With last week’s FGR, Robot got such interesting and lively responses I kinda hate to jump in with a new question; I’d never given much thought to what my perfect bike might be. There were a few times when I was pretty certain I had it (that early ’90s Merlin mountain bike completely satisfied me when I first got it), but now you all have me thinking.
So it’s Friday, and that means it’s time for yet another social experiment of a question. The bike industry is a place a great many cyclists fantasize about as a vehicle for an alternate career. It’s that classic, “If I wasn’t a doctor/lawyer/project manager, I’d work in the bike biz and marry my work with my passion.” In my personal case it felt like I was marrying my career to my passion, but I’ve stayed because I realized that what I was doing was marrying my competence to gainful employment.
Most of us gave up on the idea of being a professional cyclist within a few years of when we started racing, but the desire to work in and around bikes can be hard to shake. Kinda like the difference between trying to get off pot versus meth. Thank heaven the consequences of working the bike industry are much less dire than being addicted to meth.
The attraction is obvious and can be summed up with that worn, if not tired, phrase: quality of life. Our generation isn’t that of our parents or grandparents. By virtue of the fact that you’re reading this, you’ve elected to strike some sort of balance in your life. Cyclists, as a population, have concluded that one must feed the soul as well as the stomach. To be able to further wed something we feel good about, to support ourselves through an avocation, is one of those fantasies few of us can dismiss.
When I first started writing about cycling there weren’t that many careers to be had outside of retail. Bike companies, even the big ones, were much smaller back then and had fewer actual positions. Until Kestrel came along, none of them were employing former aerospace engineers. So there’s that. Today, engineering is the category of employee growing most rapidly. Graphic design and the bike industry used to only cross paths within the offices of bike magazines. Bike catalogs were interesting only for the gear detailed within its pages, never for their approach, never for their ability to imbue paper with a company’s identity. Today, if you don’t have a good graphic designer on staff, it shows. Industrial designers, those brainiacs who are part sculptor, part engineer have also changed the look and function of bikes. They are some of the most fascinating people out there.
The industry has gotten smarter, too. I bump into former Wall Street traders, guys with MBAs and once, a chemist with a PhD. There’s little doubt that the bike biz is a more professional and self-aware market than it once was. It’s also more cutthroat. That hasn’t necessarily been good for the mom-and-pop bike shops, it also means you’re less likely to walk into a bike shop with half the fluorescents turned off, a TV on the History Channel with an easy chair sitting in front of it—complete with TV table equipped with remote and burning cigarette—all sitting in the middle of the sales floor. (Don’t laugh, it happened to me not five years ago.) And let’s not forget those who have managed to make real jobs out of advocating on behalf of us, be they lawyers bringing personal injury suits, or those lobbying for changes to transportation infrastructure.
So here’s the question: If you were to leave your current career to go to work in the bike industry, what is it you’d want to do? And because the payoff can come in many ways, why? Would it be to ride more? Would it be to do something potentially more creative than you’re doing now? Would it be to do something green and good for society? Would it be to live a slower pace of life? How do you define quality of life?
This week, we’re adding a bonus round. I get questions from friends in the industry looking for talent from time to time. I’ve helped land some people some pretty sweet gigs. I swear, there have been times when I thought I wanted the gig myself. Any time I can give someone a name and make a solid referral, whether it ends in a new hire or not, I feel good, like I’ve done a real service. I’d like to do more of that. If you would like to be working in the industry, drop me a note with your resume attached. Tell me about the sort of position you’d like to find and a bit about why you think you’d be qualified plus a little insight into your other desirable qualities, whether they be snake charming or a history as a network administrator. Put “Careers” in the subject line and make sure to attach your résumé, and email it to me at info [at] redkiteprayer [dot] com.