Owen Mulholland, an Appreciation

Owen Mulholland, an Appreciation

I’m saddened to report that cycling writer Owen Mulholland passed away yesterday at the age of 70.

I was at the inaugural San Francisco Gran Prix, walking through the crowd handing out flyers for my new magazine, Asphalt, when an older guy wearing a jersey and cycling cap that were new during the Reagan administration, said, “Oh, a new bike magazine! That’s terrific. Is there any chance you’d be looking for contributors?”

I responded that I was always looking for talented contributors. The gentleman at my feet brightened, stood up and then said, “I don’t know if you know who I am, but I’m Owen Mulholland and I—”

“Owen Mulholland? The Owen Muholland? I love your work! I’d love to have you as a contributor!”

He beamed.

Ever the gentleman, he turned around and asked me my name. “Patrick Brady? Why, you’re famous!”

He knew how to snow someone when necessary.

We then effused about how much we loved each other’s work. Later, to friends, I compared the exchange to something out of a Chip and Dale cartoon, each of us extolling how great the other was. At the time, I felt like I was the only party who wasn’t full of it.

Owen and I traded emails and promised to be in touch. And we were. We emailed each other frequently during those first few years. He continued to be a source of solace and inspiration as I went through a deep depression. I spent nearly a week with him at one point and if I’d moved in, he would never have thought to charge me rent. The guest bedroom was a holding pen for careful stacks of cycling magazines, organized according to themes he was exploring. It was a trove of old issues of VeloNews, Bicycle Guide and Winning as well as French magazines like Miroir du Cyclisme.

Our email conversations encompassed everything from the gifts of Greg LeMond and Jonathan Boyer to the nature of riding in France and how their mountain roads spoke volumes about the French psyche, to the connections he saw between the works of Beethoven and Bach and cycling. I begged him to write about those passions of his.

Owen was modest to his own detriment. He didn’t think that his musings would resonate. I swore to him he was wrong; I knew he’d have a ready audience. Each time he demurred he always used his pet project, a book about Bob Tetzlaff, as his way to escape my call for his erudite meditations.

Owen Mulholland

None of this is to say that I didn’t manage to publish some of his work. I rank those pieces as some of the better pieces I ever published by another writer.

He’ll be better remembered for his books Uphill Battle and Cycling’s Golden Age, both published by VeloPress.

Owen leaves behind a twin brother, John, his son Emile and partner Cathy.

Owen had as many facets as a kaleidoscope. Sure, he had been one of the most fierce competitors in Northern California’s bike racing scene in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s hard to find a photo of the front of the field from that period and not witness his slight form on the rivet. Also true is the fact that he was something of an old-school hippy, open-minded and consciousness expanded. We should never forget that he was the first American journalist ever credentialed to cover the Tour de France; his C.V. is an inventory of English-language cycling magazines. He was also a soft-hearted romantic with his girlfriend Cathy, doting on her as if they were high school sweethearts. And then there’s the fact that he was as well-read as a college professor.

I’d hoped that he might pen a memoir about his days as a bike racer. His was a ringside seat and the lens he employed could have properly cast the protagonists as the heroes they were. No one was better positioned to tell the story of how Northern California brought American racing up to international standards. Without guys like Owen, Tetzlaff, Peter Rich, Terence Shaw, Emile “Flip” Waldteufel, Lindsay Crawford and a great many others, when George Mount, Boyer and LeMond came along, the competition level wouldn’t have been high enough to give them the springboard necessary to compete in Europe. Owen was the guy to tell that story.

Alas, we won’t get the chance to read that book. And we’re poorer for it.

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  1. Laurie Schmidtke

    Owen and I trained together a lot in the early Seventies and he was the smoothest paceline companion you could imagine. You could ride arm-hair-rubbing close to him for hours in complete trust that you’d never tangle bars or touch wheels.

  2. Jock Boyer

    Big bummer to hear this.
    Even though I did not cross paths with him much in the last years I will miss him and know that he is still is around.

  3. Jay

    I noticed that Greg Lemond appears in the background of the picture of a younger Owen. I always enjoyed reading his stuff…

  4. Mark

    RIP Owen, I also enjoyed your work. Nice Lighthouse, too. Not only is that Greg, I think the other rider is George Mount but I could be wrong.

  5. Jan Breedon

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. Owen was my cousin and your words gave me a moment of visualizing you and he meeting and talking so accurately. He is one of my true hero’s. Sincerely Jan Breedon

  6. Peter J. Nye

    It breaks my heart to learn of Owen’s passing. He was a lyrical writer, combining passion and knowledge. When I picked up a cycling magazine and read his byline, that was the first article I read.

    1. Author

      Thanks for stopping by Peter. Like you, I had the same reaction to seeing Owen’s name in print. I’ll never forget the thrill I felt when I opened the package containing “Uphill Battle” and thinking, “Wow, a whole book of Owen.”

  7. Maremma Mark

    This is indeed sad news. When I first fell in love with bike racing I read as much as I could find and Owen’s articles were always among my favorites. To be read and read again. May he find a good pace line where ever he is……

  8. Mike Turner

    I have the incredible good fortune to have had a 35 year friendship with Owen. I met him in Marin when I was first getting into cycling. His ability on the bike was far superior to mine as was his status in the cycling world but he was kind enough to ride a fair amount with me on and off road and to share his knowledge of all things cycling (and almost everything else). I could go on forever but suffice it to say he was an awesome person who will be missed greatly.

  9. Phil

    I knew Owen, and his brother John, not just from cycling but from life: we went to the same very small grade school. They were a couple of years ahead of me but we knew each other. His father taught there as well.
    I miss him.

  10. Bernie Burton

    I will never forget the great rides I took with Coppi, Merckx, and all the other superb cyclists of years past through the magical stories Owen wrote in the 70’s and 80’s. I had the great pleasure of riding with him and a number of the San Francisco Wheelmen through the Sonoma Valley on a beautiful Sunday morning in 1973 while studying at Letterman Army Medical Center.

    Requiescat in Pace, Owen

  11. Rod Thayer

    Owen will be very missed. He was nearly always effusive in his praise of others and self-deprecating to a fault. My family has known Owen for over 45 years, from the days of Monterey Velo Club for which my dad raced. I fondly remember many trip all over Calif carting along a 15-16 year old Jock Boyer to races ( I was about 6 or 7 then). Owen always seemed to be a part of the races wherever we went, or he was a frequent visitor at my parents home. Fast forward about 40 years to about 3 years ago…I own a construction company that was doing a project in Corte Madera and I would take rides around the area and always wondered if I might run into Owen. So, I decided to try and find him and discovered he only lived about 1/4 mile from our project! Of course, Owen was literally gleeful to have me reconnect and we quickly got together for mountain bike rides with Cathy and took some spins on the road too. The reason I mention this is that this happenstance re-connection with Owen also reconnected my dad and Owen. We organized some visits and rides where I live in Loomis (we called it Tour de Loomis and my dad and John Tevis also joined us) and it was so great to get out on the bike with these guys who were so connected to the early cycling scene in Calif. I will miss not being able to ride with him anymore, but know his spirit will live on the many wonderful roads and trails across Marin. Buon Giorno Owen and have a good ride in the clouds!

  12. gmknobl

    I know so little of cycling history and you guys are showing who to look at and read. Continue to publish from these people and yourselves. I’ll read it and get that education I’m missing.

  13. John Mulholland

    That I think my brother, Owen, is the greatest writer on anything to do with bikes in the world is natural, I’m biased. After all I’m his identical twin brother. What is heartening is to see how many other people he touched by personally and through his writing. My thanks to Patrick Brady who wrote a terrific article on him. As Owen used to say, “Longevity is a poor measure of life, it’s not how long you live, it’s how you live.” By that metric his life was wildly successful. THANK YOU!

    1. Author

      Thanks for dropping by, John. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. It’s our loss as well. And yes, you’re entitled to your bias. We’re good with that.

    2. Betty Watson

      Owen was such a positive, appreciative person in the lives of us Home Instructors. He was a friend who made me feel and act better than I really am. He brought joy and life wherever he went.

  14. jacquie

    Great shot, it’s got a lot of resonances…the versatech jersey (Alan Wulzen’s fabric paint company), the fact that Gary Fisher is at the far upper right on the start line, and Greg L is right on Owen’s shoulder…whew, fine photo….

  15. Joseph G. Allen

    I just stumbled upon this story today. I rode for VC Monterey with John Tevis, and both Boyer brothers. Owen was an amazing guy. Thank you for this piece. BTW Gary Fisher is also in the photo above.

  16. Carol Oman

    I first met John and Owen in high school where they were known for their love of biking and music. Although I never raced myself I embraced moving through the air on a racing bike and used mine as my exclusive form of personal transportation until I moved to Alaska. Owen’s love of biking transferred itself effortlessly to others and I will always be grateful for that gift. Owen helped me finish a particularly challenging hike in Marin County once, staying behind to encourage me on an uphill climb. He was made of that special intuitive kindness. Every one who had the pleasure of knowing the brothers will always remember them with fondness.

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