The history of the Maumee Valley Wheelmen has not been one of steady, or even steadily spiraling growth. In fact, in terms of total membership and club offerings, there have been some rather lean times. One such lean stretch occurred around the tail-end of the seventies. Club founder Mark Tyson had moved to Colorado, several other key members either moved away or dropped out of the sport, and the Thursday night peloton was not exactly a friendly place for the would-be new racer/member.
The beginning of the eighties saw something of a boom in membership, vacant club offices were filled by caring and qualified individuals (In 1978 Dave Skiver was the club officer), and the club seemed to be on a roll. But Thursday nights were getting a bit crazy, especially at our new super-fast criterium course, Oak Openings Industrial Park. It could have been called growing pains, but the simple fact remained that there was no established structure in our racing program; nor were there any individuals with a strong enough personality to self-regulate the chaos. Enter Cliff Meuller.
Cliff had been working eleven years as an engineer for American Motors when he was transferred to Toledo in 1980. At the time Cliff was active in bicycle touring. His only racing experience dated back some twenty years when he did some track racing in the Chicago area as a teenager. In a telephone interview …, Cliff told me that he was drawn toward cycling back then by the mechanical aspects of the sport. Cliff was always working over some stock bike, trying to make a lighter, more efficient machine. In Cliff's Chicago club everyone rode fixed gear for both training and racing. The races were held either on the track in Kenosha, or on a course Cliff described as a one-mile oval inside a Chicago park.
Cliff gave up cycling when he went off to college. After earning a B.S. from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, he began his professional career, working for Snap-on Tools for four years before moving on to American Motors. Even though Cliff was away from competitive cycling for all of this time, he did manage to keep the adrenaline flowing through sports car road-racing, a sport he pursued for ten years, and later, sailboat racing, which he was involved with at the time of his transfer to Toledo.
When I look back on the three years Cliff spent with the club, I find it hard to imagine that Cliff did not bring a life-long experience in cycling with him to Toledo. Or perhaps it would just be a smaller pill for my ego to swallow if Cliff had been this silver-haired veteran with some twenty-plus years of cycling experience, because Cliff quickly became the club's top sprinter. He also took the time to work with some of the younger riders like Mike Oster, Joe Holmes, Mike Schwab, Jim McElroy, Aaron Balkany, and Mike LaConto. If one considers the number of riders that these youngsters would later introduce to the sport, his contribution is even more significant. But Cliff was more than just mentor to many. Since he was the senior member of the peloton, kicking all of our much-younger butts in the sprints on his way to consecutive club championships, Cliff commanded a lot of respect. His influence even spilled out onto those who already knew everything there was to know about cycling. Through Cliff's example, riders whose finish line results had once elevated them beyond reproach, were now criticized openly by the group for their line or erratic riding. What Cliff had taught his protegees about line and etiquette infected the rest of the group.
There was yet another level of learning that rose from this question: how do you beat this guy? This became the burning topic of discussion within my circle of allies, Aufdencamp, Hayes,... (O.K. a small circle). Through trial and error it became clear that you couldn't beat Cliff simply by sitting on his wheel, he exploded like no one else in the final forty-meters. A last-lap flier wouldn't work because he would always make sure that the speed on the last lap was great enough to neutralize any such attempt. Cliff would always position himself in just the right spot and he had the ability to look around and know where everyone was at all times. But the real killer, and the reason I've titled this piece the "Pied Piper of O.O.I.P.", was that you couldn't breakaway from Cliff at any point in the race. In response to any threat, all Cliff had to do was start the chase. Then all of his protegees would line up, chomping at the bit for the chance to show the master their stuff. Hell, I even helped chase down a few breaks, because I thought my forte was the sprint. I wanted to beat Cliff so bad in a sprint finish. It never happened. Yes, just like the children of the Robert Browning poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, we all rode around and around that cement rectangle, in race after race, lap after lap, with delusions of glory in our heads, until the toll of the final bell, when Cliff Meuller, the Pied Piper of Oak Openings Industrial Park, would summarily win the sprint.
Cliff Meuller was MVW club champion in 1981 and 1982. He moved to the Chicago area in 1983, where he was employed by Schwinn. (If you purchased a custom Paramount during those years, Cliff probably wrote the specifications for it). When Schwinn made their move to Colorado, Cliff was given an opportunity, but chose not to move. He is currently working for a specialty design outfit that, among other things, builds the mechanical displays for Sega game systems. He has a long list of current interests that include fly fishing, bench-rest rifle competitions, and show dogs. It will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers Cliff that he has a national bench-rest rifle championship.
When I asked Cliff what he remembers most from his days with the MVW he mentioned Thursday Nights, which he said were great. "A guy could just do club races and be pretty satisfied." Cliff thought that we had a pretty good thing going then. We still do.