Paul Andrews

How it used to be, ye youthful brethren of the spoken wheel…

In Bicycle Racing on January 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

The recent passing of Bernie Hoffacker, founder of Palo Alto Bicycles, rekindled a lot of memories from our roadie days back in the ’70s.

When the Euro revolution was just starting to sink in, Hoffacker’s Palo Alto Bicycles and Ric and Jon Hjertberg’s Wheelsmith a couple blocks away made Palo Alto one of the coolest places on earth. Palo Alto Bicycles had the classiest mail order catalog anywhere, helping to fuel the bike boom of the ’70s, and its posters of Tour legends and local wheel-building icon Jobst Brandt riding the Swiss Alps still hang in my basement.

Where PA Bikes and Wheelsmith really rocked was during the Tour de France. You have to remember, there was no TV coverage or even mention of the Tour on newscasts. Local newspapers ran nothing, not even results.

The only way to track Tour progress was to swing by Palo Alto Bicycles or Wheelsmith for results, usually posted on a small piece of paper tacked to a bulletin board or wall. And then we’d debate about who was going to win and fantasize what it would be like to be following the peloton through the mountains.

We asked Ric, who runs Wheel Fanatyk in Seattle these days, to refresh our memory on how Wheelsmith got the results.

“Tour results, in the early days, came from the Manchester Guardian we copped at Mac’s Smoke Shop,” Ric noted. “You needed to wait until opening because they only got 3 copies. We rushed it to our store, clipped the results, and posted them. Dozens of riders would come by over the day, or call, to learn the standings.”

By today’s standards, it sounds positively Stone Age.

“Whew,” Ric acknowledged. “Was it really that primitive? Well, actually, it was!”

We never thought we’d get live coverage of the Tour each day, or be able to chatter on our keyboards via blogs and the Internet. (Thank you, Jacques, Greg and Lance!) We were happy just for the names of the stage winners and Top 10 overalls, with respective times. Thanks to Palo Alto Bicycles for feeding the mind, inspiring the soul and supplying the kit over the years. And yes Ric, we miss those days hanging out at Wheelsmith. Computers weren’t the only great things that sprang from garage shops in Silicon Valley!

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