Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Guys Who Ride the Stuff They Sell

Bill McGann riding with Mauro Mondonico in Tuscany.

On a late spring morning more that 10 years ago, I visited a nondescript commercial space in Ventura County, California. Home to Torelli Imports, it was my introduction to “Chairman” Bill McGann and his wife Carol. We changed into cycling clothing and he took me for a pleasant tour of the hills surrounding his home. By “pleasant tour” I mean that Bill took me out and schooled me. I’ve felt fresher after some races. Then we went out for burritos larger than some crainia.

For those who only know Bill from his ads, it might be helpful to mention that he was a Category 1 racer for many years and once knocked out a 100-mile training ride with one other guy in four hours. Ever modest, he claims to have been the eternal 3rd, but leaves out that his era overlapped that of Greg LeMond. He grudgingly admits an exception to his eternal bronzing, the time he turned a 56 minute 40k TT on a bike with 36-spoke wheels, drop bar and brake cables flapping in the wind. He was the fastest 28-year-old going in California.

If asked how far to the top of a 10k climb, Bill will tell you, "Just a little further." It would seem he thinks anything less than two hours isn't a proper ride. His idea of a good time: pulling off the front of a paceline at 26 mph and checking your calves for signs of weakness. I know this because I’ve seen him do it repeatedly. I always fear he will shout out as Gino Bartali’s domestique did the day he saw a vein in Fausto Coppi’s leg become swollen during a race—a sign Bartali took to signal fatigue in Coppi—“The vein, the vein!” he cried.

Bill has a fundamental belief that bicycling should be an extraordinary experience, that pedaling should, in itself, be a rewarding recreation. While fitness gained through brutal training is a wonderful thing, riding is enough. Those who ride with him know that this man who has been pedaling through the citrus perfume of lemon groves for more than 30 years proclaims his rides to be "paradise itself."

Bill is the classic Renaissance man. He can quote historian Will Durant. He knows the top 10 on GC from every Tour de France in history. He understands Gothic architecture. He wrote (with the assistance of his wife Carol) a very fine book on the history of the Tour. He is a fiend for great comics and was hip to Frazz and Jef Mallett from virtually its beginning. He makes his own bread and composts in his back yard.

His bikes have never been the lightest on the planet, nor the very stiffest. What they do offer can be called all-day comfort, sufficient stiffness and handling so finely balanced you'd think the bike was designed with the aid of the Golden Mean. He describes it as stage-race geometry: bicycles meant to be ridden well by even the most fatigued legs. To ride a Torelli, fairly put, is to know what Bill believes to be a good time.

A few years ago Bill told me of a conversation he had with Richard Sachs in which they all but swore a blood oath to start a club: Guys Who Race the S@#$ They Sell. They figured there would be little need to charge dues as there wouldn’t be many people eligible for membership.

Mr. Atmo himself, drilling it in 'cross.

For the purpose of the adaptation we’ll expand this to anyone who rides a product he sells. It’s still a relatively select club, but one that will creates a large enough population to be worth pursuing.

I hope they’ll forgive this appropriation. There’s no truer route to the soul of a bike company proprietor than by riding with him. No one starts a bike company without a passion for cycling and there’s nothing like going for a ride with someone to learn about their passion for the sport. It usually leads to a conversation about a product they love to ride, one they have brought to market. The revelations are always interesting.

Stay tuned for future installments from rides with Guys Who Ride the Stuff They Sell (GWRTSTS).

10 comments:

Ari said...

I ditto that with bike shops that have employees that actually ride and wear the clothing that they sell. That is a successfull shop.
Ari

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Amen brother! Count me in that group- I can't imagine it any other way. The day I stop riding/ racing, I have to go sell cars or TV's.

Captain said...

thanks for the great read...your posts make my day.

SJB said...

My neighborhood shop was bought out by Supergo, then Performance a few years ago. I hate going there, but often its the most convenient place to get a tube or some chain lube. Recently, I rolled in on my fixed gear bike, an older lugged Waterford. The employees, most of whom would know Coppi from a codpiece looked astound when they saw my cranks turning as I wheeled the bike into the store. "You ride a fixie, isn't that hard to ride?"
I'm sure there are employees there who don't ride at all, its just another easy retail job.

Yuck.

Chet B said...

SJB...is that in Santa Monica? Supergo to Performance? If it is, I know that shop well, and yes they seem to not know their ass from their elbow, but it's the closest place for said tire & tube...just don't let them do the work.

Little_Jewford said...

you've got to slot Tom from Spectrum into this list, even if Jeff does the welding these days.

bikesgonewild said...

...having worked for & with g-fish years ago, i'm not gonna give ya any "i remember when" stories but there are actually a good number (relatively speaking, of course) of guys & even gals who could be members of that august club...

...i do think i understand your intent though & so i say cheers & opposable thumbs up...

Strangelife said...

It's the ultimate testament of a shop and manufacturer to believe in their product. It means much when the sales person (not the butterball into hot rods and drinking games) says "This is what I ride".

Jim said...

Tom Ritchey. Keith Bontrager. And I think the deal on the Rivendell Legolas is that one of the guys that builds 'em races 'em too.

jf said...

I nominate Curt Goodrich.