Ira Ryan Cycles Shop Visit: Constructeur Moderne

 After an eleven-year hiatus, Ira Ryan is back building bicycles under his namesake moniker, Ira Ryan Cycles, in Portland, Oregon. While Josh was visiting the City of Roses earlier this year, he stopped by Ira’s to catch up and check out some new projects. Continue reading below to look inside Ira’s workshop and drool over some of his exquisite recently built bicycles.

Back At It

As I mentioned in my recent Chris King profile, I had a busy week visiting Portland earlier this year for my Super Pacific camper installation. I had a lot of loose ends related to the camper to tie up, sending me running all over town, during which I also prioritized checking in with a few folks who make the city a harbinger of cycling culture.

While I could spend weeks visiting the plethora of cycling and adjacent craftspeople, shops, and brands in Portland, Ira Ryan was at the top of my list. About a year ago, Ira left Breadwinner Cycles to return to building bikes and components as a one-person shop. The Ira Ryan Cycles moniker was born again after an eleven-year hiatus.

Last year’s MADE show was Ira’s first opportunity to exhibit what he’d been working on since venturing on his own again.  I was particularly drawn to Ira’s breadth and range of work on display. He was one of just a couple of builders I happened to document two show bikes. One was a special build for show-runner Billy Sinkford (a chubby tire all-road) and, the other, a homage hardtail MTB called Topo.

Ira Ryan Cycles

I stopped by Ira’s workshop on what I envision as a quintessential winter evening in Portland: overcast, wet, and pretty cold. No snow or ice was on the ground, but a storm was impending, and I could feel it in the air. Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, the space is segmented into fabrication, assembly, and storage zones.

Bright lights, shelves full of tools, drawers of lugs, walls adorned with cycling ephemera, and the warm glow of a torch offered a cozy reprieve from the exterior elements. If I were to commission something like a lugged randonneuring bike, it would absolutely be built in a shop dripping with history and beausage like Ira’s.

It’s easy to become fast friends with Ira. And he has quite the history of badassery on the bike. In my opinion, this is a recipe for success for folks in the business of making bespoke bicycles for a living.

I’ve followed his work for a while and have gotten to know him over the past few years. I can confirm how wonderful he is. You might think this is strange to say about someone in a story about their work, but buying a custom bike is a big commitment. Many customers need to connect with the frame builder they are commissioning, plus the builder should be genuinely in tune with their customers’ needs/wants.

Ira envisions whole bicycles when he enters a project. And he often builds a large percentage of the bike himself – from frames to forks, stems, and racks. Component selection (drivetrain, wheel/tire combo, etc.) is also integral to the equation. Full builds typically roll out of his workshop rather than simply sending clients home with a pile of parts. And if he can’t find a properly sized lug or a special fixture is needed to connect a particular braze-on, he’ll fabricate ’em on the spot and carry on building.

À la Manière d’un Constructeur

While Ira Ryan Cycles’ typology spans a broad spectrum, well-considered road bikes, lugged randonneurs, practical commuters, and classic cyclocross bikes often populate the build queue. Much of this concerns geography, as living in Portland lends itself to exploring endless open roads, a bikeable urban infrastructure, and a rich ‘cross scene. These are also the disciplines Ira has the most personal experience with.

Originally hailing from Iowa, rolling open roads reminiscent of his home state have always inspired him. In 2005, he built his first bicycle to travel back there and ride the first 300-mile Trans-Iowa race, which he won in the inaugural year and again in 2007. This was long before “gravel racing” was a thing, but it exemplifies the connection he’s held to the type of endurance and competitive riding that highlights commitment and excitement in the sport of cycling.

More recently, as a full-time fabricator and single parent, Ira has turned to more local cycling pursuits. While the weeks of riding hundreds of miles might be behind him, Ira tries to be as car-free as possible and integrates cycling into his daily commutes and how he shows up as a parent to transport his daughter. Additionally, he is part of the three-person team that organizes the Portland Trophy Cup cyclocross events each fall. This race series sounds awesome, so if anyone wants to cover it for us, inquire within!

If Ira’s pedigree I just described sounds familiar, it’s because it probably is. Ira is a relatively unique example of a West Coast US artisan builder with methods similar to French Constructeurs of the mid-20th century, the most well-known of which are, of course, Alex Singer and Rene Herse.

These fabricators, who were also seasoned cyclists themselves, channeled first-hand experiential knowledge of the sport into elevating the craft of bicycle building to spotlight elements of design, ride quality, and durability in an age otherwise dominated by mass production. They then tested their designs in Concours de Machines (Technical Trials) over long miles and challenging terrain to prove they could withstand prolonged use and abuse.

Use Case as Priority

I recently chatted with Billy about his experience working with Ira for his MADE road bike, which, he made sure to mention, fulfilled a longtime dream. Even a casual scroll through Billy’s Instagram reveals he has no shortage of very nice custom bikes, which comes from his lengthy career working in the cycling industry. He’s had plenty of experience commissioning custom bikes and recounts the one with Ira to be among the most seamless.

Early on in the process, they went for a ride and then chatted over coffee. Ira wanted to be sure he understood the bike’s use case. They determined this would be a performance machine for limited distances: short one to three-hour excursions from home during extended lunch breaks or after work. Because of this, Ira refuted a few of Billy’s considerations that he perceived could interfere with the end result. It would never realistically be converted to a single speed, for example. Thus, it would not be built with sliding dropouts.

For Billy, his road bike exemplifies Ira’s pragmatism. Ira won’t likely make concessions to build a jack-of-all-trades machine like so many people think they want these days, but he’ll make a bike that will please his customers for many years to come. As Billy also pointed out: “You don’t hear many Ira Ryan customers saying ‘I wish I had gotten this or that.’ He made their dream bike by nailing the use case.”

Put a Bird on It

Ira’s Barn Swallow insignia dates back to his childhood in Iowa. This was decades before Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman popularized the meme-worthy trend of adorning handcrafted items with avian creatures. He described the logo’s backstory to me in a quintessentially Ira way:

“The barn swallows would dip and glide over the fields when I’d be out riding as a teen, and I always thought that was how a bike should feel. Graceful, playful, and light as a feather. Who doesn’t want to feel that way on a bicycle?!”

Noah’s Purple Rando

It’s not often that we get to document an in-progress bike alongside a builder profile. But when we wait long enough to publish the story, that bike that was once a pile of tubes and melted silver will come to life and appear in a fully finished form. That was the case with a few of the projects I observed while ar Ira’s, so I asked him and Billy to help showcase. First, let’s take a look at Noah’s rando that was in the stand for my photoset above. Words by Ira and photos by Billy Sinkford.

This is a full-on fancy-ass Rando build for a rider in San Francisco’s Bay Area. He has ridden thousands of miles over the last few years and completed the Paris-Brest-Paris last year in France. The build has Richard Sachs Newvex lugs, Rene Herse Kaisei heat-treated tubing, and a custom rando bag and decaleur to match.

This bike took a while to get together because of all the details (including fenders, internally wired lights, and a custom bag). It’s finished with choice bits like Shimano mechanical shifting, Rene Herse center-pull brakes, and White Industries Ti bottom bracket.

Noah had a thing for purple, and many details were coordinated to pop with color.

Chris’ Lugged All-Road

As for the two partially built bikes in Ira’s shop during my visit, he also provided full documentation of those with words and excellent photos (turns out Ira also knows his way around a camera, too!). Let’s check out this lugged beauty next. 

The lugged orange frame and fork with black details is a classically inspired all-road bike for a local Portland rider. He’s a black cat lover and avid road rider so this bike is made for year-round riding in Portland.

It has room for PDW Full Metal fenders over the Astral Veil 3 wheels and Gravel King tires. The longer Velo Orange Gran Cru brakes offer plenty of braking while keeping the overall weight down and style cranked up. Light, lean, and made to go anywhere on any road.

Sepie’s All-Road

Sepie’s orange and cream machine is technically a road bike but I’d consider this build in the “All Road” group more than a skinny tire road jammer. Sepie rides A LOT and all over, so this bike is lighter and more playful than some of his bikes yet is firmly on the road bike end of his spectrum. Meant for Portland road rides, and light adventures around the state, this bike is more of an elegant, fast machine than an adventure mobile.

I was excited to build the fork on this bike. Internal routing for the hydro line, full rack attachments, internal wiring for the Sinewave light, and thru-axles are all lined up perfectly! It was a lot of work but the results are great.

Thanks to Ira and Billy for helping to pull this together! 

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