The wheels on the bike go round and round...


By Andrea W. Doray
To call Ric Hjertberg (pronounced “yurt-berg”) a wheeler dealer is to hearken back to the days of his young entrepreneurship, when he and his brother Jon established a company called Wheelsmith in Palo Alto, CA, in 1975. If Ric’s name sounds familiar—no matter how you pronounce it—that’s because Ric and his ever-evolving wheel technology have been associated with USA Cycling since the founding of his first company.

Diving in, head first…

When Ric and Jon founded Wheelsmith in the 1970s, Ric says they just “dove in head first” and lists a number of reasons why it was a good time to begin. The Vietnam conflict was ending, gas prices were on a steady rise, conservation was pushing to the front of American consciousness, and bicycles were becoming even more appealing.
Ric points out other changes happening around this time—and in the decade that followed—that virtually revolutionized the way people in this country viewed cycling. “For one thing,” Ric says, “American athletes were making names for themselves overseas in the Tour de France and other stage races, and USA Cycling track riders were garnering attention as they continued to challenge for world records.”
The sport itself made a quantum leap as mountain biking upended the cycling scene in the early 1980s. “We had world champions on virtually all continents,” Ric says. “With these new bikes came a radical equipment change.”
Finally, Ric says the appearance and almost immediate attraction of triathlons, also in the 1980s, produced a demand for aerodynamic machines on which riders could constantly monitor their rates as they splashed from run to swim to cycling.

Partnering with USA Cycling…

Ric has been a part of all these changes. After Wheelsmith, Ric spent 12 years at Full Speed Ahead as (what else?) New Technology Manager, and is now president of Mad Fiber®, a company that produces handmade carbon wheel sets in Seattle.
Ric and his companies have been perennial wheel and spoke sponsors for USA Cycling, and, as Ric says, “We built wheels for riders in quite a few Olympiads.” Ric also participates in the Bill Woodul USA Cycling Race Mechanics Clinics, donating his time with other specialists to cover everything from wheel changes and bicycle fundamentals, to team mechanics and Department of Transportation compliance. 
As a cyclist, Ric himself competed in the 1970s and the 1980s, but found that he is “more given to work than riding” and commutes on his bicycle daily to his office in Seattle. A Harvard graduate with a degree in economics, Ric has a commitment to the many facets of cycling. Ric’s unique involvement in the industry—and his unique vision for the future of cycling as well as his respect for what’s gone before—have contributed to media interest in his ventures across the years.
In a 1996 interview with a Palo Alto weekly, Ric acknowledged that his Wheelsmith shop was unusual—a bike shop with no bikes: tools, yes; antique cycling memorabilia, true; wheels and repairs, certainly. In the same interview, Ric remarked on one of his basic philosophies: “[My work] satisfies my artistic side, my mechanical, side, my social side, and my physical side. Riding is just healthier.”

Why Wheel Fanatyk?

Ric does not limit his time and his talents only to running his business ventures and participating in volunteer activities, however. Check out Wheel Fanatyk, a workshop/blog that is home to out-of-this-era, high-end wood rims. When asked, “Why Wheel Fanatyk?”, Ric says, “We’re a store and a wheel building resource. We represent Ghisallo wood rims, Morizumi Spoke Machines, wheel building tools, and memorabilia. Wheel Fanatyk provides a collector and restoration experience.” The site is full of wheel technology, history, techniques, and news…worth a look!

The cycle of cycling today…

Ric sees the world of cycling today as “very similar to when I got started. We’re in a comparable moment when the ‘greening’ momentum is very strong.” Although events of the first few months of 2011 and the resultant upward zoom in gas prices have had some affect on the resurgence of everyday cycling, Ric believes this has more to do with what people want to do for themselves. “It’s a kind of self-actualization,” Ric says. “Today we are combating additional pollution, congestion, even diabetes and childhood obesity. Cycling provides a counterbalance to our modern living.”
Ric adds that many communities are also getting more bicycle-friendly. “Whether people are riding to work, to school, or even just on weekends, cycling complements our way of life.” And not just in the United States, according to Ric. “For people in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, bicycling has always been a way of life.” Now, however, many people in these parts of the world are becoming more affluent, demanding more modern bikes and components. Cyclists from Korea are winning bike races—they are now definitely part of the cycling world Ric says, “Asia is catching the racing fever.”
As president of Mad Fiber, Ric brings a combination of experience and passion that continues to get attention around the world. Ric and his wheels—in one form or another—have made numerous appearances in Bike Intelligencer, VeloNews, Cyclocross Magazine, and You’ll also find Ric on YouTube providing various demonstrations and technical information.

The cycles of cycling—then and now…

Maintaining his links to the past and continuing to redefine the present, Ric is also looking into the future of cycling. He is convinced that cross-competence for riders and racers will be invaluable, if not absolutely necessary. “European cyclists have known this for years,” Ric says. “You’ll find riders who not only train for racing, but also for first aid, bike mechanics, coaching, and promoting the sport.” Ric believes the cycling world needs to “build a cadre of really capable people who can, and want to, do more—race officials, team directors, coaches.”

What goes around…

The question Ric and his colleagues always seem to be asking is, “What if…?” And once you know Ric, you can almost see him shrug his shoulders and provide his trademark answer about why what goes around comes around again, and why he does what he does: “New materials, same old physics.”

USA Cycling Bill Woodul Race Mechanics Clinics

For more than 20 years, Ric has looked forward to “reconnecting with some of my favorite mechanics—and meeting about 60 more!—at the Bill Woodul Race Mechanics Clinic.” In December 2010, some of the nation’s most talented bicycle mechanics gathered at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, to take part in the clinic, which covered everything from wheel changes to bicycle design fundamentals.
The overall goal of the Mechanics’ Clinics is to increase mechanics’ skills to keep riders and spectators safe. Graduates earn the right to carry a USA Cycling mechanic’s license that can enhance their employment opportunities, and make them eligible for certain other industry jobs.

Students…plus instructors!

Students come from a variety of backgrounds and goals, and instructors volunteer their time and knowledge. “It's always a rare treat to be among brethren who share passion for bicycles and aren’t afraid to do some serious work,” says Ric. “My fellow instructors are among the most experienced and iconic wrenches in the business, veterans of teams, campaigns, Olympics, and adventures worthy of the big screen.” Ric, tell us more!
In 2010, Ric led sessions on wheel building and design and carbon fiber “…topics at the core of bike racing’s contemporary pulse.” Students hailed from 22 states and Canada. Ric extends his thanks to everyone who contributed, especially James Stanfill and Gregory Cross, USA Cycling leaders that make the program possible.”
The Bill Woodul Race Mechanics Clinic is named after U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame inductee mechanic Bill Woodul, who held the first clinic in the 1980s as a way to recruit mechanics for his program. Although the clinics are aimed at the skill sets and routines for servicing bicycles in high-pressure race situations, many of the topics applied to the roles of mechanics in a typical shop environment. The 2010 clinic graduated more than 60 new USA Cycling-licensed mechanics. Past graduates of the program have gone on to work for teams all over the world.
About the author:
Andrea Doray spent most of her 27 years in Colorado Springs wistfully eyeing the 7-11 Velodrome. A committed mountain biker and sometime road rider, Doray considers her cell phone her most important mechanic’s tool. Doray lives and works in Denver, CO, and rides wherever and whenever she can.

This Article Published May 25, 2011 For more information contact: