By Stan Purdum
In 2011, while living in Ohio, I cowrote a book with Murray Fishel titled Pedaling on the North Coast: Biking the Streets of Greater Cleveland. It’s a narrated guide to 18 bicycle rides in the greater Cleveland area, published by the University of Akron Press.
The collaboration with Murray was the result of a chance meeting on a group ride. We didn’t know each other beforehand, but after exchanging names, Murray recognized mine and mentioned that he’d read a book I’d written titled Pedaling to Lunch: Bike Rides and Bites in Northeast Ohio. That book narrates 20 rides in that part of the state.
Murray then asked when I was going to write a similar book about the Cleveland area.
“I don’t live very near Cleveland,” I said, “so I don’t know any rides there.”
“I do,” Murray said.
And so it began. Over a few months, I drove several times to the Cleveland area and with Murray and a couple of friends he introduced me to, and sometimes with cycling friends of mine as well, we pedaled 18 routes he had plotted. Our book, Pedaling on the North Coast (a local name for the Lake Eric shoreline) was one result. The other was ongoing friendship with Murray.
Murray’s an interesting guy. He’s a professor emeritus of political science at Kent State University but he didn’t get into bicycling until planning his retirement from college teaching to concentrate on his political consulting business. He knew that business wouldn’t occupy him full time, and several retired friends had stressed the importance of having something to do.
So Murray bought a bicycle. He was 51 at the time, but he jumped into the sport with both feet. He’ll be 80 this year and is now a widower, but in the intervening years, he’s logged more than 135,000 miles on bikes and has ridden in all 50 states and 11 countries. He’s also completed many long-distance rides, some self-contained — across the United States on Adventure Cycling’s southern tier route, down the Mississippi, along the Oregon Coast, and from San Francisco to Mexico, to name a few.
Good thing Murray kept riding, because according to his doctor, cycling saved his life.
Although all that cycling has kept a rosy glow on Murray’s cheeks and a spring in his step, other factors — specifically his genetic disposition toward high cholesterol — resulted in his having a heart attack late in his 60s. His cardiologist installed a stent in one of Murray’s arteries, but told Murray that had he not been so physically fit from cycling, the attack would have killed him. He was so fit, in fact, that only a small portion of his heart was damaged, and after treatment, he was able to return to cycling.
Though he continues riding, hills and headwinds became increasingly challenging, so much so, that recently, Murray said they were demoralizing him on rides.
“But riding is such a central part of my life now, including of my social life” Murray said, referring to the groups rides he organizes, “that I didn’t want to stop.”
That’s when he discovered electric-assist upgrades for his bikes. He purchased a self-contained e-assist front wheel for one of his full-size bikes and an e-assist add-on for his Bike Friday.
He says that both have returned to him a sense of joy in cycling
Recently, Murray and I rode together with another friend on one of Florida’s paved trails. Mounted on his Bike Friday and using the e-assist as needed at just the lowest power level, Murray had no trouble keeping up with the other two of us.
Next month, I and several other of Murray’s friends are planning to join him for a ride that will be Murray’s octogenarian debut, and what better way to make it than from the seat of a bicycle.
Let’s hope that when we turn 80, the sense of joy will still be with all of us who cycle. If it takes an e-assist to make it happen, where’s the harm in that?
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.