“The Bike That Got Away” is a series of interviews intended to showcase the best bikes of all time from the perspective of the diverse characters that make up the cycling industry. It’s an opportunity to look back fondly (or not at all) on vintage technology, paint jobs – whatever made or continues to make bikes compelling and awesome. These are the bikes that have shaped us as industry members, dealers, cyclists, and super fans.
For this very first installment, I sat down with Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira, award-winning frame builders and the old married couple behind Breadwinner Cycles. We discussed their domestic production empire, consisting of a pair of two-car garages in an unassuming North Portland neighborhood, and the bikes they lost that have made them who they are today…
BIKERUMOR: So you guys are literally working out of your garages. How does that work?
IRA: We both bought our houses in 2009, half a mile apart with two-car garages the exact same size, and that’s where Tony and I both built bikes. When we started Breadwinner, we were scratching our heads and trying to figure out how to swing the renting of a space. It totally made sense to just switch things around. For a while, I would build part of the frames at my shop and Tony would build part of the frame here and we would kind of put it all together at some point, but it was just incredibly inefficient. So I moved some of my machines over here and we built the second bench and changed the layout a little bit so that it was effective for two people to work. So we do all the production here and frames go to paint in Eugene and they get sent back to my shop. We have all the painted frames and we also do all the parts ordering, the soft goods, all that stuff happens at my shop.
BIKERUMOR: So who got the rough end of the deal?
IRA: I don’t think either one of us did. I get to leave work every day. And that’s kind of nice.
BIKERUMOR: You had massive production goals initially. Where are you with that? Why go from deep custom… why make that switch?
TONY: We wanted to be able to save for retirement.
IRA: Why are you laughing?
TONY: It may seem like a joke, but we’d maxed out. We were making as many bikes as we could make individually so that the evolution was to build a company that was bigger than the two of us. And you’ve got to come up with goals when you start up.
IRA: Goals and streamlining the way- instead of giving every customer a 100 choices at every moment, give them ten. TIG welded instead of fillet brazed or lugged. Streamline to hit those production numbers.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your goal?
TONY: Seems to be moving, but we were hoping to be up to 1000 in five years, we are two years into that. We aren’t trying to do that anymore. I’d like to see us do 150 bikes this year. I think we’re on track for that.
BIKERUMOR: So I want to kick off this series of interviews for Bike Rumor because I like vintage tech and significant bikes and teaching people about it because there are people out there that don’t understand why we are where we are. Because Breadwinner as a workshop has already been covered, I’m going to guinea pig this program on you guys. So everyone has a bike that has gotten away from them in some way. You outgrew it. It got stolen. You sold it. You wrecked it. It is now gone from your life. And it hurts your heart a little bit. You know exactly what it was.
IRA: If it didn’t hurt, you wouldn’t remember it.
BIKERUMOR: It hurts, that’s why it’s the one that got away.
IRA: I know immediately which one it is.
It was a bike that I built for myself with the lugged, sloping top tube, it’s the lugged version of what our Lolo is now. I built it for the Rapha continental project and rode it for years, rode it all over the country with that project and had the opportunity to go to France and do this 11 day stage race basically climbing a 100 Cols in the south of France. On the fourth day I was behind this car and all of a sudden the car slammed on its brakes and this other car was coming up this tiny mountain road. Turns out two small French cars and a cyclist don’t fit on the same road.
So I basically went into the ditch and totally just like bent over and kissed my ass goodbye and hoped I would make it. Basically, it was like riding straight into a ditch full of boulders. It snapped the fork clean off and actually ovalized the bottom of the head tube so that the Chris King headset just fell out of the frame after. I, like, hurt my hand, but that was it. Didn’t break any bones. It could have been way worse. That’s the one.
BIKERUMOR: Just because it rode nice? What else about it? Was it because of this journey?
IRA: I think it was a little bit about the journey… I’m not a person who names their bikes. I’m not a person who is deeply romantically involved with all of their bikes. I mean, I am on some level.
BIKERUMOR: Even the ones that you build yourself?
IRA: At this point, they are all kind of products. I mean, they are important to me… I don’t have the same sense of connection as I did with that bike. Something about lugs…
BIKERUMOR: You don’t build in lugs ever now?
IRA: Not really. I mean, pretty much Tony and I put our own businesses on permanent back burner to focus everything on Breadwinner just because that’s the only way to make this work. Neither one of us do our own stuff anymore.
I think the thing that’s funny about bikes and wrecked bikes is that at my shop, I have down tubes and I have fragments of broken bikes like that Ritchey over there that’s fucked up.
BIKERUMOR: So you’ve got these fragments of bikes. You can repair a down tube if you need to. But with this one, you just murdered that bike.
IRA: That particular bike, I murdered that. But the first bike I’ve ever built… I built it and raced it in the Trans-Iowa in 2005 and won. And then a year later, after I’d gotten it painted, I had raced it unpainted, and a year later I got clothes-lined by a truck that was pulling out and towing another car and the tow strap pulled up tight as I was going around it and I hit it going like 25 mph with no helmet on. Flew 10 feet.
TONY: So you were riding between the two cars.
IRA: Yeah. This truck was on the STP and I was 50 miles away from Portland and this truck pulls out and all of a sudden I was like I will go around the back of it and there was one of these thin straps… The sun was shiny and I was going 25mph and this truck was going fast enough and I went around it and I hit [the tow strap] and I totally crushed the down tube and the top tube- just folded it. I was super bummed out. I couldn’t even look at it. This was the first bike I’d ever built. I couldn’t even look at it for a couple weeks. And I thought, this is a good opportunity to do a frame repair. It was lugged so I cut out the top tube and down tube and like filed it out and replaced both the tubes, had it repainted, and I went back to Trans-Iowa in 2007 and won again on the same bike.
BIKERUMOR: And that was your first bike. It’s Tony’s turn.
TONY: I definitely do miss my first Stingray I had. I wish I could have that bike back. That was the first question you asked. I just wish I had that bike even though I turned it into a BMX bike, broke it, got a new frame on warranty, kept that as a BMX bike, then ended up putting it on the curb when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license.
BIKERUMOR: When were you riding that as a BMX bike? How old were you when you decided you needed to change that over?
TONY: ‘78. When I was nine or ten.
BIKERUMOR: Why then?
TONY: Because it was BMX time. Yep. All the cool kids had BMX bikes.
BIKERUMOR: And you were like “I want to be cool…”
TONY: The years before that, the cool guy was the guy that could ride around the block doing a wheelie with his ape hangers. And like two years later, you had a BMX bike or it was like “why do you have that old thing?” It broke right behind the head tube right where it comes together, at the electroforge.
IRA: Electroforge, I love that band.
TONY: So my ‘94 Ibis Mojo- this bike I got when I worked in a bike shop. I was making probably eight bucks an hour at Wild Rose. We were an Ibis dealer. I got the bro deal. I still couldn’t afford that. I probably rode this for two years. I moved back to Connecticut. I was riding in a park that had single track and I was done with my ride and there was this grassy knoll and I thought “that looks like a really fun thing to jump” and I was on this.
It had a Judy with 63mm of travel and 130mm stem, cut down Titec flat bars, narrow bars with bar ends, and I went barreling into this little grassy knoll thing and I got a good pile of air and came down and the back side of it went WHOOOSH. And I landed like right here. I landed on the front wheel and the whole thing went POP. It made this pop sound.
BIKERUMOR: I need you to make the motion of how you landed.
TONY: Like this. And it was like running into a wall. BOOM. And it just made this sound I never heard before and I thought it was my fork breaking and my front wheel exploding or something and I tumbled. I was in the grass and I was fine, and I turn around and I see this thing laying there. I kind of fixed it when I first starting building bikes.
BIKERUMOR: How did you fix it?
TONY: I cut off the front and I fillet brazed a new triangle on it but I didn’t know what I was doing and I had a crappy jig.
BIKERUMOR: Was it your first attempt at trying to do something like that?
TONY: I hadn’t built a bike. And it now has a 78 degree headtube angle. It’s in my basement. I have it still. But I wish I still had that bike, that bike was really fucking great. It was the first nice bike I ever had. I had, like, a Stumpjumper before that. It was a good bike. I had good bikes before that- but THAT was a nice bike. That was a handmade bike. I called it a custom bike, but it wasn’t a custom bike.
BIKERUMOR: -and then you repair that and decide you want to be a framebuilder?
TONY: Well, that was happening. Like, I kept it because I thought one day I would fix it and I called Ibis and they were like yeah we’ll fix it. And it was, like $600 bucks. I think about that now and I’m like, yeah, that’s how much it should cost. They might have even said we’ll hook you up and do it for half. But I couldn’t afford it so it didn’t get fixed. So then I built a couple of bikes and I was like huh, I can fix that, and I look at it now and I’m like, I didn’t do it right. But now I can. Now I can TIG it.
BIKERUMOR: A 78 deg head tube angle, seriously? Were you going for that?
TONY: I had this really crummy frame jig. If I had the Anvil, I would just set it and I would make the tubes sit in the space. I didn’t have BikeCAD then, I didn’t know what I was doing at all. By the time I was doing that, Carl Strong had been making the Ibis’s for a couple years and I had been in contact with him through a framebuilding listserve back in 2002 or so and he sent me a cut sheet from their production line from the Ibis’s and I didn’t know how to read it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t set the jig right. And it ended up with this crazy head tube angle. I just didn’t know what I was doing.
BIKERUMOR: It would have been better to just send you a full scale sheet.
TONY: Yeah, just send me the tubes already mitered!
BIKERUMOR: Just give me a piece of paper and I’ll line it up on the table.
TONY: That’s what I needed. Yeah, what a jerk.
BIKERUMOR: Can I see the bike?
TONY: Yeah, it’s in my basement.
IRA: … fuck up stories…
BIKERUMOR: Transformative fuck up stories. So what did you learn from your wrecking experience because you rebuilt it?
IRA: Yeah, I mean, at the point when I rebuilt it I had built ten bikes at that point so I had a fixture and knew how to make it work, and lugs were easy.
TONY: I should probably take this back out again. Aw, this was such a good bike, I’m definitely having good memories putting this wheel back into these dropouts.
IRA: I like that you left the Hand Job.
BIKERUMOR: Awesome! Hell yeah! I haven’t seen a Hand Job actually on a bike in minute. Oh wow, those bars…
TONY: Those were the best! I wouldn’t ride with anything but these for the longest time. Gotta have Monkey Lites!
IRA: … are those tubeless?
BIKERUMOR: Not on purpose…
IRA: Those campy stickers on your shifters… those carbon campy stickers…
TONY: Cause there was an indicator, and if you took it off, there wasn’t a cover… so I put the sticker on there. Stop laughing.
It’s funny you asked Ira about- about how he doesn’t feel really connected to his bikes anymore. I have the same feeling because I sell all my bikes after about a year.
BIKERUMOR: But you kept this one.
At this point, Tony pulled out a digital angle-finder and measured the head tube angle: 70.7 degrees.
TONY: Maybe when I measured it and I thought it was so off I didn’t know how to measure anything. It’s not messed up.
I guess I need to go ride it now.