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A humble beginning – Trek Bikes Story from John Burke

When I was twelve-years old, my father came home from work one night and proclaimed that we were going to buy bicycles. He and I were going on a bicycle trip.

“Okay, Dad,” I told him.

As we drove down to pick out bicycles, my dad told me that he had met a guy named Bevil Hogg, a South African who owned a bicycle shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Bevil was looking for someone to invest in his shop. I had my mind on a new bicycle and didn’t really pay any attention. We bought two bicycles, some bicycle packs and a few maps, and my dad announced that the following week we would be riding from Beaver Lake, our home, up to Fond du Lac and back.

It is a beautiful ride through the hills and valleys of the Kettle Moraine region. I don’t think that I had ever ridden my bike more than ten miles in one crack, and now we were going to ride seventy miles in a single day. I don’t remember much about this trip, with the exception that I crashed going over some railway tracks, and that we were on a really busy road for the last few miles of Day 1 when a lorry came past me and almost blew me off the road. On the second day of our two-day journey, we stopped at a bar outside of Monches. I drank root beer and my dad had a couple of beers before we got back on the bikes and headed home. We had a great time.

Not long after the bike ride, my dad told me that he had bought a bike shop in Madison with Bevil named Stella Bicycle Shop. My dad loved business and was always looking for great opportunities. When serendipity led to him meeting Bevil Hogg on a plane, my dad decided to pursue his interest in bicycles.

After beginning with one store in Madison, they opened a second Stella Bicycle Shop in Champaign, Illinois. My dad always thought big, and his idea was to set up a nationwide chain of bicycle shops in university towns. One problem, though. It didn’t work. The shops lost money, and my dad and Bevil closed them in the autumn 1975. My father and Bevil learned that in order to succeed, they could not just sell any brand; they needed something special. None of the good brands were available to purchase, so their solution was to create their own brand of bicycles.

No one was building really good bikes in the United States. Bevil thought that instead of being a retailer, they should manufacture high-end bikes built in the United States. Schwinn sold a lot of low-end bikes and kids’ bikes and there were some high-end European brands, but there was nothing that was made in America from the middle price points all the way to the top. It was a unique idea, something completely different.

John Burke
President, Trek Bicycle