Remembering Peter Rich (1940-2023), Founder of Berkeley’s Velo Sport (and so much more)

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Peter “Pete” Starke Rich born July 25, 1940 on a balmy summer day at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco to parents Charles Rich and Thelma Starke Rich, passed away quietly August 3, 2023 in Walnut Creek with his family at his side.

Peter Rich (1940-2023). Photo courtesy Julie Peterson.

A respected member of the City of Berkeley, Peter lived an extraordinary life of a passionate bicyclist and endurance horseback rider and breeder of Arabian horses, as well as a brief hiatus as a Berkeley police officer from 1966-1969. Peter spent his teenage years as a bicycle racer in the Bay Area and eventually raced in Europe. Upon his return to California, in 1961 Peter opened Velo Sport Cyclery in Berkeley.

Peter Rich and Russell Lee at the Searsville Bicycle Bowl, 1957. Photo courtesy Russell Lee.

From a history of Berkeley cycling:

“Velo Club Berkeley was started by Peter Rich looking to field a team for the original, 1971, Tour of California. Rich had a long and active history in cycling. He opened the Velo Sport bicycle shop in 1962 and was the promoter of the original Tour of California. It was an eight-day, ten stage-race across the state. Rich was a passionate cyclist and former racer in the fifties and early sixties including competing in Italy and Belgium. He promoted the Berkeley Hills Road Race starting in 1957, now one of the longest-running bike races in the country. It was Rich who gave support by providing lodging to [George] Mount in that upstairs apartment above his shop. Rich coached many young East Bay riders at Hellyer Park Velodrome, the Polo Fields in San Francisco and on the roads of the East Bay. His love for cycling helped propel cycling in Northern California and the United States.”

Peter Rich at Velo Sport. Date unknown. Photo courtesy Julie Peterson.

This June, Peter was voted into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame as a Contributor to the sport of cycling as one of four Inductees for 2023. Here is the description that accompanied the announcement:

“Peter Rich has been an influential visionary in American cycling. From founding a newsletter in 1961 that became “Bicycling Magazine” to starting the first international stage race in the US (the first Tour of California stage race in 1971), Rich pioneered many ideas for modern US cycling. He helped build early US-made racing frames while mentoring many custom frame builders. He developed, mentored, and supported a number of crucial American champion cyclists as well as pioneered radical (at the time) training ideas such as cross-training with weight training for road cyclists.”

(The U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame in Davis, CA will be hosting a celebration to honor Peter’s induction on October 21, 2023.)

Peter Rich, probably at Hellyer Velodrome. Date unknown. Photo courtesy Julie Peterson.
Peter Rich. Date and location unknown. Photo courtesy Julie Peterson.

Testimonial from Gary Fitts, friend and horse owner:

“One day in 2004 I took my beautiful old Italian racing bike into Peter’s Velo Sport, and I learned that Peter was not only the godfather of California bicycle racing, but that he also had a farm in the Orinda Hills to breed and train Arabian endurance race horses. In return for training and exercising his horses, he gave a generation of riders access to some of the best horses on earth. For many years, “Bay Laurel Arabians” was one of the top endurance barns in the country. The high point of the year was always the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile race through the Sierras on rugged backcountry trails, the Kentucky Derby of endurance riding. One year Bay Laurel riders took four of the top ten places. Riders came from all over the world [including the director of the Tokyo Zoo], to lease Bay Laurel horses for the event, and we all participated either as riders or as crew. Peter himself finished the race five times. All of us who ride a bicycle or a horse in California are beneficiaries of Peter’s efforts to promote the sports he loved.”

Peter Rich with one of his beloved Arabians. 1977. Photo courtesy Julie Peterson.

Peter is survived by his wife Rose Marie Hoffman, his daughter Julie Katherine Peterson, son-in-law Michael Butler Peterson and twin grandchildren, Eva and Benjamin Peterson.

There will be a memorial and reception September 17, 2023 1pm–5pm at 28 Orinda Way, Founders Auditorium, Orinda community center (note that this is an updated location).

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Celebration of life for Peter Rich has been moved to Orinda Community Center, Founder’s Hall, 28 Orinda Way, Orinda, September 17, 1-4pm

  2. Thank you Peter..
    We moved to Berkeley, summer of 1961. Lived on Spruce and Cedar St.
    My father teaching Spanish and Portugese at University, bought me my first 10 speed Puch.
    Blue with chrome rims. The start of a long history of cycling, racing.
    Thank you Peter, thank you.
    My life changed forever.

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