There have been several storied chapters in R+E Cycles‘ 50-year history but, as Katie Sox describes, the through line has been a commitment to crafting the bikes that best fit their customer’s needs—even when those bikes have five seats. On the brink of new ownership and as they celebrate 50 years of frame building and service, read on for a closer look behind this stalwart in Seattle’s cycling scene.
You ever catch yourself thinking, “Gosh dang, sure would be rad to grab four of my best pals and jump on one bike, all five of us pedaling in tandem, rolling on just two wheels”? Where in the actual heck would you even find such a rig? Or have you been frothing to take your main squeeze to Italy for one of those idyllic rides with the views and wine but y’all would rather ride your own custom tandem, one designed and built specifically for your unique and magnificent bodies, attuned to your comfort preferences and finished with purple sparkle paint? But how would you fit that long-ass purple tandem frame in a travel case? I know a place that’s got you covered.
50 Years of History in Seattle
Tucked in the University District of Seattle, Washington, Rodriguez Cycles has been cranking out hand-built bicycle frames, painting them in-house and keeping customers rolling for 50 years. Founded by Angel Rodriguez and Glenn Erickson in 1973, the shop’s manufacturing facility has been grandfathered into the now commercial/residential neighborhood and the space continues to be a staple of the Seattle cycling scene.
Angel and Glenn began building bicycles and tandem frames under both names and started a repair shop known as R+E Cycles, complete with a race team. In doing so, they quickly earned respect from Seattle cyclists. By the early 80s Glenn parted ways and the shop forged on with Angel at the helm. He started TerraTech, a new brand of bikes manufactured in Japan that soon became a favorite of commuters in the Northwest. Angel caught the big wave that was the mountain bike craze and rode it well; R+E was voted Best Shop in the USA by readers of Bicycling Magazine and the shop grew to over 50 employees by the end of the decade.
In 1987, a long-haired fella by the name of Dan Towle joined the shop as a bike fitter and salesperson. Dan and his gorgeous mane quickly found themselves working in and managing the repair shop until the early 90s when Angel sold the shop to a guy from outside the cycling industry. Things were mismanaged and a few core employees, including Dan, bailed. The dude filed bankruptcy, leaving behind shambles of what Angel had built. By ’93 Dan was the new owner of R+E Cycles, along with his wife Marcie and another business partner, Estelle Gray. They built back what had once been: by 1996 they offered a women’s specific bicycle model, they had a website (pretty friggin’ advanced for the era, folks, lest you have forgotten the primitiveness of ‘90s internet) and the shop was attracting country-wide attention for their bikes and fitting software. Rodriguez Cycles motored on through the new millennium all the while navigating the ups and downs, which brings us to today, a few decades hence.
All Under One Roof: Frame Building & Machine Shop, Paint & Repair
Today, Rodriguez bikes are still manufactured in the same Seattle basement where they were born. At one time Rodriguez followed the commercial template of offering production runs of standard frame sizes but these days the shop builds one custom bike at a time. To their credit, the process is relatively timely thanks to their streamlined systems, deep databases, proprietary computer software, and a solid team of experienced employees with a willingness to adapt to the ever-evolving cycling industry and supply chain.
R+E Cycles can build you anything from an ultra-light road racing bike to a custom tandem with S&S Couplings so you can break the frame down for travel. They’ll set you up with the gravel rig of your dreams or that perfect commuter with a Rolhoff Speedhub and room for fenders to keep your business trousers clean. They really have made quint bikes for five butts and tons of custom tandems to keep couples testing those relationships.
Rodriguez’s Xtra-Long Bike offerings are very customizable, there’s even a Triple-Double – transformable from a three to a four or even five-person bike. Thanks to S&S Couplers, the bike can grow along with your team of miniature stokers. The most important thing to the folks at R+E is that the customer is happy with the bike and that it’s comfortable enough that they’ll go ride it (preferably on the often side). They offer base models complete with parts groups or you can fully dream up your own rig from tubing to tire clearance with your preferred shifty-bits and components. And, as Alder, R+E’s Head Mechanic, assures, the sky is pretty much the limit; “We offer fully custom bikes, from top-to-bottom. Many brands offer only slight geo changes, a select few colors and models. At Rodriguez you could get just about anything. Fifteen bottle mounts? Sure. Custom forks? Yeah. Our frame builder, Todd, is extremely talented and works one-on-one with our clients to make even the wildest of builds possible.” After digging into the deets, R+E makes sure your fantasies fit together real snug when they’re brought to fruition, usually within about 6 weeks.
Building bikes outside the norm has been a persistent theme of R+E Cycles since, well, always. I asked Dan what his all-time fav Rodriguez bike was. Blew his mind with that one, cause they’ve done all sorts of crazy stuff like building a quint bike for a famous Hip-Hop artist, creating a Seattle Seahawks bike used by Mayor Ed Murray to wage a Super Bowl bet with the mayor of Denver. Not to mention, the shop’s put thousands of bums on bikes over the years. If he had to choose just one though, he said he’d show off a custom road bike made for Maureen, a customer with dwarfism. “She wanted to race in triathlons, but always had to ride bicycles that didn’t even sort of fit. Smiley did a fit workup with her, and I did a drawing. The drawing made me nervous, but I handed it off for frame building nonetheless. After the frame was built, I looked at it, and as is common with extremely unique builds, I had the shop assemble the bike before paint.”
Once it was assembled Dan was even more nervous. He wanted to be 100% this bike fit before painting it, so he had Smiley, a bike fitter who’s been with the shop for 20+ years, call Maureen to come down and try the bike. When she threw her leg over the top tube, happy tears streamed down her face. “I love it! Finally, a bicycle for me!” she said. They painted the bike (with a sick-ass fade, I must say) and Maureen rode it for many years, fulfilling her dream of competing in triathlons. After she passed away, her family said it was one of her very favorite possessions and they brought the bike into the store where it now proudly stands on display.
Much of the magic at Rodriguez happens downstairs where Todd, who’s been working at the shop since 1998 and building frames since 2004, and Max build frames and machine parts. Josh, who came to R+E with decades of bike experience and machine skills, also works down yonder manufacturing small parts when he’s not upstairs wrenching.
You can find the semi-elusive Teresa down in her own paint dungeon, sandblasting frames and turning out gorgeous custom finishes with the help of her sidekick, Bosco the bulldog. She’s been with R+E since 1995 and paints 400-600 bikes per year. Needless to say, Teresa is a total badass. Todd has evolved with the company, training under Dennis Bushnell, the designer of Bushnell Eccentric Bottom Brackets, which were once manufactured at R+E’s Seattle facility and eventually patented by Rodriguez in 2011.
Eccentric bottom brackets are used to adjust chain tension on bikes without derailleurs (like single-speeds or Rohloff hub equipped bikes) and to adjust chain tension between captain and stoker on tandems. Bushnell, a master frame builder, joined Rodriguez in 2005 and was able to finish his eccentric BB design in the machine shop. Dennis retired and Bushnell EBBs continued to be whipped up at R+E Cycles with distributors in England, Germany and larger accounts in Japan and Taiwan. Rodriguez sold the patent to Quality Bicycle Products (QBP) a couple years back to make room for new manufacturing projects.
The repair shop is headed up by Alder, a Seattle born cyclist who’s been with the shop since 2019 when his previous workplace, Performance Bike, closed. “I dabbled in mountain biking early on, but it took a serious turn when my mom and I started to road bike together every weekend with Cascade Bicycle Club, gearing up for rides like the Seattle to Portland. My affinity for bikes and how to work on them grew. I took a basic maintenance class at Bike Works, got a job at Performance Bikes, had an amazing mentor and teacher Eric, and made life-long friends. While it was sad to see Performance close, working at Rodriguez was an amazing next step. It was the place I could truly eat, shit, and breathe bikes.”
R+E’s full-service repair shop assembles the hand-made bikes and builds wheels in-house, as well as performing regular bike maintenance, tune-ups and over-hauls for whatever comes through the door. You’ll find friendly mechanics like Josh buttoning up newborn bikes and lacing up wheels. With your custom bicycle, you get a lifetime fit guarantee plus all the support you need to ensure your bike is comfortable and usable for its lifespan. They say that when you buy a Rodriguez, you’re not just buying the bike, you’re buying a whole dang bike shop with enough smiling faces, wrenches and experience to keep you rolling happily for years to come.
One thing is absolute about R+E Cycles: they’ve learned how to roll with the waves and hang on when the tide gets high. With time comes change, and a new set of sails is on the horizon for R+E Cycles. Dan and Marcie are moving toward retirement and the shop will soon turn over its ownership to Alder along with well-rounded Rodriguez employee, Max Hitch. After joining R+E in 2015 as a machinist hired to help with manufacturing Bushnell EBBs, Max soon moved upstairs where he learned to assemble bikes and wrench on repairs. “From there it’s a bit of a jumble, I ended up learning skill sets all around the store to just try and help smooth over workflow.” He moved back downstairs to learn frame building, since he had previous experience working with soft metals as a musical instrument repair tech. His role these days is primarily frame building and design, but he finds himself anywhere help is needed in the shop. What makes R+E special in Max’s mind is “The creative acceptance of different riders, riding styles, and community. You want a tricked-out road race bike? We got you. You want a hardtail MTB? We can do that. Tandems, Triples, and Quints – no problem. It might be obscura to the masses, but to us, we are just trying to make bikes that meet their riders’ wants and needs.”
Max and Alder will officially announce the change in ownership at their 50th Anniversary Bike and Pike Celebration March 4th in Seattle. Dan says “The transition in ownership will happen over years, so I’ll still be around, putting attention into some deferred projects that had to be put on hold in 2020. I really want to help make systems run smoothly and get the shop ready for the next 50 years. I’m excited to see new energy in directing where the shop goes next.” Max and Alder are obviously pumped to write the next chapter of the Rodriguez and Erickson Bicycles story. Alder says “I’m so excited to have this opportunity. I can’t wait for what the future holds, the amazing bikes that are going to be sent out the door, and the people I will meet along the way.” They’re holding their cards tight on the specifics about what’s in store for the future of R+E and how exactly they see it evolving, but they promise that you should hang around and see what they’ve got up their sleeves. Max says he’s “excited to be an owner of a small business, especially R+E Cycles. It has always been a goal of mine to own a small business whether it was one I built from the ground up or one that I took to like a fish in water.”
Seattle Bike and Pike: 50th Anniversary Party
Since 2008, R+E Cycles has teamed up with Pike Brewing to put on an event that brings the community together and serves as a fundraiser for Food Lifeline, raising over $56,000 and providing 195,000 meals over the years. Like many events, Bike and Pike had been on hold for the last three years and is making a come-back for the 50th Anniversary of R+E Cycles. Everyone is invited to come out and celebrate a half-century of Seattle-made goods and service, enjoy a bunch of local vendors like Swift Industries, Kinekt, Herkimer Coffee Roasting Co., and join in on the Silent Online Auction. You can even get your paws on some gourmet waffles served up by Alder’s very rad mom Machiko, who has a very rad custom Rodriguez to match, is an avid cyclist and genius crafter of bikepacking routes and frame bags. The event is a chance to engage in community, take a tour of the R+E Cycles manufacturing facility, visit with the faces that make it happen, and meet founder Angel Rodriguez. It all goes down Saturday, March 4th from 10 am to 5 pm at R+E Cycles – 5627 University Way NE, Seattle WA.
If you’re around the Northwest you might like to make your way toward the Seattle Bike and Pike, at least to get yourself one of those waffles, yeah? Or, if you find yourself in Seattle anytime, stop by R+E Cycles – there’s a ton of history displayed in photos and the shop’s bike museum. You might enjoy wandering around rodbikes.com if you want to design that sparkle purple tandem for you and your babe or wade deep into the weeds of all things R+E Cycles – Dan has a lot of words on the site about a lot of things, like 50 years’ worth. I’ll leave y’all with these ones from the long-haired fella himself: “Making cycling available and fun for everyone is a great joy. People sometimes see a Rodriguez bike somewhere that looks quite different than ‘normal’ (whatever that is). They assume we build ‘funny-looking’ bikes. The truth is, we build what the customer needs or wants to make their bike something they will love and ride.”