Serious bicyclist aims for a million miles before it's all over

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Daniel Chew's goal is to ride his bike a million miles in his lifetime. He has about 400,000 miles to go.
Click photo for larger image.

Daniel Chew is more than halfway to a goal he set for himself as a young man. He thinks he'll achieve it about age 75 -- if he doesn't get hit by a car first.

Mr. Chew, 44, who lives in Shadyside, wants to ride a million miles on bicycles (he's already worn out at least 15) in his lifetime. He clocked his 600,000th mile on Sept. 10.

It took Mr. Chew a little less than 51/2 years to go from half a million miles to 600,000. He thinks it will take him about 31 more years to reach a million.

Mr. Chew's parents, and his older brother and sister were avid cyclists, so he picked up the bug early. His first long ride came on the 4th of July weekend in 1973, when he was 10. His whole family entered the Midwest Double Century (a 200-mile ride) in Lima, Ohio.

Mr. Chew, who is single, rides his bike about 40 hours a week in summer, 20 hours a week in winter. He logs most of his miles in day trips in all directions from Pittsburgh -- to Weirton and Wheeling and Morgantown in West Virginia, or to Butler, Ligonier, Greensburg or Johnstown. But sometimes he bites off the mileage in big chunks. He's taken rides to Erie, Harrisburg and Columbus, Ohio. And he's ridden across America eight times.

Begun in 1983, the Race Across America is the world's longest continuous nonstop bicycle road race. The course varies, but the race always begins on the West Coast and ends on the East Coast, and is always 3,000 miles long.

Mr. Chew won the race twice, in 1996 and 1999. His best time, in 1996, was eight days, seven hours, and 14 minutes. He has never finished lower than fourth.

Mr. Chew hasn't ridden in the Race Across America since 2001, but he now earns his living writing for its Web site, which gives him the time and the flexibility of schedule to pursue his million-mile ambition.

Teams of two, four and eight riders enter the Race Across America, which is typically held in June. But the premier competition is among the solo riders. About a third of them drop out each year before finishing the grueling event.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Daniel Chew
Click photo for larger image.

Every racer or team of racers has a support team with both a minivan and a recreational vehicle. The minivan follows the cyclist, while the RV leapfrogs along the route, providing a place where the racer or racers can get a little rest.

"I'd cycle about 20 hours a day, sleep about three," Mr. Chew said. "You have a support team that does just about everything for you except pedal the bike."

His butt and his legs would get mighty sore during these long races, Mr. Chew said, but so would his neck.

"Low handlebars can put a strain on your neck because you are always looking up," he said.

Mr. Chew also started (with his brother and a friend) the "Dirty Dozen" ride, in which riders climb in a single day the 13 steepest hills in Pittsburgh. There were five riders for the inaugural race in December 1983, 127 for the 24th race, which was held Nov. 25. Over the years 331 riders have participated, but only Mr. Chew has ridden in them all.

What he likes best about cycling is seeing the countryside, he said.

"You see a lot more moving along at 15 miles an hour on a bike than you can at 70 miles an hour on the interstate," he said.

But suburban sprawl is cutting down on the scenery and increasing the danger to cyclists, Mr. Chew said.

"One of my greatest fears in getting to a million [miles] is getting hit by a car," he said. "City traffic is actually safer than suburban traffic, because the speed limits in cities are lower."

Three of his friends have been killed after being struck by automobiles, Mr. Chew said.

Mr. Chew got bumped by a car 20 years ago, but has never had a serious collision with an automobile. But on a ride in Ohio from Lancaster to Marietta last October, he got hit by a deer.

"I was coming down a steep hill when the deer hit me," he said. "My bike got totaled. It was so freaky, I don't think it will happen again."

Weather permitting, Mr. Chew plans to celebrate Christmas with a 200-mile bicycle ride with friends.

When the weather doesn't cooperate, Mr. Chew climbs the stairs at the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

"Step climbing uses almost the same muscles as you use in cycling," he said.

(Jack Kelly can be reached at or 412-263-1476. )