Betting on a Brooklyn-based bike biz
- Last Updated: 7:42 AM, May 17, 2012
- Posted: 10:55 PM, May 13, 2012
For most New Yorkers, lack of storage space is merely an irritating fact of urban life. For Ryan Patrick Zagata, founder of Brooklyn Cruiser bikes, it was the impetus for a venture with serious wheels.
The athletic, outgoing Syracuse native, 37, already had a mountain bike and a road bike crammed in his Williamsburg condo when he announced to his wife, Thea, that he wanted a third — something “comfortable” he could use for errands around the city he’d called home since 1997.
“She told me it was ridiculous,” recalls Zagata, then working in software sales for the finance industry. “But she made a deal with me: If I got rid of my two bikes, I could get another.”
Thus began his quest for the perfect ride: one that combined the durability of high-performance models with the comfort and laidback look of vintage styles.
A local search proved futile. But a month later, on a January 2011 trip to Japan, Zagata found himself surrounded by commuter bikes with upright handlebars, and realized they were “exactly what I was looking for.”
So struck was Zagata with the bike’s city-friendly style that he saw not just his ideal wheels, but also a way to fulfill his long-held entrepreneurial dreams. Before he even returned to the States, he started mapping out a business plan.
He called an American manufacturer to ask about getting a few prototypes made. And over drinks with Thea, who runs her own p.r. agency, he came up with a name and brand image based on Brooklyn’s hip, old-school charm.
Undeterred by his lack of knowledge of the bike industry (“I looked at it as something I could learn,” he says), Zagata set to work collaborating with a domestic manufacturer to create a comfortable, durable, vintage-inspired model designed with urban riders in mind.
In took half a year — and a few thousand dollars — before Zagata got his prototypes last summer, but as soon as he and Thea took them for a spin around the ’hood, getting “immediate positive feedback,” he knew he had a viable product.
“The more feedback I got, the more I thought, ‘Wow, this is something unique,’” Zagata says of his design, which features cream tires, ergonomic leather grips and rustic-chic wooden carrying crates.
Bolstered by the positive response, Zagata found a Chinese manufacturer that allowed him to keep retail prices under $500. And he launched a Web site where customers could buy the bikes, which were shipped from a New Jersey warehouse.
The business got a huge early boost from Thea’s marketing savvy, which resulted in high-profile coverage in the likes of Vanity Fair and Maxim.