For over 25 years, bikes have been a part of Ira Ryan’s life either through riding, fixing or building them. Ryan is now the co-owner of Breadwinner Cycles, an award-winning custom bike company based in Portland, Oregon, but he got his start in Iowa City, racing in middle school and later working as a mechanic at the now-closed Lefler’s Schwinn, as well as World of Bikes.
Ryan finds it intriguing that bicycles have stayed true to their original, uncomplicated design while continuing to remain versatile in the ways people use them.
“In so many ways the bicycle is this simple, elegant ‘thing,'” he said, “But for me and a lot of other people, [bicycles] do something far bigger than the sum of their parts.”
In 2005, Ryan started welding bike frames in his mom’s basement. He bounced around working at different bike shops, and eventually found an apprenticeship with bike-builder Sascha White of The Vanilla Workshop in Portland.
When Ryan began making frames he didn’t have any specific plans for them; he just wanted to make quality bikes. But one bike led to another, until he found himself in business under the name Ira Ryan Cycles. Originally, he emblazoned his frames with his own name, but after nine years of business on his own, Ryan felt like he had hit a ceiling. As the sole bike builder for his company, he was putting together about 20 custom bikes a year but wanted to do more.
When Ryan started working on a new project, he met Tony Pereira who was having a similar experience with his company. The pair realized they worked well together, they were more efficient than when they worked alone and that they were making more money. They decided to officially join forces, and Breadwinner Cycles was born.
“It has been a lot of work,” said Ryan. “But we are able to scale up with this business model where we couldn’t as individual builders.”
Steve Goetzelman, owner of 30th Century Bicycle, owns a couple of Ryan’s bikes. Goetzelman and Ryan were friends, roommates and riding buddies long before 30th Century opened in 2009, and he has sold some of Ryan’s bikes in his shop.
“We have had a couple bikes of his come through our doors,” said Goetzelman. There are three in town that he knows of — one belongs to Ryan’s mom.
The name Breadwinner is fitting because earning a decent living for himself and his family were what was on Ryan’s mind around the time that he and Pereira needed to put a name on the business license.
Today, Breadwinner Cycles offers a collection of eight custom-made steel bicycles. Their award-winning bikes ship anywhere in the country and pricing starts around $2000. To Ryan, however, bicycles are more than just making money.
“I guess it’s a journey,” he said. “I’m always rediscovering why the bicycle does what it does.”