At some point, most of us probably dream of getting paid to ride bikes. It sounds perfect, right? Turning something you love into a career is a really great thing to be able to do. But as with anything, it’s not perfect. I caught up with a few people I know who have turned their passion for bikes into a full-time job, and here’s what they had to say about the rewards and challenges of following their dreams.
Brendon Voelker – Pivot Cycles East Coast Demo Driver
Brendon got his start in the bicycle world as that kid who hangs out in the local bike shop way too much, so much that he finally started learning the ropes. He’s worked in the bicycle industry ever since, starting out by wenching at shops, driving support vehicles and hitting up races and other events, and finally moving on to his current position as the East Coast Demo Driver for Pivot Cycles.
Brendon describes himself as “half trucker, half dirtbag, with a fleet of the best bikes in the world that I drive around for others to test out.” He lives on the road for 11 months of the year, setting up demo events, hosting shop clinics, and doing a whole lot of driving, as he basically covers everything east of the Rockies. Brendon’s job also entails answering emails, writing reports, and maintaining all the bikes as well as his Sprinter van and trailer, which he lives out of most of the time.
The most rewarding part of his job is making others happy and inspiring them to get out on the trails. “I love being outdoors, and getting to share those experiences and/or giving others the opportunity to do the same is what keeps me going,” he says. He also gets to explore the country, and travel to places he probably wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. He often finds trails to stop at to split up the drive when he’s moving from place to place. Brendon is both an avid cyclist and trail runner.
But being on the road isn’t always glamorous. Being away from home can be wearing. He doesn’t get to see his friends or family much. However, he adds, “I make new friends all over the place and I find myself with endless opportunities to cross paths with old friends that have moved to different parts of the country.” Another major challenge is finding a spot to work on bikes. He usually tries to hit up a state park or forest, because “they are generally nice and quiet with plenty of space and resources, and I’m usually not too far from a trail once I’m done.”
Brendon advises anyone looking to enter the bicycle industry to make sure you’re truly passionate about it. If the answer is yes, get your foot in at a shop. “You don’t have to become a master mechanic or anything, but knowing people in the industry is key, considering how small [the industry] is.” Someday, Brendon would like to open his own bike shop, despite the fact that “most people in the industry would consider him crazy for wanting to do that, knowing good and well what it entails.”
Tim Krueger – Founder of Advocate Cycles
Tim has been riding bikes for over 20 years. He’s worked in shops, started shops, gone to college for education, engineering, and psychology, and worked as a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, which was a bad idea, he claims. Every time he’s tried to leave the bike industry, he’s struggled because he was always distracted by bikes. Aside from working at shops, he also ran an online parts resale business, operated a bicycle touring company, was a Product Developer for Salsa Cycles, and acted as a product consultant for several different brands.
Most recently, he started Advocate Cycling Productions, the parent company for Advocate Cycles, Terrene Tires, and the Chequamegon100 event, among other things. Tim is now a “jack of all trades in an upstart setting,” meaning he does everything from product development and event planning to sweeping floors and managing cash flow.
The hardest part? “When you are a bike industry entrepreneur, you work on, stare at, think about, and sell bikes all day long, but sometimes you can go a week or two without even riding a bike.” But the most rewarding part, he says, is those rare times when he gets to go ride a bike in some amazing place and chalk it up as work-related.
Ultimately, Tim would like to get his companies to the point where he doesn’t have to be on the ground all the time to run them, and hit the open road with his wife Odia as a brand ambassador for Advocate Cycling Productions. Their goal is “to live out of a Sprinter van full of bikes, and travel the continent helping bikes change lives.”
His advice for those looking to make bikes a full-time gig? “Simplify your life, and just do it. The bike industry is known for low pay, and that’s because it’s enjoyable. Most people make excuses about how they couldn’t afford to do it, but they only can’t afford it because of their attachment to material things. If you want to do this, you may have to live in a modest house, and not buy designer furniture, but I guarantee you, it will be worth it.”
Harlan Price – Take Aim Cycling
Harlan got his dream job out of college as a photographer for a newspaper, but soon he made the transition into the mountain bike world. He began racing professionally, doing freelance writing, and working in bike shops, as well as taking a construction job here and there. Since then, he’s also helped with product development, course development, and race promotion. He says, “I love the DIY culture of cycling. You can put on a race, write a blog, make clothing, or just be good at having a good time.”
In 2009, Harlan began to transition out of mountain bike racing and into skills coaching. He started Take Aim Cycling because he saw the need for skills practice at both a beginner and advanced level. It makes the entry to the sport easier for newbies, and can help more experienced riders rise above the plateaus they’ve been lingering on.
“Being a teacher/coach/instructor/guide is one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Learning about others and being empathetic to understand what others need, then to give them the tools to really have fun is an amazing experience. Seeing others have that eureka moment and to find a new comfort and flow is the best. Growing other people’s passion elevates mine every day.”
But, of course, there are challenges associated with teaching. Everyone learns differently, and sometimes you need to step back and figure out a different approach if someone isn’t getting what you’re trying to say. “I wouldn’t say I get it right all the time, but I try real hard and take it to heart when I don’t,” he says.
Harlan recently moved to Harrisonburg, VA, where he’s hoping to bring more people to him for skills coaching and travel a little bit less, as he’s been on the road for the past 6 years. He started working with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association to coach both coaches and their students, and someday, he’d like to build his own training center.
Harlan’s advice for those looking to get into the bike industry is to have a goal that is staged so that each step is an accomplishment, and that there’s an out if things aren’t working. Don’t blindly force yourself in a direction that is no longer fun, or you can’t see being worth the effort.”Be willing to re-evaluate your priorities along the way, and if the ultimate goal changes, that’s okay.”
Shanna Powell – Owner, EndlessBikeCo.
Shanna originally got her adrenaline kick from kayaking, but after a bad swim and injury on the Green River, she turned her passion for rivers into a passion for trails. She started riding bikes and working in a bike shop in 2006 after being a river guide, camp instructor, and building straw bale houses in New Zealand. She didn’t know anything about bikes at the time, but after participating in the 24 Hours of Pisgah with her shop team, she was hooked.
A couple years later, an interesting opportunity fell into Shanna’s lap. One of the mechanics at the shop she worked for owned a very small business that made singlespeed cogs called EndlessBikeCo, but after a while, he got sick of it. Shanna had been helping him package cogs after work, and when she told him that he couldn’t just stop filling orders, he asked her if she wanted to buy the business. She replied, “I don’t have any money or I would!” He ended up selling her EndlessBikeCo for $1, and suddenly, she was a business owner in the bike industry.
But with the business, she also inherited a lot of debt to Industry Nine, who had been making parts for Endless. They wouldn’t sell her anything else until the debt was paid off, so she had to find another machine shop, and slowly pay what she owed. It was a difficult road, but finally, 5 years later, the debt was gone, and she called a meeting with the owner to ask if she could come back and use them again. He was so impressed with her that he offered her a job as their bookkeeper. She worked at I9 until 2015, when the responsibilities of running EndlessBikeCo and her other business, Mountain Air Roasting, became too much to handle along with another job. “I took a deep breath and put in my 2-month notice, found my replacement and prepared myself for a huge pay cut, no more company health insurance or paid time off but the freedom to find and be myself again.”
Now, her days are flexible and work can be any hour of the day or night, but she works hard. “I might take Tuesday off to ride but work all day Saturday to make up for it. Sometimes I package cogs or spacer kits until late into the night.” She spends her work hours taking and filling orders, talking to customers, answering emails, doing paperwork, managing inventory, and looking for cool new product ideas.
The challenge of working for yourself is that it’s easy to get sucked in, and hard to leave work behind if there’s a lot to be done. All the responsibility falls on you. Shanna says it’s also hard to find people to cover for her and help with filling orders when she leaves town for events. But she also adds that it’s also so rewarding to be able to go to whatever events she wants, work whenever she wants, and share her stoke of mountain biking with the world.
Shanna recently became Level 1 PMBI certified, so she’s excited to add some instructional and guiding events to her schedule. Eventually, she’d like to lead groups of women on mountain bike adventures all over the country and internationally. “I’m a little shy on the teaching front at the moment, though I’m getting better,” she says.
Here are her two cents on making a passion for mountain biking into a full time gig: “Be patient. Be ready to work hard. Breathe. Be nice. Be willing to take feedback of all sorts. Don’t take yourself or others in that case so seriously….and don’t forget to smile! Also, if you can’t make it work out 100% right now, just get a little side job and keep trying.”
Following your dreams is never a cakewalk. Getting paid to do what you love is a really great thing, but it does take some hard work and dedication, and it’s never quite as glamorous as it may seem from the outside. But, as these folks have attested to, it’s incredibly rewarding, and as long as you have the passion and drive to keep trying, making a career out of bikes is completely attainable.