Today the world lost one of its all-time best, Chris Kegel, the owner of Milwaukee’s Wheel and Sprocket, who passed away from liver cancer.
Chris was a legend who did so much for so many people. In a recent interview, someone asked me what Chris meant to me. My reply was that he was a great customer, an amazing person, a bridge builder. He was an amazing advocate for cycling, the nicest guy in the world, and he was a great teacher. The interviewer said “Teacher? I have heard a lot about Chris but not teacher. What did you learn from Chris?” This is the list I rattled off and I wanted to share it with you.
What I learned from Chris Kegel:
- Listen to your customers.
I started at Trek in 1984 and moved into the office in 1986 when times were not good. One of the first things I did was meet with Chris. He had great advice, most of which I tried to follow and it made a BIG difference in the history of Trek.
- Take care of your customers.
Every year at the Trek 100 Chris would be there with the Wheel and Sprocket truck pumping up people’s tires, giving a quick tune-up, making sure that the person with the 20-year-old bike they pulled out of the garage was fit properly and that they enjoyed their ride. Chris built one of the BEST bicycle retail businesses in the world and he did it one customer at a time.
- Treat everyone like a friend.
In the 32 years I have known Chris, I never saw him upset. I never saw him treat anyone with anything but respect and kindness. He loved everyone, and everyone loved Chris. When I was visiting with him a month ago, we were swapping stories and he said to me, you know you’re saying “Put the best team on the field?” I wasn’t always the best at that. They never should have let me interview anyone—I really like everyone.”
- Give back.
Cycling was good to Chris, but Chris was better to cycling. Head of the League of American Bicyclists, IMBA Board of Directors member, Head of the Wisconsin Bike Federation, founding member of People for Bikes, the list goes on and on and on. He was always the first to volunteer and never asked for anything in return. Very little was going on with cycling in America before 1997, when Congressman Jim Oberstar got in the game. Chris called on people to get involved and make things happen. There is an old saying that is true that goes, “a small group of people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Chris was part of that small group who answered Oberstar’s call and got involved and created the bicycle renaissance in America.
- Build bridges.
One of Chris’s favorite projects was a bridge that he helped to build in Ozaukee County in Wisconsin. Chris liked the project because it linked a number of trails, including the ones he rode, but he was also proud of it because he had to bring together different people to make it happen. Chris was the ultimate bridge builder. He got along with EVERYONE.
- Life lessons.
While Chris was fighting liver cancer, I was lucky enough to visit him in the hospital and at his home. Every visit was like Tuesdays with Morrie. No matter how much pain he was in, Chris would greet you with a smile. He loved to visit and he loved to tell stories. My favorite was a couple of months ago when he asked me if I would like to hear his philosophy on life. Of course, I said “sure.” “Well when I was 18, I sent my girlfriend a letter and I explained my philosophy on life. I told her that I wanted to change the world. Not the whole world. That is too big and there are too many problems, and there are wars, and it is pretty messy, but I figured I could change my world. Chris’ world. I decided that my goal in life was that I was going to be a positive force in people’s lives and as I got older, my world would expand and I would be able to make a bigger difference in being a positive force and that one person at a time I could change the world.”
Well, Chris achieved his goal in life. He changed the world one person at a time. There are so many people all across the world who are better off because of Chris Kegel and I am proud to say that I am one of them.