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How Bicycle Road Racing Has Changed Since the Early ’70s

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles |

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

Author John Neugent

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, Volume 2, 1976 - 2018 is available as an audiobook here.

When I first got to be a partner in a bike shop in ’73 both my partner and I got into racing. That was long before Mountain Biking or even BMX (on the east coast at least). We sponsored a team which meant that we would have a once or twice a year tire purchase where all of the racers could buy tubulars at the shop’s cost. There happened to be some pretty good local riders and we did what we could to help them out.

At one point, we wanted to produce a local road race and we went up to the house of head of the USCF (I believe that’s it was called at that time) in Connecticut. Nothing was really formal and if it was, we didn’t know it. We contacted the local police and they didn’t seem to have any idea of what we were talking about and it was only on the day of the race that they got concerned. But the race went ahead anyway.

We knew most of the riders and spectators at the state championships. Even at that time, Cyclocross was pretty popular in our neck of the woods, but races were real community events amongst the racing community. The only big local race was the Hartford Criterium where the big national riders showed up, and then there was the Fitchburg race a little later on. Both were very much crash fests. The Stetina brothers and John Howard were the guys to beat. It was only much later when I got to know Wayne Stetina fairly well because he was at Shimano and I worked for a distributor.

Ray Schultz

Racing in the 1970s: the late Ray Schultz leading Peter Poland in a Southern California criterium.

But the point is there were virtually no coaches, formal training, and infrastructure. I remember dreaming of the day when cycling would become mainstream (in my mind, it was inevitable). But a funny thing happened along the way. And the same thing would happen with BMX and Mountain Biking. It went from a low budget sport to a big business.

I am not nostalgic and I have also grown up to understand much more about how things work but I do miss those days. Part of that I am sure is the innocence of youth that we all have in our early 20s but part of it is real.

If you get out of the professional ranks, it’s very much the same as it used to be. No one makes any money and there is very little recognition of the excellent athletes at amateur events. They do it for the love of the sport. For me that is the purest form of sport and the most interesting. Of course I love seeing all of the top professional guys and girls but they are the sporting equivalent of Nobel Prize winners, a lucky few whose genes gave them superhuman abilities.

Like it or not, most group rides are unofficial races and that brings up back to the very nature of sport itself – competition. On good days it’s great, on bad days not so much. But in between the rides it’s the community that holds things together. We’re missing some of that with online shopping, but people have a way of making it work and I don’t think that will ever change.

John Neugent was one of the first to establish the making of quality hand-built wheels in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.