Book review: One of the nice things about this gig is that people sometimes send you cool books about bike travel to review, in this case “Not Your Ordinary Joe” subtitle “Cycling Legends of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, A Unique Collection of Stories, USA and Canada.”
There is a small problem with “Not Your Ordinary Joe” part of that title is that Joe Calzaghe, Joe Biden, Joe Paterno, and others have books written about them with the same title. It doesn’t matter.
Ron Scarin wins Tour of Somerville on Teledyne Titan – Photo by Robert F. George
The book is on the back of the English edition of the first book of that title, written by Brian Jones, with an introduction on his cover: “NO ORDINARY JOE is a tribute to the amateur cyclists, the riders who get far fewer column inches than their professional counterparts, but who still have compelling stories to tell. Indeed, the deeds of these indomitable cyclists should be recorded and celebrated before they are lost in the mists of time. Let’s celebrate these great riders by telling the story of their lives and time spent on the best form of transportation ever invented, the bicycle.”
1980 Lindsay Crawford, stage race La Vuelta de Bisbee, Arizona
Although many of the riders interviewed in the book were unknown to me, if you call yourself an amateur, champions such as Don Awcock, Janet Birkmire, Geoff Cook and Dave Le Grice – the last three of whom I had the satisfaction of the interview – hardly “unknown”. The US version is a very different offering from the UK edition, with bigger and glossier production. While the content covers names I didn’t know, like Pat Barker, Eon D’Arnelos and Phil Guarnache, all fascinating characters if not household names, it also includes established sports legends like Curt Harnett, Barry Harvey, John Howard, the late Jocelyn Lovell , the late Audrey McElmurry, Gordon Singleton and Alex Steed, who are all legends of the sport. And at least Howard, Singleton, and Steeda all wore pro jerseys during their careers, so it’s not just amateurs. Still, that doesn’t make their stories any less worth telling, especially now that there are fewer and fewer bike publications that embrace the “retro” vibe, and these riders deserve to be remembered and have their legacy preserved ‘specific’.
1983 Pan-Am Games Nelson Wales, Venezuela – Photo by Robert F. George
1983 Jocelyn Lovell. Riding an innovative low-profile self-made monocoque, Jocelyn uses a reduced gear to get off to a fast start at the 1983 World Kilogram Championships in Leicester – Photo by John Pearce PhotoSport International
Several of my personal heroes are included in the book, not least the late, great Jocelyn Lovell from Canada, who was one of the coolest riders I’ve ever seen in action. The author describes him exactly as I remember; “Riding a track bike; wearing a beautiful Canadian national jersey of light blue with white sleeves and a red maple leaf on the back; flawless, slender and long-limbed; he looked as if he was born to play the part, and no one could dispute that point of view.’ I always wanted to interview this man, but as fate would have it, “Rest in peace sir.”
Paul Diem (right) competes against Dale Stetina, both riding Teledyne Titans
Lowell’s mentor, British-born Barry Harvey, then a multiple Canadian track and field champion, won Commonwealth silver in tandem with protégé Lowell in Edinburgh in 1970. He was also one of the first to see the benefits of titanium as a potential material for bicycle cameras; him Teledyne Titan is now a sought after collector’s item.
1982 World Sprint Championships Gordon Singleton (Canada) battles Koichi Nakano (Japan) – Photo by John Pearce PhotoSport International
1982 World Sprint Championships – CRASH – Gordon Singleton (Canada) crashes against Koichi Nakano (Japan) – Photo by John Pearce PhotoSport International
Then there’s Gordon Singleton; I was there that day in 1982 when it looked like he would end Koichi Nakano’s reign as world champion in professional sprinting. In the Keirino final, the Canadian had already beaten Nakano – hailed as the greatest Keirin rider in history and still a legend in Japan. But despite a humble bow to the crowd, Japan’s Keirin King, brought up in an arena where putting a knee under an opponent’s steering wheel at high speed was just part of the game, was a ruthless competitor, and the decked and disabled Singleton had to settle for a silver medal. I still remember the sound of Singleton hitting the Leicester boards – it was like a giant oak tree falling.
1986 Alex Steed with his five TDF leader’s jerseys and Jim Ahowicz – Photo by John Pearce PhotoSport International
Then there’s Alex Steed, like Singleton, another Canadian legend I’ve had the honor of interviewing. My friends and I were at the now legendary 1986 Tour where the Canadian got a yellow on the first stage after a very shrewd breakaway ride. The second stage was a team time trial and we were looking forward to the Canadian being part of the smooth 7-11 speedway. However, the team made a good impression on Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow with Stieda left behind by most of his teammates, fighting alongside a couple of loyal domestics. A sad sight, but no matter, the man has gone down in history.
John Howard started in the great American bicycle race – photo by Barry Harvey
John Howard is there too, the man who made it all happen. Olympian, Race Across America pioneer, Tour of Britain Milk Race rider, Ironman winner, fastest man on the planet with a human engine – 152 mph behind a 500 horsepower car, and the one few know about, the last US competitor who won the road race at the Pan American Games back in 1971. This race is very difficult to win given the unwritten rule in the Pan Am Games peloton; ‘anybody but a Yankee!’ Although Ron Skarin won twice in Canada – but Canada is not the USA…
1974 Skip Cutting. The Shimano professional cycling team competes against each other at the Encino Velodrome in Encino, California
Then there are riders who came into their prime a little earlier than I did who I’ve read a lot about but was glad to have the opportunity to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Harry “Skip” Sharp is one of them, a three-time Olympian and Pan Am Games medalist, the word gets thrown around a lot, but sharp is really “legend” of American track and field with a career that saw him race in 28 countries and compete across the spectrum of track events – sprints, pursuit, team, tandem and scratch.
Audrey McElmurry Rotterdam Race 1970
Women scream at me when I say “girls” or “ladies” these days are not forgotten in the PC world we live in, not least the late, great Audrey McElmurry, who became the first world champion in any cycling discipline since 1912 when she won the women’s road race in the politically charged atmosphere of Brno in the former Czechoslovakia in 1969. The Russians had invaded about 12 months earlier and the performances of their athletes were met with silence, while McElmurry was one of the heroes of that World Cup series. She had finished fifth the year before, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise to fans, but it was a huge result for US cycling – she would go on to finish fourth on the next two occasions at the world championships, but was very tight until then. noted.
The 1973 Tour of Ireland team. The first fully sponsored team to compete in a stage race in Europe. L-R: Manager Albert-Hitchen, John, Howard, Bill Humphreys, John-Ellis, Stan Swaim – Photo by Bill Humphreys
This is a book that no serious cycling historian should be without, and I look forward to the second volume, which, “at work”.
“Not Your Ordinary Joe” “Cycling Legends of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, A Unique Collection of Stories, USA and Canada.” Written by Brian Jones. Foreword by Christian Vande Velde with Barry Harvey, Bill Humphries and Sandra Wright Sutherland.
Publication date: April 2, 2022
Dimensions: US Letter (8.5 x 11 inches / 216 x 279 mm)
It is printed by LuLu Press
Price: $40.00, £29.99, EU35.99
Order from [email protected]