I started Cleary Bikes to give kids the tools to try cool stuff. My son started adventuring on his balance bike and now he jumps off Navy Destroyers. He’s twelve. I’m very proud.
My son didn’t jump on a bike, mind you. He’s a skateboarder. His balance bike and various pedal bikes he rode by 3 taught him coordination, self-confidence and a remarkable ability to roll off a fall unscathed as much as they taught him the mechanics of simply riding a bike. That’s what Cleary is about – empowering kids. Maybe it’s riding singletrack. Maybe it’s riding to piano lessons. Whatever they dream, they can ride to it.
What’s the full story behind Cleary Bikes?
In 2011, I was an avid cyclist, a divorced father of two energetic little boys, a semi-entrepreneur and an eternal optimist. I also like to tinker. I made ramps and jumps and teeter-totters for my boys to ride. In my front yard, I built a slack line and put a sign saying “Sure” next to it. (A lawyer friend ultimately took down the sign.)
One Sunday morning after breakfast out in San Francisco, my boys and I found ourselves strolling past a new bike retailer selling singlespeed city bikes in funky colors for $400. I’d spent hundreds of hours, and a lot more than $400, building and re-building bikes for my boys.
If this brand could offer their adult bikes at that price point, I figured I could make an amazing kids bike for no more. I asked the sales guy where the bikes were made and he politely refused to answer. Then, I spent 30 minutes calling everyone I knew in the bike industry and eight months calling all my friends’ follow up leads.
I told no one that I intended to make kids bikes, only that I was looking to make steel singlespeeds at an affordable price. Everyone told me I was nuts because the market was super-superduper-over-saturated and I had nothing to distinguish myself. I kept making calls.
After 18 months, I found a shockingly smart product manager who led me by the hand through the Taiwanese bike world. Again, no one understood us. “You want kids bikes?” Factories asked. “We’ve got kids bikes designs we’ve been making for decades.” Those were exactly the landfill junk motivating us to make our bikes.
Another year, and we finally found a factory who understood we wanted to make real bikes for little kids. They built samples. Unrideable. They built more samples. Not so bad. In April 2014, we went to Sea Otter in Monterey, California with the only eight Cleary Bikes in existence, and forty families bought bikes from us that weekend.
And that’s how it started.