Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Gift

I've known Richard Fries, aka the voice of New England cyclo-cross, aka the Godfather for a long time. Over a decade. Even more really. He has been a mentor, an editor, life coach, friend, teammate. He's been a lot to me. And he means a lot to me. A lot of our relationship was bi-coastal he ran The Ride magazine here in Boston and I ran California Bicyclist magazine out in San Francisco. They were such similar publications I could call him and bounce ideas off him and look to him for advice. He helped me out a ton. Both titles died inglorious deaths but that is how publishing goes it is a hard knock life.

When I moved back to Boston after being gone for 14 years he was my Virgil guiding me through Purgatory and out of Hell...haha well I guess that's a tad dramatic even for me but suffice it to say he made all the introductions I needed and he helped me find my place in the culture. I wouldn't be living the vida loca of Boston bike culture right now without his guidance. Some could argue there would be no Boston bike culture without him but that would be misguided as the bike culture here is so rich and diverse it is not beholden to one individual it is a true collective. A hive if you will..kind of like the borg..but he is one of the key movers of our culture make no doubt about it.

So like I said at this point I count Richard as one of my real friends. Bike-wise or otherwise. We have been through a lot together. You don't get to be 45 and 50 respectively without some shit going down. But he has always supported me and cut me a ton of slack and I have always done my best to support him anyway I could. The man with the mic has brought me some serious laughs at cross races. He's heckled me sooo bad during races that afterwards people will come up to me and ask if we are friends. Hell if you can't find humor in your own heckling take up another sport. Two of the most classic Fries frame moments revolved around the USGP finals out in PDX. A bunch of us went out for it as a kind of mecca. I was sooo stoked to be racing in Portland. I highly recommend it. We did so much in that short 3-day trip. But back to the racing and heckling.
Richard was out announcing and I was racing. I lined up in the 4s (acckk total sandbagger but I was a 4 what could I do?!) This was 3 years ago but still. Anyhoo. Apparently they take their racing a bit more relaxed out west as I went from the 3rd row to the whole shot in a blink of an eye. I thought maybe they had called the racers back or something. But like a good crosser I put my head down and drilled it. I was away for two laps solo. I crashed in a corner and it took me a while to get my act back together. But I was still in the lead. Barely. Anyway with 1 to go I come through the start finish and Richard blares out "Chip Baker is going to win this and if he doesn't he doesn't deserve to fly home to Boston!" Oh crap I thought the baseball bats are coming out way are the locals going to put up with this.
Like I wasn't jacked up already after that comment I got a little carried away and got way ahead of myself and just laid it down hard on a transition from mud to pavement. Slid about ten feet into the chicane. Well of course as I am lying there pulling my bike out of the police fencing I see 1, 2 ,3 dudes go flying by me...oh well. Winning is fleeting races like these serve a lifetime of memories. Still I came in 4th and had one of the best races of my life!

So back to Richard. We fly home (yes he let me on the plane!) and the next weekend its NBX. Well once again I am on the start grid. Richard sees me and announces that "Chip Baker has just returned from PDX from his seal clubbing expedition.." OMG I wanted to die. I guess that was the payback for my Eddie Vedder flannel shirt that I'd been wearing the whole trip out in PDX and had worn to funny. I love that guy.

But back to the whole point of this post. I swear there is a point. I honestly do. So we have this great shared history. A couple of months back Natalia from Pedalpowerphotography had an awesome art show at Belmont Wheelworks. All the cool cats were there. And we got to bid on a bunch of Nats art. Well there were a few items that stood above the rest. And one of them was the framed print you see above of Richard holding his fist in the air. That was a hot commodity. I wanted to get that for Richard. Richard's wife wanted to get it for Richard. But there were some hot bidding wars going on and in the interest of harmonious bidding that print slipped through our hands. It did go to one of my all time favorite people in the world and a guy who really wanted it and deserves to own it. Its actually really cool that he wanted it so much. It says a lot about what Richard means to bikers in Boston.

Afterwards I asked Nat if she could make me two additional prints. She agreed and I have one in my man cave and I gave the other to Richard. He was sooo stoked he was speechless. And that is saying something! He kept telling me he had something for me as an exchange/trade. I shrugged it off assuming it would be some really cool swag but no worries. At the Ride Studio Cafe one night he hit me with "The Gift!" Holy shit! A 1991 Tour de France mussette bag with Greg Lemonds autograph! I still don't know what to think. I am beyond appreciative. It was such an act of generosity and friendship that I will always remember it. That bad boy has taken the top spot in my mancave. I am going to take it to the framing shop asap and give it a proper frame job so I can hang that up in a place of honor.

Amazing. Both the man and the mussette bag have been a gift. Not just to me but to Bike Culture everywhere. The man fights the good fight every day of his life so you and I can live our biker life. Thank you Richard for everything!


  1. Excellent tribute to the quintessential cycling fan and generous soul.

  2. speechless. truly not necessary, but appreciated.

  3. I have to say that I think one of the greatest things that Richard has ever done for cycling and society was his effort to give a face to the intellectually disabled by teaming them with participants in the Tour of California. That was an incredible effort that made a huge impression on the team owners, the cyclists, those from Best Buddies and the Transition to Independent Living Program at Taft College and the fans. It's a true shame that Richard's effort has not been adopted by professional cycling to have a team member on every team that participates internationally who is intellectually disabled. They would elevate the performance of every other team member and bring a new level of excitement and appreciation to the sport. Thanks Richard and hopefully some day we'll see you vision in practice.