James Winchester: In Memoriam

To work in the bike industry means interacting with people who are passionate about what they do. Even if their day is spent in Excel spreadsheets worrying over the length of the cable housings in the XL size of the new mountain bike, people are able to connect what they do with a better, happier world. Job satisfaction runs high as a river at flood stage, which is how most bike companies get away with paying 2/3 what any of us would make working in a different industry.

But that passion pays other dividends: we have the good fortune to forge relationships that are true friendships. We’re curious about their kids—are they riding yet?

When any of our number are struck down, it’s a big loss because we know they had full lives outside of work; no one here is doing just enough to make bonus. We care whether our friends are riding or not.

James Winchester was as hard-working a guy as I’ve known in the bike industry. He is literally the only person I know who tried to do two jobs at once. Years ago, when he worked in inside sales at Giant, he had the dream of moving into project management. To many, being a product manager is about the coolest job you can have. The product manager gets to decide if the Gofast 6000 is spec’d with a carbon bar at the $1800 price point, or not. The reality is that the job means living in Excel and juggling a parts pick to make sure the bike actually hits the $1800 price point.

Well James worked inside sales, but had bigger dreams. So when his day working inside sales was over at 5:00 pm, he’d walk over to the area of the building where the product managers were and would shadow them and help them. Why were the PMs there after 5:00? Because phone calls with Taiwan. So James would frequently work until midnight but return to his desk first thing the next morning.

He went on to work as a product manager for Schwinn, Felt, Fuji, Specialized, Masi and Giant, among others. Along the way he picked up one of the coolest nicknames around: Schwinnchester.

James and I were good friends, but following a serious TBI he suffered a few years back when hit by a car, we began connecting about mental health in a deeper way. He suffered depression and struggled to contain anger that seemingly came from nowhere. He was a guy who called me to check in and make sure I was doing okay.

Were I to pick one thing in his career for him to be remembered by, it would be this: On the 90th anniversary of the founding of Masi, James, who was then the product manager for Masi USA, organized a showing of Breaking Away, brought in Dennis Christopher, the star of the film to speak and do a ride and then put on a show of Masi bikes as well as the tools and fixtures that were used to make the bikes for many years. He even brought in the former GM of Masi USA, Ted Kirkbride. That’s James with Ted in the opening image.

There was nothing in the 90th Anniversary celebration that reflected James’ time as the Masi product manager. Literally nothing. The entire event celebrated the company’s past. It was so James to celebrate the work of others and a real show of his love of the brand to do something that did nothing to glorify his work there. It’s fair to call what he did a stewarding of the brand.

Given how beloved he was in our industry, I wanted to give his many friends a chance to speak up about him.

Kyle May who managed some bike shops in Illinois: He was my inside guy at Giant years ago, like before a reliable B2B, so talked a lot. While I think I only met him one time in person, I always enjoyed talking to him. Was always in good spirits, even though I know he was working long hours and had way more to do than chit chatting with me. I hadn’t talked to him  for a while, but was gutted to hear the news. RIP James@Giant.

Ty Buckenberger is an engineer with Santa Cruz and worked with James at Felt: Well he did tell [Ty’s wife] Christina at our wedding that he’s always loved her and that they should runaway together. Haha.

Ellen Johnson who worked with James at Fuji: A favorite memory of James W: sitting at our desks in the ASI office after lunch trading juicy bike industry gossip while sipping excellent espressos made by James (on his own machine) while also critiquing his choices in footwear.

Nathan Schickel at SRAM: I have thought about this a lot. Everything people have written is what I would say.  He was an amazing dad, and friend, he also was someone who was open to listening, and a great sounding board. We would talk a lot about bikes, and life, and he was always available to listen. I will never forget one day I asked him what he was up to and his response was “I am unfucking future James.” Basically he thought far enough ahead to make sure that he saw issues he might have in the future and fixed it. It frankly blew my mind at the time, and I think of him daily when I go through my unfucking exercise…. It forces me to stop and look at the forest and not the trees. More than anything it was the fact that he and I had an unspoken language, whether it was a texted meme or a photo of his XM radio and the song that was on, he always made sure I knew I was on his mind. We also joked a lot that we never saw each other unless we were in Europe or Asia.

Jason Rico who is known for representing companies like Alex Rims and Vee Tire stateside: I first met James when he worked at Veltec Sports. We’d cross paths here and there but we didn’t really develop a friendship until he was at Schwinn and Specialized and I was helping develop new products for him at Alex Rims. Over the past 10 years I’ve had to constantly remind him that I didn’t receive this month’s set of Bike-a-log floppy discs! James was one of the wittiest, smart-ass people I know. Always quick with a comeback and no matter how obscure it might be we both knew the reference. Music was our greatest bond. We could have entire conversations comprised of song lyrics. We’d continuously send each other photos of the song that was playing on the radio knowing that the other would appreciate it. “Motown Philly” and “This is how we do it” were our songs. Whenever one of us heard those the other was sure to receive a text message! James and I would talk or message almost every day. We have a small group of industry friends that would banter daily in a chat group. It’s hard on us not having him there, to share the things we know he’d appreciate. Wherever you are now James, make sure your handlebar tape is white.

Ken Avery who is the Senior VP for product development for Vittoria: As many do in this industry, James and I had few points of overlap, as we both changed brands through the years, and ultimately grew together. I could always count on him for a laugh, bright sneakers, tan sidewalls, and compassion, no matter the situation. Even when the mundane reality of numbers entered the conversation, he was one of those people you looked forward to meeting with, and always kept it fun. He had an uncanny ability to remember the smallest personal details and achievements, showing how deeply he cared about each conversation. I hope, through these reflections, he can hear how much he meant to us all.

​​Tim Jackson is an industry veteran who is maybe best-known from his time as the product manager for Masi: James and I played an ironic game of musical chairs, working for many of the same brands- it was a joke we shared, much like our brain injuries, which is much less funny. He was loved like a brother by so many who knew him, and his contribution of joy to our lives will be forever missed. 

Chris Clinton, the president of American Classic: I had the privilege of communicating with James almost daily for the past six years. And during that time I have shopped at Dunkin Donuts more times than I want to admit so that I could see his smile at industry events. He was a chocolate cake donut loving giant of a cyclist who was always sarcastic but had a heart of gold. He had an eye for color and you had to be careful in group conversations as his quick wit could get you in trouble. I will miss James very much.

Tom Kattus, the former general manager for Campagnolo USA: I’m reaching out about our friend, James. I’m just gutted about losing this kind soul. I want to share a story of kindness and love about James and the Winchester Family. 

It was October 8th 2017, what would have been my dad’s 100 birthday and the day after I had finished The Pablove Ride from Tiburon to Los Angeles. James and his family were always very supportive of my involvement with Pablove. They knew I had a son that was a cancer survivor and raising awareness of pediatric cancer is paramount to me. 

On this day, to honor what would have been my dads 100th. I decided to ride from Redondo Beach to my house in Carlsbad; exactly 100 miles. It was an amazing day and I felt the strength of my dad pulsing through me and had a great ride south to Carlsbad. 

When I turned the corner to pull into my driveway, I was stunned and my heart swelled to 5 times it’s normal size. The Winchester Family, James, Karie, Wyatt and Ava (little dude wasn’t born yet), had done a chalk art rendering of the Pablove logo and 100 hearts in honor of my dad ♥️ leading to my door and a container of wonderful cupcakes 🧁 with sugar free frosting, because I’m Type 1! It was such a loving, kind and wonderful gesture and it truly hit me in the center of my heart. The love I felt at the hands of The Winchester Family was palpable and is a memory I will always cherish and honor. ❤️

A GoFundMe has been set up for the Winchester family. If you’d like to contribute, click here.

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