The 12,000-mile man: Bicyclist rides equivalent of halfway around world each year
By Dick Mason
La Grande bicyclist Steve Malone easily saw the large dump truck near the Flying J Travel Plaza in June 2011.
Unfortunately, the truck driver did not see him.
An instant later Malone’s life momentarily went topsy turvy. The dump truck hit Malone, destroying his bicycle and knocking him to the pavement.
An ambulance was called to the scene, but Malone declined the ride. Later that day he went to Grande Ronde Hospital where doctors found he had a broken tailbone. Still, the bicyclist was undaunted. The next day a badly bruised Malone was cycling again, covering between 30 and 40 miles on a Union County ride.
“It hurt to sit in a couch but not to sit on my bike seat,’’ Malone said.
It was telling ride, one revealing uncommon perseverance and a love for cycling, both of which help him do what few people in Northeast Oregon have — cycle enough miles to cross the United States four times a year.
Malone has cycled an average of about 1,000 miles a month for the past three years, and in the last two months he has pedaled 2,400 miles. Bicycling for Malone, on almost all days, is a joy.
“You have got to enjoy what you are doing or you will not continue doing it,’’ said Malone, who retired almost three years ago as a conductor for Union Pacific
Malone, 62, puts in most of his miles in Union County, riding primarily in the Grande Ronde Valley, but sometimes cycling to North Powder and Baker City.
When the wind blows hard, Malone rides a 13-mile loop around La Grande. The loop is filled with buildings that provide wind breaks.
Wind is a foe of cyclists year round in Northeast Oregon. Malone said that a stiff wind can slow him to 7 miles per hour. However, he often reaches speeds of 23 to 25 miles per hour in flat, open areas when a stiff breeze is at his back.
Sometimes he goes even faster.
“When the wind is howling I can reach 30 miles an hour.’’
Malone pedals a 30-speed Trek Madone on most of his rides. His daily rides of 30 to 60 miles, though, take a toll on his bike and its accessories. He goes through about 10 tires a year and since June 2011 has had to replace his chain three times.
“I’m hard on my bike, I wear stuff out,’’ Malone said.
Malone earlier was a serious distance runner and later a walker until knee and Achilles tendon injuries pushed him into cycling.
“My doctor encouraged me to take up a lower impact activity,’’ Malone said.
Unfortunately, cycling is sometimes a high-impact activity for Malone. He has had several mishaps in recent years in addition to the one in June 2011. Fortunately, most have been minor. Some are the result of bad weather.
“I’ve been blown into ditches several times,’’ Malone said.
He credits most drivers with exercising proper caution when they encounter him on his bike.
But not all do.
“Some (drivers) come so close that you can almost reach out and touch them.’’
Malone is leery of riding very far over on many road shoulders in this area because many have gravel on their edges and 6-inch dropoffs.
Malone, who rides about four hours a day, speaks humbly of the miles he puts in, stressing that he has the time to do it because he is retired.
“People who are working would not have the time to do this.’’
He also credits his wife, Barb, with helping to make his riding regimen possible.
“Having an understanding wife allows me to do this,’’ Steve Malone said.
Malone rides year round, often using a mountain bike with studded tires in the winter. He said the studded tires work well on ice but are not much help in snow.
Year-round riding is having a positive impact on Malone’s health. He had high blood pressure when he started riding seriously about three years ago. Since then his blood pressure has dropped to the point that he has not had to take blood pressure medication for more than two years. Malone’s resting pulse rate has fallen in recent years, from 68 beats a minute to the low 50s.
The health benefits of riding are a welcome spinoff of an activity Malone pursues primarily because of his
“I just like to ride. It makes me feel alive.’’