Book Review: One Last Great Thing by John Burke

one last great thing burke trek free press

I’ll start by telling you how the story ends: The Big Guy dies. However, this spoiler does not ruin the story this book tells. Who is The Big Guy, and why should you care? Click through to see the story this book has to tell, and what difference it might make to you…

Dick Burke, aka The Big Guy, was a driven working-class guy from Wisconsin who helped found Trek Bicycle Corporation in 1976. Author John Burke, the Big Guy’s son, worked his way up through the company to succeed his father as head of Trek Bicycles. John Burke wrote this slim volume as a tribute to his father, telling the story of The Big Guy’s sometimes-bumpy path to growing what is perhaps the largest, most successful bicycle manufacturer of his day. Along the way, son John reveals what characteristics made The Big Guy so successful, and just as importantly, takes us on a personal trip through his own experience as son, successful employee, and eventual leader of Trek.

From comments received upon announcing the publication of this book, I know that feelings run strong and deep about Trek Bicycles, both for and against. Those looking for an inside peek at the technical aspects of innovations introduced by Trek on their march to the top will find little satisfaction in this book. Likewise, those looking for reasons to further hate Trek because of their smaller company acquisitions and endorsement deals will find little fodder for their broadsides against the company.

What you will find in this book is a very warm, surprisingly moving story of the illness and unexpected death of an inspiring father and company leader. To the end, The Big Guy took charge. Growing Trek into an industry leader was not at all a smooth, easy path. When quick early growth revealed deep flaws in the structure of the management of the company, Dick Burke stepped in to take responsibility (and blame) and set things straight. He didn’t romp and stomp and kick ass; he rationally set choices before his team and led them to come up with ways to get the company back on track and provide excellent products and service.

Certainly a biography by a loving son will show a mostly-positive spin, and that’s fine – I have warned you that this is the case. This isn’t meant to be a warts-and-all comprehensive biography of Dick Burke; this is a work intended to reveal what made the man successful and well-loved, and to set precepts down for readers to learn and follow. The 10 “lessons” revealed at the end (follow your dreams, set goals, etc) will be no surprise whatsoever to anyone who has read such books or sat through management classes at work.

For me personally, I generally avoid “10 steps to improve your life” type books. But I admit to finding myself very moved at the end of this fairly short book. The Big Guy didn’t die suddenly; instead, an infection during a relatively routine operation caused a coma that, when the up until then-very active 73-year-old emerged, left him unable to speak, too weak to communicate beyond simple spelling, and slowly dying. The story of the author and his family coming to terms with the realization that The Big Guy was not going to recover is very emotional, without being overly sentimental.

It is likely that most of us have or will face end-of-life issues, and stories such as this help us see that some good can come from such situations – One Last Great Thing.

This book can be found at many book sellers such as Amazon.

Comments

Zap? - 01/16/13 - 1:52pm

A once great company that I used to love and admire. I have also purchased many bikes from them and had planned on doing so again in the future, but I won’t be, not after the way they handled the whole Lance Armstrong/Greg LeMond fiasco.

If Trek were to offer up an apology to Greg, I’d be totally cool with them again, but until that happens, they’ll be the last company I’d ever buy anything from ever again.

Meta - 01/16/13 - 2:17pm

Whatever! Trek has played a major role in destroying the sport by sponsoring. Anyone who buys Trek or Bontrager products is complicit.

MarkV - 01/16/13 - 2:32pm

Easy to condem from the comfort of the audience. Walk a day in their shoes and you might see it differently. When you sponsor the sports most adamant and successful liar, you may trust the lies….right or wrong.

Meta - 01/16/13 - 2:52pm

@MarkV you don’t get it! They knew so much info beyond your imagination can cope with! LeMond for years has been telling them what it is going on. You’re also here choosing to promote a company that didn’t want to see the truth and what mattered to it is just selling bike.

NoSponsor - 01/16/13 - 3:17pm

@Meta- You don’t get it. Trek, Specialized, Fuji, all BIKE COMPANIES- Their goal is to sell bikes, they have to promote their bikes, they support the system that their bikes are in. Yes the system has issues, yes the system has bad players. But if they didn’t stand by the teams and work towards promoting cycling they would go out of business. This whole cycling thing, its bigger than just Lance, its bigger than one brand. Trek stood by cycling and keeps getting dragged in the mud, same as other bike companies do. Do I think they had their doubts about lance, yes, did they know more than they let on, maybe but they also have to run a business. IF we really want to compare that type of ideology to other sports, than don’t buy Nike, Adidas, cars, or any product for supporting any sport or organization that has had a liar in it. Get off your high horse.

Ripnshread - 01/16/13 - 3:54pm

Great article. I know everyone gives you sh!t for this but you really need to get a proofreader. One simple step and your prose would be forever elevated.

RideBeerSleep - 01/16/13 - 4:29pm

I agree!! Don’t buy a Trek because the sponsored Lance!! However, to be fair, I probably should not buy a Specialized either because of the whole Contador clenbuterol thing. Specialize has the whole Bernhard Kohl/Gerolsteiner mess up on top of that. Specialized sponsored Filip Meirhaeghe so their mtbs are unavailable too. Floyd and Vino were on BMC so don’t buy a BMC. Michael Rasmussen raced on Colnago so they are out. Scott sponsored Rico can’t get one of those. Bjarne Riis and Jan rode Pinarello. Jan later rode Giant and Basso rode a Cervelo, they are all done. Pantani was on a Bianchi. Liberty Seguros-Würth was using BH bikes. If my memory serves me right the Festina guys were riding Peugeot…but no one really wants one of those anyway. Man, are there any clean bikes that I can ride?

RUSTYDOGG - 01/16/13 - 4:55pm

No doubt a good read. I don’t buy Trek or Specialized because I know they are bullies in the manufacturing world making it difficult for small companies. Huge mega-corps that will do just fine without a penny of mine..

Darwin - 01/16/13 - 4:59pm

Burke is a tea party Bush lover who is so patriotic he outsourced most bike building to china. Typical.
Plus the way they treated LeMond and hung on to Lance to the last minute is pretty disgusting. I seriously doubt they didn’t know he was doping since the Trek reps were very close to him for years. I’ve always felt their bikes were pretty boring anyway.

johnny - 01/16/13 - 5:06pm

ridebeersleep. nice comments, I agree.. They are all just companies selling products. it is all business and nothing personal

Pete - 01/16/13 - 5:22pm

I don’t buy it (the story or the book). Just as self-serving as la on the OWN.

bin judgin - 01/16/13 - 5:53pm

Don’t not buy Trek because they supported Lance.

Don’t buy Trek because they manufacture flimsy cardboard box bikes that can’t shift worth a damn, are out of spec, and overpriced.

satisFACTORYrider - 01/16/13 - 6:19pm

damn. things are rough for all things trek right now. i don’t know of one product except maybe the kids who sell fresh lemonade in my neighborhood during the summer that isn’t tainted. okay- those damn styrofoam cups they serve probably choked out a bird somewhere. point is any pedestal being used these days are suspect. like my 9yr old kid says “never trust anyone over 30, papa!” ..wait..what?!

jj - 01/16/13 - 6:21pm

Was an “outsourcing” comment really just made? I actively seek out American-made products, but to chastise a brand for doing what 99% of the industry does, is pretty much ludicrous. Plus, they do, still, manufacture some bikes here in the US, right? And come on, were racers in the 80′s REALLY completely clean?

Gino - 01/16/13 - 6:59pm

Will Trek start making Lemond bikes again???

carl - 01/16/13 - 8:11pm

Uhm…. weren’t we talking about a fellow’s book and tribute to his father? Yes, the book may be self-serving…. or it may be a tribute that a man wrote about his father. Talk about hi-jacking a thread…. And no, I probably won’t be buying a Trek any time soon either.

Concerning Trek and Specialized being bullies….. Yes, they are. So go to the Hand Made Bike Show in Denver this February and buy something that DOESN’T say TREK or SPECIALIZED on it. I’m going…..

Joshua Murdock - 01/16/13 - 8:32pm

I’m sure John Burke will be kept up at night over a few dorks arguing his company’s past sponsorships that are irrelevant to his book. Oh damn, he didn’t win some comment thread losers’ approval – what a shame.

I think it sounds like a good read, regardless.

Nick - 01/16/13 - 8:59pm

in regards to the book: sounds well worth my time to read. thank you!

in regards to the brand: would definetly still buy, they put money towards advocacy, and that means more than the overpriced bikes that specialized puts forth.

highpointer - 01/16/13 - 9:54pm

Good Book that I read.

In regards to Lemond. No Trek will never make them again. Greg Lemond was selling all kinds of bikes under the table.

FYI Trek Carbon bikes are made in the following places. 3 Series Madone-China, 4 and 5 Series Madone and 4, 5, 6 Series Domane and Speed Concept 7 Series-Taiwan. 6 and 7 Series Madone and Speed Concept 7 Series-MADE IN THE USA!!!

Plus Lance was still the fastest Cheater!!!

The Rude Awakener - 01/17/13 - 9:53am

Trek bikes suck. Rear brake moved to chainstays? Who is the dumba$$ who thought that $h1t up? I’m sticking to Giant, and my next bike will either be a C-Dale or a Canyon. Trek? 4uck that shit!

King County - 01/17/13 - 10:50am

***** Trek has HORRIBLE business practices. If the general public knew the business side of them, they wouldn’t support them. I agree with the few people that also know how ‘full of sh*t’ this company is.

If you stand by Trek, you are either ill-informed or just an idiot.

This has nothing to do with Lance.

highpointer - 01/17/13 - 12:42pm

We have sold Trek for years and they have Great Business Practices along with some bad ones (but who does not).

1. They stick by there dealers. Trek are discounted everywhere online. Dealers can make a fair living selling Trek.

2. Great Warranty Service. Most of the time we just have to send a photo. Almost everyone else (but Shimano and Sram) makes us send the product back in for review. That in turn puts the rider off of the product longer.

3. They employ many Americans in the plants in WI.

4. There bikes work. Just the other day we had a Famous Brand in our shop that you had to remove the rear derailleur just to take the wheel off. Trek has the best shifting of any bike we work on.

5. The Burke family gives. They give more money to charity than just bicycle causes and they give a lot. Just read the book.

6. American owned (I do know that most all the bikes are made overseas and most are sold overseas).
Giant-Taiwan owned- Cannondale-Canada owned plus they own Mongoose, Roadmaster, Schwinn and other Wal-Mart bikes (is the same person designed your Super Six that is designed a Walmart Mongoose). Specialized-Taiwan and US owned. Raleigh-Diamondback-Redline-Owned by a European company. Cervelo-Focus-European Owned not to mention that most all Cervelo’s are made in China :(

Being American owned keeps more money in the USA!!!!!!

7. Now Trek does drop dealers from time to time. That is business. They are in business to make money. This lets them feed/shelter/cloth a lot of American. My guess is that Trek employs more Americans then all the brands put together from point 6.

So the point is. Stop crying because you tore up your Trek in a crash and they would not warranty it. I hate it when people think they can pull the wool over our eyes. I was just ridding along. Yeah right!!!!

highpointer - 01/17/13 - 12:42pm

1. 1. They stick by there dealers. Trek are NOT DISCOUNTED everywhere online. Dealers can make a fair living selling Trek.

Erich - 01/17/13 - 4:53pm

I will have to reserve final judgement until I’ve read this, but I hope that John is a more inspiring author than orator. After years of Trek U seminars, and a few in-person meetings, I have found him to be one of the most flat, humourless individuals I’ve ever encountered. It’s entirely possible I’ve only seen him at his most professional and least personable, but I am suspicious of a narrative from someone who appears to have all the charm of a stereotypical high school shop teacher.

With that said, my old employer was one of the earliest Trek dealers and our owner spoke of Dick Burke in glowing terms. It sounds like John’s testimonial (extended eulogy?) bears that out.

Aiouqes - 02/22/13 - 5:36pm

Hey, Erich, watch it! I’m a high school shop teacher, and am proud of it. :-)
I also built my first bike frame before Trek really got off of the ground, and it’s as well-built as any Trek frame. I’d at least like to think that I could entertain you pretty effectively as I would regale you with fascinating tales of how I put that frame together…

David French - 03/13/13 - 4:17pm

I’m amazed by the number of anti-Trek rumblings that every single mention of their name seems to bring about.
I personally have bought 9 bikes from Trek now, 6 of which have been for myself. Every one of them has performed perfectly, with my personal favorites having been a 69er, a Triton fixed gear which I ride everywhere and a middle of the road Madone.
I also sell Trek bikes as part of my living and the one thing which always amazes me is how much people enjoy riding them. Their Dual Sport and FX range bikes the people rate how smooth and comfortable, the Madone and Domane ranges are really popular and well received and their 28er bikes are some of the best out there .
I think unless you’re looking for something really special (although I’d argue that a P1 Madone 7-Series in green flames is pretty special) then Trek represent excellent value and for my money it’s hard to look elsewhere.

Dave.

Saltydog1 - 09/02/13 - 4:15pm

Until John Burke apologizes to greg lemond —I will not buy a trek

Jason Wang - 01/18/14 - 1:47am

I admire John burke ,so I want it

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