Six days a week, Bill Bauer straps on a helmet, hops onto his custom-fitted titanium bicycle and takes to the road. After decades of the same routine, this school bus driver from Bayville is close to reaching his goal: hitting the half-million-mile mark while pedaling.
The 500,000 miles are farther than a trip to the moon and back, and each mile he rides toward his goal has been recorded dutifully in dog-eared training logs that date to 1958. Unlike some longtime, long-distance exercisers, this 70-year-old bicyclist doesn't attempt to approximate his distance on a map, so he has no idea at what point he reached the virtual equivalent of bicycling to Los Angeles, London or Australia.
Riding a bicycle is not something Bauer started as a healthy habit later in life; it's ingrained in him. "It's good therapy," he says when asked why he continues to bike, almost daily, for an average of 150 miles a week. "And I like the sociability of it."
But it's deeper than that: Bicycle Bill, as he is known in certain circles, was born to ride. His grandfather Joseph T. Bauer was a competitive "wheelman" during the bicycle mania that swept America in the late 1800s. Bauer was not even 5 years old when his father, William J. Bauer Sr., took him out for a spin in Prospect Park, near the family's Park Slope home. "I had this little 16-inch bicycle with solid rubber wheels," he recalls. "It weighed more than I did. And I'd be challenging people to race."
As he got older, the competitive drive deepened. Helped no doubt by his bike-racing pedigree and a compact, 5-foot 6-inch, 125-pound physique, Bicycle Bill could ride fast and long. Over the next 40 years, even as he followed his father into the printing business, Bauer — a lifelong bachelor — filled his spare time with riding and racing. He won four 24-hour marathon bike races in Central Park; he won the Empire State Games 10 times. He narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Olympic trials in 1972; and 20 years later, at age 50, won a bronze medal in the masters' World Championships in New Jersey. In total, he has collected close to 1,000 medals and trophies. Many of them, along with several of his bikes, are on display in his Bayville home, which has become a sort of monument to his sport.
"I found this house while I was riding," he says with a laugh. It was a Sunday morning in the early 1970s, and he was pedaling from Flushing with a group of bicyclists. They veered off the Long Island Expressway service road and headed north, eventually ending up in picturesque Bayville. "I was riding down Bayville Avenue with my friends and I said, 'I gotta live here.' So here I am."
That was 40 years ago, and he has continued to ride all this time. Even after he retired from printing and took a part-time job driving a school bus, he cycled and recorded the miles on his odometer. For years, he used notebooks, but since 1980, he's been chronicling his rides in his official Bicycling magazine training log, which is published annually.
A typical entry from early October 1999 shows Bauer clocking most of his weekday mileage locally (he has a route from Bayville to Oyster Bay) and reverting to indoor training when Mother Nature intervened.
Sunday: 35 [miles]
Thursday: 10 (in the morning)/15 (in the evening).
Friday: Rain: 20 miles, rollers. [When inclement weather keeps him indoors, Bauer balances his bike on the wooden rollers and enjoys riding to nowhere, listening to the radio as he pedals.]
Saturday: 35 miles, Cedar Creek Park [in Seaford]
That's been a typical routine, week after week, year after year, decade after decade.
"It's something few people could do," says veteran bike racer and writer John Wilcockson, editor at large for peloton, an online cycling magazine (pelotonmagazine.com). "People seem proud if they have a Honda that has 200,000 miles on it. Well, this guy has 500,000 miles on him."
While it's not a world record — Britain's Chris Davies reached 906,000 career miles in 2010 at age 72 — Bauer is far from finished. "No, no," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand when asked if he will consider stopping after he reaches the big half-mill mark. "I'm actually doing more now because I'm getting close."
How close? As of Monday, Bauer has logged 494,446 miles. He estimates that at his current weekly mileage rate, he will reach his goal by next summer (another bike-friendly winter like last year's could help him get there sooner).
In the course of accumulating all those miles, Bauer has retired six bikes. His current ride is a LiteSpeed Archon he bought for a bargain $8,000 from a shop that sponsors him. It's a high-performance machine that allows him do what he really enjoys about the sport. "I still love looking down at my speedometer and seeing that I'm doing 28 miles per hour," he says. "It's a total rush."
He isn't backing away nor has he stopped giving back to the sport he loves. As he has for years, Bauer gives bike safety and maintenance clinics at local schools, and is always happy to help out a young rider.
"He took me under his wing when I was just starting out, back in the 1980s," says Jose L. Lopez of Mineola, now a top competitive triathlete and president of Long Island Tri Coaches, a coaching service for triathletes. "He was generous with his knowledge and his time .?.?. 100 percent. You could see that this was more than a hobby for him. This was his passion. This was his life."
It's a life guided by one of Bicycle Bill's favorite aphorisms. "There are no do-overs," he says. "You've just got to keep doing!"
Tips from a champion
Cycling champion John Howard, author of "Mastering Cycling" (Human Kinetics, $18.95), a training book aimed at older riders, offers these tips for readers who want the benefits of bicycling.
Take care of the basics. Get a quality pair of cycling shorts, a helmet, gloves and shoes.
Get a good bike setup. Find a fitter who understands basic physiology and who can address the issues of biomechanics, so important for older cyclists.
Make your time off the bike count. Do strength and flexibility exercises in the weight room, on the yoga mat, to stay fit. Howard's book offers a bike-riding-specific program for strength and flexibility.
Treat cycling as a reward. Ride because you want to, not because it's supposed to be good for you.
"I've been riding for over 60 years," says Howard, "I enjoy it as much now as I did my first pedal stroke."