Farewell to an icon of local cycling | TheUnion.com

Farewell to an icon of local cycling

Jim Rogers must have been about 12 when he and his 11-year-old best buddy, Ron Miller, first picked up the wrenches and went to work on a road bike.

Rogers had some hang-up with his derailluer, and without a bicycle shop in the Nevada City area in the late 1960s, Miller and Rogers took a whack at working out the kinks themselves. That was in the living room of Stan and Marilyn Miller’s Victorian home in Nevada City. Once the pair got the bike back on the road, it wasn’t long before their friends got word that the Miller house was the place to take your broken-down cycle.

“The next thing you know,” Marilyn said, “we had a dozen bikes in our living room.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

What started as a pet project by a pair of wide-eyed young cyclists eventually became Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop, which to this day serves as the central hub of Nevada County’s cycling-crazed community, now on Sacramento Street in Nevada City.

Both of the boys become national-level, elite cyclists. But Ron Miller died at the age of 26, after a long battle with melanoma.

And Jim Rogers died Jan. 31, at the age of 53, after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle.

The cycling community is gearing up to celebrate his life this weekend, including members of his Sierra Express Racing Team, who called him “Jimmy.”

Stan Miller said it was his wife’s idea to get those bikes out of the living room and into a workspace, where the boys could really dig into their new-found passion.

Besides, Stan said, he and Marilyn needed the room, as they were preparing to renovate their old Victorian.

The Millers owned a vacant building on Coyote Street at the time, and that’s where Jim and Ron first put out a sign reading “Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop.”

Soon after moving in, the boys began trolling yard sales for old bicycles, which they repaired and then re-sold. With the cash from their sales, along with the revenue they raised from repairing their friends’ bikes, they soon were making more money than they could spend on ice cream.

“They started out working there in the summer and then after school,” said Marilyn Miller. “Eventually, we decided that if these guys were really getting into this, we ought to teach them about business.”

It was around that same time, Stan said, that Jim, Ron and their friend Mark Weir began riding on weekends with Peter Hoffman, a national time trial champion who lived in Nevada City.

After learning some techniques and skills, the boys began entering cycling races a year later. Soon, their income from their modest bike shop was supporting not only their craving for ice cream, but also for racing.

In 1973, the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop moved to the Sacramento Street location, where cyclists will meet at 11 a.m. today for the Jim Rogers Memorial Ride.

“It became one of the best shops in Northern California,” Stan Miller said. “It became well-known all over the state, basically because Ron and Jim were constantly at races.”

As integral a role as the bike shop played in supporting their cycling careers, it also helped bring together a community of cyclists into a club and eventually a racing team. With elite riders like Hoffman, Miller and Rogers, western Nevada County was well-represented across the state and country at national-level races.

Soon, the local cycling community decided they needed a name for its cyclists, first racing as the “Nevada City Wheelmen” and later morphing into the “Sierra Express,” for which Rogers began racing again upon its revival in 2005.

“Their names were getting known around the state,” Stan Miller said. “Gradually, they came up to the point they were winning races.”

In 1977, Ron rode on to become the Northern California/Nevada District Road Champion. In that same year, Jim won the state time trial championship. Ron was later invited to the USA Olympic training center, and Jim was eventually chosen as an alternate for the 1980 Olympic bicycling team.

Despite the fact they trained tirelessly together for years and found similar success on the bike, they differed in riding style, Stan Miller said.

“Ron was the type to work within the pack, using strategy to try and get up front for a good placement,” he said. “Jim was better at racing alone, like with the time trials. He could go out strong and go full bore for hours.”

Although no local rider has ever won the Nevada City Classic, the oldest bike race west of the Mississippi that celebrates its 50th anniversary this June, it wasn’t for lack of trying by Miller and Rogers.

Miller had fans on their feet at the ’77 Classic, hoping a hometown rider would finally take the trophy. But a last-lap crash kept him from crossing the finish line first.

Rogers also made several attempts at winning the Classic, entering the race more times than any other cyclist, according to Duane Strawser, current Classic organizer and owner of the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop.

Shortly after learning of Rogers’ death, Stan and Marilyn Miller approached Strawser about adding the name “Jim Rogers” to the Ron Miller Junior Grand Prix, raced annually at the Nevada City Classic.

Strawser, however, already was working on the Jim Rogers Memorial Masters Race, which will be held in his honor for the first time at the 50th race this summer.

“Jim and Ron’s relationship never faltered,” Stan Miller said. “It was tight all the time. It was an amazing relationship all the way through.

“Jim is going to be missed by an awful lot of people. He was one nice guy.”

“Very true,” Marilyn Miller added. “Everybody loved Jim.”

Those two boys who helped build the community’s cycling scene to the prominence it enjoys today – hosting the opening stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California and celebrating the golden anniversary of the Nevada City Classic – will now both be remembered when the community gears up for the Father’s Day race each year.

Though he might not have been cranking out the type of performances he did in his hey day, Jim Rogers rode on until the very end.

And although he still was one of the strongest riders on many of the Sierra Express club rides, he most often could be found in the back of the pack, pushing his fellow riders forward – sometimes even in a literal sense.

Sierra Express team member Dave Barrett recalls one trip in particular, when he and Rogers were on a ride back from Pike on Highway 49 in the late ’90s. Barrett was “bonked” and struggling to finish when they reached the south fork of the Yuba River. Rogers put his hand on Barrett’s back and helped him climb the long and winding road all the way to the Willo Steakhouse at Newtown Road.

“It blew me away, for sure,” said Barrett, one of many cyclists who considered Rogers not only a teammate and friend, but also a mentor. “And in years since that, I’ve watched him keep so many people on rides that way.”

Craig Lindberg, current president of the Sierra Express, said few riders show such compassion.

“Not a lot of people would hold back for others, because they’re out there to get their workout,” Lindberg said. “But that didn’t seem to bother Jim a bit.”

Strawser shared similar stories of Rogers on rides, which he said shows why Rogers was considered to be a real “ambassador of our cycling community.”

Strawser, who has led efforts in landing the Tour of California and is preparing for the 50th Classic, said it deeply saddens him that Rogers won’t be on hand for two of the brightest moments in Nevada County cycling.

“That hit me hard,” Strawser said. “Mainly, all of this is the culmination of things, including so many things he was involved in starting way back.

“But he’ll be remembered at both the 50th Classic and the Amgen. He’ll be remembered.

“You know how the old firehouse is considered to be the iconic image of Nevada City? Well, Jim was kind of the iconic image to Nevada City cycling.”

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at (530) 477-4240.

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