After ten years in the Seattle area, Phil “Bilko” Stephens is leaving us to be closer to his family in the midwest. Phil had been working at BikeFit in Kirkland, but was more widely known for teaching skills clinics at the Jerry Baker Memorial Velodrome, and as “the voice” announcing at the Velodrome and at local criterium races. Some of Phil’s announcing roles will be assumed by Cory Edwards.
Phil got the nickname “Sgt. Bilko” from the manager of the Major Taylor Velodrome in Indianapolis. “Sgt. Bilko” was a character developed in the Phil Silvers Show sitcom that ran 1955-59. Presumably the velodrome manager saw a resemblance between Phil Stephens’ flat top haircut, thick glasses, and smart alecky-ness.
Kenny Williams on his relationship with Bilko:
“Bilko takes being a great person to whole new level. His love for cycling shows in helping a kid take their first laps at the track, managing fears, and in helping a master racer looking to figure out how to race in the pack. Bilko is not a rich man but will give what he can to help a jr athlete to get to a world-level race. He has given me so much of his time to help me reach my racing goals and has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He has been a great friend to me who is always there to grab a beer and dinner while we talk about life, he is our pet sitter and teammate. He will be sorely missed at the velodrome, crits and cyclocross as an announcer, super supporter, and friend to many. I’m not losing a great friend, but he is moving away and I will miss him dearly.”
Phil’s most memorable contribution to the local cycling community is the “Marymoor Crawl,” which began in 2005, went viral, and is now a featured event at velodromes around the world.
In the Marymoor Crawl riders trackstand between three and four minutes until the bell rings, then sprint around the track to the finish line. During the trackstanding period riders are eliminated if they put a foot down, grab the rail, ride off the track surface, fall or touch another rider, or ride backwards. Prize money for the race is typically crowdfunded and winnings can top $200.
Phil is also proud of helping with the transition after the death of Jerry Baker on September 10, 2015. Since Jerry was pretty much the architect of everything cycling in the Seattle area, he had encyclopedic knowledge of who to talk to to make things happen, and when and how to organize events. Phil and others at the Velodrome had to step in to carry on after Jerry’s death.
Phil and I share a passion for making cycling more accessible to more people, and for facilitating riders’ progression in the sport. In this regard, one thing I particularly enjoyed about Phil in his bike race announcer role is the approachable way he emceed each event. He assumed most folks in the crowd probably didn’t understand how the race worked, and he patiently explained rules and tactics as part of his shtick. In 2009 I convinced a non-athletic brother to watch the Ballard Crit with me, and Phil’s play-by-play made him a bike racing fan.
I was also lucky to participate in a track racing clinic he led. Most of the people in the clinic had never raced bikes before, and his teaching style made everyone feel like they had success by the end of the lesson.
Here’s wishing Phil success on his next adventure!
Join other members of the Seattle cycling community at Phil’s going away party on February 24 at Chainline Brewing.