When I was first thinking about getting a road bike for cross-training (I was a runner at the time), I was quizzing my neighbor Bill McLain about what to get. Bill looked me over and asked, “How tall are you?” When I told him – six feet – he said, “I think I have a bike in my garage that might work for you.” I got the old frame repainted (Bill insisted – he knew a bike should look nice) and Bill built it up for me out of old hand-me-down parts – my first serious bicycle.
It would be wrong to say Bill changed my life. We change our own lives. But Bill helped.
My first bicycle race was his Moriarty Record Challenge – one of the great bicycle events around. Bill organized the Tuesday Night Crits, where I got my first taste of the hurly burly of racing in a crowd. One night when I pulled up to the crit starting line a little early, Bill walked over to me and said, “Word of advice.” And he tapped his hands on the drops, the curved lower part of the bike’s handlebars. “You really want to be down here,” he said. A little thing, a bit of soft help. And as I dropped off the back of the pack, racing home alone (nothing more pathetic than racing a crit by yourself) Bill said to me as I rolled past “Having fun, John?” And I was, a great deal.
In March, I was out helping out at the Route 6 road race, our season’s kickoff. Bill was there, running the show, as always, the empresario of New Mexico bike racing. He was very sick, and I guess it was the meds that made him cold, terribly cold. I gave him both my coats. How can you not give a dying man your coat?
Bill died this afternoon. I have no special claim here. His teammates, his family, his friends all have lost much more than I. But that’s the point, really. I’m several ripples distant on the pond, and he changed my life too.