You’ve seen him. He’s the one on the old, slightly beat-up bicycle having no trouble at all keeping up with all the Spandex-clad riders on shiny wheels.
Maybe you remember the day you saw him riding casually around your neighborhood on an antique Sting-Ray bike. Remember those banana seats?It could be that you spotted him on a high-wheeler, or on a bicycle with bright blue tires, or one that was handcrafted from highly polished woods.
Yes, it was all the same guy: Rex Upshaw. Still a boy at heart, 72-year-old Upshaw just likes bicycles, and the man can ride. His fleet now includes 19 bicycles, many of which are seriously antique. He rides them all, all over Madison County and beyond, just for fun.
“Whatever I like, I like,” said Upshaw, an Anderson native. “I’ll just keep playing ‘til I can’t play anymore. If you can, why not do it as long as you can? We put too many limits on ourselves. I’ve done that a lot in the past — not anymore.”Upshaw’s love of the two-wheeled machine has led him to log close to 140,000 miles all under his own power since 1992 — the year bicycles really came to figure in his life.
That day came eight years after the mechanical engineer gave up his cigarette habit.
“I smoked three packs a day for 28 years,” said Upshaw. “I inhaled clear to my toes.”
That day also came 10 years after Upshaw gave up his beloved basketball game. Upshaw had been a basketball player from the get-go. He played until he was 41.
Then he just up and quit, for 10 years.
Once he’d given up basketball and smoking, he spent a decade beleaguered by a fatigue that was only reversed in 1991 after he seriously injured his finger while helping to move a couch. His doctor quickly spotted a low thyroid condition, and meds followed, eventually restoring his energy.
Then, one day in 1992, somebody backed into Upshaw’s car.
Getting it repaired, he wound up pulling out the 10-speed he had purchased for his oldest son during junior high. He rode it about 25 miles. And so, at age 51, the love affair began.
Fast forward Today, Upshaw has just returned from Washington, D. C. where he celebrated his 72nd birthday with a bicycle tour. Back in Anderson, it’s not an atypical weekday.
He rode his bike about 60 miles. He also played two hours of full court basketball. Upshaw has biked 7,000 to 9,000 miles each year for most years since 1992.
He’s been a member of the Anderson Spoke and Wheel Club since that time, with whom he served as ride leader for years. He continues to ride locally several times a week with his bicycling compadres, and on lengthy tours.
Chuck Baden and Upshaw go back 15 years or more. Baden, current chairman of Madison County’s Spoke and Wheel club, calls his riding buddy, “Eccentric. Eclectic. A distinct character of his own kind.”
“He knows what he wants to do and doesn’t particularly care what it looks like,” said Baden.
“Rex is the anti-cyclist,” laughed fellow S&W rider, Dave Crandall. “Clipless pedals. No bike shorts.”It’s true, Upshaw’s riding attire is likely to include denim shorts and topsiders, but he never fails to wear a helmet. That’s a happy thing, especially since Upshaw’s rides have not all been smooth. He was hit by a deer while on a tour in Michigan.
“I got T-boned,” said Upshaw. He also suffered a concussion after being hit by a car in a roundabout near Noblesville. “I flew through the air and I landed on the pavement. I should go out for the Olympics because I stuck my landing.”
While Upshaw is often astride old “Trusty Rusty,” the used 1988 Schwinn Premis he bought back in the ‘90s when he started out, he now has assembled a collection of bicycles, most of them acquired in the last three years. He rides them all, and in all seasons — from his custom-built Renovo handcrafted from four different woods to his 1888 Columbia high wheeler.
“I ride all year long,” said Upshaw. “I ride on snow. I don’t ride on ice — intentionally.”
Upshaw rode his first bicycles as a kid growing up in Anderson. He attended Anderson High School, and then pursued his degree at Purdue University. After a hiatus during his academic career, he finally claimed his degree after finishing up at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) — a physics major with a math minor.
As a mechanical engineer, Upshaw took advantage of what was then an abundant employment scene in central Indiana, working no more than three years at any given job.
Upshaw met the woman who would become his wife in 1962 at General Motors. Sarah worked on the assembly line throughout the years, while Upshaw followed his own more eclectic career path. The pair was married in 1963, and raised two sons. Their eldest son passed away in 2010.
Upshaw lost his Sarah in 2011, but not before she saw him riding his coveted Renovo outside the nursing home where she then resided.
Now, when Upshaw’s not trimming his shrubs or busy helping out his daughter-in-law, it‘s all bicycles and basketballs. Along the way, he’s an encouragement to those who are interested.
“He’s the one that got me here,” said Beth Bailey, who’s been riding with the
Spoke and Wheel brunch crowd since Upshaw inspired her to join the group last fall. That’s no surprise to Upshaw.
“If I like it, it’s got to be good. My opinion,” said Upshaw. Kind of makes you want to get out and ride. As Upshaw would tell you, “Do it, or don’t.”
This article also appeared in the summer edition of Madison magazine, the publication offering features about life in Madison County. The magazine is sold at various retail outlets and at the offices of The Herald Bulletin, 1133 Jackson St., Anderson.