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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chris Loehner - Airline Pilot and Cat 2 Bicycle Racer



Chris is a Kissena Track Alumni and the unofficial holder of the Kissena Track Kilo Record as a Junior at 1 minute 9 seconds. He is also the brother of John Loehner who is still competing as a master racer in the Cat 1, 2 Pro races. Our paths crossed in 1989 when Chris just started racing the track, I was in my last year of riding and was transitioning on to my next challenge of taking flying lessons after graduating college with a degree in Construction Management. Below is an interview with Chris.

1.      What year and age did you start racing and what or who inspired you to get into bicycle racing?
I was 13 years old when I caught the cycling bug. I had always liked bicycles BMX- 10 speed, taking them apart and jumping them and doing crazy things. It started when my brother John went and did the 24hrs bicycle ride in Central Park.  When he finished riding in the A.M. after about 18 plus hrs, he went to relax. I grabbed his bike and started around the park, in sneakers and shorts I rode about 55 miles and loved it.

2.      Did you start racing on the track or the road?
I started on the road as a junior 14-15 racing. I did not race track until I was 16. I did all the local races in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Anywhere I could ride to, or Al Toefield would pick me up in his Orange van or somehow I got a ride with fellow racers like Mr. Hincapie, Ozzie, my brother (when he got his drivers lic).  It was crazy times back then we didn’t have the internet to see where the races were.  You had the bible known as Velonews with the listings of all the races and you had to send a release with a check in the mail.  The horrors!! It also had to be mailed early. 

3.      Where did you do most of your training and what type of training did you do during your younger racing days?
I started training at 14 doing the busy Forest Park loop in Queens while dodging traffic.  Growing up in Kew Gardens / Richmond Hill it was close and relatively safe (okay I was naive and 14).  The training route was  Park Lane South to Woodhaven to Myrtle Ave with a climb on Woodhaven Blvd. I rode with a bunch of other racers which included my brother, Radisa Cubric, Chris Shultise, Alan Shapiro and more.  After about a year and hitting the back of a car and getting 46 stiches in my face (no helmet), I was introduced to Long Island riding and the German club.  Holy cow what nice roads and the triangle ride.  Then the real riding started.

4.      What type of bicycles did you ride for road and track?
My first bike was a Lotus Classique, maroon in color shifters on the down tube, quick release wheels, suntour parts (24lbs).  It was a racing bike and I was ready (it didn’t win the battle with the car).  Thanks to Alan Shapiro who then let me borrow his Bianchi to continue training.  When my brother was picked up by the Atala/KCC cycling team, I got his bike, which was a Moser with Campy record.  The following year when I was 16, I was selected for the Atala / KCC racing team.   That year I got a road bike and a track bike from the team, the blue and grey stripes of Atala.

  
5.      Did you ride for a team and how long did it take you to progress up through the categories?
When I started racing in 85, I was a cat 4 and moved up to a Cat 2.  I was 14 and racing the A races in Prospect Park and placing.  When I was 16 and started on the track it was the same I moved up in one year to a Cat 2.  It was pretty cool!  All the guys that had done that were the best riders in the area and I did it too!   The teams I was on were KCC, Atala, Toga, I also did select races on Somec/Stuyvesant, Team America/Mazda. 

6.      What were some of your major achievements during your younger racing days?
I raced Superweek in Wisconsin, went to Nationals every year from 16 until I quit in 94.  The two times that stand out for me are racing Tour de Beauce in Canada (as a junior in the Pro/am race). Five days of racing and six stages, it was a battle on the bike.  116 guys started and only 42 finished.  I finished lanton rue, known as the caboose, what an experience on the road. For the track, it was setting the track record at Kissena for the Kilo of 1:09.1.  If you knew the track back then that was fast for the cracked and bumpy surface.  I don’t know if anyone has gone faster there since then?  

7.      When did you stop racing?
I stopped in midseason 1994, I wasn’t progressing like I would have liked to and this is too hard of a sport to do when your heart isn’t in it.  Cambria Heights was my last race, I rode home, hung my bike up and that was it.  Time to finish school.

8.      When and where did you start flight training and what inspired you to become a pilot?
The aviation bug really started for me when I went to Aviation High School in Long Island City and worked on airplanes for half of the day earning my maintenance licenses.  I then started my flight training at SUNY Farmingdale in 1990.  The school had a small flight program that was a hidden secret.  It was $5 an hour wet (gas included) with instructor.  For those of you that fly or are in training you can pick your jaw up now.  It was an amazing deal then, got my first 88 hrs. there for $440.  Today that would buy you about 3.6 hrs.  I was racing during the years I was in Farmingdale so I went to class only in the fall and raced in the spring and summer.  It took me 5 years to complete my Associates Degree.  After I quit racing I decided to finish up my undergrad and went to St Louis University/Parks College.  At this point I was on a mission to go for my career.  I went to Parks College with my Private Pilot license and some instrument training.  When I was there I would fly every chance I could.  I completed my degree and my flight training with a commercial license and a multi-engine instrument rating.   

    
I don’t know anyone or thing in particular that inspired me to fly.  I wanted to be an astronaut first, then a helicopter pilot then a freight pilot and then an airline pilot.  It has always been evolving for me as time goes on.  I didn’t know much about the industry, I had to do it all on my own, thankfully I had supportive parents.  

9.      What type of flying did you do after you got your pilot’s license?
Anyone in this field knows that you need to network a lot in the beginning to get flight time.  After you get all your licenses and ratings you are essentially left to your own devices to progress.  The airlines wouldn’t touch you in 1997 without about 4000hrs and those were the commuter airlines.  So what do you do?  I graduated with about 250-300hrs, how do you get those other 3700hrs?  Most people go the route of flight instructing.  I on the other hand did not, I was working the ground ops for a freight company and networked and helped a fellow employee who was also flying and got hired by Northwest Airlink.  He needed a place to live while he was in training and I had an extra room.  We became good friends and didn’t know he had a twin engine Cessna 310L. 

I had just finished my Multi-engine training and went back to my apartment and my friend told me that he had this airplane and that I could go pick it up and fly it around.  I started to stutter and thought he was kidding.  He was not.  I didn’t hesitate that night I jumped on the freight company flight out to Denver to pick up this airplane (which was in Greely CO.).  What I didn’t realize is that it had been sitting for a while.  It was next to a cow farm and had about 100lbs of dirt on it, tires were flat and not to mention all the other things wrong with it.  I didn’t care; I was getting the use of a twin engine Cessna.  I got the log books and went thru them to make sure everything was up to date.  I grabbed a roll of paper towels and Windex, cleaned the windshield, got the tires filled and did the pre-flight.  I started the engines and went to do some flying after I did touch and goes and everything seemed to be working, off I went to St. Louis. When I got to St. Louis, I had a lot of work to get this airplane in tip top condition.  Wash and wax (cruised 6 knots faster) and a bunch of mechanical issues.  I flew this airplane around for the summer when I wasn’t working, at least an hour or two a day.  It was a great time builder and multi-engine too. 

I then got accepted to a pilot program with the company I was working for.  I was able to sit co-pilot seat and fly freight and learn the ropes.  I then started flying sky divers and let me tell you that was a fun job.  The days were long and you flew a ton.  It was part 91 regulations so there was no limit on flight time for the day.  One day I flew 11hrs and took off and landed 25 times and fueled my own plane.  I ate lunch with the door open at 10,000ft and people jumping out.  That being a seasonal job and getting too cold to jump around December I needed to start looking for another job.  

At this time the requirements for a regional airline had come down to about 1200hrs due to the need for pilots.  I had met the requirements and got hired on Atlantic Coast Airlines/United Express.  I stayed there until the company went out of business which was just shy of 6 years.  During that time I had flown the Jetstream 4100, Captain on the Dornier 328 Jet and the CRJ200.  Which finally brings me to my current job at JetBlue Airways. I am currently on the Airbus 320 and just started my 8th year.  If you haven’t figured out to get to the major airlines it is a long and arduous journey.  You talk to pilots and they either went the military route, which is a tough haul or the civilian way.  All in all the time I started flying to the time to get to the major airlines was about 15 years.  It can be done quicker today but you have to be dedicated.
Over my career I have flown numerous aircraft with 12000 plus hours total time I think the last count was 28 different aircraft. I currently have an ATP license (Airline Transport Pilot) Multiengine Land A-320; CL-65; D-328 Jet with Commercial Privileges Airplane Single Engine Land and a current first class medical.

10.  What type of flying are you currently doing?
I currently fly for JetBlue Airways on the A-320 and the most common question asked is what route do you do?  There is no specific route, some pilots fly the same trip day in and day out, but that is not common.  We usually go by days, 2-day trips, 3-day trips etc.  I personally fly 1-day trips they are the most productive and you are home every night. Over my life I have learned to despise hotels.  When I raced bicycles at a young age I stayed in a lot of hotels.  It was fun then and prepared me for this industry but I think I have met the human capacity to stay in hotels.  So now I am generally in my own bed every night with the few exceptions a year.  It is also nice because I live in the city that I fly out of (also not common) I get to see my 2 young boys and wife every day.

 
11.  Why did you get back into bicycle racing?
 I moved back to New York from a 12 year stint in St. Louis MO.  I bought a house tore it down and rebuilt it, I worked like an animal.  The worst thing about being an airline pilot is that you sit on your keyster all day and eat airport food.  It is a disaster for your health.  I had porked out to about 257lbs (that’s when I stopped getting on the scale) and I found myself being winded going up a flight of stairs.  How the hell did this happen to me?  I blamed my wife for her great cooking but the fact is I ate like I was still racing.  In April of 2011 we had our first son and it scared the b-jesus out of me that I was on the same path as my father.  He worked two jobs, diabetic, overweight, and smoked.  With the exception of smoking I was going to be in the same boat.  I lost my father at the young age of 18.  That is not what I wanted for my children.  So one day I was talking to a good friend of mine and we said lets go for a ride around the neighborhood.  So in June of 2011 for my 40th birthday my wife asked if I would like a new bicycle.  I said yes, and got a Pinarello Paris with all Dura-ace components.  Thus the restart of the cycling addiction -  I’ve lost 52 lbs so far and need to lose another 25lbs to get to my goal.  I feel a thousand times better and enjoy riding again.

12.  What kind of training do you do and what types of races are you doing?
I started racing in spring of 2011 again after a 16 ½ year hiatus.  I started racing in central park more as a goof than to be competitive.  I was 225lbs and thought I would get dropped in the first lap.  Low and behold I didn’t and I started thinking I could have fun with this.  So I started training more and showing up to group rides and getting in shape.  So local road and criterium racing is where I will be.  I thought about jumping on the track but that is just a thought right now.  Maybe next year. 

13.  What are the challenges you are facing getting back in the sport of bicycle racing?
The main challenge is losing the weight.  It is by far one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.  The job I have is not conducive to it, responsibilities at home.  Finding the time and understanding it is a sacrifice that takes time away from my family is difficult.  In the long run it is better for my health and longevity.  Those are the personal challenges.  The bike challenges are that the other rider’s bike handling skills aren’t there.  You get that from racing all types of events; track, cyclo-cross, and road.  These days everyone is too focused on wattage and heart rate and coaches that haven’t done anything.  I guess I’m a little old school.  I feel that rider safety is more important than staring down at strava or your wattage.  Riders don’t know how to ride a pace line or understand how to ride in a pack.  The crazy thing is they are not willing to learn from people who know and willing to teach them.  I wish that would change.

14.  What type of equipment are you riding?
I have a Pinarello Paris with Dura-ace components and Fulcrum 5 wheels. I needed bullet proof wheels because let’s face it I was one fat guy on the bike.   

 
15.  How has cycling equipment and cost changed from when you started?
To my surprise the advancement in the equipment is incredible.  I got back on my old Columbus SL bike with Dura-ace 8 speed, a whopping weight of 23lbs.  Now the bikes are all carbon and weigh 15-16lbs, it is incredible.  When I got my new bike I was like a little kid in astonishment, I made my wife pick it up a lot.  In turn I now get poked fun at for that by everyone.  I was also suffered from a little sticker shock.  The price tags on these machines is a little far out.  Back In my youth the top of the line racing bike was about $3000-$3500.  I was sponsored and it didn’t matter.  Now it is triple that!  I guess it goes along side inflation, we paid 85 cents for a gallon of gas, now it’s $4.00.  Everything is expensive and cycling is certainly no exception.

16.  What are some of your achievements and results since you got back in to cycling?
I think my biggest achievement is losing the weight and feeling better.  The first time I got back on the bike and went for a ride on the LIE service road I hoped nobody I knew would see me and what I had turned into, but to no avail I ran into someone that I knew.  I looked like a stuffed sausage in lycra.  Not only was I going out for a torturous 17 mile ride and being demoralized, but now there was a witness. What to do?  I knew I had to start from ground zero or in the negative. It is such a mental battle knowing where you once were and where you are  now.  Still befuddled how I got in this position. Slowly but surely I started getting stronger and going on longer rides. Slow and steady wins the race!

17.  Do you currently ride for a team?
Yes I do, I was asked this past fall to join Bicycle Planet/CRCA.  I was happy to, the guys on the team are great.  The camaraderie of the guys is how I remembered it, lots of laughter.  Going to the races with teammates is nice, not only for the safety issue.  God forbid something happens. It also helps off-set the cost.

18.  What are your immediate and long term goals in cycling?
First and foremost I want to get down to 180-185lbs.  I think that once that happens things will fall into place and the results will follow.  I have been in a lot of right spots in the races but just didn’t have the gas to see it thru.  I at least know the brain is still working.  I now just need to get the body there. The days of winning big races have set with the sun, I want to enjoy the sport and if doing well in the local races happens then great.

19.  How do you compare riding and racing a bicycle with flying an aircraft, and how has technology impacted on both of these disciplines?
They are very similar in nature.  Brain wise you have to be very precise and structured in both.  They are both disciplines of the mind.  You have to be ahead of the game and know what to expect for the most part. You can’t see everything that’s why there are two pilots on the flight deck, that’s why cycling is a team sport. Like both professions you rely on everyone to do their job to be successful. 

Technology is without a question hand in hand.  From the start of aviation with the Wright Bros. who owned a bicycle shop to the engineers today.  Most engineers who design and build bicycle equipment today have a background in aviation. They are using all the same technology and materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum and the same aerodynamic principles to build bicycles as they use to build airplanes. Also technology has impacted aviation with GPS, glass cockpits and increased automation.      
 
20.  How do you find time to train and race around a family and an airline career with unpredictable schedules?
It is a juggling act and a sacrifice to say the least.  My biggest juggle is the family, which happens to be the most supportive. I live close to JFK and LGA airports so I am able to work anytime at a moments notice.  I work a lot but I have been trying to schedule myself to fit in training.  I do 1-day trips and I am home almost every night but when I work the days are long.  They can range from 8-15 hrs long and most of the time they are the longer days.  The physiological stress of different work times to the pressure changes in the day can wear on you.  But I am realizing that the older I get there are more important things than work.  Health and your family, you have to be healthy to live longer to spend more time with the family and see your kids grow up.  In order to do this I chose to ride and get in shape to be healthy.  It is a balance and I have the best wife in the world to help me achieve that.

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