Fritz. Could there be a more Austrian name? Fritz Liedel, the guy who taught me cyclocross back in the early 70s, was every inch an Austrian—the Austrian Road Racing Champion, in fact.
I might never have met Fritz if he hadn’t fallen in love in the early 60s with a beautiful black woman named Rosie. Austria didn’t look kindly on Fritz and Rosie’s relationship, so in 1963 they moved to the Excelsior District in San Francisco, a much more welcoming scene. Fritz didn’t waste much time in organizing the road racing team Club Endspurt, sponsored by Stones Bicycles of Alameda.
By the time I joined Stones Endspurt in 1972, it was one of the top teams in Nor Cal. Fritz was a master of racing strategy and teamwork, and he took me under his wing. He taught me a lot about racing in general and schooled me in the sport of cyclocross. In 1975 he finished 5th in the National Cyclocross Championships, I finished 9th. By 1976, I was 5th and he was 6th. Fritz taught me well.
US road racing in the 70s was full-on Campy country. Everybody raced Campagnolo—but not the cheap, stamped-steel Valentino Campy. Nobody rode that. Equipment didn’t change much from year to year, so the only way you could tell its vintage was to look at the year stamped into the back of the rear derailleur.
Another universal back then: thick Binda Extra toe straps made of fine Italian leather around a plastic core. They were incredibly strong. They’d never creep or let go, and they’d last a full season. When Binda was sold back in the 80s, clipless pedals were the up-and-coming technology, so Binda’s new owner threw out a whole dumpster’s worth of the old straps. Too bad… the fixie crowd would give their right arm for toe straps like that.
That universal equipment lasted a long time, and made for a level playing field, everybody riding the same 22-24lb steel bikes. But it also meant that technology had stagnated. Today’s racing world is a whole different ball game, with continuous improvement, and an army of engineers cranking out new advances nonstop.
Loved the old races, but I’ll take today.