San Francisco architect Tom Hardy, like many of his peers, was a successful Northern California amateur road racer in the 1970s. He rode in the first bike race Greg LeMond ever saw, dropped out of college to go the Olympic Trials in 1976, and was selected to the U.S. National Team.
But for Hardy, a college degree pulled him into the real world. He quit racing to become an architect in 1977. But he never quit cycling.
Thirty-three years later, Hardy enjoys the company of several former competitors and teammates in the form of the annual 'Dino Ride', a gathering of 30 or so friends who've shed some hair and gained some weight, but who love to talk about the old days and share saddle time. For 2009, September 13 was the date and the Java Hut in downtown Fairfax, California was the place. I was invited to join the ride by Cyclingnews.com and Procycling contributor Bruce Hildenbrand, himself a former Northern California racer from the late 1970s.
Several participants wore wool jerseys and leather shoes; many were riding classic lugged or fillet-brazed steel bikes. To be sure, it wasn't a retro ride. This peloton rolls the way it always has, and it was the smoothest pack I've had the privilege of joining in nearly 30 years of cycling.
"I still get turned on by classic steel bikes and wool jerseys, but it’s not really a retro ride," the Richard Sachs-riding Hardy was quick to point out. "The main point is just to get old friends and riders together on a regular basis, and urge each other to keep riding.
"The ride started in 1987," he told me after the ride. "I stopped racing in 1977, and I missed my old pals, so I started calling around begging as many people as I could locate to get together for a ride leaving from the Golden Gate Bridge. I really had no idea who would turn up, and had not planned a route.
"We rode into Marin along some of the route we rode today. At the junction to turn right towards Nicasio, we stopped and argued for a bit, and Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt went straight to ride down the coast, and the rest of us went to Nicasio, then stopped at the Cheese Factory to rest. We gradually worked our way back home through rural Marin and suburban Novato. Some of the survivors met for pizza after the ride," he added.
According to Hardy, the annual rides have occurred, usually on relatively short notice, most years since that time. Bob Muzzy, George Mount and Calvin Trampleasure are the other unofficial organisers, who try to rotate the course so that the group hit the East Bay one year and the South Bay one year in order to re-visit favourite old roads and courses like Crockett-Martinez, and to gather in the most people.
BikeRadar's L'Etape du Tour diarist Lindsay Crawford was among the 2009 participants. Several riders gathered on an overcast Sunday morning in a parking lot across from Sunshine Bikes, with the famed Mt Tamalpais -- birthplace of the mountain bike -- looming large over the congregants.
How fitting, then, was it to have mountain bike pioneers Joe Breeze, Chris Lang and Otis Guy along for the ride? As Hardy was quick to point out, the trio -- like fellow mountain bike pioneers Charlie Kelly, Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher -- were roadies before they developed a new industry in the mid 1970s.
"We used to get in at least three or four races a week in NorCal in those days," he said. "Tuesday night Madison race at Helyer Park Velodrome, Thursday night Twilight Race at the Sunnyvale Dump, and road race, track race, or criterium on Saturday and Sunday. You only needed to train one or two days a week with all that racing, but racing was the major part of my social life, and we all saw a lot of each other. And often trained, traveled and ate together.
According to Crawford, a former United Airlines pilot, training was almost unnecessary with all the racing to be had in the Bay Area back then.
"Tom sure right about the number and variety of races we did in those days," Crawford said. "There were years when I rode between 60 and 80 races in a season.
"A typical week might have included the Thursday night handicap near Moffett Field, Santa Cruz Criterium Friday night (not on a weekend day as it is currently), drive to San Luis Obispo and ride the two day Tour of the Central Coast on Saturday and Sunday. As Tom said, hardly any need to do training sessions."
The tight-knit nature of the NorCal racers kept them in close contact, even in the thick of the season.
"When we’d go back to Superweek in the Midwest for a month, or go back to the Nationals, it felt like the NorCal riders stayed friends even though we were racing against each other and were on other clubs," Hardy explained. "We always felt good if a NorCal rider won a race back there and we’d often ride for each other, or at least not ride against each other.
"I think we all respected each other, and I certainly found most of the other racers pretty entertaining," he added. "Cycling was a lot less mainstream in those days. It took some courage to wear tight black shorts in public, and bike racers tended to be even stranger and more iconoclastic than they are today.
"Without the backing and sponsorships, you had to be a pretty ardent cyclist to give up a normal social life and job to live out of the back of a station wagon and scrounge rides and meals across the country."
For Hardy and the Dino Riders, the past was loads of fun, and judging by the shared laughter and story swapping, it appears the Dino Rides are a way to try to hang on to some of the better memories as well as the myths, lore and legends.
As fate would have it, Hardy broke a spoke toward the top of a steep climb outside Marshall toward the coast. A few of us assisted him before descending onto Highway 1 to an awaiting pack. Ten miles later we rolled in to Point Reyes Station, where we descended on Mike Varley's Black Mountain Cycles shop like sea gulls after low tide.
One of the highlights for Varley was seeing Guy and Breeze walk through his door, and chat about the dozens of classic mountain and road bikes hanging in the racks, including an Otis Guy mountain bike and Breezer tandem. Once Hardy's spoke was replaced and wheel trued to near perfection, the Dino peloton rolled back to Fairfax, riding Paris-Roubaix style on gravel roads through Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
"It was called the Dino Ride because I was afraid our kind was rapidly growing extinct," Hardy said. "Who knew we’d still be doing it all this time later?"
2009 Dino Ride participants
Tom Hardy, Peter Johnson, Lindsay Crawford, Chris Lang, Chuck Canepa, Rick Moale, Ian Epstein, Heidi Klingebiel, Brett Roberts, Len Luke, Owen Mulholland, Tim Nicholson, Otis Guy, Joe Breeze, Dave Frost, Steve Uhler, Chris Springer, Roger Marquis, Hank Tolhurst, Calvin Trampleasure, Ernie Tong, Nik Farac-Ban, Brian Fessenden, Bruce Hildenbrand, Alex Osborne, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Muzzy, Prosper Bijl, and Gary Boulanger (apologies if anyone's name was forgotten).