The Berkeley Bicycle Club was founded in December of 1978 when the club officers of Velo Club Berkeley and the Berkeley Wheelmen decided that instead of competing in races, the two could join forces and be stronger as one team. Okay, there was a little more to the story, but I'll leave out the dirt. While Velo Club Berkeley had been seen as the more successful racing team, the were some very bright stars in the Berkeley Wheelmen as well.
Heidi Hopkins was the star woman of the Berkeley Wheelmen, easily trouncing local rivals, and scoring a second place at the Woman's National Road Race Championship and a fifth place at the Woman's World Road Race Championship. Trying to keep up with Heidi going up the East Bay's Wildcat Canyon Road gave the guys plenty of food for thought about women being the weaker sex. There were excellent men as well. Eric Gutt had a quiet, quirky style, but managed to rake in the placings. Hal Tozer, who was as good looking as he was fast, always seemed to be able to rise to the occasion when the going got tough. Tom Simonson was not only beautiful on the bike, he was also very consistent, and served as a great mentor to many of us younger cyclists. Junior Dan Cvar smoked in the 25 mile (now 40 kilometer) time trial, as did Dan Dole, who in 1979 set the senior men's national time trial record.
The sponsor of the Berkeley Wheelmen was the Missing Link bicycle shop; it resided in two small units in the student union building on the UC Berkeley Campus. The tiny store was efficiently run by Lee Maniscalco, whose able assistants, Debbie Mahle and Laurelyn Shepard, knew how to make the sale. The mechanics' shop was down the hall, and it too was very small. Lee had established the policy of allowing Berkeley Wheelmen members to use the shop facilities on Thursday nights, while Brian Grieger, Boo Boo (little known real name Jiminy Glick), and others spent their own time helping us learn the use of the shop tools. Boo Boo taught me the art of wheel building, while Brian showed me how to set and nail on the shoes' cleats. Some of us later employed these skills working as bicycle mechanics. In the summer of 1978, the Missing Link moved to its present location on Shattuck Avenue near University Avenue in Berkeley. Despite the sponsorship of the Berkeley Bicycle Club having been passed to Specialized Bicycle Imports, Lee allowed the generous Thursday night shop usage policy to continue, and we had our monthly meetings there as well until Lee passed the reigns a few years later.
Velo Club Berkeley had many category one and two cyclists. Some, such Mike Neel, George Mount, Mark Pringle, any many others too numerous to mention, had gone on to greatness. There also were great up and coming cyclists like woman Cindy Olivari and junior Gavin Chilcott, and the unforgetabble veteran Nik Farats (also known as the "Bike Bark." The patriarch of the club was Peter Rich, the owner of Velo Sport in Berkeley. While he had great stories about times past (one of my favorites being the one about drafting tomato trucks from Castro Valley to San Jose on a track bike just to get to the track), he had the wisdom to know that progress marches on, and that yesterday's way of doing things (such as steak and eggs for breakfast the morning of a road race) might not always be the best for today.
The two clubs as one were awesome. Former adversaries were now united for a common purpose. The numbers were great, and it was not just pack fill on the roster. On the club ride after the December 1978 Tilden Park Cyclo-Cross, a California Highway Patrol officer told me that there were about 130 riders present. On the starting line of the category 1/2 race at the 1981 Davis Criterium, I counted twelve members of the Berkeley Bicycle Club. The combined strength was also apparent in terms of race promotions as efforts continued with the Pinole Team Time Trial, the Berkeley Hills Road Race, the Berkeley Criterium, the Oakland Twilights Series, the Columbus Day Handicap, and the Tilden Park Cyclo-Cross. Some of these events are no longer with us, but the quality of the existing promotions continues to climb. As the years rolled by, the club has seen many good riders come to prominence. The names Bob Roll and Matt Sarna come to mind.
But what to do with an old Berkeley Wheelmen jersey? I had outgrown mine as I had learned some lessons about the care and treatment of of wool, but the late veteran racer Ed Bense had the most creative solution. The back of the jersey had big loop stitched letters that read, "MISSING LINK BERKELEY WHEELMEN," with one word per line. Ed laboriously unstitched a few of the letters so that it read, " I SIN IN BERKELEY." In reality, he was an honorable WW2 vet and a retired high ranking Air Force officer who did nothing of the sort, but he had a wonderful fun streak.
The club has had a variety of sponsors. Specialized Bicycle Imports, started by Tim Neenan and Mike Sinyard, was the first. Campagnolo provided good deals on a variety of parts, Shaklee provided an eclectic assortment of goodies, and a new company, Vigorelli, took care of the clothing. In 1981, Vigorelli brought lycra to the cycling world, and wow, did we look sharp! Many other sponsors followed; Peet's Coffee, REI, PowerBar, Voler and many more.
The club was a social millieu for many. There were picnics, barbeques, dinners, and other social events. My favorite was the Halloween party because it was just after the end of the season, and one really got to see some normally posessed athletes let their hair down. The 1980 party was upstairs at the Missing Link, and about half of the west coast's world class cyclists were under the influence of a variety of substances. A dressed in drag John Cavanaugh took the fishing pole from a nearly unconsciousness fisherman (identity unknown), and stumbled into Lee Trampleasure, the brother of Calvin. The two somehow became connected, so we took them downstairs to the shop where the lighting was good and discovered that the hook from the fishing line had passed through the space between the cartiledge and the flesh between Lee's nostrils. Somebody cut the fishing line, and Lee staggered away with a fishing bobber dangling from his face. Lee was retrieved, and with the help of some good cable cutters, the hook was removed from Lee's nose. A few days later, I visited Lee at his peace-nic office in UC Berkeley's Eshelman Hall, and he was doing just great. He had a small tray of items that he had managed to pass through this newly found biological oddity. The toothpick trick looked really neat...
The old guard of the club has largely been replaced by healthy, new, drug-free blood as evidenced by recent promotions in Albany and elsewhere, but still has its classic weekend morning rides. The Berkeley Bicycle Club can be reached at P.O. Box 165, Berkeley, CA 94701, and is on the web at http://www.berkeleybike.org .