The Bill Humphreys Interview: 50 Years in American Cycling

Q: You're a true 'OG' of American bicycle racing. How and when did you get your start in the sport?

A: I began riding a bike for transportation while living in San Diego in 1971. I had received too many speeding tickets with my red Austin Healey and the Judge suspended my license for a month and threatened to take it away for a year if he ever saw me in court again. I was riding 10 miles to work as a laborer every day and began riding the longer way home, 15 miles, because I really enjoyed it. Then one day I spotted these racer type guys with black shorts, jerseys and white socks whizzing by me. They were members of the San Diego Bicycle Club and really did not want to hang out or ride with this overweight, bearded, longhaired hippie, but they did suggest I ride in the local AYH time trial held on Shelter Island once a month. I was 26 years old at the time and ended up beating a few of them with their fancy bikes and got hooked on trying to race.

In the spring of 1972 everyone in California was flying in preparation for the Olympic Trials. I remember riding an OD race in Palos Verdes that April. I was lapped by John Howard and Bill Quazzo who were in a two-man breakaway and then the field lapped me. Ted Ernst had no choice but to pull me out of the race. I was depressed and really did not want to race any longer. 

One year later I had ridden my bike across the USA, became teammates with the likes of John Howard, John Allis and Dave Chauner and had competed in the 8-day Tour of Ireland and the World Championship road race.


Q: What was it like racing back then, and are there events or races or memories that you still choose to revisit in your mind?

A: At this point in my life, aged 76, every time I throw a leg over a bike my mind slips back to some memory of my racing or coaching days. There are parts of my rides that I cannot recall where I am because I have drifted back to some stage in the Tour of Ireland or winning a stage in South Africa or coaching those young juniors who would go on to phenomenal careers for so many years.

The bike literally saved my life and gave me focus and direction at age 28. I made sure and was lucky to end up in the right place at the right time from the spring of 1973 when Dave Chauner talked me out of my next day flight to Belgium and I moved instead to Princeton, New Jersey to learn the right way to train and race a bike.

Little did Dave or I know when he met me in Central Park to give me a ride to Princeton that I would be riding the World Championships in August or that I would be his domestique on the US team riding the Tour of Newfoundland one year later.

I came from out of nowhere. From working two part time jobs, living in a rooming house and training every day to work my way onto the CRC of A “A” Team for a 6-day stage race in Quebec with guys who were 3-time Olympians and National Champions. Flashing back to how hard it was to learn and compete in stage races with no experience and little coaching was stressful.  I surrounded myself with guys who were so much better than myself, but they were tight with passing down too much of their hard-earned knowledge to me. I had to learn from just being around them in racing and tough training situations with lots of pressure to perform.

One of my best memories occurred when I was selected as a domestique for the US Team in the Tour of Newfoundland in June of 1974. It was Oliver “Butch” Martin’s first team as National Coach and my job was to protect, John Howard, Wayne Stetina, and Dave Chauner for this 6-day 575-mile race with 2 stages most days. All the regional Canadian teams were riding against us, but John, Wayne and Dave were holding down the first 3 spots on GC for several days, when Dave Chauner noticed a crack in his Cinelli stem just before the start of stage 4 and very quietly had to get the spare bike down from the roof rack with little notice. It was not a good fit for Dave with a much shorter stem and shorter toe clips. Not how you want to start a stage while in 3rd spot. Butch came over to me and said not to let Dave out of my sight, which was my job. 

About halfway through the stage Dave punctured and the whole field accelerated into single file. I drifted to the back and lost contact in the team cars. Every driver and coach looked out their window at me, making remarks like “have a good rest of your day” and "good luck getting back on."  Little did they know that Dave was the guy who gave me a break, invited me to Princeton and was my mentor and training partner. This was my chance to pay him back and I was not about to let him or the team down.  

Dave came stomping up to me with those short toe clips and he was flying. He took one monster pull to get us both up to speed and then the rest was up to me. We came back up through the cars and it was not like they were letting us motor pace behind them. I remember getting eye contact with the field, still in single file as we approached the back end they were really stretched out. I knew that just because we were making contact that my job was not done. I couldn't just drop Dave off at the back and let him work his way up to the front alone, so I dug deep and brought him all the way up to the top 10 riders and he jumped right into a gap and I pretty much exploded for the day. I paid for that the next day but bounced back on the final day in which I managed to get the whole team up the road.  


Q: You became a key part of the support crew for Campagnolo and the USA National Team at times. It was a truly classic era in the sport, and the images from that period easily reflect this. What do you ride today, and do you still have a fondness for bicycles and components from that period?

You know, I was never a bike collector. I sold every bike I owned at the end of the season or whenever I was offered a new one, which was not that often. About 15 years ago someone tried to sell me back my old Cinelli which I had ridden in the Tour of Ireland and the World Championships in 1973. They had restored it perfectly and traced it back to me. They wanted $8,000.00 for it, which made sense but I don't think I have ever paid more than $4,000.00 for a bike. Sure, I wish I had kept my orange Colnago and my Raleigh Team bike, just like I wish I had kept that Austin Healey and Chevy II Nova back in the day.

Believe it or not, I ride 3 different Raleigh bikes now. I have a 10-year-old carbon fiber road bike with Dura Ace mechanical and a replica steel frame with old Dura ace that I ride in the Winter with fenders. Raleigh gave me these two bikes for the exposure they received in my Book The Jersey Project. Then on my 75th birthday they gave me a Gravel bike for my efforts in putting together the Tour of Ireland Reunion held in Ireland 2019.


Q: Your choice of materials. Carbon or steel? Wool or synthetics? 

I prefer steel over carbon and titanium over them both. I was fortunate to be a sales rep for Litespeed and got spoiled riding their top end road and mountain bikes. 

As far as clothing, I have 3 pair of Ibex Wool Knickers that I wear from October until April each year. I have several wool UnD Shurt baselayers made by DeFeet which are next to my skin 10 hours a day from mid October until mid April, but I do not wear wool jerseys that often. I layer quite a bit in winter and go with the modern Winter clothing on top.


Q: Your book, The Jersey Project, is a historical and preeminent body of work in cycling. What inspired the project? It's not an easy book to find, and it looks like it's becoming a collector’s piece. 

The original book Koerstrui is Dutch and was introduced to me in Holland by my good friend and legendary professional rider Rini Wagtmans. The collection and photos were those of his friend since childhood Henk Theuns and I knew instinctively that I was compelled to add the American jersey story to this wonderful book.

With the blessings of Henk Theuns and author John Van Ierland I began the process of connecting the USA cycling jerseys from my era to the European scene represented in Koerstrui. My good friend, former business partner, and mentor, Jerry Dunn was instrumental in helping me financially and in establishing the boundaries and guidelines to get this done in a timely fashion, mainly because Jerry had cancer and his life expectancy was one year at best.

It was a work of love that had many difficult moments including the rights negotiations with the original publisher, who was not a cycling person, and had little vision for the book’s potential on a global scale. I managed to get it done and put Jerry’s name on the cover before he passed away. He did not expect this and was very humble in his appreciation, but there was never a doubt for me that he deserved this. I had a great run and fun times with marketing, selling and disturbing The Jersey Project, in Europe, USA, Great Britain, and Australia and decided to put it to bed before sales trailed off and I got stuck with a large inventory.


Q: You travelled and raced in Mexico, South Africa, Newfoundland and Ireland. In 1976 you started coaching a grass roots program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the state where DeFeet calls home. You then became the Junior National Team road coach. That is a lot of experience, and you remain in contact with some of the most decorated and influential riders in US cycling of the last 50 years. 

A: What's astounding is that it all took place in the 1970’s. I continued to be in the right place at the right time for that particular era and I took full advantage of every opportunity that came my way.

I am proud of the grass roots work I did with the Hearts/Clean Machine team based out of Chapel Hill, which led to Butch Martin tagging me to take a National Team to Vuelta Cost Rica in the Winter of 77 and 78. Next up was being asked by Ernie Seubert to be the Junior National Team coach with Eddie B.  

Yes, I have maintained contact and relationships with many of those Carolinians and Juniors at OTC over the years, which has been gratifying. The sport really took off in the 1980’s with big money criteriums like the Mayor’s Cup, the Red Zinger turning into the Coors Classic and the Seven Eleven Team riding and winning stages in the Tour de France, and Greg LeMond becoming Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1989 with his comeback, Tour de France and World Championship. 

Those kids and the younger waves that overlapped my career went on to make some serious money racing a bike in this country, plus make travel teams for great races in Europe and South America.


Q: Do you have any thoughts or wisdom you would impart to young riders today who are curious or considering adventures in bicycle racing today?

A: Opportunities abound for some youngsters, boy or girl who want to get into competitive cycling these days. There is much more of a social and fun factor involved in cycling today. Mountain biking and the gravel sector present a much less intense, more laid-back scene than pure road racing for example. 

I am considered “Old School” and I am proud of many aspects of that moniker, but I have had meetings with the new CEO of USA Cycling and the coaching staff that have convinced me they know what they are about and what it will take to grow the sport.

The way has been paved for the future for club, individual and USA Team riders to compete in Europe and Latin America on a regular basis. There are systems being put in place to keep that pipeline to the global experience open. There are also established programs like in Connecticut that can be searched out via the club system in our country that have introductory programs in place to help launch riders toward any level they want to attain.

Women’s cycling has been in a growth mode for many years now with a top level amateur and professional circuit here and in Europe. The juniors I coached in 1978 had diverse backgrounds and limited experience. They went on to race and live in Europe, make good money, speak several languages and then moved on to other careers. 

Our country and governing body have had some ups and downs since that time, but incredible progress and doors have continued to be opened for the next generations. I would encourage any parent of child interested to check out and then go visit a local bike shop and find the local or regional cycling club for starters.

I always sat down with the parents of any young charges that were wanting me to coach them. They needed to get a feel of just where this sport could take their youngster with regards to the expense of equipment and getting to races. Then of course be ready for the isolation from their classmates socially because of the training and traveling.