GOODYEAR, AZ (BRAIN)—The industry is mourning the loss of Bill Fields, who some consider the “Godfather of the American bike business.”
“I heard that term for him sometime in the late 1980s,” said Rick Vosper, who contracted with Fields on some consulting work. “In addition to being one of the guys who was there starting in the bike boom of the ’70s when history began, through all the subsequent stuff he was one of the guys who was there and in some cases made it happen.”
Vosper gave Fields the nickname “Mr. Wolf,” after the problem-solver, Winston Wolf, in “Pulp Fiction.”
“He had no idea what the reference was, but after he saw the movie he was flattered at being referred to as Harvey Keitel, because he was the character that made everything happen,” said Vosper.
Fields died on Saturday after a six-month battle fighting complications from West Nile virus. He was 75.
Fields left the engineering field in the ’70s to enter outdoor magazine publishing. He dedicated the next 40 years to the bike industry, selling ad space, producing trade shows, publishing magazines and running a consulting business.
Vosper said his engineering background enabled Fields to look at a problem, understand it and find a solution. “He had that engineer’s way of looking right into the heart of the matter,” said Vosper.
Vosper said his passing is a tremendous loss to a generation of folks coming of age in the bike business who benefitted from Fields’ expertise.
“He was a father figure to a lot of people. He was the guy you could always call if something wasn’t going right in your career, and he would always help out,” said Vosper. “I was tremendously appreciative of everything he did for me and a lot of folks in the industry feel the same way.”
Gary Coffrin said over the past five to 10 years he probably talked to Fields more frequently than anyone else. “Bill and I would talk multiple times per week exchanging info and tips, sometimes offering one another referrals, sometimes doing projects jointly,” said Coffrin, an industry consultant.
Coffrin met Fields back in the 1980s when he was publishing Bicycle Dealer Showcase. “It wasn’t until I was on my own that we started crossing paths. Over later years it became personal stuff first, business stuff second,” said Coffrin. “I checked up on Bill not only on business topics, but about his health and back pain. The connection was stronger when I was in Arizona lots of weeks.”
Coffrin said he developed a personal relationship with Fields and his wife, Jennifer Fawcett, during trips to Arizona to visit his parents who were 90 miles northeast of Fields’ home in Goodyear.
“I started occasionally stopping by on those trips to see them,” said Coffrin. “In 2006 my father’s health started deteriorating. I would oftentimes dash to Arizona. During that 2006 period Jennifer and Bill were cheerful hosts and my touchpoint for escape and reaction during visits to help dad that were really challenging.”
Coffrin called Fields an amiable guy with a sharp business mind who was generous in offering advice.
“For me, Bill was the wise and nonjudgmental uncle who was there to exchange information offer tips, offer insights—and that was a really valuable thing to me,” said Coffrin. “There was a willingness to extend, a willingness to coach, a willingness to critique. He could offer tips and insights that were sometimes devastating but there was never any judgment—it was just cheerfully offered.”