When a stranger brought in an old bicycle into his shop that was in much more need of a tune-up, Jim Hopperstad’s first thought was to dismiss the apparent two-wheeled jalopy out of hand.

“This guy wheels this pile of crap in and asks me, what do you think of this?”  He said with a smile. “It had rusty parts and the wheels were from a Schwinn Varsity. So I said, well, it’s unrecognizable. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it. He was this local cabinet shop owner whose dad had it hanging in their shop for decades. He told his son to not let anything happen to it, because it might be worth something.

“I was dubious, because I just saw an old bike.  I didn’t think it was Italian and didn’t even know where it came from. It was covered with this substance and couldn’t even turn right to left, it was stuck. That’s probably why it was hung up and not ridden for a long time.”

But as it sat in his Bikesmith’s shop in Carpinteria for a few years, he couldn’t get the metal frame out of his mind. It was a good thing, because after Hopperstad discovered it was a rare bicycle that was the same type that Fausto Coppi, one of the sport’s greatest champions, used in the early 1950’s.

“I like pretty stuff like this,” he said at his shop. “But it became more about the romance of bicycles and the sport itself.  It was something I wanted to do.”

The Italian rider Coppi won both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in the same year twice, 1949 and 1952. In the Giro, he won the general classification title grand total of five times, as well as one world championship, the Milan-San Remo Road Race, Paris Roubaix, and the Tour of Lombardy, among others (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fausto_Coppi).   Here is a link to a story about Coppi and his longtime rival Gino Bartali – http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/sports/cycling/19cycling.html .

While his bicycle history doesn’t date that far back, Hopperstad has been around the proverbial velodrome of the bicycle industry for several decades, beginning in Tucson, Arizona in 1971.  After a fall-out with a boss, he opened up a small shop on his own with a box of components and…no bikes. He sold, scrimped and saved his way to buy five blue Bianchi ten-speed bikes only to have one promptly stolen.

Undaunted, he kept at it where even his former boss was impressed enough with him by offering to sell Hopperstad one of his shops.

“That shop was a cash cow and he had something like $16,000 in parts and wanted to sell it,” he said. “I told him I didn’t have nearly that much.  But he wanted to sell it to me, so he asked me ‘how much you got?’.  So I told him I had $710 and he said ‘Sold!’.”

What followed were ownerships in Arizona, Santa Barbara and now, Carpinteria-all named Bikesmiths in honor of his grandparents who were blacksmiths.  His latest incarnation is a quaint shop that calls to mind those in Europe-catering to everyone from top cyclists to recreational riders, two of whom he gladly served on a day he regularly was closed for business.

While he loves that anyone rides a bike, make no mistake, Hopperstad loves the beauty of the sport.  In the back amongst an impressive array of racing steeds, sits a bicycle that the great Belgian champion Eddy Merckx, who won five Tour de France and an equal amount of Giro d’Italia championships, used while training for his assault on the one-hour record.

But the one bike that now sits in the front window of his shop, was almost forgotten.  Slowly peeling back the paint and stuff that covered it, Hopperstad discovered that it was a Bianchi-the same one in which he originally sold and continues to sell to this day.

His proof was further confirmed when he examined the bottom bracket that was labeled Bianchi 1950 and 1951.  As he sifted through the parts, something unusual about the gearing struck him. It wasn’t a derailleur shifting system that has run on bicycles for the last 60 years, but the Cambio Corsa shifting system  (For more information on Cambio Corsa, click here: http://patentpending.blogs.com/patent_pending_blog/2005/02/campagnolos_fir.html  and (http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2010/4/26/the-cambio-corsa-campagnolos-early-masterpiece.html), where a rider had to reach back behind them to shift gears.   In terms of the evolution of bicycle gearing, it was the missing link, so to speak.

Up close view of the Cambio Corsa system

To get an idea how difficult this is, watch this Youtube video on shifting:  https://youtu.be/A7rjurYxcNIThen imagine Coppi or Bartali doing this while riding up a mountain pass…during the Tour de France!

Searching far and wide, Hopperstad found a Dolemite saddle, a rare double water bottle mount in England, brake levers from an eBay dealer in Poland, decals for this particular model Coppi raced on, the Paris Roubaix (he also rode a Campione del Mondo).  Along with the axles, he went totally authentic-40-hole rear and 32-hole front Ghisallo rims made from…wood.  Yes, wood.

The wooden Ghisallo wheels-named after the famed Italian hillside the Madonna del Ghisallo-where according to legend, a Marian apparition occurred.  It houses a chapel at the top, where the Patron Saint of Cycling is worshipped-complete with a place where bicycles of champions are displayed.

While Hopperstad said it cost a “pretty penny” (the tiny side-mounted cable housings were $25 apiece), he didn’t have to go far for some things-he found the right paint combination in Ventura. And the pedals were even closer.

“They were in my display case and I don’t know how they even got there,” Hopperstad said with a chuckle.

While it is a thing of beauty to behold, the bicycle lover is not quite finished yet-he is looking to replicate the handlebar tape to its authentic off white with shellacked finish.

“I keep studying photos and realize that I am not quite finished with this project,”. Hopperstad said. “Authenticity is the key.  Purity is really important-I didn’t want to fudge anything because I have amazing respect for Coppi because he was a true champion. Coppi was heroic, and I wanted to recognize that. And building this bike, I am in awe because they actually raced and won on those dangerous pieces of junk!”

The last step of the day was to weigh the artwork.  It came in at 24.8 pounds-about 10 more than what the pros race on today.

Hopperstad laughed and shook his head.

“Amazing.  It was a great project.  And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Fausto Coppi couldn’t have been more proud.

USATF Cross Country Championships


Nash Jimenez takes it home in the snow en route to winning his age group at the USATF Cross Country Championships at Bend, Oregon

For two years, while Ignacio “Nash” Jimenez politely applauded the person standing on the top step of the podium at the USATF Cross Country Championships, he also burned inside.   While in 2014, that age-group championship and the accompanying accolades were his, in the ensuing two years, Jimenez was the proverbial bridesmaid, and he wasn’t happy about it.

“I respect the guys that beat me then, because they were in better shape,”. Jimenez said. “But yeah, it ate at me.  So I got really motivated.”

That motivation paid off as Jimenez re-captured his second national age-group championship in snowy Bend, Oregon on February 4.  Jimenez was tops in the 65 to 69 category with a determined 34 minutes and 34 seconds.

“It felt really good to be back on top again,” he said. “I felt vindicated by the hard work I put in. It was great to have the support of my (Rabbit Running) teammates.  Having them there made the experience that much better. Knowing that they were out there, made it feel like I had a home court advantage out on the course.”

Jimenez said that his teammates also pushed him in training and in turn, giving him more confidence in his racing.  He also credits his engagement to Nancy Clayton, whom he will marry on May 27, for “a lot of things.”

“Where do I start?”  Jimenez said. “For starters, my diet and rest is much better than before.  But there’s a lot more to that. She’s whipped me into shape.”

The snowy conditions altered many a race plan. While Jimenez said that he and his teammates changed from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch spikes, he added that it “didn’t help much” . Still, he managed to run 30 seconds faster than the previous year.”

The tricky conditions caused several runners to fall, including last year’s race runner-up and Santa Barbara’s team champion leader Cindy Abrami.  Abrami gamely got up and finished 12th overall and fifth in team scoring in 26:41 over the 6k course.   Desa Mandarino placed ninth among team scorers in 27:20 while Jennifer Rameson rounded out the scoring in 27:35 to earn the local team third place. Ricky Ho was the top local male finisher, completing the 8k race in 33:27

For complete results, click here:  http://www.usatf.org/Events—Calendar/2017/USATF-Cross-Country-Championships/Results.aspx .

Team Rabbit Running of Santa Barbara

May 4, 2017



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