HARLINGEN — The RGV cycling community is remembering and paying tribute to Henry Roberts, founder and owner of Bicycle World, who died Sunday after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Roberts, who was born in the Bahamas, opened Bicycle World in Harlingen with his wife Kelly in 1977 and followed-up with locations in Brownsville, McAllen and most recently, in Corpus Christi.
Those who knew him and spent time at the store share the same anecdote: Roberts was a caring man who was personally invested in helping his customers achieve their best, from novice cyclists to those tackling the annual Jalapeño 100-mile ride, an event he founded 29 years ago with all proceeds benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of Harlingen.
“His first thought was for another person, for you. It wasn’t for him. It was to put a smile on your face and help you to get where you were going, whether to get a new bike or words of wisdom or a pat on the back or just make you feel special,” said Jeremy Bergeaux, who has frequented the store for about 5 years and is a Bicycle World rider. “His personality was just positive, positive without fault.”
Roberts wanted to make cycling accessible to everyone and was a champion for the underdog, which is why he displayed photos of every day people in his stores, according to Kay Polt, who bought her first triathlon bicycle at Bicycle World in 2014.
“He would make you see that you could do more, that you could achieve what you wanted to. He was inspirational that way. Sometimes I don’t know what I did that would inspire him, but he did some things for me that were just amazing,” said an emotional Polt. “At the Harlingen Triathlon, he gave me an award for being inspiring, and I thought, ‘This is really nice, but you better do it to a lot more people over the years.’ But that’s the only one he got to do.”
One of Roberts’ most impactful legacies is the Tri Girl Sprint Triathlon, held Aug. 5, 2018, at Victor Pool, which inspired many women to conquer personal goals and step out of their comfort zones. A distinguishing characteristic about this race is that it included a category called “Athena,” which was for participants with a minimum weight of 165 pounds.
“The only reason I learned to swim was because I wanted to do the Bicycle World women’s only tri. And it was everything and more,” said Patty Saldivar. “He was super proud of the Bicycle World women’s tri and videotaping women afterwards. He felt that encouraged other women to try. It was the same reason he would put posters of regular women in the stores. He felt that encouraged others to try and it did.”
Whether visiting the original store in Harlingen or any of the other locations, Roberts wanted customers to experience the same welcoming environment.
“It was open arms when you talked in there. He would remember you. The shop remembers you; you’re not really a stranger. You walk in there one time, you go in there 100 times, you never felt like you were walking into a business. It felt like you were walking into a clubhouse,” Bergeaux said.
As a show of support for Roberts during his cancer treatments, local photographer Juan Macias compiled a collage of portraits of the many people who were inspired by Roberts, all wearing their Bicycle World jerseys.
Among those featured was Dean Garza, who successfully underwent treatment for colon cancer in 2017 and celebrated by completing an Ironman Triathlon the following year.
“One of the proudest moments of my life was presenting Henry with my 40th anniversary Ironman medal from Ironman Texas,” Garza said, explaining his wife Dolores helped him swap into the 40th anniversary Bicycle World shirt Roberts gave him. “To wear that crossing the finish line was my surprise for him but to present him with the medal was out of love and respect that I had for Henry. He made everyone feel like a great athlete, even if you knew you were average. After you talked to him, you felt like you could win the Tour De France.”
The family is asking to honor Henry Roberts by sending $20 Target and Walmart gift cards to the Blue Sunday Foster Program at P.O. Box 531653 Harlingen, Texas 78553. The family stresses the gift cards be for $20 so each child gets the same amount.