Spotlight: Local bike shop owner enjoys the cycle of life

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ryan Baker was enjoying the peace and serenity of a bike ride, experiencing what he called a “nice, quieting feeling.” It was sometime last year, and he was biking down a gravel road east of Iowa City in “the middle of nowhere,” allowing himself to relax and listen to the rhythmic churning of his pedals and spinning of his wheels.

Then a dog attacked him.

The animal chased him off the road, and he flipped over his bike handles and broke his collarbone.

“That’s probably the worst crash I’ve had,” Baker said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to not have anything serious happen on a bike.”

Baker owns World of Bikes, an Iowa City cycling shop that started in 1974. After a childhood spent taking family bike trips, and a part-time job at a cycling shop during his high-school years, Baker began working at World of Bikes in 1993 as a University of Iowa student.

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Dan Nidey, then the store’s owner, was impressed by Baker’s knowledge of the industry and work ethic.

“There were only a few people who ever came through as employees that I thought could someday run my business,” Nidey said. “And [Baker] was one of them. He had the aptitude and the personality to do it.”

While Baker didn’t realize it yet, his time working at World of Bikes planted in his mind the idea that he could one day own his own shop. First, he moved out to Denver in search of what he called “a real job.” He spent a few months working for a concrete company.

But his eventual return to the bike-shop business was sealed when he wandered into a store called Treads Bicycle Outfitters.

“It just felt like home,” Baker said. “It was a family-owned store, close-knit atmosphere, it just felt right.”

Baker met the woman who became his wife, Erin, in Denver, and eventually they moved to Chicago. There, he received a call from Nidey, with whom he had maintained a friendship, asking if he had any interest in returning to Iowa City and taking over World of Bikes.

“Heck, yeah,” he said. Baker purchased the shop from Nidey in 2006.

For a year and a half, Nidey showed Baker how to run the business side of the store. Baker had tried to study business at Iowa, but ended up studying geology instead because it allowed him to spend more time outdoors.

Eventually, the business became easy enough for him to handle, and now Baker has a job he loves.

“He’s one of the lucky few whose hobby is his job,” Erin Baker said.

Not only his job revolves around cycling, however. He said he tries to get out for a “serious ride” two or three times a week. And when the weather permits, he rides a bike to and from work each day — “to get going in the morning and wind down at night,” he said.

He also is trying to teach his sons, 4 and 2 years old, how to bike.

“My 4-year-old is getting pretty good,” he said. “The next step is to lose the training wheels.”

Ryan Baker said the best thing about owning World of Bikes is the people he gets to work with. And Erin Baker said that’s part of what makes him a good owner.

“He’s a cyclist himself, so he knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “And he really cares about the product, and about the people he deals with.”

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