Wednesday, November 5, 2014

R.I.P. Roger Wellington Sands.

Time stops for no one and the time seems to go by at a crazy rate. It has been a long time since I came here to Santa Cruz......a very long time. There are many ways things could have gone for me but early on there was a job and a boss who played a pivotal role in shaping my future. I'm not sure if Roger Sands knew what effect he would have on all the people who came through his shop-the Bicycle Center-but there is no doubt that anyone who worked for Roger got a unique opportunity to experience the finer aspects of the retail bicycle world. I don't think that Roger set out to mentor anyone but he was happy to show me and everyone else the tricks he knew for fixing things that seemed hopelessly beyond repair.
            August,1977-this was when I was ready to leave L.A. any way I could-even if it were in a box. I was so fed up with the so-called 'life' I was living and needed to get away. My sister was living in Santa Cruz and urged me to try living there. I sent up a job resume and a letter of recommendation from my boss at Harry's Hollywood Schwinn. I had $ 200 , two bicycles, a guitar and a stereo to my name. My sister said that she would bring the copies of my resume to all the bike shops in Santa Cruz. A good friend with a truck took me up north and I celebrated my 23rd birthday saying a permanent goodby to L.A.
           It was in mid September that I went around to all the bike shops and introduced myself. Most of the shops were full with workers and did not need a new face, even on who had experience at a big L.A. bike shop. My hunting took me to the Bicycle Center where Roger greeted me warmly. He said that having my sister in my corner was a big plus. He also said that my orange Colnago was a nice bike-even if it was a bit big for me.I told him that I was earning $ 2.35 an hour at Hollywood Schwinn but was willing to take less. Roger hired me and started me at $ 2.75 and hour and immediately I felt like I had landed in a good spot.
           I was to be part of a new crew who came in after Roger's two trusted mechanics had gone off to start their own businesses.....this really irked Roger as he really didn't appreciate employees going into direct competition with him. He was very territorial at this point in his life, having sunk his life savings into this very high-end shop filled with top-end frames from around the world. You see, Roger was a guy who made his living earlier working for Lockheed. He did very well financially but felt that there was much more to life than bringing in the big bucks . In his early'40s he decided to check out the bike world and bit by bit got himself enough know how and bravery to start his own shop. The shop grew and after a number of years he bought a lot and built a new building to house his vision-a shop that would bring high-end bicycles to Santa Cruz for the first time. This was to be my place of work for the first two years of my new life in Santa Cruz.
            Working at the shop , I got a chance to see frames from not only European brands that I was familiar with-I got to see frames from US builders who were raising the bar artistically and creating  frames that really showed an attention to detail that I had not encountered before. Seeing these frames and talking with Roger got me interested in building a frame for myself. Roger told me that his son-in-law had built a number of frames and was going to liquidate some tubing . This is where I got some of my first materials. Also, the Bicycle Center had a Campagnolo tool kit-this I had never seen. Roger told me that a distributor had some on sale for $ 895. I did not have to money and did not have credit. Roger co-signed for a business loan so that I could buy myself one of these amazing tool kits. This was 1978 and by the summer I had built my first frame.
           While Roger was not opposed to me having a hobby building frames, he was not convinced that I was ever going to be a credible frame builder. At the time I felt a bit disappointed  but came to realize that the process at getting good at building frames would take a long time and was secondary to earning a living at the bike shop. After a year or so, I was the manager of the shop when Roger and his wife Marcia were away. I liked the added  responsibility and appreciated the trust that Roger had in me. I did my best to not let my boss down and in spite of my lack of confidence really took to the job of making sure that all was running as it should.
             One day I came to work and Roger was not there. Marcia said that he was at the hospital and was going to have bypass surgery. It turned out that Roger had a heart episode and it would change his life. While he was laid up, Marcia and I ran the shop-it was a big job and I for one was a bit overwhelmed. When Roger finally was well enough to come back to work he was calmer and less territorial than he had been in the past. He started showing me ways to straighten tacoed wheels by slamming them on the ground. It was brilliant ! He showed me how to align a rear end of a bent bicycle frame with a rubber mallet. I still do it the same way. He made me aware of chain line and how critical it was to proper gear function. He also showed me that a customer in the store needed to be helped more than the phone needed to be answered-very wise words that I didn't completely understand at the time. He also introduced me to cyclocross-I had no idea that it existed. My first ride in the forest was with Roger and one of his friends. We went out on a drizzly day for a couple of hours until a land owner kicked us off of his property !
              Roger introduced me to all the folks in the cycling club-people that I might not have really liked hanging out with but who were into riding like myself. Roger showed me a county cycling map and urged me to do what he had done-ride every road on the map. I still have yet to achieve that , but I did see a lot of nice roads in the process. Working at the Bicycle Center really got me aware of the larger picture of bikes, riding and the cycling community. While I really valued my position at the Bicycle Center I knew that one day I  would have to leave. I didn't see eye to eye with Roger on a few things and I was stubborn and young enough not to let it go. I took a job a a smaller shop across town that I could transform into something nearly my own, or so I thought.
               After a year and a half of working at the smaller shop myself and the rest of the crew were all fired on the same day. It seemed that we were not the right 'image' that the owner wanted and in spite of the fact that we had turned his run down garbage heap of a shop into a profitable and well liked bike shop. I was given one hour's severance. I immediately called Roger asking if I could have my job back. Graciously he told me I was welcome back, even though I had not left on the greatest of terms-such was his forgiveness.
             I worked for  another year at the Bicycle Center and then went on a long bike tour. When I got back I decided that I needed to learn more about wheel building so I took a job at another shop that had a reputation for the best service department. Even though I no longer worked for Roger I still had a good relationship and he always treated me with respect. I really feel that i got my real start in the bike business with Roger and I got the opportunity to learn about frame building in Roger's shop-something I was unlikely to experience anywhere else. For this I will always be thankful-my life as it is now is a direct result of those few years at the Bicycle Center. R.I.P., Roger-you were a good man.


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