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Octogenarian rides 103 miles on birthday bicycle trip
Ray pic1
Turlocker Ray Houlihan starts out on a 103.5 mile trek on Dec. 19 through Stanislaus and Merced counties to celebrate his 80th birthday. - photo by Photo Contributed

Retired teacher and amateur photographer Ray Houlihan has had the same mode of transportation for over 50 years — a Bottecchia bicycle.

The avid cyclist bought the bike in 1957, and modified the traditional racing equipment for touring. Since then, Houlihan has ridden his bike up and down the state many times over. He and his Bottecchia also competed in the Senior Games twice — in 1981 and 1988.

Also in 1981, Houlihan rode with his then-teenage son, Bruce, to Watsonville, Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley — a trip that was a little hair-raising as Pacheco Pass was still a two-lane road at the time. Bruce, now a businessman in the Seattle, Wash. area, rides occasionally. He did, however, pass the cycling bug on to his son, Eric. Eric competed in a ride from Seattle to Portland, Ore. in his teenage days.

Houlihan and his Bottecchia have been a common sight on the back roads around Turlock. Three times a week he makes a 20-mile loop — winter, spring, summer or fall.

On his Bottecchia, Houlihan embarked on 100-mile trips — 15 different times — and has made the trek from Turlock to his high school reunion in Watsonville.

“Sometimes when I’m riding I feel like I’m better off now in my 80s than I was in my 50s because I have more experience,” he said.

Houlihan and his bike have had a long career together, and, like a business partner, he likes to brag on its credentials: “This is the same brand of bike that our cyclist Greg LeMond rode when he was the first American Tour de France winner in 1986.”

In December, Houlihan made a 103.5 mile trek through Stanislaus and Merced counties in celebration of his 80th birthday — but without his trusted Bottecchia.

“This year I bought a new bike,” he said.

Houlihan is now riding a brand new Sirrus Expert 15-gear road bike. It weighs a sleek 21.5 pounds, “which makes a difference for an older guy when riding the hills, which I try to avoid now.”

Houlihan hunted around for about two years for the perfect replacement for his Bottecchia. Not that the Bottecchia could ever be replaced in Houlihan’s heart.

“Keep it in the family or put in the casket,” he said about his now retired touring partner.

In the future, Houlihan plans to compete in the Senior Games again and do another birthday ride — except this time on his half-birthday in June — all with a camera on his back.

He pedals on for “the joy of finishing and doing the photography along the way.”

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.