CORTE MADERA -- Paul Solon was sitting in the café on the ground floor of the Bay Club Marin recently, not far from his home, when he had a minor epiphany. Solon was explaining how he always works out on his bike for a little more than an hour because it allows him to break through a mental barrier, when he suddenly paused.
“I just now realized, anything that I do, I'm doing more than an hour,” Solon said. “I just realized that. I mean, swimming, weightlifting, stretching, you name it. I always go a little bit more than an hour.”
Solon is a cyclist of almost superhuman capacity who has excelled in many different events, but he is now hyper-focused on one goal: breaking the world record for distance ridden in an hour. The rest of his life is organized in support of that prize.
Solon, 59, clearly tends toward obsession, but he came late to cycling. He was 33, working as a lawyer and living in Santa Rosa, when he began to take it seriously. Solon had been a decorated football and basketball player in high school in New Mexico, but it didn't take him long to realize he'd never do either of them professionally. Later he dabbled in triathlons. Again, he was very good — but not good enough to win elite competitions.
Highly competitive by nature, Solon decided to focus on the strongest of his three triathlon legs: cycling. He entered a 552-mile race from Tucson to Flagstaff in Arizona, and won.
“Yes, it surprised me. The first race did,” Solon said. “The Race Across America did not. Based almost exclusively on what happened in Arizona. I thought, 'Man, I'm a natural cyclist.' ”
In the 1980s, Race Across America (also known as RAAM) might have been this nation's favorite cycling event. It was televised on “Wide World of Sports” and got better ratings than the Tour de France. Solon rode the race several times, and in 1989 he not only won but set a record of eight days, eight hours, 45 minutes that would last for three years — despite an excruciating neck injury that knocked him off the bike for nearly 24 hours.