Catching up with Portland’s original bike-based coffeeshop

Editor’s note: Please welcome new BikePortland news intern Michelle Lopez. This is her first story for us — thanks, Michelle!

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Café Vélo serving hot and cold drinks at Sunday Parkways in North Portland this June.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Northeast Portlander Rick Wilson, a former chef with a love for Dutch cargo bikes (bakfietsen), had long fantasized about ways to combine his two passions.

He kicked around some ideas — including starting a blog to document what at the time was Portland’s new interest in bakfietsen. In April, 2008 he opened Café Vélo, Portland’s first bakfiets-based business (we did a quick writeup here).

You can now count on finding Wilson at Portland farmers markets and other community events selling dripped-to-order coffee from Café Velo, a coffee stand that fits entirely into his customized, industrial-sized cargo bike.

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Rick Wilson of Café Vélo
(Photo © J. Maus)

Business has been running for more than a year now and Wilson is happy to report that things are going well. When he first pitched the idea to Portland Farmers Market and Stumptown, both local businesses were excited to have coffee offered in such a “classically Portland way.”

Indeed, the cargo bike is a big attraction: most tourists at the market have seldom seen a bakfiets, whilst fellow bikers and drivers often ask Wilson about his mobile café at stoplights.

Wilson also has a front loading transportfiets style bike – a Workcycles FR8 – that he uses to dispense iced coffee and tea on hot days as well as for picking up supplies around town. In addition, Rick often uses the family long cargobike for additional hauling and errands.

Wilson has plans to open up a non-mobile café in the Park Blocks or NW 23rd; he’s also discussing the possibility of running another bakfiets booth in Brooklyn, NY, where Stumptown recently opened up its first coffee shop located outside of the Pacific Northwest.

rick + child

Wilson and son running errands on the
Workcycles FR8.
(Photo © Elly Blue)

Despite his success, Wilson readily admits that being one of the first established businesses on a bike has its challenges.

One of these challenges is that there is no established business model to follow. “It was initially a struggle to understand the constraints of being a bike-powered business,” he said during a recent interview. “It’s interesting what you can easily visualize on paper versus what’s actually safe, possible, and sustainable.”

His advice for newcomers who are interested in establishing a business on a bike? “Keep it simple. Don’t ever skimp on quality. Pick one thing and do it really well.” This goes for both the product and the bakfiets itself: “Never forget that mobile businesses get beat to hell – there’s a lot of wear and tear, so quality really does pay off.”

You can find Café Vélo at the following locations:

– Wednesdays: Portland Farmers Market at SW 9th & Main (10:00am – 2:00pm)
– Saturdays: Portland Farmers Market at PSU (8:30am – 2:00pm)
– Sundays: Irvington Farmers Market at NE 16th & Broadway (11:am – 3:00pm)
– Various community events such as Sunday Parkways
– Next event: Portland’s Eastside Neighborhood Dining and Spirits Fete benefiting Ecotrust’s Farm to Schools Program, Indulge @ the Jupiter Hotel, Sept 24, 6 to 10pm.

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14 years ago

is this like getting rick rolled?
just kidding. i love rick. he’s one of the nicest (and helpful) guys in portland.
his kids are lucky to have such a rad dad.

14 years ago

The great thing about Cafe Velo is that it’s perfectly executed in every way. The brewing is spot on, the presentation is amazing and the whole gig simply has to put you in a good mood.