Racing as Team Somerset, the Somerset Wheelmen continue to be
a community minded organization. Now under the leadership of club
president Chuck Crocco, the Somerset Wheelmen boasts more than 50
members from Central Jersey and the entire Mid Atlantic region.
It attracts such notables as Baltimore's Bobby Phillips, one of
the nation's most prolific race winners of the past 30 years.
Along with numerous opportunities to travel, compete and meet
people from all walks of life, the club upholds the same goals
that Fred "Pop" Kugler first envisioned more than 60 years ago:
promoting fitness, health, self confidence, recognition, positive community visibility, and winning.
In the early days, the club saw a small contingent of a dozen or so
competitors inspired by Pop Kugler, Charlie Velo, and a young
rider, Charlie Grill. Training rides always began at Pop's shop
and looped through towns like Flemington, Pluckemin and
Plainsfield. Sprints and two man team races were popular and were
held wherever a horse track could be found in Central Jersey.
Racers who wore the first "orange and black" colored wool jerseys
of the Wheelmen included Vince Menci, Harry Naismith, Willy
Dolan, and the Lorenzetti brothers, Bill and George, among others.
A National Front
In 1940, the club's mentor, Pop Kugler, coached riders who
achieved national distinction, which is still unrivaled today.
Three members from the same home town won the men's, women's and
junior national championships in Detroit's, Chandler Park. That
remarkable feat by Furman Kugler, Mildred Kugler and Harry
Naismith not only brought the stars and stripes "trifecta " to
Somerville, but won local and universal respect for Pop's wise
and deliberate style of coaching.
Since then the Somerset Wheelmen can boast victories in
countless hundreds of open races, a collective 250 state
champions, nearly 75 national champions and a 1956 Olympic Team
member in the likes of Allan Bell. Bell got his start in racing
as a young kid during the 40's at club sponsored Brooks Field
Along with neighboring Plainsfield Wheelmen, the club promoted
a local event in Somerville in 1940 that was designed to give
Furman Kugler an opportunity to race before a hometown crowd. And
race he did. Furman won the 50 mile fixed gear grind two years in
a row, and the great tradition the Tour of Somerville began. It
grew - with the club's unwavering support over the decades - to
become what today is know as America's oldest continuously run
bicycle race. The success of the Somerville race drew local
talented riders like Sam Vones, Don Tokash and Joe Thompson to
the club's lure in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Post War Boom
With the exception of the time during the second World War,
the club flourished in the 1940s, and regained momentum as a
nationally recognized powerhouse in the 1950s. Allen Bell and a
youngster from Bridgewater named Joe Saling joined the likes of
riders such as Art Briggs, Joe Sloan, Bobby Boughner, Lou
Lomerson, Enie Maltese and John Chiselko. Chiselko won the 1954
Tour of Somerville while still a student at Somerville High
School, becoming the last club member to win the senior classic.
Adam Dutch won the junior Tour of Somerville in 1979.
Despite all the victories and successes, the club did lack the
type of organization that was needed to make it more than a group
of riders who simply trained and raced. Meetings were few and far
between, there were no officers and no dues were collected.
That was all to change in the early 1960s. In 1961 Joe Saling
returned from the Navy to marry Dottie Yard. Meanwhile, Charlie
Grill's son, Jim became one of Somerset Wheelmen's first
presidents with an agenda. The Saling's winning ways combined
with Jim Grill's organizational skills to launch the modern era
of an organization that was designed to attract new members and
grow. Club races were run regularly and an expanded member base
became active in promoting all aspects of bicycling, from safety
lectures at local schools to developmental rides for 4H club
members. Formal meetings were held and a newsletter, Bottom
Bracket, was written and distributed. Bake sales, Tupperware
parties and equipment auctions raised funds. Grill's philosophy
of getting people interested in promoting the sport through
regular articles and columns about the club in the newspapers
paid off. Membership ranks swelled to a high of more than 100
during the mid 1970's, with Grill serving as official club coach
from 1967-1978. Racing names like Wayne Cook, Charlie Dungan,
Rudy Kerl, Victor Corbo, Bob Peters, Bob Yarrow, Ross Thompson,
Ron Koller, Rick Anderson, Robert Ryan, and Alan and Robert Kowal
were augmented by an attraction of foreign talent to the
Active from the mid 1960s on into the 70s were Claude Castell
of France, Nestor Gernay of Belgium and Pieter DeHann of Holland.
The latter proved to be more than a well trained Dutchman who
could ride a bike. He became a club president who encouraged
non-racing members to help with organizing, marshaling,
officiating, and registering duties at a growing number of club
events, from cyclocross to time trails. During the late 1970s and
early 1980s the Somerset Wheelmen's Wednesday night club races in
South Branch regularly attracted up to 50 riders from all
categories. Time trials and training rides starting from Nevius
Street bridge became synonymous with the development of talent. In
1981, the club boasted a newly crowned national champion when Bound
Brook's Keith Jannone swept his midget category events at
Trexlertown Velodrome under the guidance of Joe Saling.
Through it all the Saling family became the ongoing glue that
would carry old and inspire new members from decade to decade.
Joe and Dottie remained active with club activities at all
levels, with Joe evolving into a legendary champion at the state,
national and now world level as a masters competitor. Beyond the
training and behind the scenes developmental work, the club
organized and sanctioned major races that drew competitors from
through the country. From the John Basilone Memorial Tour of
Raritan and the High Point Hill Climb to the Tour of South
Hunterdon to the Locktown Road Race, club members at all levels -
including Steve Reed and Scott Knoke - worked tirelessly to
organize first class competitions.
As a resident club of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, the
Somerset Wheelmen also has had a proud legacy of attracting big
name sponsorships over the years. In 1968 the Somerset Wheelmen
became the first cycling club in the country to embrace a paid
sponsorship when that practice became permitted. The red and
white team colors were then adorned with the logo of Saling's
Schwinn Cyclery. Since then companies the likes of Schwinn, Fuji,
Tissot Watches, Winning Magazine, Mazda, Gatorade, and the
Courier News have supported the cause. Currently the team is
sponsored by Rosenblatt Family Eyecare, Rudy Project, Accelerade,
Morey Piers and Van Dessel Sports.
Life Members Honored
Over the years numerous individuals have won status as
Somerset Wheelmen Life Members. Criteria for the honor include
National Championship, Pan American Games participant, or Olympic
Team Member, or devoting several years of service to the club and
sport of cycling. Current Life Members are John Auer, Allen Bell,
John Chiselko, Cindy Donnelly, Dan Donnelly, Larry Dudek,
Jonathan Erdelyi, Patrick Gellineau, Joan Harper, Keith Jannone,
Furhman Kugler, Mildred Kugler, Pop Kugler, Ernie Matteis, Vince
Menci, Harry Naysmith, Bob Peters, Dottie Saling, Joe Saling,
Larry Shafer, Betty Tyrell, Brooke Wilson, Robert Yarrow, and Jon Zaccagnino.
As one of the largest and most decorated women's teams in the
northeast, Somerset has become the center of women's developmental
cycling and springboard for advanced-level competitors. In
addition to promoting developmental women's clinics and racing
events, Somerset's Women's Team consists of current and past
multi-time national champions and national calendar race
In addition, Somerset cultivates a growing Junior Team (ages
10-17), under the tutelage of experienced coaches and racers on
the team who donate their time and expertise to these younger
riders. As one of the founding clubs of the Under-19 Program of
the New Jersey Bicycling Association, Somerset actively recruits
young cyclists and supports them by providing uniforms, donating
equipment and providing financial support for event fees.
Finally, Somerset's Masters Team (age 35 and above) benefit
from the collective experience and comradeship of the team and
continue to be one of the more successful master men's teams in
In addition to a rich history and contribution to the cycling
world, we also have a long record of helping the community. Among
our past activities are: Adopt-A-Highway; starting the first 4-H
cycling club in the country in 1963; promoting numerous fund
raising events for the American Heart Association, American
Cancer Association, Midland School (for handicapped children and
adults) and others; presenting numerous bicycle safety programs
for scouts and recreational programs; and teaching park rangers
mountain bike riding and skills.
Now under the leadership of club president Chuck Crocco, the
Somerset Wheelmen boasts more than 50 members from not only
Central Jersey, but states throughout the Mid Atlantic region,
attracting the likes of Baltimore's Bobby Phillips, one of the
nation's most prolific race winners of the past 30 years.
Along with numerous opportunities to travel, compete and meet
people from all walks of life, the club continues to uphold the
same goals that Fred "Pop" Kugler first envisioned more than 60
years ago: promoting fitness, health, self confidence,
recognition, positive community visibility, and winning.
By Ron Czajkowski, updated by Brooke Wilson