Ride to Remember: Cyclists come together to celebrate Rydjor Bike’s 50th year

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

It was a great day for a bike ride. It was a great day to celebrate 50 years.

That’s what over 100 cyclists did Saturday evening when they took to bikes, both modern and historic, to ride for Rydjor Bike Shop’s 50th anniversary. Beneath a bright sunny sky the riders headed downtown for a stop at the Austin ArtWorks Festival where they were recognized. They then took off out of downtown and continued through a short route that brought them back to the shop for pizza and memories.

“We had a great time,” said Pat Geraghty, owner of Rydjor Bike. “The people, they are all part of Rydjor. It’s almost like they are part owners of the business.”

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One of Saturday’s stops was at the spot where Geraghty and Dan Ulwelling first opened up their business, across from Hoot & Ole’s Tavern, formerly known as Smitty’s. It was one of four locations the shop would call home over the five decades.

It was also what the pair considered to be a labor of love. They started Rydjor with little to no experience – both in the running of a business and the product sold.

“We were not cyclists when we opened the store,” Geraghty said. “We raced motorcycles. We were 21 years old, racing motorcycles and we wanted to open a motorcycle shop. Suzuki actually.”

However, Suzuki required the pair to have $50,000 in reserve before they would grant them a store, money they didn’t have.

Geraghty said the idea for a bicycle shop came when they were in the Twin Cities and saw how many people were riding 10-speed bikes around. The  idea still didn’t stray too far from motorcycles.

“Let’s open this place so we can work on our motorcycles,” Geraghty said laughing.

They opened in 1973, moving for the first time to where Sterling Bank is today in 1978. Another move in 1980 brought the shop to Main Street and another move in 1984 saw Rydjor settle into its current location.

Through all the inexperience, moves and more, Geraghty said the pair never lost sight of just how fortunate they were to garner the support they have enjoyed to this day.

“We said over the years how blessed we were to open a bike shop,” Geraghty said. “You make lifelong friends. It’s a healthy business to be in.”

Just before the group left for their ride Saturday, they began gathering out behind the business for a picture in front of what has become an iconic piece of art in Austin. It features Tour de France winner — Greg LaMond.

Ulwelling was a fan of the champion cyclist and it was in Ulwelling’s memory the mural was painted after his passing in 2006.

It’s been 17 years since Ulwelling’s passing, something that gave Geraghty pause as we thought about it.

“It’s been that long?” he mused.

Prior to that, Geraghty left the business to pursue a career in chemical engineering in Minneapolis. Ulwelling ran the store up until his passing.

“I made a promise to Dan that I would keep the shop open as long as I possibly could,” Geraghty said. “He was known and loved by everyone.”

Saturday was more than just the ride though. While many chose to ride their own bikes, still others had the opportunity to ride the vintage bikes displayed in Rydjor.

The collection of older bikes was started early in the business’ life and had become a passion of Ulwelling’s.

A large majority of them in the collection, which includes a 1969 Schwinn Lemon Peeler and a bike owned by comedian Robin Williams, hadn’t been ridden in over 30 years, but on the day of the ride, Geraghty said they all worked beautifully.

“We’ve had those bikes for years,” he said. “It turned out so well. We had a number of people say you need to do this more often.”

“It was so cool,” he continued. “They become living things when you ride these bikes. It’s just not a collection hanging from the ceiling.”

In some ways, the ride itself was held quietly on a busy weekend in Austin as several events competing for people’s attention. But for the riders, it was a perfect way to honor a bike shop that has become a part of many people’s lives.

Geraghty is cognizant of the impact and recognizes the business as more of a partnership within a larger family dynamic.

“It just showed how long lasting the relationships are with your customers,” Geraghty said. “Rydjor isn’t one person. It’s everyone. I feel like they are partners and they are friends.”

“Fifty years and being able to still do this and be able to do it with my customers, customers who are my friends, is hard to believe,” Geraghty continued. “It’s like ‘wow.’ As we were riding … people would stop and smile.”

Geraghty said he hopes that type of relationship can continue into the next half century.

“I hope the next 50 years for Rydjor are as good as the first 50 were,” he said simply. “It’s our employees and our customers. I think the main message about Rydjor over all of these years is we’ve gotten to be where it is because of employees and our customers.”