Wisconsin Cycling Lives
From Nebraska gravel to Wisconsin asphalt — the love of two wheels persists
Many of us who enjoy cycling started young. Cycling likely gave us our first taste of freedom and that wind-blowing-your-hair speed. New Bike Fed member and volunteer Doug Freeman shares reflections of his bicycling journey.
My first new bike was wonderful. It came from Montgomery Ward and was a shiny red one-speed with a bright white seat and a big basket (no 10-speeds in my world).
Since I lived on the outskirts of my home town in Nebraska, our street was still gravel — my bike was not built for deep-loose gravel. But one day, joy of joys, a nearby street was paved with concrete! My first memory of the rush of cycling speed came on that street just before it opened to traffic. I had the road all to myself! I pedaled my red bike with its trusty coaster brakes as fast as I could. Man! The rush! Until… for some reason the construction crew had left a line of twine or wire stretched directly across my path. In that instant, it seemed like blasting through it on a bike was a bad idea.
That first encounter with thrilling cycling speed was followed immediately by my first successful coaster brake panic stop! Twine and rider weren’t damaged, but a lifetime later I still remember the adrenaline rush of that cycling situation.
The first personal experience I had with a proper 10-speed bike came years later during a visit to a cousin in Texas. I was excited to take the neighbor’s snazzy bike for a spin! It was light and fast! However… it did not have the coaster brake I was used to. I was entirely unprepared for hand brakes. It turns out you can also stop a bike by hitting a curb as you take a corner too fast. Luckily, upon meeting the curb, the bike was fine since it largely landed on me, and my graceless flop onto the grass beside the curb only hurt my pride.
On another ride years later, I took a spill on loose gravel at the edge of the road during a turn (still not a fan of gravel). I ended up riding 60 miles with what X-rays later showed was a hairline fracture in my arm. The doctor suggested I stay off the bike for 12 weeks to heal. I sadly obeyed the suggestion.
Now my preferred ride is my metallic blue and white carbon-fiber road bike with more than 10 speeds. When I was shopping for a bike, my lovely wife said, “Get the bike you want.” So, I did!
The road bike became the third bike in my collection. I also have a flat-handle-bar hybrid and a trail bike. In the winter I equip my hybrid with handlebar muffs for cold weather rides (I highly recommend muffs). Like many others in Wisconsin, I cheerfully ride 12 months of the year.
I still like to ride fast and the road bike can take all the power I can dish out, but, as a senior-age rider, I acknowledge my “fast” and “power” are relative. And now the wind in my hair is channeled through my omnipresent helmet (with attached rearview mirror).
These days, solo recreational road rides are my norm. I’m happy to live just minutes away from some of Wisconsin’s great paved country roads. A favorite ride of mine is to High Cliff State Park and a pedal up the Niagara Escarpment, which is the same geological formation that arcs through Door County, the Michigan U.P., part of Canada and eventually forms Niagara Falls. The High Cliff ride makes me grateful for low bike gears. On that slope I typically keep pushing the bike’s gear lever looking for a nonexistent lower gear. I notice some serious cyclists do hill repeats. I’ve learned I’m not a glutton for punishment.
Occasional charity rides I join are fun ways to ride with others and meet people with common interests. This year I also hope to find more group ride opportunities.
My membership in Wisconsin Bike Fed helps me feel more connected to others who share my enthusiasm for cycling. I appreciate the organization’s advocacy for improvements in our cycling environment.– Bike Fed member doug freeman
This summer I’ve volunteered to serve as a trishaw pilot with the Cycling Without Age program. I’m looking forward to sharing the pleasure of cycling with others who otherwise wouldn’t be able to relish the freedom cycling offers everyone on two or three wheels. And I expect there will be smiles and wind blowing through our hair!
– By Doug Freeman, Bike Fed volunteer writer of the “Wisconsin Cycling Lives” series and retired radio broadcaster and communications professional at UnitedHealthcare, Associated Bank and Advocate Aurora Health. Doug looks forward to chatting with more riders for future profiles.
Feature image: Doug prepares for the 70-mile Ride 2 Recovery with injured veterans and supporters. The group rode together from Green Bay to Sheboygan as part of the Great Lakes Challenge.