giant in Spartanburg cycling
John Bryan Passes at 74 years old
By DUDLEY BROWN
Published: Tuesday, June 30,
2009 at 3:15 a.m.
The patriarch of Spartanburg's
cycling community has died.
Founder of Assault on Mt. Mitchell stayed humble, helped others
John Bryan brought thousands
of people to Spartanburg by organizing and promoting the Assault on Mt.
Mitchell. John Bryan, founder of the annual Assault on Mt. Mitchell,
died Saturday after a seven year bout with lymphoma. He was 74.
"He was a gentle man and
cared about all cyclists and all aspects of cycling," said Marly Divver,
a cyclist and friend of Bryan's family.
Thousands of people have come
to Spartanburg over the past 30 years to ride what cycling magazines
consider one of the 10 toughest rides in the United States. People from
the Philippines, Great Britain and locations around the globe have
ridden 102 miles en route to, at 6,684 feet, the highest peak east of
the Mississippi River.
"He's probably not known by a
lot of people outside of bicycling, but he made a huge contribution to
this community," Mayor Bill Barnet said.
Last month's ride had 1,400
riders. Registration was done online, and the ride was filled in less
than 40 minutes. The ride is a fundraiser for the Freewheelers of
Bryan came up with the idea
for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell on a September day in 1974 while having
a picnic with his wife, Helen, at the state park. A few weeks later, he
left home before sunrise and spent the day cycling up the mountain. He
was 39 at the time and the father of two teenagers. He was alone and
would stop to drink water flowing along the Blue Ridge Parkway's rocks.
He, however, never considered
himself the first person to complete the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. The
park's gates were closed as he approached the top, which placed him a
quarter-mile from reaching his goal. Helen was waiting on him at the
gates and drove him home.
"I tell people I'm a damn
fool because I could have been the first winner," said Bryan, with a
sense of humor, in a 2006 Herald-Journal interview.
Bryan, one of four founding
members of the Freewheelers of Spartanburg, rode to the top of Mitchell
in 1975 with five other club members, including his son, Greg. The ride
received its name that year, and the men celebrated by having a few
friends meet them at the top with beer, and they grilled 10 pounds of
Bryan grew up in Athens, Ala.
He bought a Schwinn bicycle when many of his high school peers were
His family moved to
Spartanburg in 1969, and he started cycling a 60-mile round trip to work
in Greenville during the gasoline crisis of the 1970s. Bryan, a
mechanical engineer, pedaled along Highway 29, rain or shine, for 13
years to four different employers. He'd sometimes arrive at work with
ice in his beard.
In 1983, Bryan became the
first person in the state to complete Paris-Brest-Paris, a 750-mile ride
in France. He was an accomplished cyclist, but he remained humble. He
returned from Paris, helped others train for the ride and often helped
beginning cyclists, such as Divver.
Divver said she started
cycling in the late 1980s and met Bryan at a Freewheelers of Spartanburg
"If it hadn't been for him, I
probably wouldn't have got back on a bike," Divver said.
Divver said Bryan taught her
to enjoy the sounds of babbling creeks and chirping birds. He wasn't
interested in racing.
Bryan also organized a
cross-state ride and often led training trips, helping those preparing
"He was a good person to
know," said Paul LeFrancois, president of the Palmetto Cycling
Coalition. "As much as he enjoyed riding, he enjoyed helping others
reach their goals."
Laura Lambrecht, Bryan's
daughter, remembers cycling to Florida from Spartanburg with her father
and late brother in the early 1970s. They would camp in state parks.
Last month's Assault on Mt.
Mitchell was the 34th year of the ride, and it was Bryan's first year
not being involved with organizing it. Divver was a member of a
five-person committee that organized the ride this year.
"We tried to run the ride as
John would have done it," she said. "We worked closely with him the past
several years and knew a lot of what's necessary, but I don't know how
he did it by himself."
In 2005, Bryan had completed
95 percent of planning for the ride when he was admitted to the hospital
to undergo chemotherapy. It was his first time missing the annual event,
but he still received phone calls throughout the day.
Bryan received recognition
for his dedication to cycling the past couple of years. He was
recognized in December 2007 during a celebration of the city's Bike Town
designation. Last year, a plaque and bicycle sculpture honoring him were
placed in front of the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, the starting
place for the Assaults on Mt. Mitchell and Marion.
"It was wonderful to see him
get the recognition," Divver said. "I think he was proud, but because he
was the kind of guy who likes to be behind the scenes, I think it
embarrassed him a little bit. But, no one deserved it more than he did."
Bryan and Helen would have
celebrated their 56th anniversary in August. The couple's son, Greg,
died in a motorcycle accident. Their daughter and her husband live in
The Bryans have eight
grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
The family is planning a
small, private event to honor Bryan. They ask that people make donations
to the Spartanburg Humane Society in lieu of flowers.