Ira Ryan doesn’t fall into the common tropes of frame builder speak. “We aren’t trying to convince anyone that our bikes are the best bikes ever made. The question is if they are the best bike for the buyer.”
Ira is a 44 year old frame builder who began with an eponymous bike brand fifteen years ago before settling into a partnership in 2013 with renown builder Tony Pereira to create Breadwinner Cycles in cycling crazed Portland, Oregon. Today, Breadwinner is one of the preeminent builders in the country, a reliable maker of elegant road, gravel and mountain frames for those that want steel bikes, whether their mythology is the attractant or not.
Here’s where I break the third wall as marketing director, copywriter, Velocio co-founder guy to explain honestly to you, dear reader, that I love the common tropes of frame builder speak. I’ve owned half a dozen custom bikes over twenty years and the attraction has been an evolution of vanity and practicality, a respect for a trade done well as well as unabashed love for custom paint and unique aesthetics. I like how bike building workshops look and feel. I like the traditions passed down from master builders to apprentices. So when Ira and I spoke via Zoom call (it is 2020, after all) last week in preparation for this post, I was ready for whatever delirious buzzwords Ira wanted to bring forward. Give me the fitting stories, Ira. Regale me with the nuanced differences in steel tubing, the slight of hand each weld might lend to a bike.
It turns out that Ira just loves the experience of building, riding, racing and living bikes.
“People come to us for lots of reasons and we don’t have to do much selling or convincing by the time they order a Breadwinner. It may be a specific tubing spec and a deep conversation about geometry or they may just really be into the paint job. In any case, I’m happy to help them.”
Ira’s path to frame builder came as an outgrowth of a long career as a bike mechanic, then bike messenger. “I built for friends and when I started I just sort of..figured it out. All of this is the result of that time, of figuring it out and continuing on.”
Even today, the continuing on reflects the broader impulses and trends in the industry. Work hard. Ride home. is Breadwinner’s tagline. It’s also the design brief for countless new products coming to market in the gravel crazed industry, the calls we get for new apparel. (Do you have bib shorts that could also work as office pants?) and the evolution of cycling today.
“I think a lot about getting people on more bikes. I mean it doesn’t have to be complicated. I feel lucky to be able to weld a set of canto-braze ons to an old Trek and give a kid the chance to race cyclocross. I still have a bit of the punk rock ethic driving me,” Ira explained. “The goal doesn’t have to be complicated."
That clarity continues to define where Ira puts his energy. A longtime bike racer, Ira’s won long distance gravel epics and the occasional elite cross race. “I took a year off of racing a few years back and it was good to reset. But I like the people. 2020 has been hard because of the small things you miss: washing off your skin suit in the driveway at night after a race. I miss my friends. I see someone riding or training alone and I feel a jolt - hey, how are you?”
Herein is what makes Ira, and his particular blend of bikes and building and racing a living compelling: There is a lot of handwringing over what defines riding culture - folks like me, influenced by stories and secrets, search out the cyphers of the welding torch like moths to a flame.
Ira, however, simply moves forward.
Andrew Gardner is a co-founder and the marketing director of Velocio Apparel. He lives and rides in Vermont.