An interview with Steve Donahue

8 05 2015

April 22, 2015

Steve Donahue is the co-founder and owner of Recycled Cycles. Steve and the shop have supported Recycled Cycles Racing since the 90s. RCR’s Ryan Dean interviewed Steve in his office downstairs in the Boat St. shop, surrounded by some vintage Campagnolo parts, boxes, and bikes.

RD: Steve, thanks for taking the time to visit with us as we try to learn a little bit more about your history as well as that of the shop, which has been operating nearly a quarter of century! You and Scott opened the shop in 1994, right?

SD: That’s right, we started out with just the lower level where we are sitting now. We didn’t really know what we were doing, I don’t have an MBA or anything like that. But we’re pretty happy with how things have turned out, although I never dreamt the business would grow to this size.

RD: You were originally a mechanic?

SD: Correct, I grew up trading BMX parts with my friends, tearing my bike down and building it back up again for fun. My mom thought it would be good for me to see if I could get a job in a shop, and so she hooked me up with a local outfit called “Bicycle Village” in Annandale, Virginia. That’s where I learned the craft before moving out to Seattle and ultimately opening this place. Regrettably I don’t get to wrench very much anymore as most of my time is consumed by running the two locations, and so I’m mainly doing administrative stuff.

RD: The vision statement you and Scott laid out for the shop back in ’94 seems to be evident today, to provide an alternative to the traditional bike shop by offering used bikes and parts at lower prices and be a place that professional bike people would want to work – if you were to start it again today, would you change things much?

SD: No. We might tweak some things here or there but generally we are happy to stick to the ideas that got us started in the first place.

We like being a place that you can hook up your young child with a 12” bike and also get your commuter fixed.

We never stock high-end bikes but appreciate when our customers trust us to guide them in special order the bikes they need.

RD: “Frame builder” never spoke to you as something you might dabble in?

SD: Never, just not something I wanted to pursue. When customers needed welding done we’d just send them over to Val Kleitz or R+E or some of the other fine frame builders in town.

RD: I think Recycled Cycles Racing might be the longest single title sponsored team in the Pacific Northwest – true?

SD: I don’t know about that, but we have always tried to be a place that employed and welcomed racers and have had sponsored the team since the early days. I remember when the jerseys were just screen-printed and the ink would run when the guys started sweating. Generally, we try to keep our hands off the team stuff and it may be that’s why it has lasted as long as it has. At the end of the day we just want the race team to be good ambassadors for the shop, the brands and for cycling in general.

RD: I think some pretty famous names have passed through the shop at one time or another – can you give me some examples?

SD: Well, David Richter was our first manager many years ago and was part of that original racing group. Other names that come to mind were Tom Peterson, who raced on the juniors team and won the junior national championship in an RCR kit. Doug Sumi and Tre Wideman have each gone on to pretty cool pro mechanic gigs, and of course Dan Harm.

RD: Someone on the team was interested to know what your favorite post activity beverage is.

SD: Mirror Pond Pale Ale!

RD: I read on the site that you guys are a drop-off collection point for the “Village Bicycle Project” that collects working bicycles and ships them to Africa – is that still active?

SD: Yes, it has been a little quiet lately but we still collect and distribute bikes to the Village Bicycle group. They do great work!

RD: Can you tell me a little about how the Recycled Cycles logo came to be? I confess I saw it on someone as a tattoo the other day and that freaked me out a little bit.

SD: Ha-ha I think I know two people with that tattoo. Many years ago we worked with a guy named Zack to design the logo. I think we gave him a Giant Sedona mountain bike in exchange for the original artwork. We asked him to do something for us that was “a little bit Harley-Davidson” and “a little bit Schwinn’y’” He came up with what you see today and we have been really happy ever since.

RD: Is there a remarkable customer story you can share? Someone who dropped $15,000 on a diamond-encrusted Cipollini? Or maybe the most famous customer you have ever had?

SD: Hmmmm. I can’t think of a single customer thing like that, but I can say that Eddie Vedder has bought two bikes from us. Two [Surly] Pugsleys, which he had us strip down to the frame so he could have them custom painted and then rebuilt – they were beautiful when all done. We’ve had Conan O’Brian in before since his wife is from this area as well as several Mariners.

RD: The shop has a pretty impressive collection of collector’s items between vintage bikes, parts and other memorabilia. Was this an intentional effort on your part to build this growing asset?

SD: It happened organically, we just had people bringing this stuff in over the years to trade or otherwise turn in and we set aside the really classic vintage stuff. We don’t have any plans for the collection in the future but it sure seems like Seattle could have a bicycle museum based on all the stuff that has gone on around here.

RD: Do Seattle cyclists have a vibe that’s different from cyclists in other parts of the country?

SD: Definitely. Seattle cyclists will ride in any kind of rain with temperatures down to 35 degrees. Below that, even on a beautiful sunny and clear day, less people ride. Some of our busiest days in the shop are when it’s raining. I think there is a certain esprit d’corps shared by cyclists who persevere through the inclement weather that draws them together. It’s like they want to show how tough they are!

RD: If this whole bicycle thing hadn’t worked out, how do you suppose you would spend your time professionally?

SD: I’d probably have a career in law enforcement; I majored in criminal justice in college and am very familiar with the ins and outs of that profession. But for now I’m all into keeping Recycled Cycles going strong.

RD: After all these years in and around bicycles, can you think of one machine that would be your dream bike? Do you have it now?

SD: Actually yes, I do have it now, and what’s funny is that I bought it from the shop on consignment, which is something I had never done until this bike came along about five years ago. It’s a beautiful white Schwinn Paramount from 1985. It’s been upgraded to 9-speed Dura Ace and looks just awesome hanging in my garage. I need to ride it more.

RD: Ok, last question – If you could have dinner with anyone in cycling history living or dead – who would it be?

SD: Hmmm. I might answer that question differently from how it was asked, rather than seeing a person today from history I’d rather go back in time and watch the Schwinn brothers in action, or failing that, the Wright brothers in their old shop. I recently had a chance to tour the Henry Ford museum and saw that he had a penchant for historical workshops and actually commissioned someone to deconstruct and rebuild the Wright brothers’ workshop on his Greenfield property. Pretty cool stuff.

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