Dan Casebeer has owned Grand Performance bike shop in St. Paul for a long time. And he’s been an avid cyclist for even longer. Not only is Dan known as one of the most knowledgable people in cycling, but also as one of the most approachable. In the stuffy, sometimes arrogant world of road cycling, Dan stands out as the one with the easy smile who’s ready to talk to just about anyone, about just about anything. Of course cycling tops the list of his favorite topics but he’s just as ready to talk about wine, food, travel, relationships, or parenting. After a few attempts to sit down together, I finally lucked out and found Dan on a slow day. It was a rainy late May afternoon and the Giro D’Italia had entered its final week so there was even more than usual to talk about. When I asked about his beginnings, I was surprised to learn about Dan’s connection with the late Steve Hed. Most everyone in cycling knows that Steve Hed was the founder of HED Wheels, a wildly popular company that seems to have accomplished the impossible: Reinvent the wheel. In the early 80’s Steve had a small shop in Bloomington, MN called BikeLine. Like a of us starting out in cycling, Dan hung out at the shop between training rides. Soon, Dan was making extra money building wheels, often taking 5-10 wheelsets home each week to build in his down time. Dan was getting paid by Steve piecemeal for the work and the two became friends.
Busy racing full time, Dan spent much of his competitive cycling career escaping was MN winters by racing the Tour of Texas and other national events but he kept his connection with Steve. In 1984 Dan set the coveted hour record on the Indianapolis velodrome. I misspoke and stupidly asked, “what was your time?” and fell victim to the joke, “Of course, it was 60 minutes!” Dan forgave me in a blink went on to tell me the story: At the time, the previous record was held by none other than the late Steve Tilford. Dan was fresh off a frustrating national time trial effort and “ill prepared” for the hour record attempt. In search of redemption, Dan decided to give the hour record a try anyway. I laughed that one doesn’t just give the hour records a try. It is, with little argument, one of the most difficult challenges in cycling. Dan posted a new national hour record with a remarkable distance of 27.63 miles, besting Tilford’s distance by a mile and a half.
In 1987, while Dan was racing in Wisconsin’s Milk Race (a precursor to Superweek, that took its name form the famous British event) he crashed hard in the Fond du Lac stage. During Dan’s recovery he returned home and became more involved with the shop as Steve was moving in another direction. The shop space and inventory grew, and Dan eventually bought out a third partner and soon he was running GP as we know it today.
Dan in classic form c. early 80’s.
I still remember the first time I stepped into the shop. Even though he didn’t know me, I felt Dan’s warm and welcoming vibe. I saw vintage bikes on display (including Dan’s track bike on which he set the hour record in 1984) as well as a handful of beautiful state-of-the-art Italian carbon fiber machines. These bikes sit alongside a few other vintage bikes as well as new bikes from MOOTS, Wilier, Kona, and of course Bianchi. The shop is clean, but not too clean. The hardwood floor is marked from years of foot traffic, including metal cycling shoe cleats, tire marks, a few coffee stains, and the countless packages that have gone in and out of the shop for decades. The door frame edges are worn rounded and smooth and the window is lined an array of cycling stickers including respected brands like Campagnolo, Vittoria, and Bianchi. Whenever I walk through the old blue door I feel like I’m entering more than a bike shop. GP is a place full of stories, history, and most of all, really great people. In my opinion, GP is the epitome of all bike shops and what I think every bike shop should aspire to emulate.
Dan, Mike and friends enjoying the finest. “If it’s not good, I don’t drink it.”
Dan is nearly always in a good mood (except for the one time I hid his lunch) and every customer that walks in the door gets equal attention whether they’re spending $6000 on a new Bianchi or just getting a simple repair. GP has many loyal customers and one called the shop asking specifically for Dan. When the customer was told that Dan was in Europe for two weeks they sighed, “Now, how am I going to get my flat repaired”. Obviously, GP employs several very capable mechanics able to do flat repairs but the story reveals just how personal the bike shop experience is for many Grand Performance customers.
As a bike shop owner today, Dan certainly feels the impact of internet sales. He simply stated that “not everyone is going to be a loyal customer”. GP has no marketing budget and Dan insists that there is value in seeing a product and holding it in your hands rather than seeing it on a computer screen. Obviously, the mail order experience doesn’t allow for a tactile experience and, choosing to spend his energy elsewhere, Dan only said, “I’m bummed” about internet sales. Yet, he is not deterred. Dan loves the innovation of cycling. He’s an aficionado about materials, developments in carbon fibre, advancements in groupsets, including electronic shifting. He loves new products as well as the heritage of certain brands. And since he uses the products himself, he can talk about the user experience in great detail. While I was talking to Dan, several customers came in with questions and all seemed to leave satisfied and somehow in a better mood than when they came in. One had just visited another shop and, instead of pushing for a sale, Dan was complimentary: “That’s a great shop. They really know their stuff over there”. Soon the customer was laughing and asking about the best wines from Dan’s favorite region in Italy. As the customer left, I didn’t even notice if he bought anything and no one really seemed to think it mattered.
I asked Dan about his support of so many young riders over the years and he quickly responded “I’m proud of the people I’ve sponsored, and some weren’t even racers.” Many have told Dan that working for him was one of the best jobs they’ve ever had. His value placed on mutual respect has made him many, many lifelong friends. In addition, Dan is most interested in helping people get out on a bike a enjoy the experience. He hopes that more people, every day people, can integrate riding into their daily routine. “Instead of taking the car that one mile to the store, I hope people choose to ride,” he says. “The pace of life is so much better that way.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Every time I go to our cabin on Lake Seventeen (named for an old logging camp) I am reminded how some of the best things are the most simple. I’ve always loved to canoe and for most of my life, I’ve only paddled in one canoe. This canoe is famous and truly one of a kind. It’s an aluminum canoe that was once green, then orange, and a few other colors in between. Today it’s a perfect mix of multiple layers of weathered paint, scratches, a few small dents and the look that only time and heavy use can reveal. It’s as stable now as when it was new and I hope it lasts forever. As soon as I climb in, I know just how it will react on the water, even if I haven’t been in it for years.
Another thing I enjoy about the cabin is the simple task of chopping wood. My dad’s ax is well worn but still in good shape. He keeps the blade sharp and his initials are burned into the handle giving it a rustic feel. Swinging this ax gives the sensation of using the perfect tool. Its design probably hasn’t changed much over a century yet it feels modern, or maybe “present” is a better word as this suggests your frame of mind when the ax is in motion.
The paddle is, in some ways, the perfect design. We have several wooden models from an outfitter in Mississippi that we’ve owned as long as I can remember. Each paddle is perfect in its own way. Aside from a few different lengths they’re all the same and they all function flawlessly. In fact, you can’t really improve the design. The top handle fits perfectly inside your fist and the wood flexes just enough under pressure. When switching sides, the paddle’s weight carries just enough inertia as you pass it high over the boat, leaving an arc of water drops before dipping the paddle back into the water on the other side. This motion is repeated countless times and there’s something reassuring about it. It’s required to chart your course and forces you measure your power and, most of all, to slow down. You simply can’t be in a hurry in a canoe.
Last night was another criterium at the state fair. And once I drag myself over to St. Paul and line up to start. Like a lot of people, some nights it’s hard to motivate and find the energy just to get to the start line. Yet, after the race is over I find the sensations on the ride home include some of my favorite parts of the experience. Racing is still relevant for me because I know I wont push myself as hard on a training ride. Also, when I have a teammate that is counting on me, I will ride even that much harder. I’ve won enough races in my cycling career and now I’m more interested in riding to benefit someone else. Nearing 50, I know my days of being able to do so are numbered and each time I race I am thankful that I am able to race at all. Actually making some sort of impression on the race is the icing on the cake.
Last night my teammate Andrew Thompson placed third. After working hard to position Andrew for several sprints laps he was able to find enough to place well enough for a podium spot. We don’t race together too often and things don’t always work out perfectly. But last night, despite being outnumbered, we kept trying and had some success. In the picture below (credit Terrell Brown) you can’t see Andrew because he’s tucked in behind me, right where he should be. At least until it’s time to go!
I won’t say much but we lost a great person this week. Taylor George was a father of three boys, a passionate cyclist, husband to Heather, and all around wonderful person. I spent a few memorable nights at his place sharing dinner, stories, and hanging out with Heather and their kids. I recall burning creme brulee with a blow torch in his kitchen and playing tricks on his kids. We trained together (once in a blizzard), traveled to races together, waxed our skis in his garage together, and occasionally hung out at Caribou coffee. Heather raced more back then but then she started showing up to support Taylor and took lots of great pictures. Taylor loved cycling and when he showed up to race he was all in. For Taylor, every ride was an event and, even though he rode a little wild, his heart was in it every time.
Top Pic. Taylor at Fridley CX, a race he helped promote. Bottom pic. Taylor with kids before they started to grow and get wild.
Taylor’s service will be at St John’s Lutheran Church, Lakeville:
11am Funeral Service
Noon luncheon (at the church
1pm leave for burial.
St Patrick’s Cemetery, Inver Grove Heights
I forgot to mention something from last night’s Ted Talk that struck me as innovative. Some companies in Europe are now sending an auto reply to customers, clients, etc. that says, “The person you’ve emailed is on vacation until June 10th. You’re email will be deleted. If you would like to contact this person after that date, feel free to do so. Otherwise, you may contact…”
Wouldn’t this be a nice feature? When you are on vacation, you are truly on vacation, not checking emails or thinking about work at all. Why is this so hard for Americans?
Another company, in Denmark, I think, has desks that literally pull up off the floor toward the ceiling clearing the work space for yoga and/or a dance floor at a certain point every day. This enforces a stopping point in the work day by removing the work space. The web doesn’t have a “stopping point” and it’s hard, even for adults, to reserve protected time away from the screen. Just imagine how hard it is for some kids.
I went to a TED talk at Target’s beautiful new Social Room on Nicollet Mall across from the Dakota. The topic, “It’s Personal”, featured 8 or 9 speakers ranging from authors, inventors, comedians, and psychologists talking about healing from heartbreak, transportation, living with purpose, the effects of technology on well-being, and life expectancy. Surprisingly, factors such as clean air and exercise are near the bottom of things that contribute to a long life. There is a small city in Italy (I can’t remember its name) where an abnormally large percentage of residents are 90 or even 100 plus years of age. The city is constructed in way that forces residents to interact every day. Basically, people have to interact with each other to get through the day – to get the news, food, basic services, etc… Thus, they’ve found that the social connection these people share contributes to a longer life.
In contrast, it’s entirely possible for us to go through an entire day without talking to anyone. It’s really easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re connected through social media, “likes”, snippets of opinions, and so forth but these have no positive impact on our well-being whatsoever. We need face-to-face interaction, eye contact, touch, etc.. There is nothing new here but I’m afraid that we are yet to realize the effects of technology on our well-being. I’m predicting that it will be startling.
At the beginning of the day, we woke up to snow covered trees and a cold house. After an extra cup of coffee I went down to the basement, got on the rollers and forced myself to ride. Oscar was asleep at the top of the stairs in his bouncy chair so I could see him from where I have my rollers set up. It’s dreadful to ride indoors but, once you get going not so bad. I managed 37 minutes and a handful of short intervals before I had to stop when Oscar woke up.
The rest of the day I brainstormed new business ideas, played with Oscar, and read more of the book “Love in the Time of Cholera” (which I first read over 30 years ago). The TED Talk gave me a little energy so I went for a short run through the woods with the dog. There were a few snowflakes but the cold air felt good in my lungs.
I also have some people lined up for my interview series. Stay tuned.