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Ira Ryan, stoic and plain and obsessed with just putting his head down and working, is the prototypical Midwesterner. He has a penchant for tough conditions, overcoming hardships and persevering in the face of adversity. He loves bad weather, long distances and challenging road surfaces as though he lives and rides in fear of comfort and complacency.
Ira started building bikes four years ago after apprenticing with Sacha White of Vanilla Bicycles. Ira’s workshop is in the basement of a bike shop five miles north of Portland in a neighborhood called St. Johns.
How did you get here? What led to Ira Ryan Cycles?
I’ve worked in restaurants, washing dishes and prepping food. I’ve been a carpenter. I helped start Magpie Messenger Service, a Portland, Oregon courier collective. I’ve been working on bikes since I was 17, on my own bikes, as a shop mechanic, and now as part of Ira Ryan Cycles.
What is epic, or what does it mean to you? What makes that experience?
Epic is a 20-mile ride in the rain with three flats and lots of mud. Sometimes it’s rain, gravel, climbing, or cookies and coffee in the middle of nowhere. Really it’s as much about your state of mind as where you are and what you are doing. The rider makes the experience and the bike is just the ultimate accessory.
I grew-up riding 21-pound steel race machines, bikes you could ride hard and put away wet. After a race, we’d throw them into the back of a truck, not worried about paint or our carbon bars breaking. In the last 20 years it’s seems like bikes and riders both are little less hard. The heroic hard-man mythology, the Euros’ and their spring classics, continue to motivate me, though I think it’s being diluted by plastic bits and flammable parts. I like down-tube shifters, lugged steel and riding without a helmet, but that’s just me. If a carbon bike works for you, grab your 10-speed ride and let’s go suffer some cobbles together.
What inspired you to build? What does the craft mean to you?
Riding a bike up one side of mountain and down the other on a bike that I made with my own two hands—using nothing but simple tools, fire and metal tubes—is my greatest achievement. I love that my craft hasn’t changed much in generations. What I’m doing and the way I’m doing it, is the same way my grandfather, had he made bikes, would have done things. That feels good. It feels solid. I think the best tool in the shop is the builder’s hands. I think relying too heavily on technology to support your design and technique is risky. Quality is elusive, everywhere you look and in so many aspects of our daily lives, and I think independent bicycle frame builders are doing something small to change that.
What are a few of your greatest experiences on a bike?
Rolling into the darkness on never ending rolling hills and back roads covered in gravel with 180-miles down and another 130 to go. Having just dropped the main field, in the lead now and on target to win the first Trans Iowa, or Tranny. Riding with my friend Ricky up Lolo Pass in the spring to find gravel and ice on the descent into Hood River. It was our first time riding all the way there from Portland. We stopped in Hood River to eat McDonalds before turning around and motor pacing 18-wheelers and traffic on I-84 the whole way home, just barely beating sunset. I think it was 130-miles total. A group ride in Iowa with a tornado behind us, pace lining at 43mph with a killer, literally, fucking tailwind chasing us the whole way. Riding 750-miles from San Francisco to Portland in four days, sleeping in a ditch four hours a night, as part of a Raid Race. Hell, even riding Saltzman the other day is a favorite.
For more information visit: www.iraryancycles.com