and knee connected in a mighty crunch. David Stockman, former bad-boy budget director of the Reagan administration, went straight to the hospital. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Legends die hard, especially ones about blue-collar workers in day-glo Spandex. Andy Warhol said that in this, the Electronic Age, everyone will be a celebrity for 15 minutes. It’s been a long trip from anthropological footnote to media darling, but for better or worse, the bicycle messenger’s quarter-hour has arrived.

Team Breakaway Courier — real messengers, really racing.

Team Breakaway Courier — real messengers, really racing.

New York City’s 1992 Team Breakaway Courier. From left to right: Craig Cook, architect; Mike McCarthy, 1992 World Pro Pursuit Champion; Kurt Gustafsson, competitive skier; and Rafe Diaz, MIA. Photo © 2014 Kevin Hatt

☆☆☆

Sydney Schuster rides bikes, lifts weights and battles computers in New York City. She was hit by a bike messenger once. He is expected to recover.

Text Copyright © 1987, © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Photo of Nelson Vails © 2014 Nelson Vails
Photo of Team Breakaway Courier © 2014 Kevin Hatt
Photo & Video from Quicksilver © 2014 Columbia Pictures

Breaking: A new documentary about the life of Nelson Vails will premiere in New York City on February 15, 2014. It’s called Cheetah: The Nelson Vails Story. For tickets, go to Vails’ info page.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll really like my book Dead Spot!

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Let’s Make a Deal | Bicycle Guide

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 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. (This was before the Internet, when people communicated by killing trees.) 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 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 © 1985 © 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 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

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Kickin’ It with The Village Voice

The following is a true story. The names have been changed, but not very much, for obvious reasons.

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

KICKIN’ IT WITH THE VILLAGE VOICE

DATELINE: Gotham
ASSIGNMENT:  Enlighten leftist newsweekly’s degenerate readers about joys of cycling.

I used to write for the Village Voice. This was during the 1980s, after it was bought by dog food colossus Hartz Mountain and before it was a freebie used to mop up blood from bodega floors. My favorite editor there was Mim Udovitch, the legendary rock‛n’roll chronicler. I loved writing for her, and she made me look good. Journalism doesn’t get much better than that. Sometimes, though, it gets much worse.

At that time there was a bicycle boom in progress, and the Voice belatedly realized cycling was a cool trend – one that was happening without their input.

Unfortunately, that was everything the Voice knew about cycling. Ripping into spin cycle, they hustled up a hip but erudite spokesperson to guide their drooling readership. Me.

Back then bikes were my life. I owned a gajillion of them. I wrote for glossy niche magazines like Bicycle Guide and The Bike. I officiated bike races. I’d spent my last vacation at the World Cycling Championships hyperventilating at the tightest Lycra-clad butts on earth.

I kind of viewed the Voice assignment as public service (and, okay, easy money). Maybe spreading the gospel would fix the metrogoons swarming the wrong way against traffic who were driving up my insurance rates.

Udovitch had just left the Voice to write for Rolling Stone, so my pitch was forwarded to someone who hadn’t. I accepted the paper’s final proposal, which on the face of it was ludicrous. They wanted a 1,500-word piece on every kind of ride and where to buy it. I wanted a new bike, so I signed the contract.

Fast forward to the first draft, a 4,500-word epic of love and rust and how stylish you’d look riding in the same direction as buses. My new editor, Mr. Hernia (not his real name), was super excited.

“Great!” he said. “But make it funny! And give it a romantic twist! And have a fashion angle! And do it in 1,300 words!”

Huh? “But, but…,” I explained as he hung up.

So I cut out track bikes and recumbents. I tossed frame geometry. I dumped steel frames versus aluminum, tubular tires versus clinchers, directional motility versus tropism. Out, out, out, until all that remained was 1,284 somewhat humorous words about miracle synthetics and all the dates you’d get wearing them.

I delivered my handiwork to Hernia in person and before deadline. I wanted to impress him, because he was an important guy. When I arrived at his office, I learned just how important. He’d left for a job at Newsday.

Good riddance, I thought. But compared with his successor, he was William Randolph Hernia.

My new editor’s total sports experience consisted of copying NFL scores off a teletype. We met to discuss the last-minute rewrite he’d done on my story instead of asking me to do it. He looked like a five-foot frog.

To Toad (not his real name), all bikes were alike. He thought my attention to the differences was overkill, so he’d fixed that. And he dropped my dealer recommendation for entry-level and budget-minded shoppers, the legendary Kissena Cycles in Flushing. Toad figured anyone with a dollar for a newspaper isn’t on a budget. And besides, Queens is a drag.

The slant of the work, what was left of it, was enhancing one’s social life via the right bike and get-up. As proof I’d invoked real-life glamour couples of the day: Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter and U.S. pro champion Davis Phinney; U.S. track champion Connie Paraskevin and power coach Roger Young; cross-country champs Sue Notorangelo and Lon Haldeman — all gods in anyone’s book. Anyone’s but Toad’s. He thought they were my drinking buddies or something and axed them.

I screamed at him. The couples went back in. Touchdown for bicycle romance! I thought we were done. I thought wrong.

The art director wanted to see me. He hadn’t read my article, be he had definite ideas about visuals.

“Get really sexy models!” he ordered.

Who, me? I looked around. No one else was there.

“And make sure they wear something really flashy!”

Uh, sure thing.

Then he hooked me up with the staff photographer, Plotzy (not her real name). We arranged a shoot in Prospect Park for the next Sunday. Plotzy wanted models too, so I assumed she’d cover that. Whew!

The day before the shoot I learned what Plotzy had covered. Nothing. Didn’t lift a finger to procure any models, nor flashy outfits for them to wear, nor bikes for them to make out on.

In a panic, I notified every bikie in New York. All they had to do was bring their own ride, I told them, in dodgy weather and on indefensibly short notice, to participate in this noble endeavor. “It’ll be fun!” I lied.

“Any money in it?” they all replied.

“Only eternal fame, sorry,” I had to tell them. Sadly for the Voice, every cyclist in New York had recently been a paid extra in the awful flick Key Exchange. Now that they were pros, they had expectations. I had a bagful of nothing.

Sunday came along, damp and winterish. The response to my cattle call was one bike-racer hunk who was going to have to make out with himself if I didn’t do something fast.

I jumped on my bike and personally chased down a dishy blonde trying to elude me on her new Trek (like I said, Prospect Park…).

Now we had the perfect bicycle romance couple! But that darned Plotzy — she wanted a crowd. Or rather, she wanted someone to get one for her.

By now it was nearly sunset. I and my better half (a.k.a. the most put-upon spouse since Al Bundy) were the only other people stupid enough to be out with bikes in weather this nasty, in a place where people get stabbed after dark for a cigarette.

And so this was our crowd: four “models” with runny noses, indistinguishable from each other in black thermal riding suits, commanding four disparate, muddy bikes.

I didn’t see how this could possibly relate to recreational sex. But Plotzy knew, even though she hadn’t read my story. We models were instructed to roll in a circle at 3 mph and take flying lunges at each other. Plotzy shot four rolls, mostly of our feet and a passerby’s dog.

When the sun set, everyone who wasn’t Plotzy fled. The good news was that this suckfest was finally over. Anyway, that’s what I thought. But then Toad called.

He required clarification as to why cycling was fashionable, now that he’d edited out all the reasons.

Unlike sports such as football, I explained more patiently than he deserved, cycling is a hands-on deal. The equipment is high-tech, yet affordable. The clothes are sexy. Cycling is good cardio.

“So what?” he said.

“Madonna does it.”

Bingo! A technicality Toad could relate to.

We said goodbye, for what I prayed was the last time.

Ha!

Before I continue, allow me to provide some perspective. Having written about bike culture for years, I can vouch that “cycling journalism” is an oxymoron. Nobody invests in this for its intellectual value. I’ve been sent on touring assignments in hurricanes, packed off on interviews with bad contact info, and forced to question confused foreigners while fighting off media barnacles like Phil Liggett.

So why bother?, you ask. Well, I did meet all my sports heroes. And the genre was a free-for-all for rebel wordsmiths like me. I was never muzzled by Bicycle Guide, or Cyclist, or even Cycling USA, a cheezy tabloid published by the stick-up-the-ass national cycling federation. So you can imagine my astonishment upon reading the final edit of my contribution to the mouthpiece of the ACLU, only to discover that Toad had excised the word “wop” from my discourse on Italian bikes.

“BUT WHY!?” I screeched at him even as I imagined him housing my Hoffritz collection.

“It would offend people,” he said. I am not making this up.

The next day the issue was, mercifully, supposed to close. My phone rang. It was Toad. He hoped I didn’t mind, but important late-breaking news had forced him to cut my piece by four inches.

Listen, it’s the nature of the business. Shit happens all the time at newspapers, especially this one. And I wasn’t sure how much verbiage four inches was, exactly.

I found out two days later when the issue hit the street. My judiciously neutered feature appeared in the same issue that likened arms trader Adnan Khashoggi to a Lower East Side Jew, suggested homosexuals’ foreheads be branded, and called Harley owners “balls-out, knuckle-dragging, Bud-guzzling, loud-farting men.”

And there, inside the back cover, behind everything else including hundreds of ads for expert oralists and jocks with big tools, was my sanitized 1,085-word velo Gesamskuntswerk. It was illustrated with a blurry photo of what looked like two inkblots passing a rutabaga.

My article filled the entire rest of the back page. That is, it did if you don’t count the four-inch box of football scores smack in the middle.

Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

To Preserve, Develop, and Administer, Sort of | Bike Racing in the ’90s

I used to be a bicycle racing junkie. I was a Category I USACycling official on road and track (and a Cat 4Q2 racer). For you non-bikies, that means I was licensed by the US Olympic Committee to officiate professional racing, which I did for many years.

USAC is the current incarnation of cycling’s governing body, previously called the USCF (and before that it was the ABLA, founded in 1920). There was always a lot of blather in their handbooks about preserving, developing, and administering stuff. Everyone’s still waiting.

During this time I wrote for several cycling magazines. One was The Bike. My editor there was Doug Roosa, formerly of the late, lamented Bicycle Guide. Roosa’s too cool for school. Working for him was a gas. We tested anything and everything bike-related — equipment, socks, coffee table books and the mugs that loved them. Here’s a column I wrote for The Bike in 1992.

TO PRESERVE, DEVELOP, AND ADMINISTER, SORT OF
Copyright © 1992 © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Lower New York State is the sixth largest USCF district, with 1441 licensed riders and scads of racing. That’s where I live. Our district is eternally overadrenalized and understaffed, so one of the many hats I wear is that of USCF official. Scary, but true.

We probably have more racing than any other state. This is good. Most of it is low-budget track racing at dusk and circuit racing at dawn, without photo equipment or bathrooms. Not so good, if you can’t pick sprints in the dark or pee standing up.

Once I was the chief judge at this flavor of circuit race, one in an interminable training series. A spectacular crash had just capped off the citizens’ finish. In a Big Apple display of free expression, a casualty with a bogus number started chasing another on foot, pounding him with a log. (To be fair, all the other fresh meat had their numbers on upside down or on the wrong side, if they had them on at all.) My assistant and the chief referee tore off after the fleeing pounder, leaving me alone with the poundee (who was energetically threatening to sue me) and the entire Cat 4 field as they sprinted 50 abreast across the finish line.

I did my best to pick eight places by myself, with a fist in my face. To tabulate the results in peace, I repaired to a picnic table that doubled as a bum’s boudoir. Why, you may ask, do I do this?

The reason is obvious: Officiating is glamorous.

Another case in point is the ’drome. We’re lucky to have one of the country’s half dozen right here in Nueva York — our own superglam, built-on-sinking-landfill Kissena Velodrome. The Track With A Hill.

I worked over 50 races last year, mostly track, so this year my district rep rewarded my effort and loyalty by assigning three high-level officials from Upper Uranus to run our state track championships.

Assisting USCF brass is a special treat for us drooling locals. The Cat I had worked track once, so he brought his computer to modernize our championship. He was too busy typing to see the races he was supposed to be judging. Five more people crammed onto the stand to watch them for him, including his two ultra-helpful Cat II toadies who’d never seen track racing before. I was handed three pick cards for a 70-lap points race with 14 sprints, and ordered to monitor them through five heads and a computer screen.

The big guns picked sprints on wrong laps and missed others altogether. They ignored district officials who came to help — stalwarts who were at our quaint, weedy velodrome every week for years, manually judging competitions among state and national champions. The riders basically were furious, because the bigshot officials basically wrecked their state championships.

The racers around here take their sport seriously. A lot of them are my pals, and one especially noisy one is my spouse. They’ve seen placings forfeited and races cancelled, they’ve plowed into everything from dogs to tractor-trailers, all due to inadequate staffing. That’s how I got sucked in one day in 1987, when Hall of Famer Al Toefield drafted a spectator to herd rampaging Cat 4s on her motorcycle.

Typical bikie headbanger that I am, I just kept going back. Eventually official emeritus Emily Miller of New York kneaded me into a judge-like mass.

Fingers freezing and noses running and rain soaking us at a wobbly, soggy card table, I ask Emily why she does this. She just laughs, and jots down 80 numbers as they blast by.

Emily is a class act who makes the job look easy. But at best, the gig is a cacophony of bad music blasting in your ear while racers, coaches and road-deprived joggers bark in your face. It’s standing in the sun for ten hours with carnivorous bugs while old-timers guilt trip you about how they officiated for free. Except they didn’t have to buy $50 stopwatches, $80 pocket recorders and $300 uniforms, drive 350 miles to get to a stage race, and 350 miles back, and pay their own restaurant bills in between. Yeah, yeah, yeah, racers do too. But officials don’t get prizes, or get interviewed by VeloNews. Yo! Lemme at those support hose endorsement deals!

So why do I continue to officiate? Too many head blows, I guess. But the velodrome show on Wednesday nights beats the hell out of watching Doogie Howser. And I like hanging around racers — at least they have a reason to live. The judge’s stand at track is the greatest seat anywhere. Elbows in noses and cute buns in Lycra definitely get points. Racing is just the best!

All content Copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

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