Here at StreetRide we were lucky enough to be able to speak with the main man behind Union Street Bikes- Ron. This is a fantastic interview with him, so grab a beer, coffee, what ever and put your feet up and enjoy.
Hey Don! Please tell us a bit about yourself?
Well, I just turned 41 so getting up there in age. I’m married (for 14 years) and have 3 kids from 12 down to 6 years of age. I live in NJ but grew up in MA. Besides loving bikes I play some ice hockey, snowboard and trying to fix my Landie Defender 90. Looking to start surfing next year as the kids love it and it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.
The bike bug/obsession/love-hate relationship/way of life started when I bought an issue of Bicycle Motocross Action in April of 1980. Tinker Juarez was on the cover riding Lakewood concrete skatepark out in CA. He was airing so high that as a 9 year old I just had to check it out. Soon after that my POS Huffy started getting new parts and by 1982 I was racing BMX at the local track on a slightly less POS Columbia. Massachusetts had a solid BMX scene (actually most of New England did) and my parents had a number of acres of woods where I could just built ramps and jumps in the “back”. So needless to say I was able to ride a lot. And back then it was ride freestyle or jumps during the week, maybe do some gate starts and sprints and then race on the weekends.
This kept up to about ’88 when I went up to Vermont for college.
No need for a BMX bike so I ended up getting a Specialized mountain bike for there. I soon beat it up pretty well but I had a ton of fun exploring the woods and city of Burlington with it. After college I got pretty heavy into MTN biking. That was more XC trail riding and not what it is today with so many disciplines. Lots of fun especially having that BMX background but something was always missing – sure wish 24” & 26” DJ/Park bikes and riding were around then.
Around ’96 I met a BMX’er in the local woods, here in NJ, while on a XC mountain bike ride. It was Dan Johnson and he told me about some DJ trails in the next town over. I still had my Profile 24” BMX race cruiser at the house and got it back running and stopped by those trails. I ended up eventually meeting the locals, Angel and Mike, and before I knew it the XC bike was used a lot less and the 24” was getting some riding time. I was squirrelly as hell and the jumps of that time were bigger and more tech than stuff from the 80’s but I was having a lot of fun.
So that was about 15 years ago. Bike wise I went from different 24” cruisers and 20” BMX bikes for a while until moving to some 26” bikes – like the Brooklyn Park and Azoinc DS-1 at the beginning of 2000. That was the beginning of the26” DJ/Park era with the Spooky Metalhead leading the charge. At the same time the family and work were taking a load of time. Not great for riding but I would try to get to the trails as much as possible and ride as often as I could. Around ’04 or ’05 I had all these ideas and wanted to see if I could get something going on my own. Talked to Chris at Thick Bikes and had a proto done. I rode that for a bit and wanted some changes and got a 2nd proto done by Steve at Brew. That bike felt great and I had the name of Bank Bikes ready to go but I put things on hold as other things were taking much time and I felt I couldn’t have done it as well as I wanted right then.
Mike and I took a class at Brew on how to build frames in the fall of 2009. We both had an interesting time – learned some do’s and do not’s. At the very least, it got the wheels turning where we were thinking we could do some frame building of our own. Then Lee and I were in contact and I bought the USB brand off them in 2010. Since then Mike has done a number of 20” BMX frames as well as some chainwheels and other projects.
I am not a pro rider and never have been one. I did pretty good at BMX racing when I was much younger but I am just a guy that love riding bikes – either with my friends or with someone new. I want to use all the years of riding and buying bikes combined with the great designs that Lee and Sean started, add some of our flavor to it, and put out some great product from Union Street Bikes.
When was Union Street Bikes created?
USB was started by Lee Herge and Sean Meyers back in 2005. This was around the time Ray’s Cleveland was getting going and they had a good “test” area and great input from riders like Joe Prizel to create the Molly Maguire. I bought a frame from the first batch and immediately loved it. This was when I was trying to get something going with Bank Bikes. A year or so ago (2010), Lee contacted me and asked if I was interested in purchasing the names and designs of Union Street Bikes. I was, so we put something together and that is where things are right now.
Did you always want to run your own bike company?
Yes, ever since I was a young kid riding BMX I wanted to. I would read issues of BMX Action and just get so into the ads and tests they did. I would copy drawings from the great Bob Haro and Andy Jenkins and draw tracks and bikes all during school. My dad was always working on cars and trucks so I would be around and handing wrenches and helping out so I just grew up in a mechanical environment.
When it came time to fix my bike, he’d usually say – “there are the wrenches – go figure it out”. I even had a name for “my company” – IRP for Innovative Racing Products. Back then many of the names of many of the BMX companies were acronyms: GT, GJS, JMC, CYC, GHP. When college came and after graduation trying to figure out how to make a living and the thought of building bikes at the time did not seem like it would get very far. But I am at different point in my life right now and still have that dream and all those ideas that I would love to get done.
Union Street Bikes is a relatively new brand to UK riders. Can you give riders an insight into your bikes/frames?
First off, I have to say I love what comes out of the UK in terms of the amount of bike activity for a relatively small area. There are some very talented riders that come out of your country which is rad. As far as insight – we at Union Street Bikes will be looking to put out the best product we can. I know it has been a long while since the last batch of new frames were available but I am a pretty picky person and rather take a long time versus just banging it out. It would be a lot easier to send some designs over to Asia but I think there are still people that want a top US made product.
I just want to put out stuff that works and will last. And most importantly gives the rider that stoked feeling every time they go out and put their hands on the grips. Loading the WCH on the back of the truck I get the same feeling I had as a kid getting the Hutch loaded up for a race. Psyched on how the bike looks and knowing it will feel good riding it. I’m looking to recreate that feeling for anyone that buys a USB frame.
You have some great riders in the team, are you looking to expand the Union Street team?
I would love to. First, I would like to get some frames – both the Mollys and WCH – done and then add some riders that can help further dial in the designs. I just heard from Vance and he has been riding all summer and kicking ass in DH. Once I get another WCH, it will go over to him for testing. I also have a bunch of buddies that I’ve been riding with for many many years that help out with a lot of things. They’ve been around long enough so when they see something lame they know right off the bat. They aren’t the type of rider that will be doing t-whips or bunny 360’s but they all have a ton of knowledge from over the years seeing different trends come and go. They are life-long riders – the type of people that can’t get riding out of their system and want a bike that just works.
You’re also a rider, what’s your favourite discipline?
Trails. I have been riding them for so long, I just don’t know any better, haha. For me trails has so many different things going on – one day the places are dry and running super fast – or after some rain things slow down a bunch. You could be there by yourself for hours working on a landing or spend a day taking laps with a bunch of your crew. It can be crummy as hell one week and smooth and mint the next. I even enjoy things like hearing the birds or watching the trees in when the wind is going crazy. IDK, it’s just a good feeling being in the woods. Trails can be the most frustrating type of riding and there are times I just want to throw a shovel and my
bike and walk out but when they are working well, there is no better thing to ride.
But I’m not 100% trails (maybe 95%, haha) I do love to ride bikes in different settings and types. I think that’s the best thing about bikes – you can go from a simple fixed gear bike that can haul ass thru the city to a big full squish DH rig with a ton of tech parts that can haul ass thru steep mucky trail. I don’t think there is any other activity or sport with as much diversity available.
Winter is coming so hopefully I can ride more park at the indoor spot and I am always hoping to get a trip to Ray’s. I am an awful street rider but I do love just to hop on the bike and try stuff in my driveway or down the road. I like riding the fixed gear to the beach or into town. And riding the full sussy bike on XC trail is fun especially when you add manuals and little airs to it. Wish I had time for some DH as I love watching it and hearing stories from my DH buddies.
What are you most proud of?
Straight off it has to be my family. As crazy as the day is, having my sons and daughter and my wife, at the end of it, is amazing. And seeing my kids ride their bikes and just having funs cannot be beat. As far as riding, I would have to say our little scene here in NJ. The guys I ride with are the best – riding with the same crew for 15 years is a real good feeling.
Building trails, driving to other spots, talking shit while hanging on the deck or roll-in and of course riding lines – you just get to know them. We may not have a place like Catty or Posh but I’m more than extremely proud of it. And of course I am proud of Union Street. I cannot wait to get more frames done and more people stoked on riding them.
What are the future plans for Union Street Bikes?
I want to get frames done right away. I have been talking with FTW and will be getting a proto 26” WCH done soon. I visited his shop in Vermont over the summer and I could tell right off the bat how much knowledge he has. He is a legend and what is really cool is that he has done it all – XC, DH, DJ, BMX. So I’m guessing there is not much he hasn’t seen or done. With his knowledge and with what we have with the WCH already, I think we will be coming up with something very nice. Additionally, I will be working on getting some in-house production done.
My good friend Mike Maloney has been welding frames and is a fabricator by trade. He does some really nice work and has been riding bikes forever so he has a bunch of great ideas and is always thinking “how can that be improved?” So between the two of us I’d like to get something going with the Molly’s and most likely 20” customs. Maybe a 22” or 24” cruiser to get back to my roots, haha. A 16” and 18” for the mini-shredders after seeing my kids ride. I always have something in my head that I would like to try. But first things first – new Molly’s and WCH’s!
Will Union Street Bikes ever come to the UK? If they are where can get one!?
Once we get a batch of frames done, I would love to sell to riders in the UK. I would like to stay direct to customer sales as with the smaller batch counts it works better. I know it’s hard not being able to test or even look at a product before buying. I have purchased some mountain bike frames and then build them up and wasn’t too keen on it. I would love to work on a demo program but need to sort out how it would work.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions… Just before we finish would you like to give any shout outs?
Alex @ Shore Cycles – awesome guy and one of the smoothest and most stylish riders out there. I wonder if people that buy parts and bikes from him know how good of a rider he is. Garret @ Kranky Cycles – always helping me out over the years. Ron, Paul, Hardy, Dave, Dylan and the rest of the iRide crew and locals up in the Stowe VT – like my 2nd home – super sick network of XC trail up there. All those guys ride and work hard. Mickey and the crew at Spooky – so psyched for what they are doing with the Spooky brand and running out of the Western MA area. Frank the Welder – I shake my head every time I correspond with him – it feels weird to be working with such a legend – insanely cool feeling.
Most of all – the locals I ride with as much as possible: Alex, Mike, Angel, Frank, Butters, Hoff, John, Builder Bob, Miller, Lobster John, newcomer Rafal and Margaret. Great bunch of guys – always feels great after a ride or dig session with them. Last but not least – my family – always there for me and always motivating me – they are the best!
And thanks Matt and you guys at streetride.co.uk for letting me answer some questions and letting me run on with my mouth/keyboard. It’s websites like yours that are the modern day ‘zines that help people keep up with riding. Best!