team somerset | History

Our History

Established in 1936, the Somerset Wheelmen bicycling club actually can trace its early roots to an organization founded by Fred "Pop" Kugler's father in 1912. Called then the Somerville Wheelmen, the club grew with the enthusiasm of three generations of Kugler family to evolve into a loosely knit training and racing group during the Depression.

Its early days saw a small contingent of a dozen or so competitors inspired by Pop Kugler, Charlie Velo, and a young rider, Charlie Grill. Training rides always began at Pop's shop and looped through towns like Flemington, Pluckemin and Plainsfield. Sprints and two man team races were popular and were held wherever a horse track could be found in Central Jersey. Racers who wore the first "orange and black" colored wool jerseys of the Wheelmen included Vince Menci, Harry Naismith, Willy Dolan, and the Lorenzetti brothers, Bill and George, among others.

A National Front

In 1940, the club's mentor, Pop Kugler, coached riders who achieved national distinction, which is still unrivaled today. Three members from the same home town won the men's, women's and junior national championships in Detroit's, Chandler Park. That remarkable feat by Furman Kugler, Mildred Kugler and Harry Naismith not only brought the stars and stripes "trifecta " to Somerville, but won local and universal respect for Pop's wise and deliberate style of coaching.

Since then the Somerset Wheelmen can boast victories in countless hundreds of open races, a collective 250 state champions, nearly 75 national champions and a 1956 Olympic Team member in the likes of Allan Bell. Bell got his start in racing as a young kid during the 40's at club sponsored Brooks Field developmental races.

Along with neighboring Plainsfield Wheelmen, the club promoted a local event in Somerville in 1940 that was designed to give Furman Kugler an opportunity to race before a hometown crowd. And race he did. Furman won the 50 mile fixed gear grind two years in a row, and the great tradition the Tour of Somerville began. It grew - with the club's unwavering support over the decades - to become what today is know as America's oldest continuously run bicycle race. The success of the Somerville race drew local talented riders like Sam Vones, Don Tokash and Joe Thompson to the club's lure in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Post War Boom

With the exception of the time during the second World War, the club flourished in the 1940s, and regained momentum as a nationally recognized powerhouse in the 1950s. Allen Bell and a youngster from Bridgewater named Joe Saling joined the likes of riders such as Art Briggs, Joe Sloan, Bobby Boughner, Lou Lomerson, Enie Maltese and John Chiselko. Chiselko won the 1954 Tour of Somerville while still a student at Somerville High School, becoming the last club member to win the senior classic. Adam Dutch won the junior Tour of Somerville in 1979.

Despite all the victories and successes, the club did lack the type of organization that was needed to make it more than a group of riders who simply trained and raced. Meetings were few and far between, there were no officers and no dues were collected.

That was all to change in the early 1960s. In 1961 Joe Saling returned from the Navy to marry Dottie Yard. Meanwhile, Charlie Grill's son, Jim became one of Somerset Wheelmen's first presidents with an agenda. The Saling's winning ways combined with Jim Grill's organizational skills to launch the modern era of an organization that was designed to attract new members and grow. Club races were run regularly and an expanded member base became active in promoting all aspects of bicycling, from safety lectures at local schools to developmental rides for 4H club members. Formal meetings were held and a newsletter, Bottom Bracket, was written and distributed. Bake sales, Tupperware parties and equipment auctions raised funds. Grill's philosophy of getting people interested in promoting the sport through regular articles and columns about the club in the newspapers paid off. Membership ranks swelled to a high of more than 100 during the mid 1970's, with Grill serving as official club coach from 1967-1978. Racing names like Wayne Cook, Charlie Dungan, Rudy Kerl, Victor Corbo, Bob Peters, Bob Yarrow, Ross Thompson, Ron Koller, Rick Anderson, Robert Ryan, and Alan and Robert Kowal were augmented by an attraction of foreign talent to the club.

Foreign Influence

Active from the mid 1960s on into the 70s were Claude Castell of France, Nestor Gernay of Belgium and Pieter DeHann of Holland. The latter proved to be more than a well trained Dutchman who could ride a bike. He became a club president who encouraged non-racing members to help with organizing, marshaling, officiating, and registering duties at a growing number of club events, from cyclocross to time trails. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the Somerset Wheelmen's Wednesday night club races in South Branch regularly attracted up to 50 riders from all categories. Time trials and training rides starting from Nevius Street bridge became synonymous with the development of talent. In 1981, the club boasted a newly crowned national champion when Bound Brook's Keith Jannone swept his midget category events at Trexlertown Velodrome under the guidance of Joe Saling.

Through it all the Saling family became the ongoing glue that would carry old and inspire new members from decade to decade. Joe and Dottie remained active with club activities at all levels, with Joe evolving into a legendary champion at the state, national and now world level as a masters competitor. Beyond the training and behind the scenes developmental work, the club organized and sanctioned major races that drew competitors from through the country. From the John Basilone Memorial Tour of Raritan and the High Point Hill Climb to the Tour of South Hunterdon to the Locktown Road Race, club members at all levels - including Steve Reed and Scott Knoke - worked tirelessly to organize first class competitions.


As a resident club of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, the Somerset Wheelmen also has had a proud legacy of attracting big name sponsorships over the years. In 1968 the Somerset Wheelmen became the first cycling club in the country to embrace a paid sponsorship when that practice became permitted. The red and white team colors were then adorned with the logo of Saling's Schwinn Cyclery. Since then companies the likes of Schwinn, Fuji, Tissot Watches, Winning Magazine, Mazda, Gatorade, and the Courier News have supported the cause. Currently the team is sponsored by Rosenblatt Family Eyecare, Rudy Project, Accelerade, Morey Piers and Van Dessel Sports.

Life Members Honored

Over the years numerous individuals have won status as Somerset Wheelmen Life Members. Criteria for the honor include National Championship, Pan American Games participant, or Olympic Team Member, or devoting several years of service to the club and sport of cycling. Current Life Members are John Auer, Allen Bell, John Chiselko, Cindy Donnelly, Dan Donnelly, Larry Dudek, Jonathan Erdelyi, Patrick Gellineau, Joan Harper, Keith Jannone, Furhman Kugler, Mildred Kugler, Pop Kugler, Ernie Matteis, Vince Menci, Harry Naysmith, Bob Peters, Dottie Saling, Joe Saling, Larry Shafer, Betty Tyrell, Brooke Wilson, Robert Yarrow, and Jon Zaccagnino.

Somerset Today

As one of the largest and most decorated women's teams in the northeast, Somerset has become the center of women's developmental cycling and springboard for advanced-level competitors. In addition to promoting developmental women's clinics and racing events, Somerset's Women's Team consists of current and past multi-time national champions and national calendar race winners.

In addition, Somerset cultivates a growing Junior Team (ages 10-17), under the tutelage of experienced coaches and racers on the team who donate their time and expertise to these younger riders. As one of the founding clubs of the Under-19 Program of the New Jersey Bicycling Association, Somerset actively recruits young cyclists and supports them by providing uniforms, donating equipment and providing financial support for event fees.

Finally, Somerset's Masters Team (age 35 and above) benefit from the collective experience and comradeship of the team and continue to be one of the more successful master men's teams in the region.

In addition to a rich history and contribution to the cycling world, we also have a long record of helping the community. Among our past activities are: Adopt-A-Highway; starting the first 4-H cycling club in the country in 1963; promoting numerous fund raising events for the American Heart Association, American Cancer Association, Midland School (for handicapped children and adults) and others; presenting numerous bicycle safety programs for scouts and recreational programs; and teaching park rangers mountain bike riding and skills.

Now under the leadership of club president Chuck Crocco, the Somerset Wheelmen boasts more than 50 members from not only Central Jersey, but states throughout the Mid Atlantic region, attracting the likes of Baltimore's Bobby Phillips, one of the nation's most prolific race winners of the past 30 years.

Along with numerous opportunities to travel, compete and meet people from all walks of life, the club continues to uphold the same goals that Fred "Pop" Kugler first envisioned more than 60 years ago: promoting fitness, health, self confidence, recognition, positive community visibility, and winning.

By Ron Czajkowski, updated by Brooke Wilson