Cycle Swift in PDX


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Goods and I just spent a weekend in Portland. We came south to get out of the stitching studio, away from home projects and doing laundry, and to catch some of the Filmed By Bike ‘09 festivities. Saturday’s goal was to check out some bike shops around town, but we didn’t have more of a plan than that. We had our good friend Ellie with us, another mechanic and dedicated bicycle enthusiast. In our friendship three things are liable to influence our days: coffee/bicycles/food(+beer). We figured on a weekend of promenadingPortland in quest of inspiring projects and delicious treats. The over-arching attraction to all three themes is a mutual love for worker-owned projects and anarchist/collective organizing. Count on Portland to serve us food, coffee, and bikes that fit the profile.

Our first stop was the City Bikes repair shop followed by a duck into their retail space. The shop is a worker-owned collective that’s been around since 1990, and serves Portland with really good prices and a nice variety of parts and goods. Every mechanic we chatted with was really supportive of our project and gave us advice about other bike shops to visit. I was also really happy to see female mechanics in both of the City Bikes’ spaces, this industry tends toward a guy-heavy staff and as a lady it’s really refreshing to encounter women with wrenches in their hands.

Recently, I was locked out of my house in my pajamas and I went around the corner to 20/20 cycle here in Seattle. While I was waiting to be rescued, Dan from Portland DesignWorks came in to show off some of the tools and accessories he and his partner have been working on in Portland. Looking around, he made a comment that summed up various bicycle spaces: you either walk into a ‘bike shop’ or a ‘bike store.’ It’s something about the care and aesthetic put into a shop–it’s the difference between a chain and a mom and pop, it’s about conformity or celebrating artistic touch. The trip to Portland made me think a lot about how we express ourselves in these bicycle scenes: both in the look of our businesses and products, but also regarding the structure and decision-making choices we make. There’s culture in these spaces. Goods and I get to use Swift.Industries as a catalyst towards our visions of culture, and we meet people involved in really inspiring bicycle-related projects that reflect our own ideologies and speak to our sense of form and design. We make zines to advertise and hand-draw every single flyer, we work by word of mouth and stop into a shop ourselves to make a connection with the workers and owners–the projects we found in Portland reaffirmed and re-inspired our choices.

After City Bikes we got caught in the jumble of water-front industrial roads trying to find the route up Industrial Way towards North Portland. The first weekend of warm weather in the Northwest had us giddy and riding slowly. We pedaled the wrong direction across the Burnside Bridge, saw a portal to the trail we wanted on the other side of the bridge, cursed! and in a cloud of tourist confusion ended up dabbling about town and heading towards northeast Portland on the most unpredictable route. It was delightful! Finally we came to North Portland Bike Works. I’d say this shop is testament to how much one can do with a wee bit of space! Here’s what they say about themselves:

North Portland BikeWorks is a collectively run non-profit neighborhood learning center that provides information, resources and skill-sharing programs to low-income and marginalized populations to advocate the use of environmentally sustainable, self-reliant transportation.

In the corner, a zine titled URBAN ADVENTURE LEAGUE caught my eye. Written and illustrated by Shawn Granton, this little book of historical tours and maps is a fucking gemstone! check out more on the website –and don’t forget to have a look at Shawn’s amazing art site. Ellie, who worked at Bicas in Tucson, Az. for a long time said that Shawn stops in at least yearly just to hang out and see what’s new.

Onward! While in the general area we headed out to the Bike Farm. Ellie and Goods are both involved here in Seattle in the Bikery, and have been working on educational collective shop projects for many years (Bicas and Helping Understand Bicycles–respectively). We met a crew of fellows at Bike Farm, and had a chance to speak most with a gentleman named James. The shop has a really nice feel to it, is totally volunteer run, and works solely on a donation basis. They use a membership model to ask for what parallels a community subsidy (not too different from farm based Community Supported Agriculture ideas): “Membership entitles you to full use of shop space and a professional set of tools with the assistance of a mechanic DURING OPEN HOURS. Membership also entitles you to some free workshops.”

Drop-in rate: $5.00 per hour (no membership required)

Month Membership: $20.00

Six month Membership: $35.00

Year Membership: $60.00

Members are also entitled to a 20% discount on new parts.

Since we were headed south again to catch the film festival James directed us to Clever Cycles. We were especially interested because the rumor was that a Cetma Cargo bike was at the store. Let’s note for a moment that the aesthetic spoken of previously is unrefined and gritty, do it yourself at it’s heart (not the new glossy blog DIY). When we rolled up in front of Clever Cycles, Ellie and I immediately passed judgement. This looked clean and hoity toity. We walked into the bicycle show- room first and were met by a beautiful selection of dutch bikes: mostly cargo inspired, and classically crafted. Aside from steel, touches of leather craft and wood detailing dappled the room. It kinda made us drool. We watched one of the owners show customers how to assemble and disassemble a folding bike in about three minutes flat. In the accessories and apparel room  we found only high quality and beautiful products. Martina, one of the co-owners, has been working with a Seattle-based garment stitcher to design lady’s clothing suited for cycling. We are not talking about spandex! Ellie and I gawked at the darling dresses with discreet back pockets, and fabric inserts for easy pedaling. Hand sewn and Northwest made. As we got ready to get back on our bikes Ellie admitted that she was hesitant when she arrived and inspired when she left Clever Cycles. The shop is undeniably out of our league, but also represented the kind of commerce and quality of craft that we respect. Finely done!

On Sunday morning we made it to A Better Cycle. Now I can’t get that shop out of my mind–I’d say that shop was the pinnacle of my weekend. One rides up to an open garage door with long curtains draped to frame the entrance of the space. The shop is crammed tastefully with parts and bicycles (from what I saw all used bicis). Black Star Bags are represented, and hand-crafted bicycle accessories made by A Red Bee (also a co-owner) are all over the place. There’s a back room that’s bout to be dedicated solely to used parts, and the counter is lined with zines, pins, spoke cards and more. When I think of the shop that I’ll open one day it’ll be a fusion of A Better Cycle and Firehouse Bikes in Philly. ABC is as old as Swift, I think it started in 2007. Six kids co-own the project and work the shop. If in PDX you gotta stop in a say hello. The two I met were really friendly and the shop surely won my heart.

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