Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Like cyclocross trophies, Laurence Malone collected nicknames.
Early in his career, he was known as “The Technician,” and later, “The King of Cross.” In Europe, thanks to his bunny-hopping exploits that allowed him to launch over obstacles others had to dismount to pass, he was called “Der Springer,” or the “The American Kangaroo.”
And by the 1990s, he earned the moniker “The Grandfather of Cross.”
From 1975 through 1979, Malone dominated the burgeoning sport of cyclocross, winning five straight U.S. national championships. That’s a feat that still stands alone and remains a target for riders today.
Perhaps best described as mountain biking on a fistful of steroids, cyclocross pits riders against the elements in the most devious and sloppy of manners.
And Malone, Santa Fe resident since 1987 who then moved to Chimayo in 2003, could negotiate those elements with a practiced ease that left him unmatched in cyclocross annals.
Malone, 68, and a U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer, died May 17 in a head-on collision with a truck near Lancaster, California.
Since he was just a youngster, local public defender Shaheen Rassoul knew Malone as a coach, mentor, trainer, father figure and occasionally as that endearing but unconventional uncle every family has and loves.
“Laurence was a large part of my life. He became a sort of father figure and partner in crime,” Rassoul said. “Back in those days, cycling was a bit more of an eccentric sport than it is now. It used to be an individual pursuit with long hours alone on a bike. New Mexico was a great place for it. All sorts of eccentric types, mavericks, people battling their demons and turning to cycling to exorcize them.
You make your way to races, sleeping on the side of the road, camping out, eating dirty food, jumping into races if you didn’t have entrance fees.”
That, he said, pretty much encapsulated Malone’s younger days.
“He was known for that on the West Coast,” Rassoul said. “He shunned the rules and set the standards. He had a finesse and grace that belied his size. He was 6-2, 160-170 pounds but he had a certain grace and elegance to him that stuffed his compatriots.”
But to think of Malone as simply a cyclist with a whimsical zany streak specializing in a somewhat obscure form of riding would be to do him a significant disservice.
From 1982 to 1986 he coached the U.S. National Cyclocross team, but also competed as a professional mountain biker. He had stints as a road racer and nearly landed a coveted spot in the Tour de France in 1981.
A prolific writer, Malone covered all manner of cycling events and provided how-to articles for magazines, displaying a thoughtful style that cut to the heart of the matter. He brought that same prose to other topics and genres, as well, Rassoul said, laying a deft hand to poetry, history, historical myths and lore, commentary on popular culture.
“Very poignant writings,” he said. “He sees things from an incredible perspective.”
Across Santa Fe, “he was known as a cyclist in town, and he would sell lentils and tabuli burritos wrapped in aluminum that he would put in his rack and sell to gallery owners,” Rassoul said.
“He was very affable, talkative,” he added. “He sold burritos and fixed bikes. He was a bit of an evangelist for bikes. He saw America as backwards and stagnant in relation to bikes.”
Malone also liked to make unannounced appearances at local races.
“He was known in Santa Fe to pop into races without a number, like the Santa Fe Century, and weave and meander his way through, talk to everyone who had the time,” Rassoul said with a chuckle. “He’d be riding an old, steel bike and rolled up pants and no helmet. Riding up Heartbreak Hill, he’d just be chattering away.”
For a time, he would acquire and fix bikes, then take them to Mexico – where Malone’s 8-year-old son lives with his mother – for poor youth to own.
That was just his way, Rassoul said.
Tim Rutledge, who created the Redline cyclocross line and was an early, old-guard rider like Malone summed him up in an in-depth, August 2012 CycleCross Magazine article by Robbie Carver.
“What I love about Laurence is that he is American ‘Cross,” Rutledge is quoted in the magazine. “American ‘cross is boys, girls, moms and dads, everyone coming out to have a good time. We are not exclusive, we are inclusive. That’s the spirit of American ‘cross, and Laurence is the father of that.”