Speedplay’s founder rides obsession to success

Richard Bryne, the man that gave us Speedplay. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

The year was 1991. Richard Bryne thought he had a really good pedal design, so he took it to various companies in hopes that someone would bring it to market.

22 companies turned him down. Not to be dissuaded, Bryne, a self-professed incessant tinkerer, decided to build the pedals himself.

Moving the locking mechanism onto the cleat, miniaturized, dual-side entry, and an unrestricted free float that was unheard at this point. It was a radical design.

The Speedplay X pedal and its now iconic lollipop-shape was born. It would be interesting to hear what those 22 companies that turned down Bryne feel about the idea now.

The first production run was only about a 100 pairs of pedals. A pretty modest start. Today, the San Diego-based company, offers 10 different pedals (not counting axle materials and color ways), catering to the needs of the platform-loving gravity crowd as well as the WorldTour racers winning stages in the Tour De France.

Speedplay has come a long, but Richard continues to be the guy behind all of the R&D while his wife, Sharon, a former clerk for the Florida Supreme Court, handles the daily operations as the president of the company.

Here’s Richard answering our question in his own words.

So what do you really do for work?

Well, let’s give credit where credit’s due here. Sharon runs Speedplay. She is the brains behind the organization and the hiring, the H and the R. She handles almost all of the business activities of the company which leaves me free to either do nothing or be really creative.. I choose to consider it being creative. Sometimes it looks like I’m doing nothing. But we’ve made it work with a left-brain, right-brain type of arrangement where she’s really good at some things and I’m maybe really good at a really narrow band of something. Somehow we’ve made it work.

You mentioned you made the first Turbo Trainer prior to creating speedplay… How was that progression from turbo trainer to pedals?

Yes. The other thing that I did was the very first aerobar back in 1984 so I predated anything anybody else did. I tried to promote the idea or sell the idea and I just couldn’t find anybody that was interested in it at the time. I think a lot of the product, or the success of products is timing. You have to be on target when you introduce things. Sometimes timing is not right. The other thing that I did years ago pre-Speedplay was promoting these bikes that had a geometry that put the rider in a position for better aerodynamics and for time trialing.

It was called Scepter Bicycle Company. Bill Holland, who runs Holland Cycles, and I started that in I believe 19. Gosh, I’d have to go back but I think it was 1985.

We were trying to push the idea of it being more bimechanically and aerodynamically efficient back then and I’m telling you, we just could not convince people that there was an advantage to it and now if you look at time trial bikes, every single company produces the geometry position that we were pushing in 1985. It was until the triathlon world came along and when time trialing became a really valuable part of stage racing. America got more interested in international racing rather than in criteriums and one day road races. It was never going to find a home in this country.

How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Well, I think I got lucky because in the early days, I was a bike racer just like everybody else was a bike racer. But I got influenced by this aerodynamic movement that happened back when I started racing human powered vehicles around 1979. The focus there was purely aerodynamics, so people were building machines trying to set the world record on how fast a human could go.

I was involved in this community of engineers that were trying to make machines that were more efficient than the bicycle. The bicycle had kind of hit the limit of how fast you could go on it. And people were trying to see if you could go further if you broke the rules of what the UCI was saying was legal.

There were no rules. It was just who can propel a wheeled vehicle the fastest for 200 meters with a runout.

I was just like everybody else, time trialing and racing and everything. Then all of a sudden, I got in this machine that allowed me to go 25 miles an hour faster than I could go on my bicycle. I realized that aerodynamic barrier is huge… You don’t really notice it until you get into something that doesn’t have the same resistance and with the same motor. I was able to go 25 miles an hour faster than I could on my bike and I realized this aerodynamic thing is for real.

And I think maybe I was introduced to that world before a lot of other people were. So, as a bike racer, I started thinking how can I take some of the advantage that I was learning about aerodynamics in this racing world that I’m in part-time and transfer that to my regular racing bike.

You must have an engineering background then.

No, I’ve got no background in engineering whatsoever. I was simply just a tinkerer, and a bike racer looking for an edge. I think everybody’s always looking for an edge but I was really seeing if there was any way that I could do something… I like to think of myself as lazy, I don’t want to do anymore work than I have to get to the finish line.

That’s pretty unique.

I like to think I have the best job in the world because I can dream of things and I now have the capability to make the ideas that I have into a product. The way I look at products is that I use myself as sort of the test case. If I can make something that works better for me, then I have an opportunity to share it with others. And if it really makes a difference for me, I’m hoping that it will help other people make riding more enjoyable.

The double-sided pedal was a big example of that. I thought, you know, clipless pedals are already here so is there an opportunity to make them better where beginners don’t have to fumble to get them in at traffic lights?

Are you an uphill kinda guy or downhill kinda guy?

Downhill kinda guy.

Explaining his creation. All of it. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Explaining his creation. All of it. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Describe your product in four words:

High quality, high performance.

Your idea of a perfect holiday:

78 degrees, dry, at the beach. I love the water and I’m drawn to the water wherever I go.

One thing people don’t know about you… besides the reverse trackstand:

I was born outside the U.S. My mother’s Irish, my father’s American, I was born in Caracas, Venezuela.

If you were an animal in the wild, what would you be?

A badger. I don’t take any shit off anybody. They do their own thing.

How many golf balls can one fit in a school bus?

74 million. What kind of school bus are you talking about… A Blue Bird 73, a Top Flight or Nike? Are we putting any in the gas tank?

Where do you envision pedals to be like ten years from now?

You’ll have to wait and see.

Customizable stack heights! Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Favorite restaurants in San Diego:

Ken Sushi Workshop.

Are you a morning person or a night person?

I used to be a morning person, I’m more of a day person now.

Where do you get your design inspirations from?

The industrial revolution.

With bicycle parts, the collection that I have basically goes from the early days when the bicycle was invented to about the 1970s when it became a global commodity. There were incremental changes but I don’t think there’s been a whole lot since the 70’s that’s been a huge change.

But during the golden years of cycling, when France and Italy and even in the U.S., there were some really creatives that a lot of people don’t even know about but they were inspirational. Pino Moroni the Italian; Valentino Campagnolo, the guy behind Simplex derailleurs; there were guys that were making really novel, interesting stuff. Rene Heres the Frenchmen.

I remember when I first started seeing these really high quality bicycle parts and they were really inspirational to me and I thought, you know, I’d love to be in the business of making that thing that when you play with ’em you can see and feel the quality in them.

Those meant a lot to me.

Now, I look back at the industrial revolution, whether it was in Europe or in the United States, the products that people made had their passion and love. It’s sort of like they’re artistically made and they’re beautifully built. I’m inspired by that even today and I still try to buy those designs of people that made beautiful things.

Richard pointing out the design details on the Syzr cleats. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Where do you find them?

Flea markets, antique stores, strange places. People don’t make this kind of stuff like they used to where it’s meant to last for four or five years and then be thrown out. I love to see that here… built to last.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I discovered that I was best in cycling

Isabelle Beckers
Isabelle Beckers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Racing in her fifth year as a professional and in her fourth season for UCI Women’s World Tour team Lotto Soudal LadiesIsabelle Beckers had a comparatively late, yet speedy foray into professional bike racing due to injuries from competitive track and field and many friends telling her, “Just do the same.” The former Belgium 400 meter track star and physical education teacher got her first start in triathlons because “I could ride my bike, I could still do some running, and I could do some swimming,” she explained.

After two years of racing triathlons and working full-time as a pharmaceutical sales rep, she eventually found her true calling.

“I discovered that I was best in cycling. I was like, ‘Okay. I’m 29 now. It’s now or never.’ So I decided to go 100% for cycling.”

Today, aside from her day job racing and pulling domestique duties for her teammates, the multi-talented Beckers works as a curator for La Ridley, a women’s cycling community founded by Ridley where one can read up on a wide variety of topics ranging from everyday questions such as how to fix a flat tire, to stories inside the pro peloton.

How long have you been riding for Lotto-Soudal? How long have you been racing?

I’ve been racing for five years and this is my fourth season with Lotto-Soudal.

Your most memorable race: 

Gent-Wevelgem two years ago. It wasn’t really rainy, but there was so much wind that we felt it in our arms because we were leaning into the wind. It was such a hard race because we were fighting the wind constantly, and you would see girls getting dropped the whole time and then just get off their bikes, so we were like “Lotto-Soudal, okay, that’s another one. And then another one, and then another.”

We were like the last ones.

That was such a cool experience also because I had my teammate with me. We were the last ones in the race because they (the commissaires) were taking everybody out. Everybody got dropped. There were riders all over the place and she was the one telling me, “Isabelle, keep eating. Keep drinking. We can do it. We can do it.” And I was like, “Okay Anouk (Rijff), that’s great.” After that she was the one being very hungry and couldn’t do it anymore.

We didn’t drop (each other). We did a time trial until the finish. (Only 65 riders out of a field of 169 finished the race- Ed.)

Biggest challenge as a professional cyclist:

The biggest challenge would be getting selected for races like the big classics… And really finish them and do a real good job.

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Uphill or downhill?

Uphill.

Your speciality and main role at Lotto-Soudal:

I try to specialize in Time Trials. I don’t have enough explosive power to be a sprinter. But I can ride really hard for a longer time. I am 183cm tall which makes me too heavy to be a good climber even when I’m very skinny. But I absolutely love climbing certainly the longer climbs where I can ride tempo and be the ‘busdriver.’

My job at the team is mostly to be a helper/domestique. And if I get the chance to be in an early break, I can grab it.

What’s on your playlist when you’re warming up for a time trial?

Dance music, like Tomorrow Land kind of music.

Favorite place to ride in Europe?

I have never done it but I would love to do the Stelvio.

Any recommendation if I was to visit Belgium tomorrow:

Oudenaarde. Because that is really the center of cycling. That is the center of Tour Flanders. Right there.

Do you see any difference in the cycling culture between the US and its European counterpart?

The difference I could experience so far is indeed that in the US, people are very serious about their cycling. Training with coaches, schedules, powermeters, newest tech. All the racing on the road and even on the track. I was impressed! Even in every age group!

In Europe the amateurs ride their bikes in a less professional way. Power meters you can only find with the pro riders at the moment. What you do see over here is a rising trend in granfondo’s, triathlons etc. The real endurance stuff. People want to make it to the finish line but the result isn’t that important.

I’ve been told that you’re also a talented artist, a Renaissance woman type:

To say that I am an artist, is a bit over the top, I reckon. I wish I had more time to draw. I work with crayons because I like the texture it gives.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:

A lot of nature, adventure. I don’t really like resorts. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl.

Your spirit animal:

I was with the girl scouts and there they give you an animal name during your last year. I was a swallow. They say they’re artistic fliers or something.

What about a favorite meal?

Meatballs with tomato sauce, together with warm cherries, cherry sauce and mashed potatoes with no gravy.

First thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

Just go to a very beautiful island.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Fly.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Is it a Belgian school bus? 10,582,361.

What is a coffee ride and what do you do when you’re on one?

I’m very good at coffee rides… It’s just riding a little bit and drinking coffee most of the time. We ride much slower than most of the tourists in a coffee ride. It goes really slow, it’s not doing serious stuff because we do that all the time. We look forward to doing coffee rides. It really is part of training and it’s just a day that you can really enjoy bike riding.

One embarrassing fact people don’t know about you: 

I basically fell over my first race bike with clipless pedals the first time I hopped on it. My dad was standing there and he brings up that story every time in every race or whatever- whoever he is talking with… Another thing also with pedals.  I was lost during our training camp. So we had to stop at a red light and I was all being cool… So I just grabbed a car who was also waiting at the red light, but they had green before me. I nearly fell while the whole team was there.

What would you like to see/improve in terms of women racing and cycling?

What I would like to see improved in cycling in general, is safety.

On the road and in the races. Do you know that team leaders and staff don’t even need a first aid certification to do their job? They are the first arriving at a crash during a race! To me this is just crazy. It’s not even mandatory to have a first aid kit in the team bus/car. We take so many risks during a race but if something goes wrong it could really go wrong.

The accident of Stig Broeckx is the perfect example. The ambulance following that day wasn’t even checked before the race. I think first aid courses should be followed by the staff of every single team and every year to be able to get a race license.

Women’s cycling could use more professionalism. That all starts with more TV-coverage or media attention. This way sponsors are more interested and budgets could rise. And wouldn’t it be great if it would be mandatory to have a women’s team next to every men’s team at the Pro Tour or World Tour level? They have huge budgets and could make it possible for every girl to get at least a minimal wage. Maybe I’m not thinking realistic but it’s not wrong to dream, right?

Anything else you would like to add about your job as a cyclist and as an ambassador at La Ridley our readers should know about?

Anything is possible. I’m proof that where there is will, there is a way.

Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops
Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly