Rider Down: Tony Tom

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1999

By Steven L. Sheffield — Towards the end of October, I found out that my old friend, mentor, and boss Tony Tom (of A Bicycle Odyssey, in Sausalito, California) passed away the previous week. His death was a suicide.

I worked for Tony from 1994-2001, until I moved to Utah. When I started at the shop, I really didn’t know that much about bicycles, other than what I knew of the sport. When it came to equipment, I was a complete and utter newbie. Tony taught me almost everything I know about bicycles—how to build and tune a bike, how to build wheels, and so forth. I was, at the time, a decent mechanic; not great, but not bad.

Anthony “Tony” Tom. Photo courtesy A Bicycle Odyssey.

Most importantly, I learned from him about how to treat customers; everyone who walked in the door got the same respect, whether they were just looking, or were about to drop several thousand dollars on a new bike. At this, I excelled.

Our goal was not to just sell bikes, but to sell the shop; our inventory and especially our service. It wasn’t about selling a bike and depositing a check, it was about creating repeat customers/clients. Our approach worked well. 

When it came to the bikes themselves, Tony taught me that it all started with a proper fitting, and while I never fully developed the fit skills he had, he instilled a sense of pride in making sure that clients didn’t just get a bike, but that they got the right bike for their individual needs.

Years later, I tried to bring this attitude with me when I worked for Competitive Cyclist.

One might think that it would be difficult to sell bikes over the phone when you have as strong a belief about proper bike fit as I do. Honestly, it is … so you work with what you’ve got.

For me, it was asking questions of the customers, lots of questions, but more importantly, listening to the answers. I got callers to email me pictures of their current set-ups, to send me measurements of their current bikes, asking what they liked and didn’t like about their current rides, and so on. 

And while I wasn’t the most prolific salesperson on the team, I did fairly good … and I often had the lowest return rate on the bikes that I sold; another source of considerable pride for me, because it meant I was doing something right. 

This attitude also served me well in a when working in investment services (and really, any customer-facing service role). Success was not defined simply by closing a deal and making a sale, but by making sure that the customer’s needs are taken care of, preferably from the get-go. This is what brings people back to a business, what changes them from a “customer” to a client.

I’ve missed Tony a lot over the past 20 years since I moved to Utah, but I will always have fond memories of my time at the Odyssey. I’d like to think that Tony would have been proud of the way that I took what he gave me and put it to good use. I wish I had been better about staying connected with him, that I had known about the pain he was in, that I had been a better friend after leaving California. I don’t know that I would have been able to stop him from choosing the path that he did, at least not from my perch some 750 miles away. I am sorry that I was not able to spend more time talking with and learning from him, and maybe, just maybe I would have been able to help him in return.

Really good friendships are hard to come by, and this was one that I let slip away. That is something that I will regret for the rest of my life.

Requiescat in pace, my friend. I hope you find in your next life what you were missing in this one.

If you’re in crisis, there are options available to help you cope. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at any time to speak to someone and get support. For confidential support available 24/7 for everyone in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention. #shareNIMH

Additional resources from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
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