The Chris Spilly Effect


Miles Hatch, Contributor

As he sat with his feet up on his desk and hands behind his head, Chris Spilly’s comfortable demeanor warmed the backyard office where he had been working before I arrived.

As we chatted before the interview, Spilly’s inviting demeanor set me at ease.

Spilly is the head coach of the San Rafael High School Bike Dawgs and owner of his own company, American Home Renewal. He is a nature enthusiast, who loves mountain biking, surfing, trail running, and more outdoorsy activities.

He warmly gestured to me to sit in a worn and tattered chair that he said he had picked up over 20 years ago on the streets of SF. As I sat, looking around the office, where strewn across the room was a mixture of work materials, exercise equipment, and photographs, I began to ask Spilly some questions.

Spilly, who started his own company, American Home Renewal, recounts when he would work day in and day out. He was stuck in a rut, oftentimes working through the night. He decided to ask one of his clients, who had shown him a room full of mountain biking trophies and memorabilia, about local trails in the Bay Area. The client, an “older dude, this guy Gary,” and Spilly, a young fresh-out of college kid, clicked. The unlikely duo spent a lot of time together on the bike trails, “three to four days a week for years.” Gary’s and Spilly’s close connection would lead to Gary standing up at Spilly’s wedding.

As the conversation moved past Gary and onto other friends that Spilly had made through mountain biking and other sports, Spilly stood up and pulled a photo from his wall, handing it to me. The warm grin that I had witnessed during his recollection of Gary was the same in the photo. He told me about the other figure in the picture, a man whom he had met in Colorado.

Spilly had been spending time in Colorado and hadn’t known anyone. He called the local bike shop asking if there were any group rides. The shop pointed him in the direction of the guy in the picture who Spilly says is now a life-long friend. Spilly’s ability to make connections is apparent through the stories he told me.

When I asked Spilly why he chooses to volunteer as the Bike Dawgs coach, he said, “I want to give you guys a taste of what else is out there and it’s super rewarding for me to see someone take off.”

In one of the last races of her senior year, Haley Bosch rode her race slightly “broken and injured,” Spilly said, “Just by them committing and doing it, they’re going to get something out of it.”

Bosch said of Spilly, “He showed me that biking was a place to find strength in myself.” Bosch was a rider for the Bike Dawgs all four years of her high school career and captain her senior year.

She remembers finding a lot of success her sophomore year, and being excited to take on her junior year. However, she was faced with faster riders and less success that year, much to her dismay. After her first race, Bosch was upset, but stayed at the finish line to cheer on her teammates.

“Chris told me how proud he was of me for just being a good teammate, for supporting others even when it wasn’t my own success.”

When I spoke to Declan Murphy, Spilly’s co-coach on the Bike Dawgs, he said of Spilly, “He has a passion for the sport… that really shows itself when you see his enthusiasm with young riders.”

Murphy said that Spilly really pushes for team bonding and inclusiveness. The Bike Dawgs have an annual overnight trip at Mt. Tam’s West Point Inn.

Murphy continued, “He recognizes how important this is, to create the glue, the team aspect.”

Another former rider, Lila Hoeh, said, “He helped me to not always focus on the racing sort of things and the fitness stuff, and focus on just the joy of mountain biking.”

Spilly’s team has always been one of inclusivity and self-growth. He allows riders to concentrate on the areas they want to focus on, while encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones every once in a while.

Hoeh said Spilly once took her on a technical and difficult trail. She said Spilly stopped at the hard parts of the trail and helped her work through the rock gardens and tight turns. Hoeh said, “The way he coached us kind of really fostered that lifelong mountain biker mentality.”

The general consensus among those I spoke to was that Spilly is a catalyst. A catalyst for forming bonds between people and encouraging a positive mindset.

No matter what he is doing, Spilly’s mindset always remains positive. It is evident in the relationships he has formed through his passions, the way his former riders remember him, and the way he not only coaches, but inspires.

Spilly left me with one final note on creating a love for the sport before I left.

“If I can show you guys like a little bit of that, and get you inspired… you end up taking it and running with it, then I’ve done my job.”