R.I.P. Roy Wallack: Total. Fuckin. Bad. Ass.

I remember it clearly; When we first met I was an editor at Bike magazine and he said, “I like your writing,” on some random media trip. He was wearing his usual baggy shorts, a fanny pack (on the front of course) and that old orange long-sleeve sweatshirt he’s known for. He didn’t have a cyclist’s build nor an elitist attitude. He was as genuine as they came with a dedication to fitness in any way possible. His nickname was Tarzan because he was built like a fire hydrant with the  strength of a wrestler (which he once was) and the athleticism of an elite-level endurance athlete (which he was until the end).  I instantly liked him and we lost him this month in of all things, a mountain bike crash, doing the thing he loved best.

He wanted to beat the crap out of a certain editor that wrote for an “action” magazine that he said plagiarized one of his stories and denied it.

“Cush,” he confided to me one day over drinks. “Back in the day we would have settled that behind the woodshed with fists, that’s how I grew up.” This was not the usual Roy, but it was also totally Roy. He was the most passionate and loving man of his craft I’ve ever met. He wrote about all kinds of cycling with no fucks given. He loved mountain biking as much as he loved recumbents and even that damn ElliptiGo he rode. He was the guy that would crush you on a road ride in baggies with flat pedals and sneakers and it would be the greatest ride ever because he’d be talking the whole time with that big smile and inquisitive questioning about who you were and where were we going (if he didn’t somehow manage to get lost along the way). Then he might go Roller Blading after the ride to check the area out.

My story: Years back, all of us media types were at a major global launch in, or near Morgan Hill, California, I can’t remember the exact location. It was dealers and media, the works. As a side note, for meals we all had buffet vouchers for each day and us media folk stayed together in our own clique.

On day two Roy was nowhere to be found at breakfast, or even the night before at dinner. As everyone starts slowly moving out to get ready for the day’s ride and really starting to worry, in walks Roy looking a bit haggard and tired.

“I climbed up that mountain over there to watch the sunset before dinner last night and got lost in the dark. I just got back now. I found my way when the sun came up. Anyone have extra meal vouchers? I’m pretty hungry.”

He walked around alone and lost in the dark the whole damn night!

He walked around alone and lost in the dark the whole damn night and still had that story-telling grin on his face, waiting to get some food and go on a bike ride to talk more about it.

If you had never met Mr. Roy Wallack in person, you’ve most likely read his words. He wrote about cycling and the outdoors most notably for the L.A. Times as well as pretty much every major cycling publication based in the U.S. He’s also an accomplished book author with a few titles under his name. His final book about the life of GT Bicycles founder Richard Long has just been written and will be published posthumously.

Roy tragically passed away after a mountain bike crash on Guadalasca Trail in Point Mugu State Park, California, last Saturday morning (Dec. 19). He is survived by his father, Norm; wife, Elsa; brother, Marc; two sisters; and an adult son, Joey. He was 64.

Below are some stories to celebrate who he was and how he’ll always be remembered as someone who deeply cared not only about the outdoors but for everyone he came in contact with. And the unyielding passion he had for storytelling.


Ahhh, shit. Roy, you big goof. Of all the ways you could have chosen to go out, this was the most jarring. Helmet cracked in five places, dead on a mountain bike ride. In spite of watching you hit the ground enough over the decades to innately understand that this was a possible outcome–for you or for any of us–this isn’t how you were supposed to go. You were supposed to be 100, like all the Wallacks who preceded you. You were supposed to go out with all the enthusiasm and unsinkable positivity that you carried through your life like an irrepressible wrecking ball of good humor. Maybe you did. Maybe you were laughing when you hit the ground. Damn, Roy. Not like this, not at the end of this massive shit sandwich of a year.

Cush emailed asking for “one tale that stands out as Classic Roy,” as part of this tribute. It feels awkward relating any tales, since so many of the tales involve some nature of physical carnage. Roy crashing a bike I had loaned him to race the Breck Epic, stepping on the rear triangle somewhere mid-crash as he yard-saled through a rock garden and breaking the chain stay, in a kind of tragicomic wreck that still makes me scratch my head and wonder how, exactly, he managed to do that. Roy standing course-side at the 24-Hours of Moab, head discolored with gravel rash and arm in a sling, cheering racers on enthusiastically in spite of crashing himself out of the event early on. Roy, always smiling, always completely brimful of wonder, always up for whatever the adventure might be.

Roy was the epitome of the unsinkable optimist. Everything had the potential for awesomeness in his eyes. This made him an outlier in the sometimes cliquish and often jaded troupe of the mountain bike media. He would be equally excited about Roller Blades and adult Strider bikes as he would about the the latest mountain bike trend. Everything had the potential to bring joy, to test oneself, to be a tool to access the boundless physical playground that he saw everywhere he looked. In that, he was one of a kind. Farewell, friend. I hope it’s just as awesome on the other side.

-Mike Ferrentino, word-herder, longtime contributor to Bike magazine, fellow California Bicyclist alumnus with Roy M. Wallack.


No one could just sit and swap stories with Roy Wallack. No. You sit and listen to stories when you sit with Roy, and you wouldn’t want it any other way. He had so many of them because he put himself in extraordinary circumstances all the time, from riding 24-hour events to racing Paris-Brest-Paris to making his dad his latest health project.

But here’s the thing. Most people who dominate a stage are full of ego. Roy wasn’t. These stories just rolled out of him, and almost always they led to laughs at his own expense. Even the stories we shared about the frustrations and indignities of freelance writing led to laughs, although it was clear he frequently got screwed over by editors and publishers. He left it to me to be the hard-assed devil whispering in his ear, “Roy, that just isn’t right.”

One more thing about storyteller Roy: He was always as interested in my stories as in his own. It must have been 20 or 30 years ago that we got to talking about long bike tours we’d taken, and I told him about the time I rolled into a tiny little goat village in Greece at the end of a long hilly day. There was no place to stay, but a little old man spotted me looking weary and confused and motioned for me to follow him to his little hut. It turned out his name was Grigorios, and he was 93. There’s more to that story. But the point is, 25 years after I first told it to Roy, we had finished a mountain bike ride in the Santa Monicas and were sitting over a plate of Korean tacos, and Roy said, “Hey, Bob—tell me that story again about Grigorios in Greece.”

Roy (left) with Bob in Iceland

This photo above of Roy and me is atop the tallest mountain in Iceland, which we climbed in 2010 with a group of other outdoor writers. I thought it was a pretty cool accomplishment. Roy did too. Except that three days later, I was on a plane headed home, while Roy was on his bike riding all the way around the island.

How was it, Roy?

“Bob, it was so fucking windy.”

And then he laughed.

Bob Howells, freelance writer, Outside magazine


It’s a press launch. That much I can tell you. I have more hair. Or less. Harder to say. But I’m the Editor-In-Chief at Bike magazine and I’m waiting at the trailhead for the bike brand of the day to bring us burritos or yell at us to start riding or, more likely, to trot out some line of marketing bullshit about how great their soft-tail suspension is. And because bike dweebs are never at a loss to talk about bike dweeby stuff, all of us journalists start pontificating about how much suspension is actually necessary. It’s the heady days of the late`90s, so we’re pretty confident that four-inches is as much travel as a human being could ever ask for in, you know, something like a freeride bike.

It’s at this point that somebody references this article from Bicycle Guide—an article from “way back in the day” (which meant like, three or four years before this trailhead moment). Anyway, the article had been about how mountain bikes weren’t necessary at all. That a capable rider on a road bike could be just as fast off-road as anyone on a mountain bike. The assembled journalists snicker at the notion. Tosh! It’s patently ridiculous! What idiot wrote that kind of rubbish?

“I did.”

We all turn around to see who’s talking, and we notice, belatedly, that there’s a weird, monkish, and very buffed man in a full Lycra sausage suit, and he’d, apparently, been busy humping out pushups in complete silence, by himself, in his own personal universe. Like absolutely perfect, military-grade push-ups that’d make a Marine Corps drill instructor weep for joy.

Mind you, CrossFit was not a thing at the time. Octogenarians were not pushing tractor tires around supermarket parking lots for fun and your neighbors weren’t constantly bragging about how they loved doing burpies till they puked. So when you saw a guy in a skin-tight body suit torturing himself ad nauseum, in complete and utter Zen-like tranquility, in the middle of the desert on a blazing hot day …. well, you thought to yourself, “That is some mighty weird shit.”

So, back to the story…. It was at this point that the odd dude in a skin suit suddenly stopped mid push up—like at the half way point—and held it there perfectly still before quietly saying, “Yeah, I wrote that article. And it’s still all true.” Then he’s back in motion, nothing more to say, grinding out another half hour of plank-perfect push-ups in complete silence and with a masterful level of social awkwardness.

“That’s Roy Wallack,” one of the better informed amongst us mutters. “Dude’s a nut. But he can ride. And, Jesus, he’s fit

“Whoooooo. The fuck. Is that guy?” somebody whispers. We’re all thinking it, of course. It was odd, I hadn’t even noticed him until that moment. Had this dude been doing silent-freak push-ups for the last two days and we’d all just miraculously managed to not step on him?

“That’s Roy Wallack,” one of the better informed amongst us mutters. “Dude’s a nut. But he can ride. And, Jesus, he’s fit. And look, he’s as old as dirt.”

Most of us are in our 20s, so this seems a valid assessment. Wallack is probably in his 40s at the time, but he’s built his body into the kind of fierce weapon that most adolescent males only dream of building for themselves after watching Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon for the first time.

I won’t lie. I didn’t bond with Roy that day. I mainly thought, “That is one seriously odd piece of gristle over there.”

But the moment opened a door of sorts and over the years I talked to Roy a good bit. And I walked away with a few impressions.

Yes, he was a total fitness nut. An obsessive, perhaps. But that’s the obvious bit. He was also completely passionate about helping everyone else achieve their personal best. He was in love with the bike, with turning the pedals, in a way that is so deep and true that it puts a good chunk of the cycling world to shame. And, once you got past his eccentricities (and who the hell doesn’t have a few in their own back pocket), Roy was one of the kindest, big-hearted people you could hope to meet.

I’m truly bummed that he’s gone so soon. I can’t pretend to have had the degree of closeness with Roy that some other people here certainly enjoyed, but I’m grateful that we found our way into one another’s orbits from time to time. The world could use a hell of a lot more Roy Wallack’s.

Vernon Felton, Canyon U.S. Bike Product Development Director & Global MTB Manager


I remember dropping off an E-bike to Roy back in the early days of the technology. At the time, most seasoned editors were highly skeptical/dismissive of the technology—but not Roy. He grabbed the bike from my hands, hopped aboard and sprinted down the road. About five minutes later he returns with a massive smile on his face proclaiming, “This is awesome!” No critical judgment of the technology, no questioning the ethics, just pure, unadulterated joy. Roy was the prince of joy and will be significantly missed by all who knew him.

Andrew Juskaitis, Senior Global Product Marketing Manager, Giant Bicycles


Roy (far right) with legendary freerider Eric Porter (center) and the one and only Tinker Juarez. Photo by Alan Davis

One of the best weeks of my life on two wheels was spent hanging out with Roy as we raced 280 miles across Cuba in the Titan Tropic race in late ‘16. I was an editor and photographer for Decline magazine and was following Eric Porter while Roy was writing a story about Tinker Juarez. The race lasted about five days and us gringos (a small group of American journos and racers at the event) seemed to congregate together after each stage. There was always a pool nearby as well as inexpensive mojitos, which we both enjoyed as we soaked our legs after trudging through 60-70 miles of riding. Sure enough, Roy would show up, but not to drink—he was there to finish his workout! He had a scuba mask and would dive into the pool to get some laps in. Funny thing was it wasn’t a lap pool, it was a hotel lounge pool, but Roy didn’t care. So he starts swimming, not back and forth, but around the circumference of the pool—to get the most out of each lap. Tourists are laying out, trying to enjoy the sun and Roy’s going for it like it’s an Ironman and he’s splashing people and running into their feet and all the while us gringos are just laughing at the whole scene and taking bets on how many laps he’d finish—it was usually 20-30 laps! Roy was the nicest guy in the world, he told us dozens of stories on that trip and my only regret, especially now, is that I didn’t point my camera at him more

Alan Davis, freelance photographer


I’ve known Roy since my days at Bicycle Guide. His zest for life and his affinity for people made him a delight to be around. I’ll never forget that one year at PressCamp, located in Park City, Utah, when he took a wrong turn on a rainy mountain bike ride and ended up nearly in Salt Lake City, some 30 miles away (and all uphill to get back). He found a guy with a truck who drove him back up to the resort. He simply walked in to dinner with his helmet on, rain-splattered, wearing a satisfied grin and was ready to hang out and have a good time. It was just another adventure for Roy.

Patrick Brady, Publisher, The Cycling Independent


Roy was health and fitness, he tried everything and did everything well—on his own terms. I was planning to ask him to write a book about my career because he was a great writer and he knew a lot about me and the history of mountain biking.

He loved riding and wasn’t picky about the bike he rode as long as it wouldn’t fall apart—he would race almost anything in the hardest races in the world, including La Ruta de Conquistadors in Costa Rica, with flat pedals and hiking shoes! I never saw him wearing Lycra shorts, only baggies and a t-shirt. He never thought about what he looked like or what his background was, he just rode to stay healthy. He was never afraid to do any adventure, that’s how he lived, up for any challenge until the end. My deepest condolences to his son, wife, family and friends.

David “Tinker” Juarez, professional mountain bike racer for Cannondale, National Champion, Olympian, Legend  


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Join the conversation
  1. butchboucher525 says

    Great piece Mike. Roy was one of a kind in so many ways, and as repeated over and over again, one of the most positive people to ride a bike.
    I think I was in the desert with Vernon and Roy that trip. One of the side trips we made was to a swimming hole in Fruita where we were able to change into swim trunks in a changing room at the beach. At one point Kevin Fedarko walked out shaking his head as he headed to the beach. “Roy is in there doing pushups, stark naked”. Damn it Roy, you are missed.

    1. Padraig says

      Classic.

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