Creig P. Sherburne/Atascadero News // Shawn Varner with his current bike, a Specialized Tarmac Expert SL3 with Ultegra components. The bike is mostly stock, though it has a lightweight chain and some custom gearing. Varner said the biggest change to bicycles over the years he’s been riding, selling and fixing them is the prolific use of carbon fiber. Otherwise, the shapes and basic mechanics are the same as they ever were. /// Atascadero News photo courtesy of Shawn Varner // The Varner family pose for a photo after church recently. From left, Smith, 15, Shawn, Becky and Christian, 9.
Shawn Varner has done and fixed just about everything that can be done or fixed on a bike.
Raced road bikes? Check. Done jumps on BMX bikes? Check. Worked in a bike shop? Check. Owned a bike shop? Check. Mountain biked with his son? Check.
While Varner’s life may be filled with change, evolution and uncertainty, bikes remain a constant for him. They have been since he was 10 and he says they will be until the day he dies.
“Biking is low-impact,” he said. “You can do it forever.”
Now a resident of Templeton, Varner rode through his youth, but things really began to get interesting in 1996. That was when, just before the birth of his son, he got sober. He’s still sober to this day, a fact he took zero credit for. Instead, he thanks God, his family and cycling for keeping him on the wagon.
Varner worked at Bike Masters in Paso Robles from 1997 to 1999. In 1999, the owner of the shop offered to sell it to Varner, who said he and his wife, Becky, were really torn: buy the bike shop or send Varner back to school with the goal of going into ministry?
In the end, they split the difference and bought the shop which was used as a ministry.
“I remember hanging out in bike shops when I was a kid,” Varner said. “We thought, ‘why not turn hanging out in a bike shop into a ministry?’ So that’s what we did. … It was a really good time in our lives.”
Four years later — to the day — Varner sold the shop to K-Man Cycle & Run’s Keith Schmidt.
The shop moved and was sold again and is now Best Bike Zone on Paso Robles Street in Paso. In the intervening years, K-Man also moved to a larger location near El Camino Real and Santa Rosa Road, but Schmidt still owns and runs it.
Varner sold the shop to take up a position as a youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Paso Robles. Varner eventually left the church because it wanted one thing from its youth pastor and rather than turn it into a struggle, he vacated the position so a more appropriate pastor could come in.
He immediately went back into the bike business, working for Schmidt at K-Man in Atascadero where he stayed for two years, doing itinerant preaching on the side.
But, he said, going back to a bike shop was like dropping a duck back on the lake. Though he no longer works there, he still drops by on the occasional early morning before the staff has arrived, and, like the shoemaker’s elves, will fix bikes under the cloak of night.
“I love Keith,” Varner said, and added that he liked both working for and selling his shop to him.
Though never a professional, Varner raced quite a lot from the early ‘90s to the early 2000s. During that time, his biggest achievement was winning the Santa Barbara criterion in 1997.
“I wasn’t a prolific racer,” he said. “I was never a pro, but I loved it.”
Varner doesn’t race any more, but he still rides frequently — four times a week most of the time — and rarely does rides less than 20 miles long.
“If I’m going to put all my gear on and fill my water bottle, I want to be out an hour, hour and a half,” Varner said. “Fifteen miles is only 45 minutes.”
But don’t let that apparent intensity paint a picture of an elitist biker. Varner said one of his favorite things in the whole world is mountain biking with his almost-10-year-old son, Christian. Christian rides a 24-inch Specialized Hotrock hardtail mountain bike alongside his dad’s 29-inch version. The duo spend most of their time riding around their hometown of Templeton, but will head out to Montaña de Oro as well.
Varner’s other son, 14-year-old Smith, isn’t much of a cyclist, spending his time on his skateboard or playing basketball instead.
“He gets out there and comes home sweaty,” Varner said. “We kick our kids out of the house a lot.”
And he kicks himself out a lot, too. Varner rarely says no to a casual ride with friends on his road bike. The problem is he doesn’t get as many invites as he’d like.
“People are intimidated because I’ve ridden all my life,” Varner said sadly. “They think they’ll slow me down. But I like riding slow. If I want to ride hard and beat myself up, I’ll go alone.”
In fact, Varner said the last really great ride he went on was with an out-of-shape friend. What made it so great, he said self-depreciatingly, was that the friend was huffing and puffing, so Varner had a captive audience to talk about whatever he wanted and the friend just grunted and nodded the miles away.
Varner now has decades and tens of thousands of miles behind him. With all that experience, he said the best thing a cyclist can get if he or she wants to ride faster is proper cycling shoes and clipless pedals.
“Shorts are important, but it’s crazy not to have shoes and pedals,” he said.
He said it’s also crazy to not wear a helmet.
“I’m a helmet freak,” he said. “Get a helmet if you don’t have one. Decorate it. Ride with a helmet always. Always.”
Now a youth pastor at Refuge Church in Atascadero, Varner said he’s working on getting a dirt area of the church paved so the skateboard ramps the church owns can be put to use. In the meantime, he keeps on riding and doing what he can to get others involved in riding.
“I’m going slower now,” he said. “But I push myself, I go as fast as I can. Sometimes I get to the top of a hill and I thank God for making this place and that I get to enjoy it.”