Recalling glory days of biking

May 10, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Evening Sun Staff

When the Tour Du Pont rolls into Columbia tomorrow afternoon, 88-year-old Frederick Krauk will be standing along the sideline rooting for Greg LeMond.

At the finish line, 52-year-old Ron Fuller will be waiting with other dignitaries to hand out awards to the winners.

Together, Krauk and Fuller represent 75 years of evolution in the sport of bicycle racing in Maryland.

Krauk, who delights in saying he still has great legs from his biking days, was the Baltimore City School Boy bicycling champion from 1916 through 1918. Fuller, who grew up in Ruxton, was a 1968 Olympian and finished eighth out of 32 in the 1,000-meter bicycle race.

Both have memories of glory days and know the differences between then and now.

Big money from corporate sponsorships, visible on the Tour Du Pont riders' uniforms and displayed on banners all along the route, is only part of it. The bikes have gone from the single-speed brakeless wonders Krauk remembers to the high-tech, multi-geared, carbon composition of today.

And the price of equipment? Krauk recalls paying a "pricey" $60 for his bike in 1916. Fuller paid about $200 for his in the early 1960s. The competitors in the Tour Du Pont will be riding through Port Deposit and across the Maryland countryside tomorrow on bikes costing about $3,000.

Krauk remembers the Baltimore of 1916 as a bustling city in which he rode his bicycle to work every day at the Southern Label and Box Corporation, at 121 Light St.

He was 14 years old, at a time when bicycles were a familiar mode of transportation and bike racing was one of the country's most popular sports.

In Baltimore, bicycle racing was an amateur club sport.

"I started work at Southern as a delivery boy," recalled Krauk, who eventually bought the business in 1942 and ran it successfully until 1969, when he sold it and retired. "I worked five days a week and a half-day on Saturday for a total of $4. After a year, I got a 50-cent raise."

When not working, Krauk was riding his black Emblem bicycle in one- and five-mile races around a cinder track at Patterson Park. He raced for the Crescent Bicycle Club and paid 15 cents a

week in club dues.

"I called my bike My Black Beauty," Krauk said, recalling the competition from numerous bike clubs throughout the city. "We'd win prizes from Little Joe's Bike Shop at Baltimore and Howard streets and French's Indian Motorcycles and Bikes at 304 West Baltimore."

The prizes were nothing like the $300,000 in awards for the Tour Du Pont, an 11-day, 1,100-mile race. In 1916, the prizes were bike tires, horns and carbon lights.

"I got a chain and a set of wrenches and a new seat once and that was just great," said Krauk.

Times had changed dramatically by the time Fuller came on the scene. The popularity of the sport had faded nationally and locally, lost in the 1930s depression and further pushed aside by World War II and the emergence of other pro sports.

But Fuller grew up in a German family that loved the sport. Every weekend, when they couldn't find a local bike race at Lake Clifton or Lake Montebello, the Fullers would pile their bikes on the car and head for New Jersey.

"They still hold the oldest classic in the U.S. in Summerville," said Fuller. "I competed in it for 25 straight years. When I was a kid, my dad used to say he owned the New Jersey Turnpike, because he paid so many tolls to take us racing."

It paid off for Fuller. In addition to making the Olympics, he holds three world records: a 24-hour record set in 1975, in which he covered 463 miles; a 12-hour, six-man effort in 1976 in which he and five teammates covered 479 miles; and he and a partner set the standard for a bicycle built for two, covering 105 miles in 3:45 in 1971.

Today, Fuller, a 26-year resident of Columbia, operates Fuller Cyclery for home-service bike repair.

"What these guys do in the Tour Du Pont is very tough," said Fuller. "Just doing one long stage of 120 or 130 miles is tough, but day after day for 11 days builds an all-around fatigue. By the time these guys get back to Wilmington on the 19th, they're going to be pretty beat."

* TOUR NOTES: The field will leave Newark, Del., tomorrow morning, cross into Maryland and is expected to arrive in Port Deposit between 10:45 and 11:30. The first rider to cross the "sprint line" there will receive a $500 bonus from the community.

The town is planning a weekend celebration that will include a carnival, a National Veterans wheelchair race, the Water Witch Fire Department festival, a bicycle rodeo, karate demonstrations and pony rides. Activities begin 10 a.m. tomorrow and noon Sunday.

When the Tour Du Pont comes into Columbia tomorrow, the riders will find from 15,000 to 20,000 spectators along the city's streets, according to officials. More than 100 volunteers will be working, and parking is free at Merriweather Post.

The city also is staging a festival in the American City Building Parking lot, next to Wincopin Circle. On site will be food tents, live music and a special U.S. Postal Service operation, providing a commemorative postmark free of charge.

Two hours before the 2:30 p.m. finish, the race can be watched live on a big screen television near the finish line.

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