Peter Nye at Home: Bicycle Racing and No Summer Olympics

Peter Joffre Nye has worked as a prize-winning author, journalist, and magazine editor in Washington, DC. He is the author of several books, including The Fast Times of Albert Champion: From Record-Setting Racer to Dashing Tycoon, an Untold Story of Speed, Success, and Betrayal. His articles have been published in a variety of venues, including the Washington Post, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated

Why is your book, Hearts of Lions: The History of American Bicycle Racing, second edition important now?

In our year of the coronavirus, we’ve been forced to make many changes, the least of which are social distancing, curtailing unnecessary travel, and wearing masks when out in public. This is a good time to read more and think more about our lives, family, and friends.

It seems unthinkable that the Summer Olympics have been suspended. But so have many other big and small events important to our lives and popular culture. Bicycle racing is one of only five sports that have been contested since the modern Olympics were revived in 1896, in Athens, Greece. In case you’re asking, the other sports that have been all the modern Olympics are fencing, gymnastics, swimming, and track & field.

Bicycle racing is one of America’s oldest sports, with national championships held annually since May 1880, starting in Newport, R.I., then on the A-list of American cities, home to business barons, bankers, and heiresses.

National cycling championships were held for eleven years before basketball was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts.

National championships were held when 11 territories were awaiting statehood, and thirty years before the eleven franchises that would form National Football League went on sale for $100 each in a car dealership in Canton, Ohio.

Your book discusses bicycle racing, which is now considered a minor sport in this country. What do you hope readers will take away from it?

It helps to take the sport through American history, with all the transformations that have taken place in business, sports, historic events, and technology from the late 19th Century through the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The United States introduced the world cycling championships in August 1893, during the Chicago World’s Fair. That World’s Fair introduced zippers to replace buttons on clothing, and Nicola Tesla introduced the alternating current in electricity, now powering our appliances that we so heavily depend upon.

American cyclists had been a dominant force in the early days of cycling and led the way for France, Italy, Belgium, and other countries that now are the sport’s bastions.

It helps to read about popular cycling was in American in the 1890s and through the 1920s Jazz Age. Six-day bicycle races involving about fifteen two-rider teams competing around the clock from one minute past midnight on Monday mourning through midnight Saturday in the circus maximus of Madison Square Garden were enormously popular in the 1920s. Racers competed for big-money purses. The events were covered by the city’s fifteen daily newspapers.

But the onset of the 1930s Great Depression followed by World War II put the  kabash on cycling as a big-money sport on this side of the Atlantic.

After World War II ended in 1945, television moved into households. By the 1950s television beamed Major League Baseball games, college and professional football games, then basketball games into homes.

Meanwhile, American cycling drew hardy men and women who competed for the love of the sport. Women cyclists from 1969 into the 1980s led the men in winning world championships.

One lesson from studying American cycling over the arc of 140 years is impermanence. Sports need to always market themselves and attract a new generation—or risk fading.

What has changed (or not changed) about your writing life at home?

With the threat of the coronavirus lurking, my wife, Valerie, and I spend more time together. We go out for walks in the morning but otherwise stay at home. We cook all our meals. Valerie has been painting more wonderful watercolors than ever. My writing life is steadier with fewer distractions, like travel.

Do you have any pets? Are they enjoying your company?

Thanks for asking about pets. Here’s a photo of Mercy. She’s 55 pounds of love. Sometimes when she sprawls on the floor to nap, her legs straight like she was flung off a centriguge, she looks so calm, like a tone poem.

What is one non-writing-related activity that helps you stay creative at your keyboard?

I enjoy walks with my wife on the shoreline of Puget Sound where I life or inland on trails under enormously tall pine trees. I also like to workout with weights and run. These activities allow me to clear my mind, relax, and think about things. When I worked as a journalist and magazine editor in Washington DC, I found that exercising on a daily basis helped me to cope with pressure. When you’re exercising—either indoors in a gym or outdoors—you create some white space on the page of your mind.

Also I rely on music. Like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the piano or Miles Davis’s trumpet. Or Hugh Laurie’s great jazz piano, from his album, “Let Them Talk.” His rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Way Down Upon the Swanee River” rocks. Music helps get me in the mood to write and keep going.

What are you working on now?

I have the honor of developing my book into a documentary with a husband-wife couple at Stourwater Pictures, We’re thinking of a three-part documentary. We’re working on Part I, “Catalyst for Change,” about the bicycle’s influence.

And I’m helping Bill Driscoll, a Navy jet-fighter ace and former TOPGUN instructor, write a proposal for his memoir. I had helped him a decade ago to write a biz book, Peak Business Performance Under Pressure (Skyhorse Publishing), about how to deal with tension, anxiety, and stress so you can still perform under extreme circumstances. So we’re working on his memoir.

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