a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away (not strictly true, but it might just aid my narrative a smidgeon), having learned (so i thought) to successfully build bicycle wheels, i decided to create my own cottage industry in this, the most southerly of the inner hebrides, and offer my services to the cyclist at large. having yet to reach maturity, these early profferings were made to the offroad community, for at that time, i still had a penchant for falling off on grass, sand or mud.
i had built 28 spoke two-cross on a suspension hub despite being warned against just such an option by the distributor, and ridden the resulting wheel into every obstacle i wasn't scared of. it hadn't broken. and in order to cater for the fine and dandy, i had also made a snowflake patterned front wheel and given it to someone i knew to be less careful than i. that didn't break either. puffed up with my new-found mechanical confidence, i thus took a three month option on advertising in a now defunct mountain bike magazine and sat back to wait for the orders to flood in.
to en extent, this was not entirely unexpected, for i had no reputation, and to be honest, no parts for building. the idea had been to garner an order for wheels before ordering in the specific components, always a dangerous game, but in my rather parlous financial situation at the time, the only appropriate method of so doing.
i am somewhat thankful that events turned out the way they did, for the notion of liability insurance had not occurred, and having now met with both jude at sugar and derek at wheelsmith, i realise just how flimsy a proposition i had created, not only from the business point of view, but pointedly relating to my meagre wheelbuilding skills. i still enjoy building wheels, but now i am more aware of their serious limitations in a commercial world.
added to all the above, and one i had scarcely taken into account, was my geographical location. though the velo club peloton now occupies more road space than was once the case, it is still miniscule in comparison to towns and cities on the mainland, so there was no existing market that might provide me with even an impoverished living in the meantime. unlike, say edinburgh, glasgow or even portland.
and it's funny you should mention portland, for what i really wanted to be able to do was build bicycle frames. but a very real terror of gas canisters and a total inability to complete even the simplest of tasks in metalwork at school rather mitigated against my entering the fray. yet visit the workshop of tony pereira in portland to view not only the results of his day to day, but the attention to detail exhibited from the front fork dropout all the way to the red light at the tail-end of the colour matched fender/mudguard, and i know there is no way on this earth i could ever do that.
but even in a city like portland, where a sizeable proportion of the population can be seen daily aboard all manner of bicycles, the day to day existence of a custom framebuilder is a precarious one. for as richard sachs is on record as having stated, with the standard of the off the shelf bicycle these days, the reasons for having a custom build have diminished almost to the point of non-existence. and it's very difficult to live on a bank balance based on non-existence.
however, as with most walks of life, water always finds its own level, and those who are particularly good at what they do will not only get by, but perhaps prosper in the face of perceived adversity. which is exactly what not only tony pereira has managed to do, but also close friend, yet rival framebuilder, ira ryan. you may have come across both these names in the one place on a previous occasion, more specifically in relation to the continental model produced for rapha's bicycle collection. it is principally as a result of this collaboration that brought them to the realisation they got on well and could see themselves working with each other in the future.
such has now come to pass, with the unveiling of breadwinner bicycles at the recent north american handmade bicycle show in denver, colorado. this consists of a range of six individual models, built from steel and designed to satisfy the needs of pretty much every cyclist on the planet. in retrospect this collaboration seems all but inevitable, but did everyone else see it coming before tony and ira? it seemed only polite to ask ira ryan.
"I don't think anyone really knew about Breadwinner before us. What started as a collaboration on a finite project evolved into a full on business plan. After years of working alone on our own brands, it was a refreshing change to work together and bring our individual strengths to a joint venture. Most of the Portland builders are pretty close knit and we often get together for shop nights so Tony and I have been good friends for a long time. We are honest with each other but also able to work together well in the shop."
naturally enough, as two independent portland builders, each inhabits their own space, both figuratively and metaphorically, and there were one or two photos released during the rapha continental build that saw bits of frames being trucked from one workshop to the other prior to completion of each frame. does that now mean trucking bits of breadwinner frames back and forward between respective workshops for completion, or is there a central headquarters for breadwinner?
"Since our workshops are 13 blocks away from each other, we often build sub-assemblies and then combine everything in one shop near the end. It is nice to have our own shop spaces but they are not set up to work with more than two people. We plan on moving and╩consolidating╩our workshops into a larger space where we can build more bikes and have a chance to grow over the next five years."
it's not particularly unusual for one of the majors of the industry to bring a new range to market consisting of several different models, for they have the financial and production clout to make this a relatively simple reality. however, for two guys working in separate workshops, with currently their own individual waiting lists to deal with, an initial offering of six handbuilt bicycles seems quite ambitious. did they ever think of starting smaller?
"The six bikes we showed at NAHBS represent the bikes that we build most often and also are the bikes that we are most passionate about (both riding and building). We wanted to offer a complete range of bikes that reflect our ideals. Portland has great road riding (as you have seen!), a strong racing culture with road and cyclo-cross, access to some of the best singletrack in the world and of course a robust commuting and riding culture. Our bikes fit all of these styles."
when i was at art college all those years ago, one of the most difficult decisions that required to be made was what to call the band we'd formed to play at venues around the city. once posters and advertisements had been crafted and the name handed to the network of agents that controlled the live music scene in the north-east, it would have been very hard to change it on a whim, so it was fairly important that we got it right first time. to this end, the guitarist in the band had kept a notebook for many a long year, jotting down any word or idea that seemed like it might translate into rock'n'roll stardom at an unspecified time in the future. so in this case, why breadwinner?
"It started as just a name to operate our collaboration under but as the idea of making a bicycle company evolved, we liked the name more and more. Once we decided to go big we looked at a bunch of different names but kept coming back to Breadwinner. It fits our ideals for the company, the style of bikes we offer and it is also very proletariat and Portland. We want to make bicycles that help people to be their own Breadwinners either on their way to work or at the races."
it's an approach that does have its precedents, but usually with the proviso that you accept it in the colour shown on the website and the only real option is that of frame size. ask for a slightly longer top tube or head tube, and your request would be met with a stern gaze that pre-empted any thought of asking twice. are there any customisation options available, or is it simply a case of 'take it or leave it'?
"Breadwinner will build semi-custom bicycles. The fit will be custom by changing the seat tube, top tube and head tube lengths. We offer six colors for each bike and some models have more options than others. But the goal is to be able to make bicycles in a shorter time frame than our current solo businesses where we start each bike with a blank slate. Instead of offering 100 choices for geometry, parts and paint, we wanted to narrow the options to 6 colors, 30 parts build options and still offer a custom frame fit."
a bit like having kids, there's never a good time to start. all the planning, prevarication, obfuscation and╩procrastination in the world won't necessarily bring a project to fruition. in which case, was this year's nahbs the catalyst for a launch? and how long had breadwinner been in the pipeline?
"NAHBS made a lot of sense for the Breadwinner launch since Pereira Cycles and Ira Ryan Cycles have both been show attendees and show winners for years. We have been planning on growing Breadwinner for a year but most of the heavy lifting took place in the last six months. The small building community is very strong and we want to show that it is possible for the bicycle frame building industry to be taken as a legitimate and sustainable business where we can afford to send our kids to school, eat well and still be able to ride our bikes."
as mentioned at the start of this feature, there are three important aspects to be considered at the launch of any major undertaking: location, location and location. setting myself up as a wheelbuilder of some repute on an island of 3,500 people, four of whom actually cycle on a regular basis was never going to buy me a holiday home in the bahamas. does ira figure that both he and tony being portland builders of considerable repute made it a simpler task to bring breadwinner to market?
"I am not going to lie; both Tony and I see being based in Portland has helped our brands grow over the last seven years. As I mentioned before, the community of small builders in Portland is tight and for the most part we all get along well. Seeing companies like Chris King, Rapha, Castelli USA move to Portland and thrive has shown that the cycling culture of Portland (and the DIY business attitude) makes it an ideal place to grow. Building bikes solely on passion, hard work and diet of beans and rice will only get you so far. Breadwinner is a maturation of our frame building business balanced out with a desire to make a modest income and be able to ride our bikes a little more than we do now.
(riding bikes---->building bikes---->riding bikes----->building bikes.........)"
if you took even the briefest look at the price tag appending╩to the colnago c59 disc recently reviewed in these very pixels, you would note that it was a rather contrived £9,999.95. with only five pence change from £10,000, despite being a portent of cutting edge technology, price was also apparently a prime consideration. was that something taken into account by tony and ira, or are the retail prices of each bicycle simply a by-product of the design process.?
"Price was a factor but time line is a larger factor. Both Pereira Cycles and Ira Ryan Cycles have both developed long wait lists and in the realm of bespoke bicycles, our frames are affordable and functional but we have had to turn away customers because they don't want to wait for two years to get a bicycle. Offering a bike with a custom fit, solid design and build with a choice parts all in a 8 week turn around time makes sense. Breadwinner brings our designs for racing and daily riding bikes to people in a shorter timeline for a little lower cost. We also feel it's important to make frames and accessories in the USA and also spec the builds with as much American made parts as possible."
so, you have two guys with healthy waiting lists of their own, considerable national and international reputations for offering top class bicycle frames who have organised themselves into a partnership to offer semi-custom bicycles over a well-considered range. the cycling public may be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of owning a cycle with breadwinner written on the downtube, but what of their peers? get to nahbs, and suddenly you're in amongst a great deal of reputable builders, each with their own unique selling point and mostly with their own healthy waiting lists. what was the reception like in denver?
"Great! We wanted to launch with a lot of bang and╩suspense and we both feel like we got╩what╩we wanted out of NAHBS in that regard. The lead up to the show, getting there, being on your feet for 3 days straight and then getting back is always a task but the show was good and the buzz about Breadwinner was worth the effort. The best part was not only the people who came to see Tony and I and were excited to see our new company but also the encouragement from the community of builders such as Richard Sachs, Curtis Inglis and Mike Desalvo. Breadwinner has launched and now we have to keep up the╩momentum."
there's no getting away from the fact that breadwinner is a brand that indigenously inhabits the united states. having one sent over to the uk could be an expensive option, what with carriage and british import duties. but as with everything, if you really, really want one...
saturday 9th march 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................