The Ravello Travel Bicycle
I expected Brian Myers to ride up to our meeting place in downtown Globe in full cyclist’s regalia: skin-tight Lycra spandex in dayglo colors, a cycling helmet, and, of course, the requisite wrap-around sunglasses.
He would be riding—no doubt—his unique bicycle called the Ravello Travel Bike that can be completely taken apart, packed neatly into a 26” x 26” x 10” suitcase, then shipped as checked luggage and reassembled anywhere in the world an owner might care to ride.
I was surprised, then, to see an unassuming guy arrive on a white, generic-looking bicycle dressed more-or-less like me, with a loose fitting shirt, khaki shorts and a pair of Keen sandals. “I found this bike on Craigslist for $120,” he told me, clearly happy with the price he paid. It was a ladies bike, what Brian called a “step over,” and he said it had inspired him to build a bike like it for touring.
Touring, in bicyclists’ jargon, is not racing, but over-the-road biking, ranging from weekend rides to the long distance equivalent of backpacking on wheels. As Brian would explain over the next few hours, his 40-year passion for bicycles includes both riding and building them, starting as a teen in California in the 1970s.
Coming to Globe
With a population turnover rate that’s only slightly higher than that of your average penitentiary, the first question to ask someone who settles in Globe is: How did you make your way here?
It was a circuitous route, he explained, starting in northern California, followed by the San Diego area where he and his wife ran bike shops for 12 years. By 2008, the traffic and population growth in San Diego had exploded, and he was becoming more concerned about bicycling on roads full of distracted drivers with their handheld devices.
“We can continue to ride bicycles here until one of us gets killed or hurt, or we can be proactive and get out before something happens.”
They chose Albuquerque, but the winters were too cold. After a year and a half, they left for Tucson, where—you guessed it—they found the summers oppressively hot.
Finally, they gave Globe a try, and after three years, they seem to have found a good fit. Winter here can be crisp and nippy, but it’s amenable to outdoor pursuits, and the summers are a far cry from the extremes of Phoenix and Tucson.
What’s even better? “The road cycling here is off the charts fantastic,” Brian tells me with zest, particularly on SR 188, with its low traffic volume and wide shoulders. “Sometimes when I start at Judy’s Cook House, it feels like I’m riding on an abandoned airport runway,”
He leverages this sweetheart of a road by coordinating the Arizona Bicycle Classic each October. This ride features a choice of three different routes from 28 miles to 78 miles in length that all begin and end at Jake’s Corner Bar and Grill near the junction with State Route 87. Last year 80 riders participated, but he’d like to attract a lot more.
How it all began
Brian raced bicycles during the 1970s and 80s, achieving notable status racing one-speed track bicycles 30 – 40 times a year against contemporaries like the great Greg LeMond at the velodrome in San Jose, California. He rode the challenging 400-mile San Diego Christmas Ride, and in 1986, pedaled 4,600 miles in 6 weeks from San Francisco to Atlanta with a quick side trip to Michigan.
He is a certified welder, and his internship as a bicycle mechanic in numerous bike shops in both northern and southern California set him up with the skills to eventually run his own bike shops.
Oddly enough, Brian’s first custom frames weren’t for single riders, but for the kind that hold two riders at one time, known as a tandem.
Former couples call this type of bike the “marriage buster,” because riding it requires a level of sustained and synchronized cooperation that exacerbates individual differences. Marital bliss can be shattered by something as simple as deciding who’s in front. Shouting matches ensue. Selfies have fake smiles. Tandems lie abandoned on lonely stretches of highway.
But Brian and his wife passed the tandem litmus test and found they were well suited to pedaling in tandem on a tandem. “We were having a blast on it,” he told me. They bought one tandem, then another, and another, but because he is 5’ 6” tall and his wife a bit shorter, none of them were the ideal size and geometry they were looking for.
“I know how to weld, and I’m sick of having tandems that don’t fit us,” Brian declared in December of 1999. So he ordered a tube set (the raw material for building a bicycle frame from scratch) and built his first tandem frame. He went on to build dozens more.
The original name he chose for his bicycles was Speed King, but buyers balked at a name that reminded them of their washing machine.
“There are a lot of classy Italian bikes,” he thought. So he purchased a $3 map of Italy and looked for a name with the right cachet that hadn’t yet been claimed by any other brand. He considered Santorini, but settled on Ravello, a picturesque town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, just south of Naples.
To cut up a perfectly good bicycle seems like a totally crazy idea, but in 2002, a customer requested that Brian do just that. Brian sliced that bike into parts and welded on commercially available stainless steel couplers that allowed the bike to be taken apart and reassembled. It was precision work, and as word of his expertise spread, more riders trusted Brian to cut up and retrofit their expensive bikes.
This technique worked fine for frames made of steel, but what about bikes that were built with much lighter Aluminum tubing? Welding steel couplers to aluminum tubes is like breeding dogs with cats, so he was forced to devise a new solution.
In 2006, Brian patented a system that uses lightweight aluminum junctions of his own design that could be precisely welded to aluminum tubing—then assembled and disassembled, of course—and the Ravello Travel Bike was born. Everything, including the wheels, fits inside one compact suitcase that rolls on its own tiny wheels.
This new bike design was a major coup, but a 15-foot fall from a ladder that same year broke both of his heels and kept him completely off his feet for three and a half long months. “My legs really atrophied down,” he remembers, so much so that he had to learn to walk again.
The Walk Aid Scooter
As a veteran athlete, Brian’s long recovery was particularly frustrating. He endured many years of lingering pain, two follow-up surgeries, and the loss of mobility that came with it all.
What if he could design an assistive device that improved on an unsteady, wobbly cane, but was less ungainly and restricting than a bulky wheelchair? How about a lightweight aluminum scooter with 12” wheels and a comfortable seat and handlebars that can be easily pushed through bedroom doorways and between grocery store aisles?
He built a prototype of this design in 2009 for his own use and loved it. He thought others could benefit, too, so he had another 100 manufactured, branding it as the Walk Aid Scooter. They were popular, so much so that he sold through all of them. They’re still in demand, but the previous company he used folded, and he is currently looking for a new manufacturer.
Brian Myers has recovered from his injuries and returned to being the avid bicyclist he once was. As of this writing, he and his wife are riding a pair of custom made Ravello bicycles through the canyon country of Utah. But he has yet to visit the Italian town that gave his bicycles their name.
“Someday,” he confided, as we ended our interview, “I have to get a photo of me in Ravello with my Ravello bike.”
I’m sure he’ll eventually get that chance—as long as he packs the right suitcase.
Ravello Travel Bike www.ravellobikes.com
Walk Aid Scooter http://www.walkaidscooter.com/
Arizona Bicycle Classic http://www.arizonabicycleclassic.com/