SAN CLEMENTE, CA (BRAIN)—John Cuchessi, the longtime owner of the San Clemente Cyclery, died of an apparent heart attack on Sunday during the shop’s weekly club ride. He was 54.
Witnesses reported that Cuchessi, an exceptional cyclist, suddenly dropped behind the group near San Onofre State Beach toward the end of the ride. His bike began to wobble, veered to the right and collapsed. Two nurses performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, but paramedics were unable to revive him.
Cuchessi opened the shop in downtown San Clemente in 1974 during the height of the 1970s bike boom. He relocated his business about six or seven years ago to the south side of town.
Cuchessi was known for never turning a bike away—he’d fix even the rustiest beach bike. He often lowered prices to accommodate a buyer’s budget and if someone didn’t have the money to pay for a repair, he said, “Pay me next time.”
If a customer came in asking for Dura Ace components, but Cuchessi knew Ultegra was a better fit for the rider, he talked them into the less expensive group, said Shimano American’s Dustin Brady, who grew up in San Clemente and started working for Cuchessi when he was 15.
“He wasn’t after peoples’ money. Bicycles made him happy and he knew bicycles made people happy. He just wanted to make sure to give people bicycles that made them happy,” Brady said.
Cuchessi never hesitated to send customers to his competitors for a brand he didn’t carry and he treated his sales reps with absolute respect, said Mike Morrill, a former Shimano employee who worked off and on in Cuchessi’s shop for 20 years.
“He was extremely loyal—loyal to a fault. Once you got your product in his store, it stayed. It was not going anywhere,” Morrill said.
Cuchessi’s legacy stretched far beyond his shop. As a native of San Clemente, he was entrenched in the local community. He often organized fundraisers for injured cyclists or helped out the homeless with bikes or food. He ran a food bank out of his shop, although no one would ever know it; he didn’t want any credit.
His impact on the community was evident at the shop on Tuesday morning. The simple white building with red lettering had turned into a makeshift memorial with flowers, candles and bike tires arranged on the shop’s front stoop. Friends and family scrawled hundreds of messages on poster paper that hung over the shop’s large windows and wrapped around the side of the building.
One signed picture of a rider dressed in a San Clemente racing kit standing by his bike simply said, “John, Thanks for teaching me how to fly.”
A memorial ride in Cuchessi’s honor is scheduled for on Sunday. All ages and ability levels are welcome. Meet at the shop at 8:30 a.m.
Cuchessi is survived by his wife Susan; son Andrew John Cuchessi; mother Virginia Cuchessi; brother Tony Cuchessi and Kathy Cuchessi.