Kari Prager, longtime owner of the California BMW and Triumph motorcycle dealership in Mountain View, passed away at his home unexpectedly on Sunday after suffering from respiratory problems, leaving behind a number of shocked family members, friends and employees.
Prager, a 63-year-old resident of Mountain View's Waverley Park neighborhood, owned the dealership on Old Middlefield Way for 29 years. Two years ago he opened another one in Livermore with his partner Michael Weissner.
"I think everyone here was shocked to hear about his death," said sales consultant Arlie Ray Blackshear. He added that Prager showed no signs of ill health and was going on motorcycle rides just days before his death.
He's well remembered for regularly leading his customers and others on monthly rides, including a one-day ride every September to Yosemite and back.
"He loved having people enjoy their bikes after they bought them," said his wife Gail. "Some people, they buy the bike and they don't have anyone to ride with them. People would meet each other this way. He was a community builder. He loved it."
A year ago Prager "semi-retired" from running the day-to-day business, as Meissner continued to operate the dealership, Gail said.
"A big part of his life was opening that shop and growing it, seeing it through hard times and good times," said Gail, who works as the dealership's office manager. "We have many employees who have been there 10 to 20 years. It feels like a family. That was very important to him."
Prager's impact on the Bay Area motorcycling community was apparent as news of his death has spread quickly on Internet message boards devoted to motorcycling, where he is remembered as "kind and generous," a "class act" and someone who made everyone who came through the shop's door feel like a valued customer.
"The quality of my moto life is largely thanks to the business they created and the communities Kari supported with such kindness and enthusiasm," wrote Cecilie Hoffman in a blog post about Prager's death.
One of the photos found online of Prager shows Gail and him standing next to the motorcycle he built for her as a wedding present in 1978. She happily recalled meeting him when she was 19, joining him for several motorcycle rides before they were engaged, ring across the country to their wedding in Massachusetts, being married in her father's backyard, and spending their two-week honeymoon riding back to the West Coast. "That bike he built for me never had a single problem," she said. "His broke down several times. That's the story behind that picture. There's a million stories."
Prager's enthusiasm for motorcycles began immediately after purchasing a BMW motorcycle as a student at Dartmouth College, where he studied anthropology and graphic arts. He even went with a Dartmouth professor on some archaeological digs in Holland and the Arctic Circle. He had a fellowship at Harvard to study art History, but as he says on his facebook page he received "no degree. Became motorcycle mechanic instead." The mechanic job led to he and Gail helping to start Bavarian Cycle Works in San Francisco. They opened their Mountain View dealership in 1981, and worked happily together over 30 years.
"Everyone is amazed by that, but it worked for us," Gail said. "We worked so well together. We had totally different ways of working and different areas of responsibility so we never stepped on each other's toes."
Prager was born in a ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. His father, Walter Prager, was a Swiss downhill ski champion who had immigrated to the United States at the start of World War II and was immediately sent back to Europe as an American soldier, earning a bronze medal. His father became an Olympic skiing coach, which is why Prager was born in the ski resort. Prager himself was Vermont's cross county ski champion when he was a junior and senior in High School. His mother, Eleanor Prager, was fairly well known as an artist, Gail said.
He always maintained his love for art and history and in his final years took up an interest in writing poetry. "He was very intellectual, very smart," Gail said of her husband. "He knew about ancient history, world wars, even Greek history. He was knowledgeable about a lot of things. And he was a very good mechanic, of course."
Prager grew up on a farm in the Vermont town of Norwich and developed a love for rifles from an early age. He was a lifelong gun enthusiast and collected antique rifles and kept a library of books about them. If he was ever asked about a particular rifle, the person would get back a lengthy e-mail response, Gail said.
He was a very sociable person, and made "instant friends all the time" Gail said, especially on the regular rides he led. Rain, snow or shine, he would show up the first Sunday of the month at his dealership and give a safety talk before a ride that could be 100 miles or more, often taking breaks at Alice's Restaurant in Woodside. He could ride the roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains blindfolded, Gail said. "Lots of people got to know those roads because of him."
But at 63, Prager's journey through life ended too early, his wife said. His preliminary cause of death is a respiratory infection and he had been suffering a nagging respiratory condition for some time, Gail said.
"He had a lot of irons in the fire," she said. "It's so sad that he left us now. He still had a lot to do."
Prager is survived by his wife Gail, their two daughters, Kristin Prager and Maya Nolan and her husband Seamus Nolan.
His daughters said they felt "so lucky to have grown up with such an amazing dad. He never failed every single day to tell us and show us how much he loved us."
The time and location of a memorial service will be posted at calmoto.com, along with information about a tribute ride for Prager.