A Life in Miles: A Story of Inspiration on Two Wheels

In the summer of 1984, Steve Gluckman lay in a hospital bed recovering from serious injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 20 years old and had no idea that the incident would change the trajectory of his life, igniting a love for cycling that has seen him pedal more than 200,000 miles.

Bikes have always been a part of Gluckman’s life. As a young kid, he cruised the pancake-flat streets of suburban Houston on his single-speed, using the two wheels to get to friends’ houses or find dirt jumps on the outskirts of town. Like it does for most kids, a bike gave him a taste of exploration freedom.

Steve Gluckman

Steve Gluckman at REI headquarters. Photo by James Harnois.

But when he left home for Southwest Texas State University (now called Texas State University) in San Marcos, Gluckman began to learn about a different type of biking: one that embraced hill climbs and 100-mile rides.

Steve Gluckman

Gluckman on a ride with an SWSU teammate in the mid 1980s. Photo courtesy of Steve Gluckman.

In the college dorm, he met Steve Conn, a collegiate bike racer who shaved his legs and pedaled away on a bike trainer with opera music playing in the background. Fascinated and curious, Gluckman began riding with a group of guys, trying to keep up on his single-speed cruiser while the rest of them pedaled 10-speed race bikes.

And then the car accident happened. The wreck landed Gluckman in the hospital with several broken vertebrae in his neck and lots of time to think, as the injuries required that he be immobilized for three weeks.

While lying in his hospital bed, Gluckman flipped on the TV to find the 1984 Summer Olympics. He watched intently as Alexi Grewal, a 23-year-old from Colorado, crossed the finish line in Los Angeles to take the gold medal in the men’s individual cycling road race. That victory sparked something inside Gluckman. He found himself reflecting on his life and thinking hard about where he was going. That day he decided that cycling would be his path to recovery.

When Gluckman was released from the hospital and deemed healthy enough to pedal, he threw himself into the local cycling scene. He began hanging around Freewheeling Bikes, a local shop in San Marcos, as a way to meet riders and shake off rookie mistakes.

Michael Olstad, a local schoolteacher and masters racer, was one of those riders. More than fifteen years older than Gluckman and with a wealth of cycling knowledge, Olstad became a mentor of sorts. He introduced Gluckman to the world of long-distance rides and racing. One of the most influential things Olstad ever did was show Gluckman a journal full of handwritten dates and miles. Olstad kept track of every ride, dating back into the 1970s, as a way to learn from history and improve his performance on the bike. He told Gluckman, “You’ve got to track your miles.”

So when Gluckman walked out of World Cycles in Austin with a brand new steel-frame Trek 560 one week after his twenty-first birthday, he was ready to start a new tradition. The bike was a birthday present from his father and his first real race bike. He took it for a spin later that day and jotted down his first entry on a piece of lined notebook paper: November 10, 1984; 10 miles.

Steve Gluckman

Gluckman (in blue) rides his Trek 560 in the mid 1980s. Photo courtesy of Steve Gluckman.

With his health improving every day and a new, race-worthy bike underneath him, Gluckman ramped up his riding. He began training seriously and by the spring of 1985 he was racing on the university team. Soon he was entering 90–100 races per year, all the while tracking his miles.

Steve Gluckman

Gluckman’s Southwest Texas State University team jersey and bike shoes. Photo by James Harnois.

Now more than three decades later, he still dutifully tracks every mile, and recently rolled past 200,000. On the surface, the thousands of miles pedaled are just numbers: 25 miles here, 50 miles there. But look closely and you see that the highs and lows in annual totals begin to tell a life story.

The dips in numbers correspond with life-changing events, such as when Gluckman fell in love and got married in 1989, and when his son was born in 1994 and his daughter in 1997. You see the miles tail off during the pursuit of a career with REI that started in 1989 in Austin, Texas, and led to a move to Washington state a few years later for a job at REI headquarters.

Steve Gluckman

Gluckman still tracks every mile and has created a graph showing annual totals going back to the 1984. Photo by James Harnois.

But for every dip, there is a rise. Look closely at the numbers and you see tremendous effort, such as when he pedaled 285 miles from Seattle to Spokane in a single day or when he celebrated his fiftieth birthday in Taiwan with the King of the Mountain Challenge and its grueling 55 miles of continual uphill. You can see the more than 100 century rides he’s ridden and the year he pedaled more than 300 days. Gluckman doesn’t race regularly anymore, but he’s still ridden more than 8,000 miles per year for each of the last three years.

Steve Gluckman

Gluckman’s original Avocett bike computer that he used to track miles in the mid 1980s. Photo by James Harnois.

When Gluckman looks back at the numbers, he remembers the enduring friendships that were built. He recalls the many people who pulled him up hills, helping him create a happy and productive life with a successful career as the creative director for REI’s Novara bikes.

Biking changed the course of Gluckman’s life and he’s very conscious of that. He strives to pay forward the positive impact by creating the best Novara bikes he can and by volunteering on the board of directors for BikeWorks, a nonprofit that introduces Seattle youth to the joy and freedom of bike riding, and gives them the opportunity to explore their world on two wheels.

Gluckman wants youth today to hear a story. It’s an inspiring story about how a simple love of riding can lead to a bright future, one mile at a time.