Even for casual Canyon Road strollers, Laurence Malone made an impression. Up and down the street he’d ride his bicycle, selling homemade lentil burritos, casting long shadows from the two-wheeled machine that made him famous—and from his 6-foot-2-inch frame.
Malone’s aesthetic of choice was an ’80s vibe of frumpy, loose-fitting garments that billowed in the wind. And he was a talker—a deep and philosophical talker, his friends expressed to SFR.
Malone died on May 17 near Lancaster, California, after his vehicle suffered a head-on collision with a semi-truck. The 68-year-old was on his way back to Santa Fe in one of his many seasonal migrations.
The man peddling his burritos through Santa Fe’s art district was also one of the first legends in the international cyclocross community—an intense form of racing that takes on paved and off-road paths, often in extreme weather conditions.
“He was a forefather in cyclocross racing, a five-time national champion,” a close friend of Malone, Shaheen Rassoul, tells SFR. “And of course he was a huge figure in my life, and his loss has resonated within the cycling community. But [Malone] was also recognized just because of the amazing personality he was. I really valued him as a coach and mentor, and a surrogate father figure. You really could see him in Santa Fe, all the time.”
His national titles came in consecutive years from 1975 to 1979, the record for most wins of any cyclocross athlete. He won gold and silver in the Masters CycloCross National Championships as well.
Malone’s friends describe him as a counterculture conundrum. He shunned the superstardom glimmering on the horizon, placing more importance on foraging for mushrooms and olives. Malone even worked as a US Olympic Training Center coach in the early ’90s, at the same time spending months out of the year living in a roofless treehouse in Ojai, California.
“He moved like the seasons,” Rassoul adds, noting his various humble abodes.
Rassoul explains Malone was the son of post-depression Dust Bowlers who went west and set up shop in Ojai. Malone lived in New Mexico from May to November, California in December and April, and Central Mexico from January to March. Everywhere he went, he collected spare bicycle parts from junkyards and dumpsters, so he could refurbish them into working order and give them away, often at a financial loss. His home workshop featured piles of bicycle parts, where he’d work to the rhythm of Peruvian music.
Another close friend of Malone, Igor Choromanski, describes him as adorning a trickster’s smile, having fingernails dark with engine oils from his work on bicycles and old vehicles, and often wearing torn clothing.
“Laurence loved people,” Choromanski says. “He collected them with the enthusiasm of a 9-year-old running along a beach looking for seashells. Every time he’d find one, he’d run back yelling, ‘Look what I found!’ And that same afternoon, there would be phone calls and voice messages. By sundown there would be a gathering honoring his latest find.”
Another friend, Gustav Alsina, echoes that sentiment. Alsina describes him living with richness around him—a world filled with wonder, friends, a deep love of reading.
“He gathered a tribe of many willing to engage,” Alsina remembers. “Through deep passages [he] recalled quotes by brilliant minds he read in books, just as hungrily as he read minds. Same as he read road signs, and rode bikes into places less visited than those more known. His tribe was like he was.”
In 1977, Malone came to international renown.
While competing in Hanover, Germany, he performed a series of bunny-hops over barriers which awed the Europeans—it was something the continent hadn’t seen before, Rassoul says. Despite brushing off the accomplishment in conversation with friends, the European cycling world put Malone on the map for his feats, nicknaming him “Der Springer” (The Jumper).
Malone held a deep distrust in the institution of sports capitalism. He held views that irked other competitors, such as his dismissal of a scientific-backed training regimen for competition, arguing focus on skill and coordination were ideal.
“He was a forefather of the sport, and these were the days before Lance Armstrong,” Rassoul says. “Although he was good at it, it was an ill fit for him to be part of these promotional groups. Deep down he was a real rebel, so that stopped him from competing. He was frustrated with the state of cycling because it wasn’t consistent with his worldview.”
Cycling was (and is) an individual sport for the rider, Rassoul says, and not conceived as a group-think exercise—but such nostalgic ideals have largely diminished.
“It’s gone the group-think way,” he says. “The influx of money and [Malone’s] personality didn’t mesh. Nowadays, racing is centralized to do the bidding of the team director. Laurence saw that early on. Eyes were on the money and the pretty faces on the magazines. He tried to remind the early cycling community that they were different, but it was a tsunami no one person could stop.”
In 2017, Malone was inducted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame—an experience his friends say moved him deeply. At the crash site, a newspaper clipping of the event was found on his person, allowing police to identify him.
The absence of Malone’s yearly migration patterns strikes Rassoul. It was as if their friend was a timepiece, as if he were the seasons himself.
“It’s almost summer,” he says. “But we’re all still wondering when spring might finally come.”
Malone is survived by an 8-year-old son in Mexico.