Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wistfully Upbeat

Cannes, towards the end of October 2011

One of the contradictions in my personnality (and I don't think I am unique in that) is the tendency to be simultaneously nostalgic and forward-oriented. Over the last weeks, I had reasons to start worrying about a healthy balance between both attitudes. The obvious public explanation is a lack of health and a lack of physical activity (both go together for me). Can you believe that I still haven't touched my bicycle since the finish of PBP? That's pretty serious, after all.

While working on recovering enough health to break the vicious cycle of not getting enough exercise, I want to get closer again to the bicycling story in my life. This will provide a better balance between nostalgia and optimistic forward-looking.

I wish I could illustrate all the important events with photos or other credible documents; but mostly, you need to take my word for it. However, over the summer, Fabienne did come across some old photos which I should include in my blog:

Here is the first photo of me on a bicycle (note the Lederhosen!). My great-grandmother (the same as mentioned here) understood that I desperately needed a bicycle in my life, and she miraculously arranged for transferring that very old and very simple woman's 26"-wheeler to me. I didn't even know this photo existed until this summer; the fact that it does exist indicates that riding the bicycle was extremely important for me. 

I must have had nine years at that time. My first real contact with a bicycle, however, happened nearly five years earlier, and I do recollect precisely what happened. At that time, in the early years after World War II, barely anybody in our village had a car; people travelled by bicycle. And so, one day, a visitor came to do grown-up conversations with my parents inside, while I stared in fascination at his bicycle leaning against the outside of the house. After a while, I couldn't resist any longer: I had to try it out! I had seen other children ride a bicycle, contorted under the high horizontal tube of a men's frame; I would do just the same. 

Not only did I topple over, of course, and soon enough (because the house was high up on a hill and I didn't even think about how to operate a brake) - in falling over, my leg got caught and pinched between the front wheel and the frame and I was unable to get up by myself. This made a big impression on me and I screamed accordingly. The subsequent additional punishment made another big impression on me. But it did nothing to discourage me from pursuing the dream of riding a bicycle.

I rode my great-grandmother's bike a lot and became a self-taught bicycle mechanic with it. Over time, it got tuned up quite thoroughly. I believe all of my eight younger siblings learned to ride a bicycle on it.  But it was not street-legal; and by the age of twelve, my bike riding had become so convincing, both in quantity and skill, that my uncle handed his heavy but very solid 3-speed bicycle over to me. Now I could go on the roads and start bicycle touring with friends! It sounds absolutely incredibly nowadays; but barely two years later, the parent generation of those times thought nothing about letting me and three of my friends pack our bikes and leave for a trip of four days, sleep in youth hostels, averaging 80 miles per day, on Bavarian roads that touched some of the very same places I would not see again until last June on this occasion!

In the meantime, I had read articles about bicycle races in the newspaper and followed the annual Tour de France with my friends - Gastone Nencini (the winner of the 1960 Tour de France) and Hennes Junkermann were our heroes. It became clear that I needed a bicycle with drop-handlebars. Not that it came easily - quite the opposite. But it came: a yellow 10-speed "Bauer" bike with rack and fenders. I loaded it with panniers and took off for long distances and high passes (more about that later; there is a story to tell that deserves its own title); and at the end of 1961, I started racing on it (each time removing the rack and fenders, and putting them back on for the daily commute to school)

I am not in the above picture from the traditional annual Pfingstbahnrennen at the velodrome in Niederpöring, Lower Bavaria; but I am the photographer. I rode my yellow 10-speed there as a spectator; but the village volunteers let me in for free, thinking I was one of the racers. Later, I went there with my home club RSV 1895 Passau for some little club races with our geared street bikes (we couldn't afford track bikes). Besides, the velodrome had a dirt/gravel surface at that time, which made for interesting traction problems.

Here is a picture of me - I am the one on the right side, in danger of getting dropped from the field (which you need to imagine to the left of the picture). This and the following picture were taken at the annual "1st of May" criterium in Gerzen, probably in 1964.  In the end, I managed to hang on and to finish in the field, but without points - I had no chance in sprints. That's why, one year later, I attempted to break away nearly two laps before the next sprint for points - I had used this tactic before already, but never succeeded. This time however, only three racers passed me, and I saved a little point for showing up in the results and bringing home a sausage as a prize!

Lurking behind, shifting up at the top of the hill!


OK; I feel better already. 

Looking forward.



  1. Wow, neat piece! Sure enjoyed reading this, as well as viewing the pics.

  2. Hi Joseph,
    I loved seeing the pictures of you as a strong, young racer. Hope you are feeling 100% soon.

  3. Hi Joseph:
    Cool pics, are you back in the states?


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