By Jen Benepe
Josh Rechnitz was profiled by the NY Times on Sunday, but the journalist never spoke to the man.
Perhaps that’s because the Times doesn’t have any cyclists on staff, because just about everyone at the Century Road Club Association, one of the oldest bike racing clubs in the U.S., knows Rechnitz.
Besides often seeing him at races put on by the CRCA in Central Park, or waving Hi! in Nyack, NY, I traveled with Rechnitz and many other cyclists to Cuba in 2000.
That was the first time Rechnitz raced on a velodrome, at the Pan American Masters’ Championships in Cuba, an event organized by Mike Fraysse, previous president of U.S. A. Cycling, and now owner of his own training camp in Glen Spey, NY.
I published two films about the trip, one focusing on how Cubans live and think, the other on our racing event.
Rechnitz is seen in the first video (see below) in the bus that took us from the airport to the hotel, then later he crosses the camera lens in his USA cycling suit before a race.
With his slightly mussed hair and often off-kilter glasses, Rechnitz was shy and sweet, and loved his mojitos.
When he announced that he was donating $40 million dollars to help build a velodrome in New York City, I almost fell off my chair. That was because the guy never let on that he was a passionate, and deeply pocketed velodrome advocate.
I called Adrian, my brother, who also happened to be NYC Parks Commissioner at the time, to check and make sure what I heard was true.
I hadn’t spoken to Josh for a long time, not since I raced in Central Park under the Century Road Club Association umbrella.
Or maybe the last time we said hi in Nyack, NY.
But he’s still the sweet guy I always knew, and obviously with his heart and head in the right place.
It does however pain me to see the opinions of some expressed in the Times’ article, that cycling is a secondary or tertiary sport.
The reality is that those who think so have absolutely no idea how popular cycling is, and how important it is to cyclists. They also have no vision of how popular it could be once again since the time of the Six Day races that were held at Madison Square Garden.
In those races riders literally rode for 6 days straight around the velodrome, taking short naps in between. The arena has since been replaced by big moneyed basketball courts and regular games.
But what the critics don’t understand is that the lack of a velodrome within close proximity to Manhattan is a huge detractor for cyclists living in the city.
But no one has ever measured either the level of need or desire for a velodrome, nor for the level of cycling that would take place if the city’s population actually felt safe riding on the streets. Of the people I speak to who aren’t cycling, their number one reason to stay off a bicycle is fear of being hit by a motor vehicle.
Even though velodrome cycling is not always safe–falling down the steep banks and crashing are always possibilities, it is one of the greatest venue sports in the world.
What cycling lacks now is a place where crowds can come and watch as they do with baseball, football, and basketball–the big money sports.
With time, and now soon a velodrome, the popularity of cycling, and watching bike racing, will soar.