BILL COTTON was once a 200-pound weakling.
Maybe no bully would kick sand on him at the beach, but Bill didn't feel good about himself. His blood pressure was through the roof, and he was advised to take drugs to lower it.
But Bill had a better idea. No drugs for him. He would get himself in shape, lose weight and return to a healthy lifestyle.
The method he chose: bicycle riding. And not just gentle rides around the neighborhood. Bill became a devotee of long bike rides - long, as in hundreds of miles.
He celebrated his 70th birthday by biking to Ocean City, Md., and back, a total of 340 miles.
William Cotton, a retired machinist and tool-and-dye maker who was as well-known for his ability to map out bicycle trips for others as well as himself, died Dec. 20 of a brain tumor. He was 80 and lived in Cheltenham and formerly lived in West Oak Lane.
"He introduced many novices to the sport," said Steve Trobovic, an officer of the Bike Club of Philadelphia. "His enthusiasm for biking, camping, cross-country skiing touched so many of us.
"Everyone who knew Bill will remember him fondly. Bill was one of a kind. He rode solo full-century bike rides, year-round, when he was in his 70s."
"Everybody liked Bill," said Mike McGettigan, owner of Trophy Bikes University City. "He came up with many great ride routes and well into his 70s, would ride, and if he got lost, would post how that happened, using his GPS.
"Many great bike rides are based on the routes that Bill Cotton blazed and started unselfishly, only hoping that others enjoyed them as much as he did."
Bill grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he rode a bicycle as a kid. When he moved to Philadelphia at the age of 17, he put bike riding behind him.
That is, until he bought a bike for a daughter and decided to try it out. He was hooked.
He told Art Carey, the Inquirer's fitness columnist, that by the age of 40 his waistline had ballooned as a result of sedentary jobs, his weight hit 220, and he was a mess.
He then began the long-distance rides that became his hallmark. His weight dropped to a trim 186 and his blood pressure normalized.
To celebrate his 69th birthday, Bill rode from Cheltenham to Ocean City, Md., riding through the night and a lot of rain. He told Carey that he almost quit with 20 miles to go on the homeward trip, but stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts, ate an apple fritter and got enough of a sugar surge to make it home.
Bill often would lead fellow bikers on overnight camping trips to distant sites, like the Belleplain State Forest in South Jersey, hauling tents and cooking stoves and other supplies in his bike trailer.
Bill worked as a machinist and tool-and-dye maker for the old Frankford Arsenal, Pennwalt and the U.S. Mint.
When he met with Art Carey, Bill was dreaming of a cross-country bike trip. His wife, Margaret, called it a "pipe dream" to express her disapproval, and he never undertook it.
Besides his wife, he is survived by daughters Karen and Cindy.