I consider the 1980s the Golden Age of modern cycling. While it’s true I was at the peak of my game, consider this: Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. Campagnolo reached its zenith as the manufacturer of the best bike parts in the world. Shimano was coming on strong. Mavic introduced the MA2 clincher rim, the best ever. The mountain bike became a household name.
And, Palo Alto Bicycles thrived. I had the privilege of working there. I can’t tell you I got rich: nobody does in the bike business. I had fun and adventures to last a lifetime. That’s the payoff.
Palo Alto Bicycles isn’t any bike shop. It has been around since 1930 (moving to University Avenue in 1973). That’s a long time for a business much less a bike shop. It’s family-run, which has its good and bad points. Do your job well and they treat you like family. It’s an intangible job benefit that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
Bernie Hoffacker – The Owner
The driving force behind the shop was Bernie Hoffacker. He was well into his 60s when I started working there in 1979 as a fumbling “mechanic.”
Bernie had a way about him that left an impression. Nothing escaped his attention. A child of the Great Depression, he never let you forget every penny counts and no job is too insignificant or unworthy of being done just right.
One of my jobs was taking out the trash. Every night Bernie made the rounds and he always asked me if I had emptied all the cans. “Make sure you press it down real good,” he’d say. We had only one dumpster and sometimes it was a chore cramming in all the discarded bike boxes.
Bernie didn’t ride a bike, but he was athletic. I’d watch in amazement as he headed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. In his youth he played baseball for the San Francisco Seals. One day we had a company picnic and Bernie showed up to play shortstop. When a hard-hit ball came his way he scooped it up like a pro. He had the moves!
Bike shops draw all kinds of people to work there and shop owners can tell you it’s a challenge keeping everyone in line, maintaining a professional manner, handling the dark side of owning a retail business. Bernie had that down in spades. His commitment and drive made Palo Alto Bicycles what it was and is to this day — a thriving business. Now Bernie is gone, age 92. He lived not just a good life, but a great life. I’ll miss him.