By: Michael Lander
|Bill McGann's love of bicycles began as far back|
as he can remember. His introduction to
peddle-powered devices was his trike, which
he spent countless hours riding. This photo of
him and his mother was taken in 1953 or 1954.
If anyone loves cycling more than Bill McGann, it might be difficult to impossible to ever find them.
McGann's love of bicycles, and his passion for them, could not be any stronger than it is and it began as far back as he can remember.
“Cycling has honestly been a life-long passion, though some of my friends say it borders on an obsession. Shortly after I could walk, I got a trike and practically lived on it,” McGann said.
McGann was not alone in his fondness for bicycles and it seems to have been something that possessed his entire family.
“Bike-craziness ran in my family. My father loves bikes and when he found a lightweight English bike in the Pep Boys on State Street in Santa Barbara, where we lived in the 1950’s, he jumped on it. That was my first bike and on Sunday mornings we would get up early and ride out of our tract neighborhood to a beautiful and affluent area called Hope Ranch. The palm tree-lined roads were quiet and those were some of my fondest memories,” McGann said.
“A few years later, my brother and I got three-speeds from Sears that were made in Austria by Steyr,” McGann added.
After a few years on a three-speed, McGann was quickly ready to move up in the world to an even better bike.
“My first ten-speed came one Christmas while I was still in grade school. It was a lugged bike made by Steyr from Sears. I remember the steel-cottered 42-52 cranks, Huret Allvit derailleurs, Fiamme aluminum clincher rims, AVA bar and stem, Weinmann side-pull brakes and an ideal leather saddle. I was in business and in heaven,” McGann said.
Having the ten-speed opened a new world to McGann and it was one that he was more than eager to explore.
“With a friend, we would go on day-long trips. Nothing gives a young person more freedom and a sense of the possible like a bicycle. When I turned sixteen, however, I was seduced by the dark side of the internal combustion engine. But after moving out and living on my own in my late teens, I dusted off the old Sears Steyr and used it for nearly all of my transportation. The more I rode, the more I realized that the passion of my childhood had been rekindled,” McGann said.
As great as his ten-speed might have been, McGann was ready to move up something just a little bit better, and finally settled for the best thing that he could afford.
“Since I wanted something better, but being as cheap as any human on the planet, I bought a crashed and straightened Raleigh Super Course frame (3 tubes 531) and built it with whatever parts I could scrounge. Finding that a joy, but knowing there was much better out there, I finally bit the bullet and bought a Windsor Professional, a bike made with Columbus SP tubing and assembled with a complete Campy group, except for the brakes, which were Universal center-pull,” McGann said.
With his deep-seated love and passion for cycling, it was really no surprise that McGann was destined to make bikes an even greater part of his life as he grew older.
“I was working at a gas station, saving up for college, when it came to me that this was not what I wanted to do in my life. What I wanted was a career in bikes. I had saved $3,000 and decided to open a bike shop in my home town of Camarillo, Calif.,” McGann said.
With a strong will and determination, McGann said out to make his dream come true.
“I found that the two local shops had tied up the best brands that included Schwinn, Peugeot, Nishiki, Raleigh, etc., so I needed something different and good and I lucked out. One of the scions of the Maserati car company started a bike business and had several mainstream Italian bike makers,” McGann said.
“The opening order was for 25 bikes for $3,000 and I needed more money so I wrote up my business plan and started at the east end of Ventura, Calif., where I lived. Every banker was nice, but dismissive. I made my way west until I literally reached the last bank in town (American Commercial), which was located just before the town met the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, the chief loan officer looked at my handwritten plan and decided that I could pull it off,” McGann said.
After getting the much-needed funds to get started, McGann was in business.
“I signed a lease in a derelict shopping center and started painting and fixing the place up. After buying a supply of spare parts and accessories, I was busted, but I was 22 years old and too stupid to be afraid,” McGann said.
“I opened Bill’s Bike Shop on June 1, 1974 and made money from the first day on. I rented a room in the back of an older lady’s house. The store rent was cheap and I was willing to work from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. seven days a week. With bike demand plummeting, the other import shop in town was soon out of business,” McGann added.
|Aside from his love for cycling, Bill McGann's true love in life is|
for his wife, Carol. The two share a love for one another and
for cycling. This is a photo that was taken of them in the
country of San Marino.
Years later, he found another love besides cycling and married her. Marrying his wife, Carol, has been, for McGann, one of the smartest things that he says that he ever did and she also came with a great business acumen. She came in and straightened everything up and put the shop on a good, business-like footing.
With success, the McGanns found a way to expand into other cycling-related ventures.
“We found there were things our performance-oriented business couldn’t get from the wholesalers so we started importing a few things. Other shops wanted to buy some of the parts we were getting for the shop and so a wholesale business was born. We grew it until it was a thriving, healthy enterprise,” McGann said.
Early on, McGann still was able to find time to ride and racing was a big part of it.
“When we owned just the shop, I found I was able to ride more and started racing, eventually earning a Category 1 racing license. I am, and was, a racing nut and for a few years I could think of nothing else but competing on the bike,” McGann said.
Further growth and expansion was a much-welcomed sight, but it did not come without a price.
“I spent all of my time exhausted after a week of racing and riding four hundred miles. As the various businesses grew, (we ended up with three shops and a wholesale business at one point), I ultimately had to back off and become a non-competitive performance rider, content with a hard thrashing on club rides,” McGann said.
As with all things in life, all good things must come to an end, but thanks to an outstanding manager, the bike shops that McGann had begun has continued to live on.
“The man managing our shop, Mark Eaton, wanted to do more than manage a shop, which is not an unreasonable thing for a capable man who had done such a great job running the business. So, we sold Bill’s Bike Shop to him and he still owns and runs the shop. It’s still thriving and has just had its 41st birthday,” McGann said.
McGann held on to the wholesale business, which eventually became Torelli Imports.
“We had our own Torelli frames made and also imported and distributed Mondonico, Masi, Campagnolo and the other great marques, but what really thrived for us was the products we imported under the Torelli name. We could have them made to our specs and shop for price, allowing us to offer them at a great value,” McGann said.
|McGann has lived much of his life on and around bicycles. This|
photo was taken of him during a trip to Umbria, Italy.
Eventually, because of a series of health problems, McGann relunctantly decided to sell Torelli in 2007, but it wasn’t the end of his love affair with the world of cycling.
“Out of the retail end of business and feeling better, I still wanted to live a cycling life. When I sold Torelli, I kept the racing data, interviews, etc., that became BikeRaceInfo.com and that’s what I do now. I write and publish cycling books and keep BikeRaceInfo.com filled with results, interviews, technical articles by some of the most knowledgeable people in the sport and cycling industry. There are more than 3,000 pages of cycling info on the site now,” McGann said.
“Running my website is something that I enjoy. I get up early in the morning, turn on the computer, get a hot cup of coffee, and sit down and go to work. I’m often plugging away at four or five in the morning and I love it because it’s about bikes,” McGann added.
McGann still rides as often as he can and he currently owns several different bikes for whatever type of riding or where he wants to go.
“In 2007, I had carbon and aluminum road bikes as well as two steel road bikes. I rode them all a lot and found that each morning when I went for a ride, I generally took the steel bikes, finding the lighter, higher-performing non-ferrous bikes didn’t have the life and feel I adored in a good bike. So, I sold them and kept the EL-OS and FOCO Torellis, both built by Antonio Mondonico. Those are still my road bikes,” McGann said.
“For off-road, Richard Cunningham, of former Mantis fame, built me a lightweight prototype of the steel mountain bike I want to produce and sell for Torelli. I still ride that work of art and love it,” McGann said.
“Recently, I had Mike Wolfe at South Salem Cycleworks build me a commuter bike with saddlebags, fenders, and a front basket. The town I live in now, McMinnville, Ore., is well-suited for bike commuting. There are wide bike lanes and the drivers are courteous to a fault toward riders. I feel any day I have to drive is a day marked with failure so I try to go everywhere by bike. I don’t commute to work because my office is in my house, but I do all my in-town traveling by bike, whenever possible,” McGann added.
Even though many years have passed since he got his first bike, McGann’s affection and love for cycling has not waned.
|McGann is passionate about cycling and rides purely|
for the fun of it, for his health, for commuting, and
because he believes that it is a much better mode
and environmentally-friendly means of
“What I love most about cycling is the freedom and liberation that a bike gives. It is the same emotion I felt as a boy. That hasn’t changed one bit,” McGann said.
McGann’s reasons for why he rides might be the same as it is for many cycling enthusiasts.
“Riding is good for one’s health. You can get in an easy hour of aerobic activity by just doing a few short errands on a bike every day. And, there is no gym membership to pay plus every errand on a bike, while the car remains parked, is money saved and less pollution sent into our precious atmosphere. When one does an honest accounting of a car’s true cost, a bike really looks attractive,” McGann said.
“A bike-centered life has also been extraordinarily rewarding to me. It has brought me travel, friends all over the world, a decent living, and several careers, all of which gave me great joy. I have been lucky to have spent a life with man’s greatest invention,” McGann added.
If what McGann has done in the world of cycling were not enough, he has, along with his wife, also authored four books on cycling.
“With my wife, I have written four books, two volumes on the history of the Tour de France (The Story of the Tour de France) and two volumes on the Giro d’Italia (The Story of the Giro d’Italia),” McGann said.
I was simply dissatisfied with the English language books then available on the two Grand Tours. None had the year-by-year details that explain and color the races as they grew and blossomed. Our Tour de France books were an instant success, prompting us to write the Giro (Tour of Italy) books. We knew they would not have the sales of the Tour books, but we wanted people to know the magic of Italy’s national tour,” McGann said.
Today, McGann and his wife enjoy living in the bicycle-friendly town of McMinnville, Ore., which is north of Camarillo, Calif. where he grew up. The two have continued to keep cycling a big part of their lives, and, because of it, they will always feel like they’re in heaven no matter where their bikes take them.