How to Get into the Bike Industry Without Even Trying

So you want to work in the bike industry? Well, realize one thing first: I lied in the title of this post. You’ll have to try pretty darn hard or get lucky (like four leaf clover double rainbow lucky*) to score a gig in the bike business. In addition, it’s very likely that you’ll have to start at the bottom, put in your time and work your way up. Still interested? OK, here we go.

First things first: grow that little hair thing under your lower lip. Soul patch, nutduster, call it what you will but a lot of people in the bike business have them. Extra credit for switching it up and going for an Edmundo instead. In all seriousness, one great part of the bike industry is its lax attitude when it comes to sport coats, ties or razors. But how do you get there? That’s what I’m here to tell you. Read on…

Work in a bike shop

It’s always good to know the product. But more than that, you’ll want to know the customers, the suppliers and the meathook realities of the business of keeping those doors open. The best way to see it all, the good, the bad and the greasy is to get a job wrenching at your LBS. This means starting young or in some cases doing it part time while you are still working for that soul-sucking corporation collating TPS reports.

“Why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam?”

So networking is that word everyone throws around, that magical incantation that career counselors get all glassy eyed when they talk of it. It’s true to the core: talking to actual humans will give you a better chance at landing a great job than scanning classified listings on some website. Don’t know any actual humans in the bike business you say? Meet some. Ask the people you ride with if they know anyone in the industry. Ask the owner of the LBS for the names of their sales reps from your favorite companies. Ask your grandma, it can’t hurt and she’s always glad to hear from you. Once you’ve got some names you’ll need the internet.

First stop: LinkedIn. Sign up, look up employees at your favorite bike company, ask to connect with them. You may send ten messages to the tune of “I’m a bassoonist in an alt country/punk/swing band but my real passion is high end carbon doodads, are you hiring?” and only get a single response, but that could be the start of your network. See – there’s that word again. You’re building a web of people who know you, you’re very plainly telling them what you want, and if you bang at it long enough one of those people will tell you “My company is looking for someone just like you.” That’s all it takes.

There are great online references out there as well. Outdoorindustryjobs.com is at the top of the list. Many of the groups that you can join on LinkedIn will also give you a good idea of what opportunities are out there, what the qualifications are for those opportunities, and who is hiring. Also check into industry-specific recruiting agencies. It’s usually free to talk to them, and they can tell you if you’re barking up the wrong tree and maybe give you some pointers on how to make yourself like sweet sweet honey to the bike industry Pooh bears.

I mentioned telling “your people” what you want in a clear and direct way. How do you know what that is? What goes on in bike companies anyway? If you don’t know those things, go find out. Be bold: go to your favorite bike brand’s website and find an email address. Find them on Facebook and “Like” the company. Send messages to them, tell them who you are and ask what kind of jobs they have that would be a good fit. Be persistent but have the discretion to know when to try someone else. More often than not you’ll find someone who was in your shoes not too long ago and wants to pass on the good karma.

Oh the fun you’ll have in the bike industry

*True story: I was an electrical engineer designing airfield lighting and navigation systems and ready to take a $9/hr job at the local shop selling hybrids when a friend mentioned the world HQ of a Major Bicycle Company was located in our fair city. With equal parts hubris and desperation I sent my resume and a cover letter that essentially said “I’m an engineer who loves bikes. I hear you make those. Can I have a job?” I got a call a week later for an interview. When I went in the company’s president told me they were embarking on an electric bike program but no one there knew an amp from a tramp stamp. After much back and forth, 5 interviews in 6 months, and two proposals from me I finally wore them down and got the job.

Your mileage may vary, but I include this story to illustrate the mix of determination, persistence and dumb luck that sometimes can pay off with a dream job in the bike industry. Now go out there and pound the pavement!

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  4. MTB News Bits: Chicago Olympic Make-Up Race, Worldwide Bike Registry, and Bike Thrift Shop
  5. Mountain Bike News From the 2011 Toronto Bike Show

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About Luke_E

I'm a lover of all types of bikes. I got my first job in the bike industry because of my interest in transportation bicycles. In the last 5 years I've worked on designs for trekking, touring, folding, mountain, city, kids, cruiser and even electric assist bikes. My next dream is to learn to make my own frames. In addition to bikes I love long distance motorcycle touring, camping and dining out with my wife. And I can't stand broadcast television. Or professional sports.

13 thoughts on “How to Get into the Bike Industry Without Even Trying

  1. I have always wanted to take a week and go through the basic course offered by the Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR. Not necessarily to work in the industry but just so I had the knowledge to ‘fine tune’ my own rides- and of course any damsel’s in distress I happen to run across along the way.

    How much clout does a certificate like that carry when looking to get into the industry?

  2. Another thing that helps: starting a mountain biking website. :)

    Mudhunny made the switch from chemical engineering at Intel to an internet marketing job at Performance Bike all because she started a little mountain biking website. And keep in mind this was 6 or 7 years ago when singletracks was less than a tenth the size it is today.

  3. Mellow Johnny’s is hiring too. I spent two years there, great people, and I got to do exactly what the author outlined: going from strategy consulting to folding t-shirts so I could learn enough to embark upon my race promotions business.

  4. Well, thanks for an enlightening story! But did you really score a BIKE job? Come on, you are still sitting at a computer, right? That’s fine, but let’s realize there are many paths! And “Electric Bikes”? I guess you can pedal it, but that’s not the bikes we love and libe by.

  5. @CaptainBrock: the author works for a major bike manufacturer – writing for singletracks isn’t his day job. :)

    Even so, most real BIKE jobs are done in front of a computer. Specialized has accountants, copy writers, marketing folks, engineers, and administrative assistants – just to name a few positions at a representative company. While some might assume working for a bike company entails test riding bikes and hanging out at the trail all day, that’s not the reality. Most industry types do regular jobs – they just happen to do them in support of sales of a fun product.

    Corporate culture is definitely a big part of why, despite the normalcy of day-to-day operations, many seek bike industry employment. Most companies do offer perks that any biker can appreciate – hopefully we’ll hear more about that stuff in a follow-up article.

  6. re: CaptainBrock – Downsize? Who said anything about downsizing? Since January this year I’ve moved into the most challenging job I’ve ever known. Materials science, computer modeling, sports marketing, graphic design, sales support, dealer relations, product conceptualization, industrial design are all hats I’m expected to wear. It’s the PERKS of this difficult position: highly discounted (or free) bikes and gear, in-office maintenance, locker and shower facilities, 100+ acres of employee-only MTB trails across the street, daily road or dirt lunch rides, commuter credits for riding to work, subsidized healthy meal choices in the cafeteria, free gym, exotic travel across three continents and more that make every day a pleasure and a privilege. You can have your “downsized (someday, maybe)” career. I’m doing just what I want and being rewarded well for it.

  7. Pingback: More Fun, Less Pay: Working in the Bike Industry | Mountain Bike Blog || SINGLETRACKS.COM

  8. Pingback: Dream Ride Week #1: Copper Harbor, Michigan | Mountain Bike Blog || SINGLETRACKS.COM

  9. Hello, I know its only 3 years later, but what company do you work for. I am in the same boat I love electronics and bikes and I am in a Electrical engineering program.

  10. It’s been a long strange trip Sean. I started at Advanced Sports International, parent company of Fuji, Kestrel, SE Racing and Breezer Bikes. I moved to Trek in Jan 2011. After 2 years there I came back to Philadelphia and I now work as a forensic investigator specializing in bicycle-related matters (expert witness for bike failures, bike crashes and other incidents). I now use all of my bicycle design, racing, riding and teaching experience to consult on all matters related to bikes.

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