Many, many years go we went to Hawaii on vacation. My oldest daughter was at that age where we had to go into every surf shop (this was before there was an Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister—we are talking REAL surf shops.) Everywhere we went were these bumper stickers that said, “Eddie would go.” Whenever I saw one, I thought of Eddy Merckx, the greatest bicycle racer of all time.
I first met Eddy when I was 16. He and his teammate Patrick Sercu stayed at our house while visiting the velodrome (a bicycle-racing track) that my father had built in 1973. I didn’t really know who he was, but I know I was 16 because my Dad asked me to be his chauffer during his visit, which I did with pleasure. He would sit in the backseat and yell “Faster! Faster!” while laughing like a naughty boy. He was fun to be around, as were most bicycle racers.
Bicycle racing is one of those sports that don’t get a lot of attention—especially here in the States (Eddy Merckx is Belgian). So the people who are drawn to it tend to be a little bit passionate about the sport. You don’t do it for the money or the dreams of glory like those other highly televised and highly compensated sports. You do it because you love to ride and race a bike, and you love to win.
Eddy won a lot. He won the Tour de France five times before doping was even a word. He held the hour track record for…22 years! The other week, after 33 years, I had the honor of meeting him again. He came to help us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Bicycling magazine. I’m not sure he remembered me—after all, he’s a sports superstar around the world. And I have to say, while I’ve had my pictures taken with a lot of Very Important People, I was more excited than I’ve ever been. Why? Because he truly is the greatest at something that is extremely hard, incredibly beautiful, and rewarding mainly for the honor rather than for the money. Love over gold.
I don’t know much about Eddie the surfer other than that he was a big wave surfer and died doing what he loved. The phrase “Eddie would go” derived from when surfers saw a wave that was so big it seemed impossible to surf, but…Eddie would go. And that’s how I think about Eddy Merckx. He wasn’t afraid of anything. And that is something to admire—and it gets harder and harder to find in the sports world these days.
If you are interested in learning more about track cycling, the velodrome in Trexlertown is still thriving (it’s now known as the Valley Preferred Cycling Track). What’s even more awesome is that it now has an organic concession stand, so you can get organic hotdogs and cheeseburgers and fries while watching the races. It’s a great place to spend a Friday night with your family (although the season just ended—you’ll have to start coming out to watch next year).
I did the donut derby on Labor Day, from the velodrome. I’ve only been there acouple times but it’s always exciting. I also read the history board and learned of some of the greats, like Eddy. I enjoyed this article and hope to spend more time at the velodrome (and concession stand) next season.
So, did Eddy remember you?
Eddie Aikau was not just some surfer dude in search of a large wave. He was a lifeguard who would always go to help some hapless swimmer when the waves were so big (30 to 50 feet) no one else would dare a rescue. Eddie died as a member of a Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hokulea (Hawaii to Tahiti), the canoe swamped and started to sink in the middle of a storm at night. Eddie took his board and went for help but did not make it to shore. Much more dedicated than some mere bicycle rider!
Thanks for the story about Eddie! In life there is nothing and no one who is “mere.” Everyone has a story worth telling and sharing.
Did he remember me? Hard to tell. Perhaps.
I was one of those riders with the Fever at Trexlertown that year. I was a B-level trackie and these guys were my gods. I remember meeting them first at the NY Athletic Club (this was a Simes gig) Eddy had remarkably big hands, and Patrick Sercu in black leather had a malevolent demeanor that didn’t invite approach). I was responsible for squiring a lesser known René Pijnen who’d come over for the race. I remember being remarkably unimpressed with René’s equipment – heavily used 36-spoke track wheels with cracks at the rim eyelets. It was equipment I wouldn’t train on, let alone race. It should have been my first clue that the engine’s the important part. I came around a corner before the race and found him banging a nail into the cleat of his shoes with a rock. It couldn’t have been cruder.
Before the race, there was a “Ride with Eddy Merckx” and it seemed that most of Lehigh valley turned out. It was a huge crowd that eventually drove Eddy, George Mount (another personal idol and friend) and me tagging behind George to the front. The event was being filmed from the open bed of a station wagon and there I was, in heaven 3 abreast with Eddy on my left and George on my right bouncing our front wheels off the bumper of the car in front of us. I was way out of my league, but loving it.
I’d raced on the track in Trexlertown. Getting a little money to participate in the races fanned my Fever. Riding behind Danny Clark and Patrick Gellinue increased it. But I never sow racing like what I saw that night. Geroge mount riding flat out and Sercu going around him like he was stopped. Those Beglians could ride so damn fast!
At the same time I was trying to be a racer, I was freelancing for Bicycling. What a wonderful period of my life it was! Bike Fever. I’ve never completely recovered. Don’t want to.