A Blast from the Past

This was an e-mail sent to the team from Rick Denney in September of 1996. He gives us a good account of the team from its early days.

The A&M Cycling Team was not born in 1987, as your nice home page states, but was born in 1976. I arrived at A&M that year, and in PE-Concepts was voted Man Most Likely To Keel Over From a Heart Attack At Age 30. I happened to be wandering through the MSC Student Organization Fair, which was held all one September Saturday night to aquaint students with the diversity of the MSC programs. Turning a corner, I was confronted with an amazing sight: two guys going for all they’re worth on roller trainers. One of them was Myron Gerhard, who was the spiritual and moral leader of the A&M Cycling Team for the following several years. He also had the distinction of having the best-looking girlfriend in all of cycle-dom. Laurie Sanders also raced bikes, and teased us lesser mortals with impunity. She and Myron, last I heard (which was a very long time ago), were happily married.

The other guy was the practical leader of the team, David Champlin. David was a grad student in Architecture, and was the guy who made things work. Both were Cat 3 racers (at the time, the USCF only went to Cat 4, which is where the freds like me ended up).

Myron had a Crescent bicycle, complete with the standard orange paint and checkerboard decals. We gave him hell over that orange paint.

I was hooked. It just looked so cool. So, the next Saturday, I was out there with my JC Penney water pipe bicycle, all 40 pounds of it, to ride the combined A&M Wheelmen/Cycling Team morning ride to Steep Hollow. 25 miles of torture. But, I was still hooked.

Back in those days (and I suspect not much has changed), college students like me were poor. I paid $50 for an Atala frame, which had the advantage of being my size and being made from OK tubes, and built a passable bicycle. Mostly, it was equipped with first-generation Japanese enthusiast-quality stuff, like the excellent Sun Tour Cyclone rear derailleur. Eventually, I worked two jobs one summer and, in 1978, had a custom frame built by Bill Moore in Houston. Bill was the quentessential hippie frame builder. He lived in the Montrose, which was populated by hippies at the time (not the current, ah, alternative lifestyle proponents). But I digress.

The A&M Cycling Team blossomed in 1978 with the addition of a new generation of athletes to support the older guys. Our favorite bike shop was Andre’s, which was in an old building about the size and shape of a small mobile home just on the other side of Bottlecap Alley from the Dixie Chicken. We occasionally visited the only other decent bike shop in town, the Wheel Works. It was a Schwinn shop just across from the main entrance on Texas Avenue.

My own involvement grew as I became the general support guy for the team. My slowness kept me from contributing much in races, but I did ride 300+ miles a week, much of it with the fast shaved-leg crowd. I became a USCF Certified Official, because somebody who was not a jerk needed to do it. I didn’t enjoy that job much. Bikies in those days had such an attitude. Ultimately, I became the USCF District Representative in Texas and santioned races state-wide in 1980. We need to remember, though, that cycling was a smaller deal then. We had about 15 races a year in Texas, for about 250 licensed racers. And, of course, no mountain bikes, although we did have cyclocross. The cyclocross national championships were held in Austin in 1979, I believe, and was our first glimpse of national class riders down here.

Cycling was my salvation, then, as I went from a chubby, unfit, engineer geek to a chubby, fit, engineer geek. When I left A&M, I stopped cycling entirely, got enormously fat (270 pounds), and descended into geekdom hell. Then, in 1994, I had an Attainment of Knowledge, vis-a-vis being able to walk down the hall to the men’s room without going anaerobic, and began a program of weight training, good eating, and cycling. I’m now as fit and fast (slow) as I was in my A&M days. So, cycling has saved me twice.

Back to the team. In 1977, the A&M Cycling Team, for the first time, received support from the Extramural Sports Association, in the amount of $750 a year (for the whole team). We fielded about a dozen racers. We were also the first A&M Cycling Team to have uniform jerseys. We had them made by Emily K, and they were a blend of wool and polyester. They were white with maroon side panels, and had Texas A&M Cycling Team embroidered on the back. They went well with our wool shorts, which, of course, had real leather chamois pads, not the fake stuff they sell now. Of course, the new stuff works so much better. Clipless pedals? What were those? I still have a pair of Detto Pietro racing shoes, complete with Christophe cleats that had to be nailed onto the leather sole of the shoe. My last cycling purchase before my first retirement was a pair of very slick Marressi racing shoes that had integral cleats and a molded plastic sole. They are still comfortable.

I still have that old jersey, and I’ve been promising to show up to a Saturday ride as Retro Man, wearing that jersey and riding all my old stuff. But I don’t have a helmet from that era–we wouldn’t wear them. Only tourists (what you would call freds) wore them, right? (I only had one concussion from a crash)

My bike was made from Columbus SP tubing, with a Haden fork crown and bottom bracket and Campagnolo dropouts. It has a 40.5-inch wheelbase, and 17-inch chainstays. It looks now like it was made in the 40’s. Very stretched out. It was easily the stiffest road sprint bike on the team in 1978. It weighed 24 pounds. All the drivetrain was Campagnolo Record Strada, and it still works beautifully. Of course, we only had five cogs in the back, and those were usually straight blocks (13-17). Our small chainring was never smaller than 42 teeth, so we had to muscle up the hills. We spent a lot more time on the small chainring in those days.

I was the first guy in town to have a pair of Dura Ace wheels. They were the first generation, and they are still wonderful. But the Campy stuff is so much more elegant. I even had some Zeus stuff. If you remember Zeus (Campy’s Spanish competition), then you are an old fart like me.

Now, of course, I ride a Trek 5500 with all Campy Chorus stuff, and, of course, it works much better than the old Moore. But it’s hard to fall in love with a Trek, however competent.

The cycling team of that era was the first to enter into collegiate cycling competition. I don’t remember the details, but our contestant was John Young, and I recall that he did well. At that time, it was too new for us to be much involved, and we raced in regular USCF races. We were the only organized college cycling team in Texas. By the way, John is now a wholesale distributor of bicycle parts for the Herbert L. Flake company in Houston. Track him down, and get him to make a contribution. I haven’t talked to him in 15 years, but he will remember those days when you call him “John-Boy”. Tell him I sent you.