Clinton Mowbray and the Metric

If you look up legend this is what you will find.

“a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true” or “a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well.”

I know there are still a lot people around who knew Clinton but he is gone, so the legend begins. Clinton was born on December 17, 1922 here in McPherson, graduated high school and went on to serve in the U S Army during world War II. Clinton worked at Certainteed in the pipe department.

While I have no early photos of Clinton on a bicycle, but knowing that Clinton grew up on a farm east of McPherson, it is probably safe to say that the bicycle was part of his early years. He may have taken some inspiration from a short piece written by Mark Twain called “the Taming of the Bicycle.” But that is the stuff that legends are made of.

I have an opinion that to be eccentric you have to have a significant amount of money. Clinton may have been one of the exceptions to that rule. Some say he traveled to the beat of a different drummer, I question whether he even heard a drummer. He rode around town on a bicycle that had no seat or seat post.

We know he rode the Biking Across Kansas ride several times. Legend has it that he rode his motorcycle to the western Kansas beginning with his bicycle strapped to the back. I’m not sure how the motorized bike got back the McPherson, but knowing Clinton, it may still be in western Kansas.

Other riders talk about the year he rode BAK with a 19 inch television strapped to his back. There are at least 2 reasons for the TV, according to legend. First he as he worked nights at CertainTeed, he had become addicted to a soap opera that he would stop to watch. You might have found him anywhere he could find a plug in. Back in those days there was no cable or satellite so power and rabbit ears is all he needed. The other part of the TV legend says he stopped to watch baseball games. He was a big Saint Louis Cardinals fan.

Then there is the year he rode the 113 miles from McPherson to Medicine Lodge after he got off work, rode the days ride and then back to McPherson to get to work. Now the way I see it, that would have been nearly a 300 mile day, really! But that’s why they are legends.

Back in the old days, 1978, there were 5 or 6 rides here in Kansas each summer. Wicked Wind, El Dorado Lake, Lizard Under the Skillet and some others put on by the Oz Bicycle Club from Wichita. Most of the rides were around Wichita, Lawrence or Johnson County. Oz was the big club in the state and most cycling centered around Oz.

Seems that Clinton was one of the few real regular attenders that wasn’t from Wichita. Now the legend says that one day after a long ride up here in McPherson the group gathered at Hanks Bar and Grill for some cold refreshment. The discussion turned to a ride somewhere besides Wichita. Since Clinton was a member it was suggested that a ride leave form Hesston and go to McPherson and back to Hesston. It was also placed on what they deemed or hoped to be the hottest weekend of the year.

So in 1979 the first Mowbray Metric was put together. Not much is really remembered about the first ride. In keeping with Clinton’s love with the bike, he probably rode to Hesston to start and then back after it was finished.

For some reason the next year it was started in McPherson where it has been ever since. In the “old days” there were around 400 riders. I remember it starting in the McPherson High School parking lot and everyone standing around waiting patiently for Clinton to “arrive”. Nothing moved until he “arrived”. His arrivals were special. You never knew, a camel, a limo, a parachute, or a covered wagon. But nobody left until Clinton arrived.

My actual memories of the Mowbray start in 86 or 87, my wife threw the tee shirt away, not realizing that the collection would grow to 80 “event” tee shirts. Point is, that was my record keeping system back in the “old days”. We, Pat and I, rode the first one in the rain, unplanned. That’s when I learned about angle railroad tracks and wet weather. My first serious road rash. The scars remain.

The Mowbray has undergone many changes over the years as has cycling in general. The breakfast ride was a short 16 mile event that ended at a local eatery. Seems that there was an occasional Saturday afternoon ride.

For several years there were USCF sanctioned races. A criterium around Wall Park was one of the highlights. Broken up into citizen and licensed riders by age groups. That helped draw a lot of people to town.

For many years there was a short twilight ride followed by an ice cream social. Flashlights duct taped to handle bars, limited few of us had lights back then. But it was great fun. And Sunday brought the Mowbray and Clinton’s arrival.

Somewhere in the early 90’s Clinton had an accident on the bicycle while riding around town. After that he was unable to ride and shortly after the ride went dark for a couple of years. A couple of other groups tried to revive it with limited success. In 1999 the current sponsors started the ride again.

Clinton died on July 30, 2006. The grave side service was attended by many local and area cyclists who also served as pallbearers. The ledgend and the ride continue. As the legend has changed, so has the ride. Thanks for joining us each year. If you have other memories of photos that you are willing to share, we would love to incorporate them into the “Clinton Stuff.”


Ronn Peters