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Before Ira and Tony created Breadwinner Cycles, they were two Portland bicycle builders who met at a cyclocross race. The year was 2005. Tony was racing, and Ira was recovering from riding the Trans Iowa gravel road race. Parallel paths brought them together.
As soon as Tony learned to ride a bike, he felt free. One year, he coveted a Schwinn Sting-Ray, so he modified his bike by adding ape hangers and a banana seat. By the time he was ten, he was completely disassembling and reassembling his own bike. Tony rode bikes to express himself, pretending to be a BMX racer on trails behind his house in New Hampshire and while delivering newspapers in Connecticut.
Ira’s first memory of riding a bike involves careening down a long gravel road on a janky yellow bike wearing cutoff jeans and no shoes. At the bottom of the hill, his grandma was impressed, if not slightly terrified. When his family moved back to rural Iowa, Ira lived seven miles from school, and figured out he could beat the bus if he rode his bike. Suddenly, he could go anywhere, anytime. He became the weird kid who brought his rollers to school for winter training and dreamed about bikes while he ate lunch.
At age 16, Tony began working in a ski shop, where he discovered he had a knack for fixing the unfixable. At his first bike shop job, he saw a custom bicycle frame for the first time, which was made by Richard Sachs. After college, Tony moved to Utah to ski, but mountain biking was the first thing he did when he arrived. At the Wild Rose bike shop, he joined a gritty brotherhood of bike mechanics, a tough crew that taught him to love greuling singletrack adventures. The first handmade frame he owned was an Ibis Mojo, a light and lively bike that transformed his idea of how good a bike can be.
On the day he graduated from high school, Ira won the state championship road race. He showed up at the graduation ceremony wearing the gown over his race kit. Eventually Ira found a second home when he got a job at a bike shop in Iowa City, where he learned to wrench and talk to people about bikes. He quickly discovered that he loved finding creative solutions to mechanical problems, and he used his improvisational skills on Ragbrai tours as a mechanic. When he wasn’t watching bike races on VHS tapes in loop, Ira was racing. He also ventured out on some of his first bike tours, including the time he and his friends rode Ragbrai carrying all their own gear. He rode his first singletrack at night in a forested park near Iowa City.
When Tony made his first bike frames in his garage in Salt Lake City in 2003, he knew he’d found his calling. The craft combined his love for mountain biking with his obsession for making and fixing things. The next bikes he made were for Wild Rose friends, who wanted to help him realize a new dream, which he named Pereira Cycles. When Tony moved to Portland, he discovered the depths of the bike community, starting with his next-door neighbor, Molly Cameron, the city’s most well-known cyclocross racer. Tony went Zoobombing and randonneuring, then he joined a few bike teams. Mostly, he was surprised to find himself in a city with other framebuilders.
An extended motorcycle adventure through the West lead him to Oregon, where he was awed by the varied landscapes, and he decided to stay. Ira became a bike messenger in Portland, which was like being adopted into a family, a family that really liked beer. On the weekends, Ira explored Oregon by bike, during road races, mountain bike rides and bike tours. After he brazed his first bike frame, Ira stuck two stickers with his name on them to the unpainted tubes and rode the inaugural Trans Iowa, a 300-mile gravel road race. He won. Ira Ryan Cycles was born when he realized he could make bikes that could turn any kind of riding or racing into an experience. His first few frames were for fellow messengers, the perfect test subjects for durability.
In 2008, the cycling clothing company Rapha asked Tony and Ira to be part of their Continental project. On long rides in California and the Pacific Northwest, Tony and Ira were the only builders riding bikes they’d made themselves. A few years later, Rapha asked Ira and Tony to collaborate on a series of bikes. The builders liked working together, which got them thinking.
When the Detroit-based Shinola was getting ready to launch, they asked Tony and Ira to design their prototype bikes. The project proved the two builders could combine their aesthetic sensibilities into new classics. Breadwinner Cycles was born.
Ira and Tony continue to design and craft every custom Breadwinner bicycle together, a process that stems from their love of riding and creating quality objects with their own hands. During the hundreds, if not thousands, of miles they’ve ridden together since they first met, Ira still lives for the climb while Tony loves the descent.