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Finishing The Hawaii Ironman On A $15 Bike

  • By Bob Babbitt
  • Published Nov 20, 2013
  • Updated Feb 9, 2014 at 10:19 PM UTC
Illustration by Matt Collins.

The year was 1996. Cory Foulk, a longtime Ironman participant and a Kona, Hawaii, resident, was looking to change some perceptions. He felt that the sport that he loved had gotten a bit too tech-heavy. “I didn’t like the idea that people felt they couldn’t do the Ironman unless they had some $10,000 bike,” he says. “I decided that it was important to show that you didn’t have to be rich to do the Ironman—that you could complete the event even without a great bike.”

He bought his not-great bike for the 1996 Ironman for $15. It was a 61-pound Schwinn Typhoon with coaster brakes, flat pedals, a basket on the front, tassels on the ends of the handlebars, solid rubber tires and a kickstand. The only thing his bike didn’t have on it was a hibachi and a four-speaker stereo system. “When I bought the bike,” he says, “it was so rusted out the wheels didn’t turn. After I fixed that problem, I bought some neon yellow spray paint for the frame. I spent more on paint than it cost me to buy the bike!”

On the day the Ironman hopefuls brought their bikes to the transition area for check-in, Foulk was stopped by Ironman’s bike police. “They told me I couldn’t have a kickstand on my bike, so I took it off,” he says.

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Then a few minutes after he left the transition area, one of the race officials tracked him down in the crowd. “Turns out they couldn’t fit my fat tires into the slats of the bike rack,” he says. “They asked me to put my kickstand back on the bike so it could be racked with the others.”

On race morning, Foulk put some water, Jolly Rancher candies and a few rolls of quarters in the basket on his bike. He would need the quarters because the plan was to stop during the ride at pay phones and call in reports to a local radio station. The Jolly Ranchers were to snack on. The water? “My plan was to ride barefoot,” Foulk says. “I figured I might need to get off the bike and push it up the steepest hills. Then I might need the water to cool off my feet.”

His race-day outfit consisted of a tie-dyed Speedo and aloha shirt. His bike helmet had foam flames attached on each side.

Out of the water in 1:29:40, Foulk headed off on his beast. “It was surprisingly hard without clip-less pedals,” he admits. “You just couldn’t get aero on the downhills, so I put my feet up into the basket and pointed my toes. It was more like a diver in a semi-tuck position.”

But when he got that 61-pound semi rolling, it could fly. “I was definitely north of 50 miles per hour on the way back from Hawi,” he says. “I went by people so fast I felt like I was sucking their Oakleys right off their faces.”

Despite riding this monstrosity barefoot on flat pedals with only one gear through the heat and wind of the Kona Coast and stopping three times to call the radio station and file race reports, Foulk was able to do the bike ride in 8:50:21. Then he got off and ran a 5:26:56 marathon to finish in 15:26:56.

For a guy who has run 17 marathons in one year, completed 24 Ultraman events, two triples, one quinta and 51 Ironman races, in my opinion, Cory Foulk’s greatest athletic achievement came on that October day in 1996 when he completed the Ironman with a big smile on his face riding a cruiser bike in bare feet while wearing an aloha shirt.

Foulk proved that while a $10,000 bike is always nice, a 61-pound Schwinn Typhoon still works just fine.

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Bob Babbitt (@bob_babbitt) is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.

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