Bill Walton: The World’s Tallest Cyclist?

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billwalton01

Have you seen a taller bike?

walton

Ripping up up the velodrome on a fixie.

Bill Walton is perhaps one of my favorite basketball players and personalities, and maybe favorite Americans ever.  It might have something to do with the repeated Bob Dylan references he slips into his color commentating, or his involvement in the Vietnam war protests, or it could be that he’s plain hilarious.

Walton, a dominant big man who won championships at every level, was also plagued by a series of near-crippling injuries.  Despite winning two championships and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Walton still feels his career to be a disappointment.  To this day, he is dealing with the after-effects of his numerous injuries, mostly to his feet, ankles and knees.  Regardless, Walton remains active as an avid cyclist, a passion he has pursued since the 70’s.  Here is an excerpt from his book Bill Walton’s Total Book of Cycling (via bobkestrut.com):

My first derailleur bike was a green Bertin, which I bought because it was the tallest bike I could find – about a 25 1/2″ frame, I think. It came from Hans Ort’s Westwood bike shop, and they fixed me up with an extra-long seatpost which let me stretch out my legs for the first time in years. It also gave me a pretty radical position on the bike, since the handlebars were about five inches below the seat. After buying the Bertin, I took to dropping in at Hans’ shop when I had free time, and it was there that I found out about more serious cycling. I went out on rides with the guys who were racing, and through this I learned to respect the sport and the people involved in it. On the bike I was no star, just one of the group.

In college I got in the habit of riding quite frequently, especially in summer. Usually 40-60 mile rides, long enough to loosen up and unwind. I would do that probably four days a week during the summer. A couple of hundred miles a week, probably. I never consciously rode for fitness, but I know now that those rides were very beneficial in a variety of ways. I’m sure they gave me stamina and leg strength without putting stress on my knees and feet, and it never felt like work. It was the kind of activity that settled me down. I’ve always had to respect what a good ride can do for my mood. Going out on a bike is my idea of an excellent way to enjoy a sunny day. Being outside, getting into the movement and joy of the bike – it’s very satisfying to me, that feeling of freedom.


I took advantage of something else about the bicycle then, too: the privacy. There were a lot of basketball fans at UCLA and it could be difficult to cope with this at times. Between playing basketball and attending classes, I needed to get away, so I rode around campus rather walking. On the bike I was a lot less vulnerable, you might say; I was moving too fast for conversation. The bike gave me time by myself to digest the experiences I was having, and this was really important to me.

I finally hammered that poor Bertin to the point where I needed something new, and was lucky enough to meet a British professional rider named Norman Hill. He runs the Vancouver velodrome now, but at the time he was associated with the Falcon team. He arranged for me to get a road and a track bike. These Falcons were a necessity, actually; my size and weight were wrong for any stock bike. The were made of stronger tubing and had less flex; and I could feel the difference, especially when hammering a big gear or climbing hills off the saddle. My first ride with the track bike was a completely new experience, and I found I was still learning a lot about bicycles. These bikes were still a little on the small side, though; manufacturers aren’t geared up for out-size frames, basically. I measure out to a 29 1/2” frame, which creates all sorts of problems for the builder.


I might still be riding those Falcons except for a coincidence that brought me in contact with the 1980 Olympic track team, which moved to San Diego for quite some period of time to be near our velodrome. Harvey Nitz, Eric Heiden Mark Gorski, Brent Emery, John Beckmann, Dave Grylls – I can’t remember all the names – they were at a hotel near my house, and I’d go out with them, riding my Falcons. I learned a lot chasing them down the road, and missed them when they left. At that time, Eddy Borysewicz, the National coach, did me an important favor, by measuring me and arranging for Ted Kirkbride, who also built the American Masi bicycles, to build me a pair of bikes that really fit. Ted sent to England for special heavy tubing normally used on tandem bicycles, then built me both a road and a track bike, and they were just fine. It way my first experience with what it’s like to be on a bicycle that really fits and has good rigidity, and I can vouch for the advantages of this.

billwalton021


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6 Responses to “Bill Walton: The World’s Tallest Cyclist?”

  1. maddaps Says:

    hell yes.

  2. PGW Says:

    gotta good Walton story for ya…i’ll share this weekend

  3. kenobi Says:

    Walton is tight, also known for repeatedly rocking that Lithuania GD t, and personal friend of the Dead.

  4. clover by the park Says:

    clover by the park…

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  5. Black Tungsten Ring Says:

    Black Tungsten Ring…

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  6. Jennywa Says:

    Jennywa…

    […]Bill Walton: The World’s Tallest Cyclist? « mad daps[…]…

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