We were all lucky. We had our very own Cycling Legend: Bob Brooks.
Bob was a unique and complex man. Personally he was the sweetest guy in the world: friendly, welcoming, full of enthusiasm, and supportive of others. Despite his success he was humble and modest, which are endearing qualities in such an exceptional person. He could have been a diva, but he wasn’t.
Bob had many interests. In addition to playing classical guitar, photography, designing and building his own home, and most recently building classical guitars, he had an intense and wide ranging curiosity. He always had a book going about science, nature, evolution, religion, etc. which made him a fascinating conversationalist. He did love to talk. As you guys know, conversation with Bob involved a lot of listening but he was always interesting and I enjoyed his company immensely.
Back to guitars. Upon his “retirement” a couple years back, and without any training or background, he began building classical guitars. My last conversation with Bob was about a month ago and he was absolutely thrilled that a music shop had agreed to sell his guitars. The store owner praised Bob’s guitars as excellent with a full, vibrant sound. That they sold for the cost of a high end bike didn’t surprise me. He was the ultimate perfectionist and pursued his interests with 100% focus and passion. Bob was not motivated by money, he was motivated (driven) by perfection.
And then there was Bob the Cyclist. A fellow cyclist said it best: Bob was a “Wolf raised by humans”. High school English teachers advise against clichés but on a bike Bob was “tough as nails”, “stubborn as a mule” and “hard as bone”….a merciless competitor.
Let me share a few memories.
In the mid ‘80’s Bob was racing the Lemond Stage Race series and I joined him for one mountain stage. He was leading the GC with the second place rider close behind. Shortly after the start two guys in the peloton crashed and I asked Bob, “Should we wait?” Without looking up he just said “Hit it”. So we did. A short time later we were away and I was feeling better than Bob that day (that was Haley’s Comet rare, which is why I’m bragging about it now…) and he said “Stay and work with me to distance the guy in second and if I win overall I’ll give you the winner’s jersey”. I took that deal. No way would I win overall on my own. Five minutes later, I flatted. DNF.
Of course Bob won. Now he ended up with about a 100 jerseys including numerous National Championships and a beautiful World Championship jersey on display at Rubber Soul, (with a wonderful note) and I’ve got 1 for a race I didn’t even finish, courtesy of Bob.
Bob was, to put it mildly, obsessive. To determine his fitness level he would ride 10 mile time trials on his turbo! Ever the perfectionist, he didn’t want any wind to skew his results. I told him “I have got to see this. Let me join you.” So we’re in his workshop and for 22 minutes Bob is cranking 400 watts and pouring sweat. And me? I sat there enjoying a beer….a mere cheerleader.
He was mentally tough, and stubborn. At a bike club meeting at Winstead’s everyone was complaining that some members were too busy training and racing to contribute to the club. The guys focused on Bob as a prime example, and, despite the room full of peer pressure Bob calmly said “I’ll contribute, but in my own time, my own way, and when I’m ready. I won’t be pressured into anything now.” He later organized a cool Tollhouse Time Trial with lunch afterwards.
Speaking of food, he loved to administer the Brook’s Burger Tolerance Test. We’d ride to a roadhouse somewhere in the mountains and while the rest of us had a normal lunch Bob would wolf down two burgers, large fries, their biggest shake, and pie. Then, full stomachs be damned, upon heading back Bob would immediately proceed to hammer us like no tomorrow. If there was a Burger Jersey he’d have that too.
My final Brooks story. In 1985 the Masters 35 40K national time trial record was held by Lindsey Crawford. 54:17 (Before you young guys say “that’s slow”, it was pre-aero.) At the District Championships in Sierraville that year, Bob and I were both within about 40 seconds of Crawford’s record time and figured we had a shot at breaking it. Focused as only Bob could be, he soon scheduled a second record attempt on the fast 40 K course in Moriarty, New Mexico. I had just bought a state of the art Shaver Sport long sleeved skinsuit made from special aero material (Shaver Sport was working with our Olympic team) and gave it to Bob, saying “You gotta wear this for your record attempt”. Always fair, he insisted on giving me a wheelset in exchange.
Anyway, here’s what happened: in the USCF Rule Book, under U.S.A. National Records, ROAD 40 KILOMETER TIME TRIAL, Senior Men, it was there in black and white: “Robert Brooks, Auberry, Ca.” Bob broke Crawford’s record by 7 seconds! First thing he did at the finish was have Vicki call me with the Big News and I was as thrilled as they were. I remember that call like it happened yesterday. Of course later on, by virtue of the Shaver Sport jersey I tried to claim credit. And Bob, sweetheart that he was, laughed and said, “Kenny, all thanks to you”.
You couldn’t help but love Bob Brooks. A Champion, a Gentleman, and our own Legend.