Founder of Palo Alto Bicycles dies

Innovative athlete Bernie Hoffacker played pro ball, started bicycle businesses

Bernhard J. (Bernie) Hoffacker, original owner of Palo Alto Bicycles, died Dec. 5, a few days short of his 92nd birthday, from complications from a broken hip.

Described as "not only innovative, but open-minded" by Jeff Selzer, Palo Alto Bicycles store manager, "he had a fascinating life" -- including a stint as a professional baseball player.

A Palo Alto High School graduate (1934), Hoffacker excelled in baseball and was inducted in Menlo College's Hall of Fame in 1936. He then played professionally for the San Francisco Seals -- for whom he fielded grounders from coach Ty Cobb at Stanford University on weekends and roomed on the road with teammate Dominic DiMaggio.

After retiring from pro baseball in 1941, he coached semi-pro, Babe Ruth and Little League teams.

After World War II, when he and his brother Ed Jr. were running Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World, Hoffacker spent much of his time repairing bicycles.

"He was very mechanically inclined," Selzer said.

Palo Alto Bicycles began as a spin-off in the early 1970s to the family-owned sport and toy shop. He ran it independently until he retired in the mid-1980s and sons Bernhard (Bud) and Neal took over.

In 1975, Hoffacker started what became one of the first bicycle mail-order catalogs, with his sons traveling to Europe to buy hard-to-get parts for racers, Selzer recalled. That business soon begat another: Avocet, which made bike shoes, saddles, tires and the first electronic cyclometer, he said.

But one of Selzer's favorite memories is the store's sponsorship of a bike team in the late 1970s.

"One of the riders was a skinny kid out of Reno. He was a skier who rode bicycles in the summer to stay in shape," he said. Years later, Greg Lemond returned to Palo Alto Bicycles, crediting the team with encouraging him to enter the Tour de France -- which he won three times.

Hoffacker is survived by his wife of 68 years, Marjorie, of Palo Alto; his daughter Lyle Caudillo of San Jose; his sons Bud of Woodside, Neal of Portola Valley and Ronnie of Santa Cruz; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial mass will be held Monday, Dec. 14, at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverley St., Palo Alto.

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Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2009 at 9:18 am

A true icon in the Palo Alto community. Rest in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

One of the last great bike shops in the bay area that will take the time to sell you the RIGHT bike.
Very knowledgeable and friendly staff. Also, a great place to hang out and just talk "bike stuff".

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 10, 2009 at 10:56 am

Our sympathy to all the Hoffackers; truly an amazing Palo Alto family.

Like this comment
Posted by robit noops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

I have spent many days in PA Bikes over the years, loved Avocet shoes and computers, and in general could say this man's passion has brought joy to my life. I will celebrate the life, not the loss and say one last thanks for everything Bernie has done. Rock on man!

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:26 am

I'm 67 years old. When I was in grammar school my friends and I used to pop in the back door of the old Palo Alto Sport Shop. I remember there was a coke machine that sold bottles of coke for 5 cents. I'm guessing this was around 1954. Bernie was the bike shop manager. He was always nice and friendly and treated us with respect, although we were just little kids. For my 12th birthday my dad bought me a Coventry 3 speed English bike, which I loved. Bernie was truly a nice man. After all these years I am still riding. I think Bernie sent me on the right path. He was blessed. Sounds like he had a good life. R.I.P.

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