What It Took Me to Get a Job in the Bike Industry

Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything for the blog – coming up on three months, in fact – but that’s not to say I’ve been slacking. Aside from a super top-secret side project somewhat related to this blog that I’ve been working on, the majority of my time while not riding has been spent on the dreaded job hunt. Now I can finally write this post I’ve been thinking of for so long because, at long last, it’s come to a close.

I’ve been searching for and applying to jobs now for a little more than a year. I started well before I knew I could start working – due to school, the Cross Canada trip, and the WHPSC – because I wanted to be quite stubborn about this job hunt. I wanted to try my damndest to get into the cycling and sports industry in an engineering capacity, before I resigned myself to looking in the industry of my study, aerospace (or as I prefer to call it, rocket science). Nothing against the aerospace industry, but someone’s got to engineer the bikes and bike accessories we use, and I wanted to be one of those people.

Enter the long job hunt. You may see more and more cyclists out on the roads these days (okay, maybe not “these days” specifically, it’s nearly winter after all), and it’s not uncommon to see 10 000 people on Zwift at peak hours, but it’s still a very small industry. A globally recognized brand like Cervelo employs fewer than 50 people world-wide, with less than a fifth of that being in engineering. Even the “giants” of the North American bike industry like Specialized and Trek employ only 1500-2000 people, each. And most of these North American companies are based in the USA, making them rather reluctant to go through the bureaucratic hassle of hiring a Canadian.

So that’s why I started applying to jobs back in December 2018. I’d apply to the open engineering positions I saw on companies’ websites. I’d cold email other companies that didn’t list any open positions. I’d message engineering managers at bike companies on LinkedIn. Then, when I’d exhausted my mental list of companies to look at and apply to, I’d scroll through some Eurobike or Interbike photo galleries and look-up the brands I recognized there then start all over again.

Before I go into any more detail though, I must unveil the crown jewel of this post. I saw someone make a beautiful graph (Sankey Diagram) like this back when they finished their job hunt so I’ve had this in mind since I started my own hunt.

BikeIndustryJobHunt
What a beauty

While the opportunities weren’t plentiful, I still racked up 55 “applications” over the last year, coming out to something like one application a week. That’s certainly not an impressive application rate, but when you account for the two months of biking (ie. no jobs being applied to then) and the limited number of companies, I’m rather astounded that I found that many people to talk to and open opportunities.

That web of lines in the middle makes up the real meat and potatoes of the job hunt. All those lines represent the unglamorous parts of the process; the anxious and repeated inbox checking, the writing and rewriting of emails and messages, the fraught hours before interviews, and, rattling around your head like a marble in an empty jar,  the doubt on whether or not they like you enough to make an offer.

But that’s where the story gets interesting; the far right side there where it says “Offer: 3”.

Racer Sportif/Aquila Cycles

Within a week of getting home from Halifax, another bit of good fortune came my way. A long-standing family-run bike shop local to me was working on growing its bike brand, Aquila Cycles. While they weren’t immediately looking for any engineers, they said they could use a pair of hands to help service bikes. I was game. This would give me an opportunity to get some experience from the other side of the cash register in a bike shop while still giving me the potential for engineering work down the road and the opportunity to continue job hunting part-time. The cash would also help to lengthen my runway for finding a full-time job.

And so, for a few months, I passed three days a week in the shop wrenching bikes and learning the ins and outs of the business. Eventually, though, we had to stop denying the onset of winter. It just wasn’t realistic for me to keep working there as the service slowed, so we, very amicably, parted ways… Just in time as I drummed up another opportunity.

3T

I know, I know. I was only going to look at North American companies, but when I saw the open position on their site and the location – just outside of Milan, at the foot of the Italian Alps – I couldn’t help but apply.

The emails and interviews came fast and furious. In no time at all, we had agreed to have me fly out there for a few weeks to meet the team, learn more about the projects, and see if I could live there. In less than two weeks I’d gone from being a bike mechanic to an Italian immigration lawyer as I tried to navigate the bureaucracy and red tape for getting a work permit there.

I went out to Italy for what ended up being a week and a half. I met the team, saw the projects, rode around the area (rode up a mountain!), and got food poisoning. Aside from the food poisoning the trip was incredibly useful and gave me much better insight into what I was actually looking for. The answer, I painfully learned, wasn’t this. I told them “thanks, but no thanks” (in nicer, more eloquent words, of course) then packed it in and flew back home.

Valcava
From the top of Valcava, some 1100m above the plains of Lombardia below. The epic climbs we did in BC were all mountain passes, so to do a huge climb then be higher than the surroundings instead of the lower was a strange and wonderful feeling

Garmin

But there was a complication. A mere 10 days before I flew to Milan, I got a call. From Garmin. Again.

If you followed along with my journey across the country, you may recall that I made fantastic use of my first rest day in Calgary by scheduling a last-minute interview at Garmin. At the time, our schedules just would’t line up though. I just wasn’t willing to give up on this trip so soon and they were looking for someone to start imminently. Shortly after the interview they told me “thanks, but no thanks”.

IMG_20190618_112541
What a ridiculous, not-relaxing activity for a rest day

In the time between that interview and this call, I had kept in touch with my contact there from the first interview just in case anything did turn up. I figured that ship had sailed though by the time I agreed to take this trip to Italy. Alas, another position had turned up and they were wondering if I was interested. In the final days before flying out, we scheduled another interview then I received an offer literally hours before the weekend I was due to fly.

Fresh with the disappointment that Italy didn’t work out, I took some more time to mull over this new offer. Then, returning home, I accepted it.

The Future

So that brings me to now! I’ll be moving to Calgary in the new year to start work at Garmin as a Mechanical Engineer!

While I am very happy with the outcome of this year-long process, it doesn’t fully dampen the disappointments of the process too. The chief disappointment that I haven’t touched on yet is the missed chance to work at Cervelo. I had a brief bout of interviewing with them before they announced that they’re moving from Toronto to California and can’t hire any more Canadians. It was a rare opportunity to work for the most well-recognized Canadian bike company in a role actually working on the design of the bikes.

On the other hand, I pondered many, many, many times along the way whether pursuing this path was a reckless and silly idea, so to actually find a job at a company in the sports industry in Canada whose products I’m passionate about, is a dream come true. I’m definitely looking forward to this move and to many more mountain pictures on my Strava activities!

A Few Words of Wisdom

If I’ve learned anything from this job hunt, it’s to just keep trying. I gave myself a time limit for when I’d expand the scope my search, but until that time I just kept the process of looking, applying, searching, and messaging going. And now, I’m happy to say, it’s paid off. So if anyone reading this is also actively looking to get into this industry (as I so wished I could’ve read a blog six months ago about someone’s experience with this industry), I have only to tell you to get keep trying. To think you can work here means you’re probably right. You probably have something to offer these companies but the opportunities aren’t going to come to you. You need to keep pressing, keep applying, keep talking to people, keep in touch. Then, if you go long enough, you might just find what you’re looking for. I know that’s not many words of wisdom to offer now – I never claimed to be wise – so hopefully I can follow this up sometime in the future with more pieces of advice from this small, passionate industry.

 

Cheers and Ride On!

-Evan

 

7 thoughts on “What It Took Me to Get a Job in the Bike Industry”

  1. Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    You’re also a great writer. I predict your eloquence will be extremely useful.
    I did rush through your Cross-Canada tour blog and look forward to a more leisurely read. Fabulous writing, sir. I’ve got to go back and see if I can cut out the photo of the reader board with the dinosaur on the bike and the implication that the dinosaur’s inability to ride a bike and its extinction are related. And the US football players story was a hoot. And the average speed you two rode – totally nutso.

    From: Quads of Carbon
    Reply-To: Quads of Carbon
    Date: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at 6:27 PM
    To: “jmlem@live.com”
    Subject: [New post] What It Took Me To Get A Job In The Bike Industry

    Evan Bennewies posted: “Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve written anything for the blog – coming up on three months, in fact – but that’s not to say I’ve been slacking. Aside from a super top-secret side project somewhat related to this blog that I’ve been working on, the “

    Like

  2. Congrats, Evan! While you don’t know me (I know your Mom), I followed your journey across Canada, as both a cyclist and the mother of 3 cyclists (including one who also rode across the country a number of years ago, and is now an experienced ‘wrench’). Very happy for you to have gotten a job in the field that you’d hoped for. I have cousins your age in Calgary who are cyclists, so if you need any connections to find out about clubs, etc (as if there aren’t cyclists at Garmin!), let me know. Congrats again!

    Like

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