Portland is a city practically dedicated to bicycles and bicyclists. Anybody who has driven down N Williams at 5 p.m. on a weekday and has seen the line of bike commuters stretching practically from the river to Northeast Portland can tell you that.
With a diverse community of dedicated cyclists comes an equally diverse infrastructure of bike shops and service centers. A Google search of Portland bike shops turns up dozens upon dozens of matches. Portland is home to high-performance and mountain bike specialty stores, shops that specialize in used and refurbished bikes, and stores dedicated to renting and servicing bicycles for waterfront tours.
Among this consortium of bike stores and service centers is a unique sub-strata of stores: co-op and worker-owned bike shops. Although these shops tend to be as individual as the workers/owners at each location, as a unit they offer bike riders in Portland an experience that is different than they might find in a traditional bike shop.
From loaning parts and tools to providing seminars and training sessions on bike maintenance by and for women and transgendered individuals, Portland’s community of worker-owned and co-operative bike stores are striving to make Portland a city where anyone can ride a bike, and where everyone should feel like they can be a cyclist.
For cyclists who are interested in finding new and unique bike shops, here’s a round-up of a few of Portland’s best known co-op and worker-owned bike shops.
A Better Cycle
Rachel Dominquez-Benner, one of the founding members of A Better Cycle, describes her shop like this:
“A Better Cycle is a neighborhood bicycle repair shop. As mechanics, we have uncompromising standards for our quality of repair work, and we guarantee our workmanship. As bike shop employees, we are educators to the everyday rider when we explain necessary repairs in terms to suit their skill level. As owners of a small business in Portland, we work our butts off to serve our loyal customers, whose business we value.”
Located on SE Division, adjacent to Ladd’s Addition and next door to Papa G’s Vegan Organic Deli, A Better Cycle epitomizes Portland’s co-op bike shops. Founded in 2007 by six bike enthusiasts without the means of opening six bike shops on their own, A Better Cycle serves daily cyclists as well as individuals looking to purchase their first bike.
Many of A Better Cycle’s bikes are previously owned and refurbished.
“Often times, you can fix a previously-loved bicycle to better working order than a new bicycle for a similar price,” Dominquez-Benner explains.
A Better Cycle also sells new and custom-built bikes, new parts, and new tools, working with Bike Crafters, a group of individuals and micro-enterprises located in Portland that custom designs bicycle accessories.
As far as services and repair, A Better Cycle offers free safety inspections and repair estimates, and the shop’s mechanic workers/owners can perform a collection of maintenance services including complete disassembly and rebuilding, light tune-ups, and piece-by-piece maintenance for everything from tires and wheels to cranks, pedals, and handlebars.
A Better Cycle is owned and run by cyclists and operates with a mandate to meet the needs of bike riders of all types.
“We are here to serve, educate and encourage the bicycle-riding population of the city,” Dominquez-Benner says.
A Better Cycle, 2324 SE Division Street, 503.265.8595
Across town from A Better Cycle, serving Northeast Portland, Bike Farm is one variation on the bike co-op theme. Classified as a nonprofit and collectively owned and operated, Bike Farm subsists on donations of bikes, parts, and service.
Bike Farm is an open shop, with tools and workspace available for public use. The shop supplies helpful mechanics that serve as tour guides, assisting bike owners as they service their own bike and learn the basics of bike maintenance in the process.
Although Bike Farm is not a traditional retail store—you won’t find a sales floor—they do sell used and sometimes new parts for bikes that are being serviced. Use of Bike Farm’s space, tools, and expertise isn’t free; local riders can choose one of a selection of payment options. These include an hourly drop-in rate, membership packages that range from one month to one year, and trade. Trade tends to mean work or volunteer time, though creative trades, such as beverages or baked goods, are assessed on a case-by-case basis and are at the discretion of whichever volunteers happen to be working in the shop.
Bike Farm offers an assortment of ways to get involved for all interested parties, hosting a Volunteer Orientation Night on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the shop. Bike Farm is constantly on the lookout for assistance with donation pick-up, mechanic services, laundry, organization, and wheel and bike builds.
Along with its monthly Volunteer Orientation Night, every second Tuesday, Bike Farm hosts a women’s and transgender night, which features information on bicycle maintenance taught by and for women and the transgendered community of Portland. Bike Farm hopes to encourage and empower those individuals who may be intimidated by bicycle culture to learn bike maintenance and other relevant information in a safe environment.
Bike Farm hosts its women’s and transgender night at 1303 NE Roselawn from 4 to 7 p.m. every other Tuesday. The next scheduled women’s and transgender night is August 16.
Bike Farm, 305 NE Wygant Street, 971.533.7428
With more than 20 years under its belt and two Southeast locations, Citybikes is somewhat of the elder statesmen of the Portland co-op bike store community.
Citybikes’ mission is to promote a lifestyle that utilizes bikes for transportation and recreation, providing dependable reconditioned bicycles, new and used components, bike accessories, and quality and attentive service at affordable prices.
“We try to make riding bikes an affordable way to get around, accessible to everyone,” Lindsey Musselwhite, a co-owner and Citybikes worker says.
A self-described enthusiastic bike commuter and proponent of cycling as transportation, Musselwhite believes that co-op and worker-owned bike shops have a longevity advantage over some of their more traditional counterparts.
“Decisions about running the business are considered pretty thoroughly, and there’s no chance of violent upheaval coming from the top,” she says.
All shop affairs are handled collectively, and verdicts on all issues are reached by consensus.
“Everything we do, we have to really take time to discuss it, because it’s going to affect us all significantly."
As for the nuts and bolts of Citybikes’ services, the shop sells used bikes and used parts, offers a variety of classes and workshops, provides full repair services, and even buys used bikes for cash or in-store credit. Like most of its co-op brethren, Citybikes works primarily with used bikes.
“We’d much rather repair than replace,” Musselwhite says. “We like to keep stuff around if it’s in good shape and not just chuck it because it’s old. It’s also more fun.”
Citybikes hosts a monthly drop-in community wrench night, a free event for the local cycling community. Citybikes wrench night features staff on hand for assistance, use of bench tools, and parts for purchase should the need arise. Citybikes’ August wrench night is Monday the 14th starting at 6 p.m.
Citybikes, The Repair Shop: 1914 SE Ankeny, The Annex: 734 SE Ankeny, 503.239.6951