How did you get in to cycling?
I was always active in other sports such as cricket, swimming, track and field and I did not learn to ride a bike until I was 15 years old. As a poor kid growing up in the island of Jamaica, I was always fascinated with cycling. I could never afford a bike of my own. At the age of 18, I was able to buy a used bike from a friend. This was a steel frame with a fix gear (one speed). Bikes had no brakes, 26” clincher rims and weighed about 35 lbs. During that time, bicycle racing was a very popular sport in Jamaica with track racing every Friday night. I would often watch these races and dream of becoming a bike racer.
One Sunday morning I decided to join the group on a training ride. Everyone was riding their track bikes, as no one even had road bikes in those days. When I saw the group approaching, I rode off ahead of them as fast as I could and was caught and passed in no time. All I could see was the last rider disappearing down the road, I could not believe how fast they were traveling. This made me all the more determined to become a racer. Someone introduced me to a cycling coach who had a bike shop and was also a frame builder. He ran a cycling racing club which I joined. He took my old frame and built a new one for me. I started to train with the club riders in 1964. At that time I had a full time job as an apprentice in an electrical shop, so I could only train early mornings or late afternoons. I would wake up at 4 or 5 AM and ride until 7 and be at work by 8.
All of this training was on our track bikes, big gearing of 48 x 15, 14. No one had 10 speed bikes back then. In 1966 Jamaica hosted the British Empire Commonwealth Games and I was chosen to represent Jamaica in the 10 mile track race and the 120 mile road race. In the 10 mile race I finished in 7th place. The next day at 7 AM, I started the 120 mile road race, riding a 10 speed bike which was loaned to me and was two sizes too large.
As I was still tired from the previous night racing I got dropped on the first hill (climb). Trying to catch back up on the down hill I ran off the road, up an embankment and fell back into the road, breaking my left wrist.
When did you move to the US?
In 1967 I moved to the USA on a permanent visa as a skill worker (electrician). When I got here my first priority was to find a job. I lived in the northeast Bronx near MT Vernon and I would work in upper Manhattan. I worked in a small electrical shop on Amsterdam Avenue, where I would rewind electric motors and fix electrical appliances. My salary was $90.00 per week. I had to use the subway to reach work and I would leave my home at 6 am and be at work at 9 am, worked until 5:30 pm. After a few months, I enrolled in a night high school in the south Bronx, Morris high school. I had only an elementary education and my cousin encouraged me to get my high school diploma. I went there for four years until I graduated.
I did not ride or race again until 1968 since I did not have a bike. Two of my cycling friends from Jamaica were living nearby and they were riding and racing at the Kissena velodrome with a club from Brooklyn. One of my friends was coached by Vincent Cantatore who was an Acme wheelman veteran racer. He introduced me to Vincent and from then on we ride every weekend. Vince would lend me one of his many road or track bikes. We would ride on the road mostly in City Island, Central park or at the Kissena veledrome. After awhile I got my track bike from Jamaica. Then I would ride on weekends in Central park and on the road on weekdays when I had time. I could not train on a regular basis, as it was not safe to ride a track bike on the streets with so many motor vehicles. During the time from 1968 to 1969 I changed jobs and got married. Then I worked with Westinghouse Elevator Company as a warehouse attendant at 111 8th Ave. My starting salary was $107.00 per week.
On my rides in Central Park I would see the CRCA club members racing. Sometimes I would tag along behind the A group. In those days most of the races were won by the club champion John Lebanick with James Mimnah 2nd. They would always break away from the field, just the two of them. I can remember saying to myself, “I can beat those guys”. I tried to join the club but they would not accept me. At that time there were only three minority riders in the club, Robert and William Rodriquez and Pete Arroya. It was not until my friend Vince kept pestering Lou Maltese to accept me in the club. Lou said it was not his decision but the board members. Finally in the summer of 1970 they accepted me into club.
The club championship road race was a 50 miler in Central park and was held in the month of June. The only bike I had was my track bike with 1 speed and I was going to race the club championship race with no water bottle or brakes. They all thought that I would not be able to finish the race because track bikes are for short distances. When I was in Jamaica, I rode 150 miles twice on my track bike so this was no big deal for me.
I remember John Lebanick jumping many times on the short hills trying to break away. Each time I easily stayed with him. Going up hills with a track bike was much easier than with a road bike; many riders did not know this at the time. Only Lou knew what was going on as he was an old 6 day track racer. I used a 48 x 15 gearing and easily won the race. Needless to say that John was devastated, I never saw him in central park racing again. That same summer I rode the track championship race which I also won. Later the championship races were change to a series format which I won up until 1975.
What open races did you do?
After 1975 I started to concentrate on the open races. The open race schedule would conflict with the club races. I enjoyed all the New York races, both on the road (criterium) and the track. The Harlem crit was always a fun race and was sponsored by Con Edison. Fast race, good prizes, my best finish there was 4th place in the cat 1 & 2 race, two riders broke away and I took 2nd in the field sprint but didn’t get credit for my placing. In those days they would hand out pick cards to anyone who requested one, some of those pickers did not even know what they were doing or they would pick their friends or club members regardless of placings. Not getting picked correctly was common in those days.
My favorite race was the Tour of Somerville. That was the grand daddy of them all. Everyone came prepared for that race. At first it was for cat 1 & 2 only, and later they would add pro riders as pro cycling was growing fast in the U.S. I always raced as a cat 2. As a cat 2, I had more options: I could race the 1 & 2 or the 2 &3 races. There was the tour of Nutley run by Sal Grecko and the tour of Rahway run by Lou’s good friend Harvey Black. Another good race was the Atlantic City boardwalk race. In the 35 plus field I was setting up for the win when a rider grabbed my jersey and pulled me back so his friend could win, I had to settle for 3rd place. In Massachusetts there was the tour of Fitchburg, another 50 mile crit, and in Pennsylvania the Allen town crit. I did a number of races from Maine to North Carolina. I would place in some of these races and won lots of primes.
All of the races were crits back then as there was very little road racing except for the annual Bear mountain race and another race in upstate New York, Lake Lucerne which was always sponsored by the CRCA and run by Lou.
I can still remember the first time I rode a crit in Raritan N.J. Although I was an accomplished track racer I had no criterium racing experience. I would find myself at the rear of the group so I would break and slow down before the turn, the peloton would already take the turn and be half way up the straight away. I would sprint to catch back on only to do the same thing at the next turn, loose ground and sprint to catch back on until I got dropped and lapped. After a while I learned how to ride the turns and I became good at it.
In 1973 I was lucky to get a job in the elevator division of Westinghouse elevator Co. I worked in the field on new construction jobs building elevators in New York high rise buildings. As I would work 7 hours a day, I would get home at 5 PM and be on the road by 5:30 PM and ride until dark or about 8:30 PM. I would ride to White Plains, Bedford, Chappaqua, Tarrytown and other places in Westchester. I would mostly ride alone or sometimes with Jimmy Keough. I could only manage to train 200 miles per week because I had a full time job and it was hard to recover, as I had little rest and in those days there was no proper nutrition or recovery drinks like we have now. I only drank plain water or sometimes no water for a 50 mile ride. Sometimes I would become dehydrated and on a 50 mile ride could loose 5 lbs. Basically I did not know how to train properly, as I always used big gears and would ride a 52 x 18, 17, 16, and 15 in training.
As I was racing mostly crits and track I would do intervals once per week, 1 min on 1 min off x 10. Early in the season I would often ride to Bear Mountain on weekends but I did not like riding hills; I was never a good climber.
During the early 70s, I was the only CRCA rider who competed in the open races. Later on some other CRCA riders would join the cat 3 and 4 races but no category 2 riders. I had to fight my way into positions for the sprint finishes. I was a good road sprinter and I would often place and won many premes but not many races as the real strong riders always broke away. In the open races I would get cash prizes and sometimes merchandise. In the club races we would win a trophy or medals and sometimes tires (tubulars). Clinchers were not used as they were heavy and not yet improved to today’s standards.
In the club races the A group riders would sometimes pay a small entry fee of $2.00 and we would race for a cash prize which would be about $10 for first place. Lou would run every thing from the trunk of his old blue Ford. Later he would upgrade to a blue Cadillac. He would always say come into my office which was the trunk of his car. He would arrange and run all the races by himself. Pick all the places and never make a mistake or pick the wrong placing and that was for the A, B, and C fields. When I first joined the club the A field would do 15 min. laps. Then after a couple years we got the lap times down into the low 14’s and sometimes high 13’s. Sometimes he would run handicap races with the C group starting first, then the B and A last, each group would have a 5 minute handicap. The A group always won.
My first racing license was from the old A.B.L. (American Bicycle League). It was not until the mid 70’s that it was changed to the USCF. The most notable race I won was the South New York masters 35 plus road championship. The 35 plus age group road gold medal at the Empire State Games and the crit in the same year. I won two gold medals in the late 70’s or early 80’s.
Are you still racing today at 68?
In 2008 I raced the Florida State senior games and also won two gold medals on the same day. It was fun as most of these older guys did not know how to race although they had very expensive bikes. They all knew each other and there was a lot of chattering before the race, no one knew who I was. I just won my medals and went home.
At this time I am living in the Philippines where I have a second home and where the weather is always warm or hot. Mostly in the mid 90’s during the summer months. I am still active in cycling and believe it or not still riding strong and beating guys less than half my age. I race about 6 times a year. Some races have over 200 racers ranging in age from 27 to my age 68. We all race together but get sorted out by age group at the finish of the race. My group is the 50 plus. With no 60 plus so I race with the 50 plus but in the same big group with everyone else, this way I can see my overall placing. Now that I am retired I have the time to train and rest and with the proper nutrition I can easily do 300 to 400 miles per week when training for a race. Amazing what the body can do with the right kind of motivation.
I have learned a lot from cycling over the years; the greatest trait I have learned from the sport is discipline. Cycling is the most honest sport I know. I am and will always be proud to say that I am a cyclist or bike racer.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express myself and share some of my cycling experiences.
Trevor Silvera SR.