Friday Group Ride #91

You, too, could be paid to ride your bike, just like these folks.

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.

 

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22 comments

  1. armybikerider

    The idea of transitioning into the bicycle industry is something to which I’ve devoted considerable thought of late, as I edge ever closer to retirement from Active Duty Army service (I’ve got less than 3 years to go). 20+ years ago I worked in the retail end of the business at a local shop in San Antonio TX owned by a couple of brothers that sadly is now defunct. I made minimum wage with no thought to benefits but it was probably the most fun that I’ve ever had while earning a pay check. I would really enjoy, and am planning actually to get back to that sort of work on a planned part-time basis. I think working part-time at the LBS will be the perfect job for a retiree with no requirements for employer supplied benefits or need for “life sustaining” wages. It’ll be fun!

    Important for my quality of life at this stage of life (I turned 50 yrs old this week) and the aspects of this work that would lure me to work in a shop are:
    *Human interaction – helping people choose the right gear for their needs for example – I thrived on this during my time in the shop and I enjoy helping people in my current gig as an Occupational Therapist
    *Part-time work – will allow me to spend more time on my bike
    *Selling the lifestyle – not only did I enjoy filling the “hard line goods” needs of people at the shop, I seriously enjoyed selling the “lifestyle” that surrounds riding a bike
    *Becoming immersed into the local “scene” – I loved being part of the local cycling crowd – knowing the local hot shots, knowing the informal group rides etc
    *The manufacturer gear discounts are attractive!

    I want to strike a more satisfying balance between work and leisure when I leave the military. No more working 60+ hour weeks with long stretches away from home (and my bike). I also want to do something with, what I determine as, “intrinsic value.” Helping people discover what has been a life changing, and life defining avocation involving 2 wheels will fill that niche for me.

  2. MJ

    I’ve done a fair amount of European travel, particularly France. Further, I am somewhat of a foodie, and married to a woman with a good palate and even better nose for wine. So, if we ever reached the point of chucking it all in and getting out of the corporate world, I could envision ourselves buying a small hotel with restaurant attached and start a company similar to the one Hampsten has going in Italy. Without the cachet of a former GT winner running things though, it becomes a much tougher uphill climb to get a business like that off the ground. Still, it’s something that’s fun to dream on every once in a while.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Armybikerider: I look forward to your retirement. The bike world could use you.

      MJ: Just show a couple of writers a good time and I’m sure word would get around just fine. The big thing Peter Easton at Velo Classic has won is many hearts.

  3. ben

    I keep thinking it would be awesome to start-up a gym focused on endurance sports (cycling, running, triathalon). I think a lot of endurance atheletes hodge-podge training together via club-training rides, group rides, coaching services, time at the gym in the off-season, shop-run spin classes, etc.

    Wouldn’t it be cool to have all of that under 1 roof? I think there probably is something like that somewhere…but not in Denver…yet.
    I think the idea could be linked with or even have an in-house bike/run store w/ fit services. What about in-house massage services? Sports medicine. Coaching services. Yoga…geared towards our needs.

    There’s just so many opinions out there for the aspiring athelete on how to train (in the off-season in particular it seems). And the traditional gyms don’t really have specific ideas or programs for us. We’re in their spinning w/ the soccer moms. I would love this. I would love it even more if I could get it off the ground. We’ll see!

  4. My dream job is bike planner

    And after working for the enemy (preserving auto level of service) I actually have an interview for a position next week that will be for a bike planner with a large regional agency doling out money to make bike infrastructure improvements.

    Other than the time I had some modeling gigs as a human prop riding, it’s the closest I think I’ll get to being “paid to ride”.

    Working at the big S would be pretty rad too, though.

  5. Ransom

    It’s awkward at this point thinking of a niche not already well- (or over-) served for wanting to build stuff.

    My neck of the woods is stiff (but vertically compliant) with framebuilders. The offerings from the big component manufacturers don’t leave the gaping holes once filled by cottage industry (purple anodized) parts.

    Still pondering whether and where I can find a ‘thing’ to be ‘my thing’.

  6. Ransom

    @ben: We’ve recently gained something like that here, and while it’s early days yet, they seem to be taking off pretty well. I’m stoked to have them here, and go regularly. Not sure whether mentioning them specifically is inappropriate pluggage on RKP, but if you look for such a place in Portland, OR, I suspect you’ll find ‘em…


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Ben: I like it. I like it a lot.

      My Dream Job: Good luck. And yes, working for the big S could be pretty rad.

      Ransom: There’s definitely room for new ideas, and go ahead and plug the place you’re talking about. I’m sure loads of us would be curious to learn more.

      On a related note, I know that VeloSmith Bicycle Studio in Evanston offers yoga classes in addition to their more standard bike services. The HubBub does that, too. Need to make that part of my regimen.

      Get me to a yoggery. (With apologies to Willy the Shake)

  7. Ransom

    Cool! The place I was referring to is C-Velo ( http://c-velocycling.com/ ). They do a couple of different power-based training programs on stationary bikes, as well as yoga.

    It’s nice to have someone who knows what they’re doing give me a specific workout, and I’d almost forgotten how much harder I can go on a hard workout when there’s someone there to call me on it if I don’t… As someone whose circle of friends doesn’t contain many cyclists, it’s also nice to have that motivating exposure to other people who are racing at all different levels.

  8. Touriste-Routier

    I found a second career in cycling, as an event organizer.

    While it is great to be part of the scene and to marry passion with skills, ironically I spend a lot of time working extremely hard so others can ride their bikes, while my riding time has suffered. I am trying to figure out a way to reverse this.

  9. Follow Your Suffering

    Padraig, your timing is amazing. I’ve been working for the same company for 20 years. It’s a great company and a great gig: thousands of folks would love to switch careers with me. But I’ve reached the end of the road–a promotion would involve tons of travel and HR headaches (and it ain’t happening anyway), and I have no more challenges in front of me in my current job.

    So…a couple of months ago Richmond, VA (a short drive and a commutable distance from me) won the 2015 Worlds. And my first thought was “Hey! I wonder if they’re hiring”. I don’t know Tim Miller, who’s heading up things at Richmond 2015, but it seems like it might be a great entry into an industry that I adore and I would love to be involved in. My leadership experience might be useful to them, and it would be a hell of a lot of fun to get ready for an event that is going to be a big big deal for a really cool city.

  10. Hautacam

    I worked in the bike industry briefly after college, then went to law school, which was a good career decision. And by sheer dumb luck I’ve gotten to work on some pretty cool bike-related projects, like trails, MTB parks, and even the contracts for a few CX race events. But there are definitely days when I think seriously about chucking it and going back to wrenching. Maybe open up a small repair shop with race wheel rental on the side, possibly branch out into fitting & custom builds. Maybe sublet part of the building to a bike-loving barista who wants their own 3-handle coffee bar.

    Unfortunately (at least in terms of converting my daydream to reality) there are a boatload of “atelier” style shops here in the 206, from Perfect Wheels to Cascade Bicycle Studio, Il Vecchio (ok, so that one is gone) and more. Examples in other places like SoCal, PDX and Minnesota too. So for now it’s just my Walter Mitty escape. I am glad those businesses are here.

    A childhood friend is the current IMBA trail crew guy . . . that would be a pretty cool gig too, at least for awhile. Outdoors, traveling, building trails, meeting people, and riding MTBs: nice.

  11. A Stray Velo

    I’d love to answer this FGR in detail but in all honesty I hope someday I’ll be able to put my full length answer into a book.

    I’ve been working in the bike industry for a long time. In fact I had to give my CV a quick glance to realize it has been over eight years that I’ve stayed committed to this industry.

    There a few things I’m good at and bicycle mechanics happens to be one of them. I’m a problem solver, no doubt about it, and I love to work with my hands so being a bicycle mechanic is a great fit. Beyond my mechanical dexterity I feel it’s important to live a life full of experience and adventure. The bicycle industry has provided me with all of these things. Could I do more with my know how and experience? Of course, someday…

    The intriguing part of my story is that I’m from a small midwestern town in America and I now live in Europe. I even met my wife amidst my travels in the bike industry. Had it not been for my bike industry job I probably would have never met her. Had I not been in this industry there are countless things I would have passed up on or not had been able to experience. If I could take the time and list everything I’ve had the opportunity to do or experience, it would be a lot. I’ve been pretty lucky and I wouldn’t trade anything on that list for something else.

    There is one answer that always comes to the forefront every time someone asks me why I stay in the bicycle industry. I know I’ve already listed a lot of good reasons but one of the biggest is I feel the most important.

    In my eight years of working in the bicycle industry I’ve never had that feeling that I don’t want to get out of bed and go to work. I feel that in the last eight years I haven’t worked a single day. That is huge and you can’t pay me enough to not have that feeling. I could probably make more money, I could probably do important things, but if I can get up everyday and be excited to go to work, I’m a happy guy.

    Why would I want to be excited to go to work? We spend the majority of our lives working and this is also the majority of the time that we are alive. Why would I waste not even a minute of my time here doing something that doesn’t make me happy? I’d rather get up in the morning and look forward to everyday than work to be happy on the weekends. Sorry, I can’t do that and I don’t see how anyone else would want to.

    This is a great industry and it of course has it’s faults but they are far out numbered by its rewards.

  12. Souleur

    all I can say is ‘wow’.

    There is so many greats around these circles, and I ask myself a question like Padraig has proposed and I feel like the little grasshopper in a jungle of dinosaurs.

    What a question, its near Shakespearian, what to BE? if you could BE anything in cycling.

    There were a number of questions, and I’ll just say, what is quality of life? It is for me, when you simply lay your head down at nice, your smiling. Simple as that. Whatever you do, that would be quality.

    I have to admit a healthy dose of burnout in my current job, and if it weren’t for cycling, I don’t know how else I would handle it. Cycling is a respite for me and if I could do anything, I would go into small shop ownership, in Italy, at the base of a great Hors Categorie climb, where I could be a member of a small, personable, community and sell cycling goods in all forms to those who truly love it, and where I could immerse myself fully, daily. Where every day would start with espresso, a ride, then spend the remainder in a quiet shop where I could listen to italy’s best music, carefully and methodically lace up wheels, adjust the little things to perfection and keep beauties on the road. It may be a help to someone get to work but whatever, it is simply to contribute in a little way what we all love.

  13. James

    Well, I had my dream job a number of years ago when I owned a bike shop. It was in a small town in Wisconsin and I did it for a couple of years. the only problem was that the town was very small and Wisconsin winters being what they are I had to work a regular job to make ends meet. Two years of 14 hour days and no days off burned me out in a big way. So, I had my chance. I hope everyone gets theirs and have better luck than I had because it was fun!

  14. slappy

    I love being a wrench. Would like to work for the dream shop but i’d rather not own it. The Coop’s have the potential and some are so amazing. The ones that are run by women, in the small bit i’ve seen, seem to be more organized, calm, and pleasant. Something that bike shops can benefit from. Regardless of whether it remains my job, i’ll always wrench and never stop trying to help people become more in harmony with their bike

  15. Dan O

    My bike shop wrenching days were ’81 – ’84 or so. Fun job, great gang of folks – who I’m still in contact with almost 30 years and 3000 miles later. I bailed at the time due to the usual story – not enough money, no health insurance, no sick time – and during that era, no winter work. After the Christmas rush, adios ’till spring.

    I “bailed” into a corporate type IT job and have been earning the bacon that way ever since. Even so, I still think back and miss the shop era. I still know some people in the industry – current and former shop owners, people who are/were reps for Trek, Shimano, etc. Since bikes are still a passion (obsession?) with me, I’ve kept up the industry through various publications, websites, etc. I just can’t help it. I find it all really interesting.

    The IT gig pays for life and has allowed bike related fun and frolicking on the side – riding, racing, new bikes, trail work, mountain bike club involvement, etc. And now, riding and racing with my kids. I can’t really complain. Yet, always had the gnawing to get back into the bike industry scene. Yes, the combining of passion/lifestyle with earning a paycheck. The ultimate setup.

    Being the one pay check family of four, a bike shop salary is totally out of the question. On and off over the years however, I’ve dabbled occasionally with attempting to use my IT knowledge to score a bike industry job. Thought being the IT paycheck combined with working with like minded bike nuts all day. That would be cool. Had a few email responses and phone conversations, nothing resulting. It’s a been a few years, would be interesting to attempt that route again.

    Over the years, thought seriously about opening a shop myself. Still a cool prospect, though not easy and plenty of hours involved. Current daydream/ideas revolve around starting an online bike company or bike related magazine – online and/or print. With no capitol, pipe dreams for sure. Possible though, with enough motivation.

    Ironically, I’m sure there’s folks out there very into computers/technology as a hobby/lifestyle, who would kill for my current job – which revolves around supporting Apple products in a corporate setup. Nice pay, benefits, vacation, etc. I honestly can’t complain, especially in this day and age.

    Then why can’t I let this bike related employment dream fade away?…

  16. Peter Lütken

    I have worked in the bike/sporting goods industry for pretty much half my life (Norway has very few dedicated bike stores, most every bike is sold through sporting goods stores – might have something to do with the long winters?).
    I got my first job working on bikes at the local sporting goods store at the age of 16 and with a two year hiatus working as a sales rep for a company selling business forms and such I have been working in the industry in some capacity or another ever since. I have worked in big chain stores, some pretty hard core high-end shops and even had a couple of stints working for the Big S (the blue one).

    Working on/with bikes has never (and will never) make me rich. I have had salaries ranging from absurd to horrible, but I have always managed to pull it through. The feeling you get when a customer gives you a smile and a high five when you meet by chance out on a trail or a good story about how he managed to get a good result or a great experience on a race or a ride it is all worth it.

    At times I have had little stings of guilty feelings of having chosen a profession selling toys to well off men in their forties, instead of doing something “productive.” In recent years I have become more and more aware of my opportunity to get people out of their couches, out of their cars and onto a bike. And as a result the need to only work with expensive bikes, über high tech components has taken more of a back seat to the sense of actually doing good through being a supplier of the right tool for the right job.
    A bike might be a tool to get to and from work in a timely and comfortable manner, might be the tool to beat your co-worker in the Birkebeiner MTB (gravel road) race or it could be that road bike you’ve been wanting to get after seeing Thor Hushovd drop the proverbial hammer on his way to Paris, the road bike that ends up keeping you from developing type 2 diabetes.

    All of which brings me to a sort of cross roads on my bike ride through life:
    At the moment I am unemployed and have applied for a number of jobs in various parts of the bike/sporting goods industry as well as a few non-industry jobs..
    But If I had a chance to create my dream bike industry job from my point of view here in Trondheim, Norway, I would open a store offering high quality, yet affordable bikes to regular Joes (and Jill too!) enabling them to beat traffic congestion, obesity and general inactivity. This city has plenty of big box stores selling $250 MTB’s, a handful of stores pushing high end race bikes to the bankers and dentists – but the sensible middle ground remains somewhat uncharted territory.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks so much for your fascinating response. I really didn’t anticipate we’d get such an interesting window into people’s pasts. Amazing how many of have spent time in the industry. I know our comments section isn’t a scientific sampling of all RKP readers, but there’s a much higher degree of actual industry experience than I expected. Which is very cool.

  17. todd k

    I share some circumstances with Dan O, in that I have a good paying job that foots the bill for a comfortable lifestyle. That said, I have never worked in the industry and my wife is brilliant and her career is thriving. I work on strategic supply chain projects for a large company that is the market leader for its products.

    My educational background includes a BS in Political Science and an MS in Environmental Education. For someone who spent his formative years incessantly questioning the status quo, it is a more than a bit ironic that I have been on auto pilot for several years more or less ‘just earning a paycheck’. I blame it on the long, hard struggle I had in becoming financially solvent. But lately I have increasingly questioned if I need to take stronger positions in how I spend that one third of my life that also happens to ferret me out that pay check.

    I don’t generally ask myself if I want to work in the bike industry, though. What I do ask myself these days is what I can do on my part to parlay and market my current experience into something that benefits a smaller company and more actively challenge some of the popular notions that I believe too heavily sway and guide so much of our global economy and (often) unintentionally contribute to a lot of the ills that also plague that global economy.

    For refernce, a great example of the kind of company I find that seems to share a lot of the ideals I contemplate lately and happens to be in the bike industry is Chris King. I’ve read a number of articles and interviews and just love the approach that he has with his business. He has built an organization that builds a reputable product with a solid reputation. He manufactures locally and does so in a manner that retains craftsmanship. Better yet, I like that he approaches profitability without becoming enslaved to the perpetual endless ‘growth’ myth (be that margins, shareholder valuation, revenue, etc) and as far as I have read is not looking to go public. He has an ideal size for his organization in mind. He has a vision and it doesn’t appear to be one that includes ruling the world or drumming out the competition. He has an ethic that incorporates some of the best ideals a business ought to employ without those goals coming at the expense of either the consumer or his employees. I like that he is willing to take strong positions, significant risks, and may even take a significant step backwards to improve his organization or short term profitability. One of the reasons I am loyal to his products is because I like to believe I am helping support a company that I believe is doing more than simply “making hubs, headset and bikes” for profit.

    Would love to write more, but just realized this was quite long and, well, got to get back to work!

  18. Tom Kellogg

    I’ve been living the dream for thirty five years now. The best of those years have been the ones that I have worked for myself. They are also the ones that paid poorly and didn’t offer the types of benefits that some expect should come with a real job.

    When I worked for Ross in the early ’80s, I did receive a pay check every week (shocking, I know) and the health insurance that came with the job pretty much saved my life when I spent over two weeks in various ERs and ICUs.

    But working for myself, while not good for retirement savings, has had the real benefits. I don’t ride any more while working for myself than I did working for others, less actually. But the joy of giving so many other riders joy is just as good as it gets.

    If you possibly can, go do something that gives you and others joy. Now, go out and ride your bike.

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