It’s the end of another era in Portland’s rich history of custom bike builders, and possibly the start of a new one.
Ira Ryan has left Breadwinner Cycles, the company he co-founded with fellow builder Tony Pereira in 2012. Ryan and Pereira both launched their first bike brands in 2005 and 2006 at the start of a meteoric rise in Portland’s framebuilding fame that would hit its peak in 2009.
In an interview Wednesday, Ryan said he moved his machines, tools and belongings out of the company’s headquarters on North Page Street just this past week and plans to restart Ira Ryan Cycles from his garage.
“It’s been hard and there are a lot of complex emotions around it, but in the end it’s going to be really good,” Ryan shared.
When they combined forces in 2012, Ryan and Pereira sought to capitalize on their collective experiences, reputations, and popularity in the market. Their launch party at Velo Cult in 2013, a now defunct watering hole and event space for Portland’s bike lovers, drew a massive crowd. By 2016 they’d hit their stride with a full line of semi-custom bicycles on offer and an “Editor’s Choice” award from Bicycling Magazine. In subsequents years they opened a cafe adjacent to their shop where customers could sip espresso and watch bikes get made through a large window and they completed a successful purchase of Sugar Wheel Works. Just this past November Breadwinner celebrated its 10th anniversary.
The cafe has since closed, but Breadwinner, its custom wheel business, and its six employees are going strong. Tony Pereira says he’s eager to forge ahead, even without his long-time friend and collaborator in the mix. “I’m excited for Ira to have a fresh new start and for Breadwinner to grow and evolve,” Pereira said in a conversation with me yesterday.
This appears to simply be a case of two creative professionals whose design sense and vision for the future began to diverge so much that working together became untenable. “Like many long-term relationships, it changed and shifted,” Ryan explained. “It was too limiting for both of us, so we made a decision to part ways.”
Now fully unwound from Breadwinner’s business, and with a few weeks to process the emotions from the split, Ryan sounded excited for his next chapter. In recent years he’s spent most of his time in design and marketing roles with the company, an experience he said left him “lacking” and wanting more. He refers to his fledgling company as “Ira Ryan Cycles version 2.0.”
“When I started Ira Ryan Cycles in 2005 it was run on no business sense and pure passion,” Ryan said. “I still feel like there’s some juice to squeeze and I still have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for it.”
Ryan has a penchant for classic lines when it comes to the road and all-road bikes he likes to ride and build. Think of him as a refined retro-grouch who sees the utility and value of what he calls “traditional elegance and simplicity.” Ryan said being on his own will allow him to build bikes with a more “classic frame design aesthetic” that includes things like lugs (joints were frame tubes come together) and rim brakes (which the bike industry has left behind for disc brakes). Ryan said the pandemic bike boom validated his reasons for making this move because he’s seen a resurgence of interest in fully-custom bikes and less demand high-tech components. Supply chain issues have plagued the industry for years now, making ubiquitous parts like disc brakes and electronic shifters often impossible to come by — which has only further increased the popularity of simpler, traditional components and bikes to match.
That’s not to say Ryan won’t build modern bikes. “I’m curious to see what’s going to happen with how the market has shifted and what people are interested in,” he said. Asked to describe what type of bikes he wants to build, he said, “Without being cliche, it’s traditional, classic steel.” He said he’s also excited to build other frame pieces like racks and stems — something he didn’t have time to do at Breadwinner.
As for Breadwinner, Pereira said he is very proud of everything he and Ryan built together, “But I feel like our partnership had run its course.” “I’m very grateful for the contributions Ira made to get Breadwinner where it is today. It was time for a positive change for both of us.”
There’s a certain, what’s-old-is-new-again feeling to how this story has unfolded over the past 18 years. We can’t wait to see how Breadwinner evolves and whether Ryan’s faith in the market for his own handmade bikes portends a greater resurgence in the (now very small) local custom bike market. Stay tuned.