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Musician turns bike-making hobby into a business with worldwide sales

October 31, 2003

Santa Cruz County Sentinel


SANTA CRUZ — Paul Sadoff's small Westside shop is crammed with bicycles.

More than 30 orange, pink, blue and purple bikes dangle like Christmas ornaments from the ceiling, line the walls and fill the floor in various states of assembly.

The music is cranked loud and Sadoff, in jeans and a T-shirt, hunches over a bike stand doing what he loves best -- building frames with artistic fervor.

Sadoff's specialty is making custom bikes -- bikes that are tailored to a person's measurements instead of set stock sizes. He designs and builds a variety of frame styles, including cyclo-cross, single speed, road, mountain and track, all made primarily of aluminum or steel.

This year his business, Rock Lobster Cycles, celebrates its 15th anniversary and Sadoff marks his 25th year of building bicycle frames.

"This is not a business you can run from your home," said Sadoff, 48, who lives with his wife, Holly, on the Westside. "This is totally hands-on," he said of the one-man operation. "I do it all, from taking the orders to shipping the bikes."

Sadoff is on a roll right now, handling a huge rush of orders that started in August.

"I got more orders than I ever have at once -- 25 percent of the year's business happened in just three weeks," he said.

"Last year was the biggest year I ever had. My business has been steadily growing as I gained more product visibility," said Sadoff, who estimates 35 percent of his clients are from Santa Cruz County.

He ships bikes to the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the country, especially to Missouri and Arizona. As overseas sales increase, his bikes represented in a half-dozen countries from Taiwan to Brazil.

Pat Schott is serious about biking and always has two bicycles on hand, both Rock Lobsters, at cyclo-cross races. The Santa Cruz resident and top-notch competitor owns five Rock Lobsters and has bought 10 bikes from Sadoff since '86.

"I just let Paul take over," said Schott about the production of his latest bike. "He is easy to work with, and he puts a lot of time into it. He builds them to last. I have never broken a bike."

The reason Schott keeps going back for more is "they just keep getting better -- lighter and faster."

Demand ebbs and flows for Rock Lobsters, which range in price from $900 for a frame to $3,000 for a full bike.

"There was a huge downturn for three months this year in the spring and early summer. The phone just stopped ringing," said Sadoff, who started other, outside work one day a week to make ends meet. "I was toying with the idea of a career change, because business was not seeming viable."

But then the surge occurred. Sadoff does not know what caused the shift, but believes part of it was related to the economy.

"I realized I had to get back to work," said Sadoff, who is accustomed to multiple jobs.

A professional musician for nearly two decades, Sadoff is a member of three bands, including the popular funk and R&B group Muthaship, which frequently plays at Crow's Nest and Ideal Bar and Grille. He had a three-year stint as a full-time guitar player in the Hydromatics before he launched his bike business in 1988.

"It was my dream to play music in a band since I was 16," said Sadoff. "I did join a band, played full time and made enough money to survive. But when we started playing casinos, that was the end of the line."

In his final year as a musician, he completed 16 bike frames and decided to turn that hobby into a profession.

He used his graphic design training to create the Rock Lobster logo, based on the B-52's song.

"I thought about names and chose one that was silly and irreverent," said Sadoff, revealing his lighthearted attitude about biking.

"I feel lucky I can do this business in Santa Cruz," said the Southern California native who moved here in '77.

"It's a great place to live and work. It's not easy to be a craftsperson here. You have to be tenacious, and you have to be fortunate.

"There is a great cycling community here that I owe a lot to."

Rock Lobster Cycles
What: Custom bicycle maker.
Where: Santa Cruz.
Owner: Paul Sadoff.
Cost: From $900 for a frame to $3,000 per bike.
Information: 429-1356, www.rocklobstercycles.com.

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