Industry stalwarts talk about what inspired them to make bikes their life's work

Earlier this year I spoke with bike industry stalwarts to get a sense of the industry’s direction. I asked a series of broad questions and received some interesting answers.

My third question is a personal one. We all come to the bike industry from different backgrounds, following our own paths to the point where we are now. Most everyone seems to have a fascinating backstory. So I wanted to find out what was the inspirational moment that compelled these industry insiders to make bicycles their life’s work.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Gary Fisher, founder of Gary Fisher Mountain Bicycles

I got into racing when I was 12 and when I was 14 I started working in a shop. It was this moment of being a little kid and like wow, riding is incredible! I was like 89 pounds and I could ride with my club on these 80-mile rides. It was insanity. It opened my mind to the engineering world. When I was a kid I loved bicycles and sailboats, there was so much in common with the efficiency of both things. That fascinated me, and that was it. I said to myself I’m never ever going to quit being a bike guy.

Scot Nicol, Ibis Bicycles

I still have an 8mm video of the first bike ride I took when I was five years old. My parents filmed me on this ride, and I rode my bike endlessly as a kid and it’s been with me my whole life. The real moment came when I took the trip with Joe Breeze and Charlie Kelly to Crested Butte in 1980. That was the first Pearl Pass tour, and seeing how that was the very beginning of mountain biking, and being able to be out there and experience that event, driving out across the desert and then having an amazing time riding I was spending a lot of time with two frame builders and asked them if I could apprentice with them to build frames. They said yes, and here we are 37 years later.

Joe Breeze, Breezer Bikes

You know at first I figured I would be with bicycles no matter what. I loved bikes. Really it was just the realization of the wide spectrum of what cycling is. It’s not just this narrow recreational thing. It’s in your life all day long for all of your life.

I saw it as such a secret in our country that I wanted to share it with people. That one little nut, that is really the glue that held the whole mountain bike movement together. I had that idea, but other people that I knew in Marin County had that idea that bicycling wasn’t just like this football or a golf ball, the very tool was so useful to humanity in our everyday life. We all wanted to turn others on to cycling, whether it was through road riding or off-road riding like we did, that’s what kept us coming back for more to propel this bicycle forward. We were passionate about what the bicycle stood for in our lives, in our world.

That’s probably it, but there was one particular bicycle that made my passion for the bicycle extend beyond being just a starving artist framebuilder, and that was, of course, my first Breezer mountain bike that I made. It is considered the first modern mountain bike ever made. I was just that guy with the skills and the passion to put that all together to be that guy at the moment and do something that was just ripe to happen. It made it so I wasn’t that starving artist framebuilder. It really made it so I could carry on my whole life in a better way.

John Parker, Underground Bike Works, founder of Yeti Cycles

Since [I was] a child, I have been obsessed with bicycles and motorcycles. My real first freedom came on a bicycle. I grew up on the beach in Santa Monica. On a skateboard or walking, we could go to Venice we could go here or there. But on a bicycle we could go all the way down to Palos Verdes. And then what we’d usually do is call our aunt or something and say, ‘So-and-so’s got a flat tire, come and get us.’

Bicycling is my first real form of freedom, my real first form of expression. Growing up in Southern California with all the hotrods, and the motorcycles, and the racing and everything. I find bicycles to be a form of art that I’m very inspired by.

My influences are anything from World War II airplanes to trains to motorcycles, the Coca-Cola building with the streamlined porthole round windows. I find influences everywhere, and for whatever particular reason, those influences come back in the bicycles I design and build. And then when I see other bikes, I truly admire them with no jealousy or malice. When I had Yeti cycles, the Marin guys, anybody that made bicycles, truly as never my competitors, they were my contemporaries. We would truly feed off each other and inspire each other. I look at it as a form of art, and I’m an artist. It was my calling to do this. I’m a welder. When I’m at the welding bench next to Frank the Welder, I’m trying twice as hard as that guy, I’m overthinking stuff, but it’s all to express the end product. Fancy paint jobs I guess are for guys that are shitty welders. The assembly, the vision, the design, the flow, the ergonomics, the welds. It’s a challenge.

It really consumes my whole life. It’s everything, trying to arrive to that point. I’m not doing it to outdo anybody, and the truth of the matter is many times my inspiration has come from other bike builders, other designs. I will never stand in front of you and claim to be the originator or anything of the sort. I’ve been inspired and influenced by all sorts of people. I love Steve Potts. I love Joe Breeze. I admire all these guys to a fault. The small builders, Chris Herting, 3D Racing. It’s a community that by choice I want to belong to. It’s a community of inspiration, of craftsmanship, of deep thinking.

If anything, all I can do is say I’m a lucky guy and what a blessing to be a part of all this.

Richard Bryne, Speedplay pedals

I think the big turning point was I went to the Tour in 1972 and I watched Eddy Merckx race, and it made me think, ‘Hey I want to be in this.’ That got me started, and I fell in love with racing and got involved with design. It’s been an avocation turned vocation. It’s been a big challenge and very rewarding for me.

Chris Chance, Fat Chance Bikes

I can’t say it was any one moment, but I remember when I was in high school and skipping class and kind of going nuts at how much I loved riding a bike. This feeds me so much, I love it so much. I was racing on the road and I got offered a job at Whitcomb USA back in ‘75. I worked there for a couple of years almost, and then when they went under I bought some of their equipment. I was working for another builder in Boston. I got this fire — I have to buy some of their equipment. I called them up and they said, ‘We have a frame jig, this and that. You used to work for us so we’ll give you a good deal.’ I had to have it. I can’t pass this up. I went down there and bought some of this stuff and brought it back up to Boston. I figured I’d stick it in my garage and just have it. I was building frames for this other guy.

Three people I spoke to said well if you go into business, I’ll buy a bike from you. So before I even knew I was going to be in business I had three orders. I dove in with both feet. There was a guy who had a shop, paying $75 a month in rent, so I split it with him, 1,000 square feet. Put a spray booth in it and that was that. Started building frames with my own name on them. That was 1977. I did that until around 2000, and realized that while I’d been in this total immersion of bikes, there was part of me going, ‘Is there something else besides bikes in this world,’ 20 years later. So I took a break and it did me good.

I’m really stoked to be back at it. Really feels good. It’s in my blood.