Bill Kund’s 60s Cycling Remembered
Interview and Photo Gallery: Bill Kund was an American cycling pioneer; from emigrating to the States in the 50s and taking up cycling and going all the way to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and a professional license in the 70s. Ed Hood got together with Bill to find out how it all started.
We recently ran a photo piece on the 1980 London ‘Skol’ Six Day race, courtesy American Bill Kund who visited the race and took wonderful pictures of the action. Bill rode the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for the US team and featured in US road and track racing all through the mid to late 60’s. We thought it would interesting to get his take on those days when the sport was still establishing itself in North America.
PEZ: What was the sport of cycling like in the USA in early 60’s and how did you get into it?
Bill Kund: When I started riding, most of the good riders came from the West Coast, Midwest and the northern part of the East Coast. We had immigrated to the US from Austria in 1955, when I was nine, and settled in the Los Angeles area which, unbeknownst to me at the time, was probably the only reason I was able to get into this sport. I spoke no English and tried to become an American kid, Elvis and all, and my dad worked hard to make a fresh start in a new country.
No one in my family knew anything about cycling. I got a racing style bicycle because a junior high classmate had one and I thought it looked cool. I fell in love with the machine. The bike was a cheap, Italian made, $105.00 dollar machine, with steel cottered cranks and a Campagnolo drive train. My parents let me buy it with money I had earned. Interestingly, my dad had a co-worker, Jim Grennan, who was probably in his sixties at the time, who rode a racing bike – mostly for weekend touring purposes. He invited me along on a ride one Saturday with one of his friends. I probably committed all kinds of cycling etiquette violations on that ride and remember overhearing snatches of conversation between Jim and his friend: “It’s o.k. he’s just learning.”
PEZ: Your first races?
Jim took us to the newly built Encino Velodrome, one of the few bicycle tracks in the country, one evening to watch the races. I was both fascinated and terrified by the racing. I entered a couple of novice road races and got blown out of the back of the peloton. My first trophy, one of the few I kept, was for 30th place (out of 32 riders) in the 1961 Tuna Canyon Hill Climb. (Tuna Canyon is a very steep road from the Pacific Coast Highway into the Santa Monica Mountains.)
PEZ: Tell us about your training:
I had to work to earn my spending money and had newspaper related jobs from the time I was 10 years old. In the 8th grade I got a job delivering the Los Angles Times, a massive publication, especially on Sundays. Seven days a week – up at 4:30 a.m. fold papers, load them on my coaster brake bike and deliver them before 07:00 am. I did that for a year, which was probably partially responsible for helping my legs develop. We lived about 10 miles from Griffith Park, a very hilly natural area topped by the Griffith Observatory from which you could see all the way to the beach some 30 miles away if the smog wasn’t too bad.
I started going on rides up to the Observatory. Eventually I would ride up and down three times, in one session, from different approaches – still riding in sneakers. One day, I was training on the track by myself and made the mental jump that changed my cycling career. I was doing 500 meter intervals and about halfway into one of the intervals, my legs were really hurting – I was getting ready to back off and a mental lightbulb went on. “It’s supposed to hurt!” Once I realized that “pain is good” everything changed.
PEZ: You made huge improvements over the winter of 63/64.
In the beginning of ’64 things began to take shape.
I was still a lousy track rider because I had no experience but I was pretty fast in time trials. On the road I was still a “C” class rider. The classification system in the US at that time started with Novice. After any kind of placing the rider was moved to class “C” and after a certain number of points earned by placings in races one progressed up to the top level, which was class “A”. Nowadays the system goes from Cat4 through to Cat 1. So in essence, when I went to the Olympics I was still a class “C” rider. I just told the local officials to put me in Class “A” races from now on.
So, in the beginning of the ’64 season I won my first race in Lindsey California as a class “C” rider. Later that season, I went to New York for the Olympic trials after getting second in the State Omnium championships. To qualify I had to ride two single kilometer rides – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. The times were added up and the guy with the best aggregate time was on the team. I beat out Allen Bell who had ridden the Kilometer at the Rome Olympic Games.
PEZ: What sort of support did you get in those days?
As soon as I qualified for the team a group from Schwinn Bicycles measured my Bianchi track bike and delivered a beautiful Schwinn Paramount track bike in time for the games. The whole team was given new bicycles by Schwinn. Schwinn made beautiful bikes, but they were expensive. A fully Campagnolo equipped Schwinn road bicycle cost a whopping $350.00 back then. Other than Schwinn’s generous contribution we didn’t have much of a support system at the Olympics. We had two officials from the Amateur Bicycle League, the sport’s governing body. One of them was supposed to be the team manager the other the mechanic. Neither of them really did anything for us.
PEZ: And how about the ‘Olympic Experience?’
The first track event of the Games was my event – the Kilo. Neither of the officials bothered to show up for my ride. I carried my bike to the starting line. The official holder held me while I got on and fidgeted into position. The bravest thing I did that day was to nod to the starter that I was ready. I had been listening to the starter’s cadence to enable me to start pushing prior to the gun firing and getting a little jump on the start. The start sequence began, I got off the saddle and started pushing – no gun. I dragged the holder forward a quarter pedal revolution. The front wheel was turned to the left, my pedals were now in the 12 and 6 position and the gun fired.
So there I was, 18 years old at the Olympics debating with myself if I should raise my arm for a restart or just go. I remember thinking that if my restart request was turned down, my whole Olympics would have just ended there. It would have helped a lot having one of our team officials there. I went. I probably lost two positions with that start and ended up in 14th place. When my ride ended the Dutch Women’s Coach walked out to the track apron to catch me and help me get off the track. All in all, though it was a good experience for a guy who had only been racing a year.
PEZ: The 1965 season brought you some nice results.
In 1965 I began taking a full course load at university. I graduated in 1970 with a degree in German, and English minor and a California State Teaching Credential. That year, 1965 I went after the National 25 mile record and was the first American to break the hour. I also set a new four kilometer pursuit record. I was part of a four man team (along with Gordon Rudolph, John Allis and Skip Cutting ) invited to race in Trinidad on the grass. That was lots of fun and was a pretty successful outing.
On the way home Skip and I stopped in Northbrook Illinois to race at two track meetings. One in Kenosha Wisconsin on Tuesday and Northbrook, Illinois on Thursday. I crashed in a Madison in Kenosha, dislocated my shoulder, and was out of commission for six weeks. I mended in time for the Nationals, but had an awful ride in the pursuit – a combination of anxiety about my form and the pressure, being the national record holder, of having to win. I got fourth. The next day I rode the 10 mile scratch race, more for fun than anything else, and won the National Championships in that event, setting a record that stood for 10 years. Toward the end of the season I was part of the team for the “Little Olympics” in Mexico City. I rode everything from the sprints (got beaten by Morelon – imagine that) set an unofficial national record for the Kilometer, rode the team pursuit and the road race.
PEZ: Who coached you ?
I didn’t have a formal coach but got a tremendous amount of help from Jack Disney who had been in several Olympic teams and national sprint champion probably five or six times. He took several of us youngsters under his wing. He and Tim Mountford rode the tandem together in Tokyo and Tim actually lived with him for one season.
PEZ: The late 60’s held mixed fortunes for you?
In ’66 I went to the World’s in Frankfurt and got (I believe) 12th. After the World’s our manager, Ted Ernst took three of us on a racing tour of Europe and England. We raced on the track in Dortmund, Birmingham and Nottingham. In the two English meetings we raced with Carl Barton and Chris Church whom I had met in Tokyo in’64.
After we returned home I won the California Pursuit Championship, got a silver in the National pursuit championship and got third in the Southern California State Road Championships.
There were many changes in 1967. I was in my third year of university and in the spring my parents decided that if I didn’t stop racing, I needed to find someplace else to live. This threw my training into a bit of a tailspin. I ended up getting a student loan and a job in the Electrical Maintenance Department of the University.
I did manage to qualify for the US Pan American Games team and rode the team pursuit. We ended up in third place riding against drugged Mexican and Argentinian teams. It wasn’t my best year physically – I had developed some kind of respiratory issues which tended to plague me on the velodrome. You have to remember that the air quality in Los Angeles at that time was awful.
1968 was an almost complete bust for me I was in school full time and supporting myself. I did manage to win the State 10 mile Scratch Race Championship but didn’t qualify for the Olympic Team. After those Olympics Skip Cutting bulked up and decided to become a sprinter. By the end of that year I decided to call it quits. There was just too much going on, I was newly engaged and I was not enjoying the racing. I was riding for the Pasadena Athletic Association. One of the elder statesmen in the club was John Hood, who had qualified for the English Olympic Team a number of years ago. He missed actually competing in the Games because he broke his arm. John took me aside and had a heart to heart with me. We came to the conclusion that because of how quickly I had been successful in the sport I was putting too much pressure on myself. It was almost as if the goal was only winning and the race itself was an obstacle to that end.
I decided to start racing just for fun. So, in 1969 we managed to turn everything back around. I won three races in a row, everything from a criterium to couple of difficult road races and got second to Jack Simes in the Tour of Somerville, a 50 mile criterium which has become one of the monument races in the U.S. I won the State Road Championship, The State Pursuit Championships and got second in the State 10 mile Championships. This was followed by second place in a photo finish in the National Road Championships, which I should have won but made tactical error in the sprint. That loss cost me a trip to the Worlds. I cut the photo of the road race finish out of a magazine and put it on the wall of my dorm room as a reminder. The rider who beat me never won another race I was in.
# And that was the 60’s – Bill’s ‘Euro 70’s’ coming soon on PEZ. #
All photos and cuttings supplied by Bill Kund.
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,800 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.