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!”
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.
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.
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.