Today’s installment in the Doing What You Love series features Jonathan Blyer – Owner of ACME Bicycle Co.
I first met Jonathan when I went to him for my first real bike fit. Despite the best efforts of my wife and me to go the “do-it-yourself” route, by my wife very patiently measuring different parts of my body countless times, then trying to make the measurements all make sense, it probably comes as no surprise when I tell you that my first road bike didn’t fit me well at all 😉
Jonathan took a very patient (and non-judgemental!) approach with me and was able to make some adjustments to my original bike to make it fit as well as it was going to fit me. He then recommended a few bike models and corresponding sizes that would be the right fit for me. That’s how I ended-up with my Cannondale Synapse, size 58, and I haven’t looked back since.
I hope you find Jonathan’s interview as inspiring as I have!
You can read more about Jonathan in his bio at the end of the interview.
Here’s my interview with Jonathan –
1 – What is it you do that you love?
I am a passionate person and I am very particular about the things that I take an interest in. Professionally, I am a bike fitter and a custom bike builder.
Bike fit is a field that has grown immensely in the last decade or so thanks to the cycling boom as well as advances in technology, which have allowed for a trickle down from the laboratory to the bike fit studio. On a daily basis I see people who are passionate cyclists and who are –
- Struggling with discomfort or injury
- Looking to find ways to improve their performance
- Looking to buy a new bike and need assistance sorting through all the options
Through a 2-3 hour process I optimize their bike ergonomics to their particular needs.
My clients also trust me to build custom bikes for them from time to time. This is my favorite part of my work since it allows the creative part of my brain to really build up something perfect and customized to their needs. These bikes fit perfectly, have exactly the right parts for the client’s needs and they look great. It is bicycle nirvana.
Aside from my career I love my family above all. I love riding my bicycles and my motorcycle. I love listening to classic and underground house music and going out dancing with my fiancé when we aren’t too tired, we fell in love on the dance floor after all. I love trying to make the perfect shot of espresso and taking photos of my cats and posting them on Instagram.
2 – How and when did you realize what it is you love to do?
I’ve loved working with my hands ever since I was a child. Legos were my preferred toy as a kid and then I became interested in building, fixing up and racing RC cars.
When I was in college I was the student leader of a competition to design, build and race a human powered vehicle which was basically a recumbent tricycle with an aerodynamic fairing. It was during this project that I first studied bike fit.
Our recumbent mimicked the racing position of road cyclists, only turned 90 degrees onto their back and it had provisions to adjust the seat position for riders of different heights. Through the same project I began riding regularly to get in shape for the competition which ultimately led to my interest in racing.
When I graduated college I started racing triathlon and as I became both more competitive and increasingly injured I became interested in professional bike fit.
3 – When did you decide to make a commitment to doing what you love? What does that commitment look like, e.g. full-time job, part-time hobby, etc.
Through my 20s, I held a full time job as a professional engineer and I had fits and starts with a small bike fitting business out of my apartment. Early in 2011, I was at a particularly low point personally; I hated my job and my marriage was beginning to fall apart.
I was out riding my bike one morning at some ungodly hour in the winter and I had a moment of clarity going down the hill in Prospect Park with the sun rising over the lake. I committed to making a leap and to do something for myself to make a change. If ‘YOLO’ (you only live once!) had been a tag line at the time I would have worn it on my forehead that day.
My mind went full steam ahead at that point, as I began planning. Five months later I incorporated ‘ACME Bicycle Company, LLC’, 5 months later my wife left me, 2 months later I met my now fiancé, 2 months later I took out a lease on what is now the home of ACME Bicycle Co., and 4 months after that, on April 1st 2012, I worked my last day for The Parsons Corporation. It was the best, worst, scariest and most exciting time of my life.
4 – How long have you been doing what you love?
It has been about 10 years now. I got my first bike fit certification in 2005 and also created my own road bike fitting protocol and methodology based on the writing of Keith Bontrager. That was really adequate for my home based side business but once I stepped it up and opened ACME I knew that I needed more to compete in today’s marketplace. I have since gained pretty much every certification that Retul has to offer and I’m continually trying to learn more to become the best fitter I can.
5 – What was the toughest decision you had to make when making a commitment to doing what you love?
There are tough decisions all the time, but the hardest one really was at the onset of everything. I was about two months from leaving my very comfortable corporate job and I think my old boss saw the writing on the wall that I was leaving. He gave me a really generous raise and promoted me to a Senior Mechanical Engineer, I am pretty sure that I was the youngest senior engineer in the firm at the time.
The decision was basically to choose the path of least resistance where I would definitely be paid better and have little professionally to worry about, or to throw it all away and to start something brand new that I love. I knew that money wasn’t my end goal, just happiness and a solid roof over my head, so the decision wasn’t terribly hard but certainly tempting.
I knew that if I failed at opening my own business that life would go on. I figured that I could probably go back to engineering and I could always move back in with my parents if things went really bad. My family was incredibly supportive when I went through that extremely turbulent time in my life and I am so thankful for their support.
6 – Was there a time that you had doubts about doing what you love? If so, how did or do you overcome those doubts and keep doing what you love?
I have them every day!
I have doubts that I’ll be able to make enough to contribute towards supporting my family. I have doubts that NYC will run out of people who need bike fits. I worry that I will make a mistake and someone won’t be happy with my service.
I overcome them all with the same thought process, I do the best I can each and every day. I treat others as I would want to be treated and I am completely honest with people.
The strategy has worked so far. Every year has been better than the last, people ask me to write articles and to offer professional advice and thankfully I don’t think I have too many unhappy customers.
7 – What are some of the things you enjoy most about doing what you love?
My favorite times at work are when someone comes in with a long list of complaints about their current situation and through the use of my advice and tooling, we are able to mitigate them all. I love seeing the look on their faces when they get on their bike after I have made all the changes.
I love working with female cyclists (in a non-creepy way). Their needs are often really neglected by the bike industry, they aren’t treated seriously in your typical bike shop and ‘women’s specific’ products are a joke for the most part. The female anatomy is way less easily compatible with riding a race bike than the male’s, getting it right just can take much more time and focus on detail which is where I feel that I excel.
I am a gadget guy, so I love that fact that my career let’s me first fit someone using Retul 3d motion capture on top of the Guru robotic fitting bike, then I can custom design a frame for them and 4-8 weeks later I build this handmade carbon fiber bicycle with things like Dura Ace Di2 components, hydraulic disc brakes, power meters and all the aerodynamic tid-bits that’s are fashionable these days.
I also like wearing jeans and sneakers to work, that’s pretty sweet.
8 – Do you have any advice for people who are struggling with making a commitment to doing what they love, even if they know they want to make the commitment?
Yes, have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. Ask others for help and take it one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your plan. Nothing in life that is rewarding is easy to come by. Human beings tend to be goal oriented, if you set a goal for yourself to get somewhere professionally or personally you will find joy in overcoming the bullsh*t you have to encounter along the way.
I heard a great saying a few months ago that really stuck with me, it goes something like this:
‘Human behavior is only changed by one of three things, pain, fear or ambition; which box do you want to check?”
9 – Is there anything else you’d like to add about doing what you love?
Tap into your biggest needs and desires. What is your deepest longing? What does it feel like? Start to imagine not only the thing or the job or the activity that you want to achieve, but the feeling you seek that is associated with it.
When we begin on a path towards progress we imagine the end goal to look a certain way. Oftentimes, due to external circumstances, combined with changes that take place within us and around us, the result of our efforts looks very different from what we first imagined. Always stay connected to your deepest desire and aim to get more and more clear about what that feeling is.
Here’s Jonathan’s Bio –
Jonathan Blyer is the owner of ACME Bicycle Co., one of the country’s leading bike fit and custom bicycle studios. Jonathan is an experienced cyclist and triathlete, he raced at a fairly competitive level for the better part of the last 10 years and he still rides regularly with the Prospect Peloton crowd.
Jonathan is a Brooklyn, New York native, having spent his whole life in Kings County with the exception of 4.5 years at the University of Delaware, where he graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Blyer worked as a Mechanical Engineer for about 8 years designing gears, shafts, bearings and structural elements for movable bridges. He still holds his Professional Engineering license in case this whole ‘doing what you love’ thing doesn’t work out. Blyer lives in park slope with his fiancé, stepdaughter and 2 cats. You can also find Jonathan on Instagram.