[EDITOR’S NOTE: It has been a while since we first shared this with you, so why not bring in up again. Here’s a little peek into Bike Friday’s roots in bicycle racing in North Dakota in the 1980s, showing that our road racing experience runs deep.]
As success stories go, you’d be hard-pressed to fabricate one as endearing as that of the Scholz family, that includes brothers Hanz and Alan, who founded Bike Friday in 1992.
Their love affair with bicycles blossomed during the 1970s and 1980s, when elite bike racing re-emerged from its long hibernation in the United States. Alan became interested in cycling while working toward a Boy Scout badge as a youngster.
It’s not as though the Scholzes jumped on the band wagon in some cycling haven like New England or Colorado — or even Indiana or Wisconsin — where the seeds already were sown. These unassuming beginnings unfolded in the Great Plains of Fargo, North Dakota.
It was a family affair.
“There were a lot of families involved,” Alan says, noting that his family was among the most active. “At that time our cycling clubs were really family clubs. We would all ride together: parents, kids and racers. Everyone had the opportunity to learn from riding with the best. There was a lot of mentoring then.”
Fast forward a bit, and Alan opened a bike shop in the basement of his parents’ house while he was in high school. It later moved to the garage, and eventually became a traditional bike shop called Nomad.
Alan raced as senior in the district known as the Dakota Territories — the vast landmasses of North and South Dakota combined because of the tiny population of racers. The brothers’ parents, Earl and Mary Esther, became the district representatives. They organized and officiated at races.
Nomad became the center of the club.
“We sponsored weekly events and rides,” Alan says. “Since our club was an everything club, everyone went to tours, state races, and even nationals together. Moms, Dads, kids from 8 years old on up.”
While Alan’s business grew with the opening of a sister store in Grand Forks run by his brother Ian, so did the community of cycling enthusiasts in the Dakota Territories. When youngest brother Hanz began racing in Fargo, so did another youngster in the district, up the road in Grand Forks.
“Back then we had maybe three races a year, I believe,” says Andy Hampsten, an upstart youngster who pedaled his way from Grand Forks to European Grand Tours, including the Giro d’Italia title in 1988. “I started my first race when I was 13 or so. I guess, I was 12. It was at the University of North Dakota. In my class, it was my brother, Steve, my best friend, Pete O’Kelly and myself. I was third. Maybe that was before anything was sanctioned.”
Hampsten started racing on a Raleigh. When Steve bought a Gitane, Hampsten went to the Grand Forks Nomad shop to upgrade, and bought a Peugeot PX 10 from Ian Scholz. It was time to get serious.
“We did a lot more riding than racing,” Hampsten says. “We would drive six hours to Bismarck to do the state championships. It’s a pretty big state. It was hard finding a ride. There were only half a dozen racers in Grand Forks. I’d do touring, just riding five days a week.
“There were just so few races. My bother was a year and a half older than me. We would talk about racing and hash over what happened after a race, that we went too slow in the corners, things like that. But there were only a few times a year we could practice anything we learned in a race.”
So much of that riding and mentoring took place on club rides.
“As I think back to Hanz and Andy’s rise to national class, it comes from an inclusive mentoring atmosphere that the shop and club were central to,” Alan says. “We presented possibilities that simply would not be there in an outback like Fargo. Our closest competition was Winnipeg or Minneapolis — full day trips out of the realm of possibilities for budding juniors. We had to build and run our own system.
“My parents supplied the ‘wheels’ in so many ways to make it possible for young talent to develop.”
That’s exactly how Hampsten remembers it.
“Their parents were the Dakota Territories,” Hampsten says of the Scholz family. “One (parent) would be District Rep, both be judges at the races, and they’d be giving out food, feeding everyone. It was the whole Scholz family.”
With his strong foundation, Hampsten took what he learned in North Dakota and built on it.
“I went to England in the summer of ’77 when I was 15,” Hampsten says. “That changed everything.”
To hone his skills, Hampsten spent his summers racing in Wisconsin, living in Madison. But each year he would come back to race his district championship. And face his Dakota rival, Hanz Scholz.
“I remember one championship, traveling from Wisconsin — must have been my second year as a junior,” Hampsten says. “I came to the Junior Boys race, and it was only Hanz and myself. We had 80 miles to do, 5 laps.
“I remember when we got our feed bags, we decided to sit down and eat sandwiches. It was a little bit of a hilly course. I attacked a bit at the end. Hanz was really good. We came down to a sprint — doing track stands for the last mile.
“He jumped early. I came past him with 150 meters to go, but he fooled me. He came back around, and we had a photo finish before there were cameras. It was too close to call.”
Too good to forget.
“Yes, I remember that race,” Hanz says. “It was the world’s longest matched sprint. I remember how strong he was and how determined I was that he wouldn’t drop me. I wasn’t strong enough to lead at a very fast pace, and he wasn’t strong enough to ride away — 35 miles of hell and we could have just ridden up the road a quarter mile and sprinted in. The result would have looked exactly the same.”
As it was, the result looked to be a dead heat. Normally, it would be up to the judges to pick a winner.
“His Mom and Dad were judges,” Hampsten says, with a chuckle. “They talked it over a little, and then came over and asked, ‘Between you guys, who do you think got it?’
“I thought I held him off. But Hanz threw his bike better. They asked us to talk about it. We both thought we won it. Then Hanz said, ‘I’m not going to go to the National Championships anyways, you’ll go. So we’ll say you won.’
“It was really a fun time.”
It was where the heart and soul of Bike Friday was forged. Where love of cycling ran deep.
“I remember one year riding from Grand Forks to Fargo for a race,” Hampsten says. “No one I knew had a car. We drove with people from Sioux Falls, driving through the night. Then I rolled a tire in a race, and drove all the way back. But the center of all the hubbub, was the Scholzes.”
And Alan’s Nomad Shop, which specialized in bicycles and cross country skiing.
“We only had six months to ride our bikes,” Hampsten says. “We had long winters to think about where to ride and to tinker with bikes.”
That tinkering became the fertile ground from which Bike Friday was born.
Today, Hampsten splits his time living in Boulder, Colorado, and Tuscany. He and his brother Steve own Hampsten Cycles in Seattle.
“Everything is great,” Hampsten says. “Everything is fun. Hampsten Cycles is doing well in Seattle with Steve. We’re selling Olive Oil. Business is keeping us busy. But we’re still having fun and riding our bikes.”
So are the Scholzes.