October 31, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Clark Fork resident reflects on discipline that cycling taught him

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Clark Fork resident Bob Best, former racing cyclist, says these days he enjoys piloting his small plane and riding a bicycle for pleasure.
(Full-size photo)

When Lance Armstrong wrote his memoir, he chose a title that sent a message that he did not want to be defined by his cycling career. The book, “It’s Not About the Bike,” chronicled Armstrong’s battle against testicular cancer.

But for Clark Fork resident and former Olympic cyclist Bob Best, his life’s journey has been defined by his years as a bicycle racer.

“If I were to write a book my title would be ‘It’s All About the Bike’, ” said Best. “It is because of all the hard (cycling) training that I have been able to accomplish what I have in life.”

While Best’s lifelong career was not in cycling, he did take the discipline he learned from his training and applied it to his work as owner of a Las Vegas sausage company, which spanned 33 years.

Best first began riding while growing up in San Francisco. His father was a carpenter and the family did not have much money.

“My brother got the bike with the dropped handlebars because he was one year older,” explains Best.

But not having the better bike did not stop him. Best worked several paper routes and worked on the weekends to earn money to purchase better equipment.

At age 13 he won a Junior Olympics competition.

In 1961, Best was drafted into the Army and was stationed in Germany. But prior to that, he raced as a semi-pro in Como, Italy, from 1958 to 1959.

When he was stationed in Germany, Best was part of a program that allowed him to train for races while simultaneously serving his country.

“I received orders from the Secretary of State that allowed me to participate in competition as much as possible while in the military,” said Best, “Other soldiers thought I had it made, that I didn’t have to do much. But when I had to soldier, I did.”

Because of his highly publicized success in cycling, Best said the military received a great deal of press.

“I had two great seasons there,” said Best, 72, referring to the years he trained with the German cycling team.

In 1962, Best was invited to participate in the amateur version of the Tour de France where he rode 2,200 miles and placed 13th overall.

But of all his time spent racing in Europe, Best said there is one memory which stands out. It was during a race which passed through West Berlin taking riders directly past the Brandenburg Gate – the entrance from East Berlin to West Berlin.

With guards distracted from their duties due to the race, five East Berlin cyclists passed from East Berlin and joined the race – escaping the communist East Germany without anyone noticing.

“We didn’t find out about it until later,” said Best.

Although he was serving in the Army, Best says he needed more money than what he was earning in the military. In order to meet the financial demands that came with racing, Best got a job working for a sausage maker in Germany.

It was there he learned the trade that would bring him much success when he returned to the United States.

“He (his boss) told me, you cannot make money riding a bicycle,” said Best.

When he returned to San Francisco in late 1962, Best worked for a major meat packing company but shortly afterward moved to Las Vegas to open his own sausage company.

“When I first got into Las Vegas there were three hotels on the strip,” said Best, whose company was called Best Sausage, Inc.

He met many celebrities over the years.

“I had recipes I developed for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin,” he said.

He recalls when Caesar’s Palace was under construction, the offices were right down the street from his plant. Unable to afford a car, Best rode his bike everywhere. One day he called upon Billy Weinberger, the CEO of Caesar’s Palace who regularly ordered sausages for his employees. When Best arrived on his bike and took an order for 2,000 pounds of sausage, he recalls Weinberger taking one look at Best’s bike and saying to him, “Make that 5,000 pounds and don’t ever let me see you on that (bike) again.”

As Las Vegas grew so did Best’s business and by 1973 he had been named Small Business Man of the Year for the state of Nevada.

When he sold the company to John Morrell in 1999, Best employed more than 40 people and had $22 million in annual sales.

But the Las Vegas he left was no longer the one Best had known all those years.

“The one-on-one relationship you had with people that you did business with was unbelievable back then,” recalls Best. “But the big companies came in, drove prices down and I could not keep up with the volume to cut the (price) margin.”

After 26 years away from the racing circuit, Best returned in 1993 and won the national championship in his age group. But because of back surgery over two years ago, he now just rides for pleasure.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still prefer alternative modes of transportation.

Best and his wife of 22 years, Betsy, are both pilots and have a small plane they keep in their hangar on their Clark Fork property.

“I taxi right out of the hangar, down the street and onto the runway,” said Best who doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. “People can never do enough in their lifetime.”


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