Chuck Wurster died last last week. He was 86 years old.
Chuck had been the face of Computrainer since I first met him, in the late 1980s. A year before I debuted the wetsuit that transformed that category into something triathletes wanted Chuck debuted, in 1986, the first—or at least the first meaningful—smart trainer for cyclists.
Some of us were quick to understand the value. Top athletes back then had key workouts to perform leading up to an Ironman, some outdoor—the 6- and 7-hour rides—and then there were the vital, irreplaceable Computrainer workouts. By the early '90s we realized that the smart trainer was the place for the high-intensity work, and seasonality was not an issue. Chuck Wurster's Computrainer was a year-round training weapon.
Those who find Zwift compelling today are motivated by the sort of interactivity Computrainer introduced almost 30 years ago, with rider avatars on a game-inspired course populated by other avatars. Although those riders were, in the beginning, not representations of real riders, there was a drafting effect, just as with Zwift.
In 2007, about 1 in 5 Slowtwitchers used Computrainer for their indoor training, and the rest used dumb trainers because that was the only alternative. In 2010 I asked Slowtwitchers what they'd buy for indoor training, cost no object, and over half said Computrainer. When I polled in 2013 a Computrainer studio was among the most requested features they'd like to see in their local bike shops. Virtually all of today's modern fit bikes used Computrainers as their resistance units (and the fit bike industry still hasn't found a worthy replacement).
Chuck Wurster’s passing is more than just an industry loss to me. Chuck and I were sympatico in our preference for meeting you all at the events you patronized. Whether trade or consumer, Interbike or the Chicago Triathlon, I had a booth and Chuck did too. Chuck loved you all. I always sought him out these expos. I got the sense that he wondered why I always bypassed others to see him. As in, why are you here? What do you need? What can I do? But it was always just to say hi to him, because he was just such a dear man.
I don't much like the telephone and I think I make a face whenever it rings. But when Chuck was on the other end, that was different. The last time I remember speaking to him was his call, perhaps in April or May, offering me my choice or a Velotron or Computrainer in exchange for helping him broker the passage of Velotron, his company's last brand, to its new owner. Not necessary I told him, but he insisted.
When I read of Chuck's passing I was surprised, because I had no idea he was 86. His passion, eagerness, and energy suggested a decade younger. I could tell in his voice that he'd been waning over the past year; I don't know why but I suspect it was because the smart trainer world had finally caught up to him. I don't think he cared that much, except for the effect on his longtime employees.
Chuck was a nicer man than I am. Chuck bent my trajectory in this regard. He was, very simply, the most gracious human I've met in the bike business. He, along with Steve Hed, pulled me toward grace and away from incivility and disquietude. We read about societies that have no word for an idea common to us (goodbye, please, worry, time). I'm well acquainted with my own strident behaviors and moods and, for men like these, it's not that they've overcome these dark bedevilments; they just don't have a word for them. I'll miss Chuck Wurster.