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Lance Bohlen, 64, dies after long battle with lung cancer

Published February 16, 2021

BURIEN, Wash. (BRAIN) — Lance Bohlen, one of the industry's most accomplished and knowledgeable veterans, died Tuesday after an almost eight-year battle with lung cancer. Bohlen, 64, who had never smoked, had been in a race with the disease since his diagnosis in October 2013, said Specialized founder, Mike Sinyard.

"It was Lance who convinced me to enter into road racing with the Festina team," he recalled, recounting Specialized's first venture into sponsoring a top road cycling squad. "I was into mountain biking; I wasn't too interested in road racing, but he convinced me. Lance was a heck of a rider and he was so determined to beat this, but it's hard to beat cancer," said Sinyard, who kept in touch with Bohlen throughout his long illness.

Bohlen, who retired from FSA in July 2018 after serving as its U.S. managing director for six years, had spent more than 40 years in the industry. His career is a record book of quiet accomplishments — from frame builder to product developer to product manager, to product director for the French retail chain Decathlon and, later, with stints at Pacific, Specialized, KORE, and FSA.

In a lengthy interview with BRAIN two years ago, Bohlen said he was stunned when told he had lung cancer. "One day, while driving to work, I had to pull over — I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to the hospital; they did an x-ray and told me I had what looked like a tumor in my lung and that started my roller-coaster ride," he recalled.

"I was never a smoker, but I had been a frame builder for quite a few years. And during my time in Taiwan I used to ride frequently. The air pollution there was pretty bad, so maybe that was the cause. I don't know. Maybe I was just unlucky. But in the end, it doesn't really matter once you have it. You just have to deal with what you've got," Bohlen said.

Bohlen's passion for bicycles started with a 1966 Cinelli Super Corsa spec'd with Nuovo Record, chrome lugs and Clément Seta silk tires, he said in an interview before his passing. It was a bike that caught Bohlen's eye. For a nine-year-old kid this shiny bauble of a bike hooked his imagination and launched his cycling career.

Bohlen's involvement with Specialized began in France while at Decathlon. Mark Norris, whom he had worked with at Rocky Mountain, called. Norris was then with Specialized. Bohlen said, "I liked working at Decathlon. I raced for a club, things were going well, and out of the blue I get a call from Mark.

"Specialized needed someone in Europe to work on manufacturing the Globe, then being made in Italy. It was an incredibly complex bike—almost every part was custom," Bohlen said. The Globe was a true European city bike. At the time, much too expensive for the U.S. market so when Specialized move production to Taiwan, Bohlen moved to Morgan Hill.

Coincidently, Bohlen joined Specialized the same day as Bob Margevicius, now the company's executive vice president. Bohlen knew Margevicius slightly from racing on the East Coast. "Now he was my boss. You think you know everything and then you start hanging around with Bob," Bohlen said.

Margevicius recalls Bohlen's passion for cycling and road racing in particular. "His real passion was road. Lance pioneered the Specialized road program. It was his vision and passion for winning the Tour de France within 10 years that fueled excitement and our road category," he recalled.

"Lance was also an amazing worker. He had incredible leadership skills, a positive attitude, a courageous spirit, an inquisitive mind, a strong heart, an analytical brain, a focused eye, a fearless approach to business and a disciplined tongue. Above all, he was honest, trustworthy, humble and he had a clear conscience," Margevicius said in an earlier interview.

But as Bohlen told BRAIN after his retirement, it was the Cinelli, an Italian speedster, that was a catalyst for his decision to enter the industry.

"It was my step-brother's, and it was beautiful. He was 10 years older than me and was a great fan of Jacques Anquetil; he also subscribed to a French racing magazine, Miroir du Cyclisme. It was printed in black and white and neither one of us could read French," he recalled. Bohlen, on the other hand, was an Eddy Merckx fan-boy.

Still, it was the earthy mayhem of attending criteriums and other cycling events in Philadelphia and the Northeast with his step-brother that truly piqued his interest. "It was colorful. It was multi-ethnic. There were a lot of swear words — pushing and shoving. Lots of crashes. And I got bit by the bug," Bohlen said.

His family bought him a "lightly" crashed Schwinn Paramount track bike with a flip-flop rear hub and he quickly mastered fixed-gear riding. But Bohlen was growing like a weed — he wound six-foot-six — and had to figure out how to get a frame so he could keep riding.

It was the 1972 bike boom and 10-speed bikes were flying out of shops. Bohlen had a mechanical in front of a Korean store that also sold wigs and handbags. "I went in and asked if I could borrow some tools. The owner asked if I could fix bikes and I said, "sure." It was my first job in the industry. I was 15."

After work, Bohlen would hang out with a local frame builder, Rupert Lambert, an eccentric artist of Jamaican ancestry, and they slowly crafted a custom Reynolds 531 frame for the gangly teenager.

Bohlen, whose family had moved to Canada in 1967, had been living on the East Coast and finished high school in Philadelphia. He decided to return to Canada to earn a degree in industrial education at the University of British Columbia. He had his own bicycle repair business at the time while attending classes.

Bohlen saw an ad for a bike mechanic at West Point Cycles, the best bike shop in the area, and applied. Pippin Osborn, West Point Cycles' then manager and later founder of Syncros, hired him.

West Point Cycles was an early force in Vancouver's mountain bike scene and the birthplace and original home of Rocky Mountain, the bicycle company started by Grayson Bain, Jacob Heilbron and Sam Mak.

The following is excerpted from BRAIN's interview with Bohlen.

"At the time, 1981 or so, West Point started a wholesale company and was importing unpainted Ritchey frames for Canadian distribution. We would paint them in any Dupont Imron color available and kit them up. That gave me an early exposure to the mountain bike scene.

"Those were the days of teacher cut-backs and there weren't many teaching jobs, so I was super-motivated to stay in the industry. By then, Rocky Mountain had started building frames at Everest Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Rocky Mountain. I went there and Paul Brodie taught me the basics of frame building.

"At the time, Specialized was about the only serious mass-production mountain bike in town — they were expensive and hard to get and dealers were asking Rocky for more price points. We had a royalty deal with Tom. We could sell Ritchey-branded bikes in Canada, but we couldn't export them into the U.S. market.

"So, we effectively had two bike brands: Rocky and Ritchey. In 1986 I went to Osaka with Grayson. We visited several frame factories and then went to Shimano, Suntour, Tange Seiki, Dia Compe, and many other parts makers to get a feel for the supply chain."

Bohlen's ties to Taiwan began, ironically, with a Ferrari mechanic from Germany.

"Dirk Janz was on vacation with his family at Whistler and had rented a Rocky Mountain. He loved it and the sport. On his way to the airport to go home he stopped by our office and asked to be our German distributor. Grayson and I looked at each other and said, "why not?"

"When he got back to Germany, he faxed us an order for 1,300 units, which launched Bike Action, a very successful business. We needed frames and parts in a hurry and we knew big brands like Schwinn were going to Taiwan to source their bikes. On our next trip to Japan we extended it to Taiwan.

"We began working with A-Pro for our own frames and looked at other factories to source parts. One of them was Tien Hsien Industries, the future parent of FSA. At the time, it was being run by Douglas Chiang's father. They were making headsets and bottom brackets. We wanted to do assembly in Canada so we would import parts from Japan and Taiwan, repack the bearings, and make sure the frames were straight.

"We were real bike snobs. While working with A-Pro, I fell into a product manager role and because of my frame-building experience I ended up sharing quite a bit of frame-building know-how with them.

It was then that Bohlen joined Decathlon.

"Decathlon was also buying frames from A-Pro and was selling a million units a year — good quality but lower price points — pretty much under the radar from the conventional bicycle distribution chain. The Decathlon guys would come to A-Pro and see this tall Western guy, me, working on the shop floor and they later asked if I had ever thought of moving to Europe and bring a more North American flair to their product line.

"Their offices were right outside of Roubaix, so my emotions were running high and I was kind of flattered. They invited me to an interview, offered me a job, and I took it. It was a whole other world for me. New country, new culture, and being on the Belgian border, great riding. It was from there that I went to Specialized.

"When I moved to Morgan Hill (1995), Specialized still had a mountain bike company mentality. They weren't really focused on road. They did sell a fair number of Allez's and Turbo tires but hadn't given the category a lot of marketing love. I knew from my experience in Europe that if you wanted to do well with that category you had to get into the Tour de France.

"The European offices and I lobbied Mike hard to get a team, and we finally got a budget to work with in 1999. At that time the Saeco team was on Cannondales and GT was sponsoring the Lotto team with frames. The buzz among the teams was that the Americans had a lot of money.

"Claudio Marra, sales director for Columbus tubing and later vice president of sales and marketing for FSA, introduced David Earle, our engineer, and myself to the directors of most of the pro teams during a rest day at the 1999 Tour. We carried a wooden mock-up of a TT frame that Robert Egger had carved, kind of like bait to show them what we could bring to their programs.

"At the time, Festina was the only team who was seriously interested, possibly because other brands had given them a wide berth after the infamous doping scandal of 1998. But Festina, as the Tour's official time keeper, was guaranteed entry in next year's Tour and that sealed the deal. We had to scramble to make product, but it paid off.

"We won a stage with Marcel Wust and ended up with 3rd and 4th place overall with Joseba Beloki and Christophe Moreau. They would have been 2nd and 3rd if you discounted the "win" by Armstrong. It was a dream come true for me as road product manager and Specialized became a major player in road bikes.

Later, Bohlen did a stint at Pacific Cycles after Chris Hornung had bought Schwinn/GT out of bankruptcy. But it was a tumultuous time in his career and life.

"Pressure on my marriage was pretty tough. I was either in Asia or Europe every six weeks living what I thought was the dream, but my life was falling apart on the home front. Let's be honest, I was selfish and thought my career was the most important thing and wrongly assumed my family would be on board — all predictable consequences. I was recruited by Bob Ippolito and moved to Madison to manage the Schwinn and Mongoose brands for the IBD market. It was a nice reset for me. When Chris sold Pacific to Dorel, senior management got a nice bonus which allowed me time to figure out the next chapter.

And that next chapter was Bohlen's involvement with KORE. Founded by BMX champion Bob Morales in 1988, KORE had been in freefall for some time. Morales later sold his interest in KORE and a Taiwanese trading company bought it. Bohlen later became an investor.

"I invested in the brand as an owner and Wick Wicklund did sales. The idea was to build up the company and sell it, but in the end the trading company decided they didn't want to sell. So when SR Suntour offered me a job as director of product planning, I went for it.

"While there I had the privilege of meeting just about every product manager in the global industry. It was interesting to find out which were the authentic brands are which were the brands primarily interested in money and weren't truly passionate about bikes. I got a good sense about which brands were 'authentic' and which were not. I did that for a few years until I got a call from Morgan Nicol that FSA was looking for a managing director for its U.S. office. Wanting to relocate back to North America I applied for the job and got it.

In a final thought as part of the interview Bohlen gave to BRAIN upon his retirement, he had this to say about his time in the industry:

"I'd like to extend a heartfelt thanks and farewell to all the great people in this industry who became like a second family to me. For years I'd see the same people four times a year in the same global locations: Taipei Show, Eurobike, Interbike, Taichung Bike Week. I got to see their careers evolve; their families grow and share in their personal successes and failures. I will miss that greatly and hope my many friends in the industry will stay in touch as I transition to this next phase of my life."


Lance Bohlen. Photo courtesy Mike Sinyard.

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