former antique mall on NE
42nd Ave in Hollywood.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortlanD)
For a city that prides itself on great bike shops, what Boyer has planned will be something even Portland doesn’t have yet — a shop where the art and culture of bicycling gets just as much priority as the bikes themselves.
Boyer spent eight months looking for just the right building to house his shop. “I’m picky,” he said, and added that, for the type of space he wants to create, “It’s gotta have that feel.”
What Boyer picked is a 10,000 square foot former antique mall at 1969 NE 42nd Ave. The 5,000 foot showroom and 5,000 square foot finished basement gives him a lot of room to be creative and create the shop of his dreams. Back in San Diego — the shop he founded in 2006 as a workshop for his vintage bike restoration hobby and grew into national prominence as one of the best bike shops in America — was just 1,200 square feet.
As he pointed out where he’ll put the cafe and bar (toward the front of the shop, by the window), explained how a drawbridge he purchased from the ruins of the old Piggot’s Castle estate will be used as a stage for live bands, and showed me the rusted out 1953 Chevy he plans to hang from the ceiling to display his service and labor menu; he said with a smile, “We’ve never had room to play before.”
While Velo Cult will have a lot of the things you’d expect, like a service area, lots of city, cyclocross, randonneuring, and maybe even a few mountain bikes, it will also have much you don’t usually associate with a bike shop. That’s where the basement comes in.
Since it was a former antique mall, the basement is fully carpeted and sectioned off into several different rooms. One of them is already set aside as the shop’s professional photo studio (Boyer employs a full-time photographer to shot photos for their online bike museum and coffee table books). In another room, which has dark red carpeting, he’s thinking of setting up as a speak-easy. “We could have a bunch of smoking jackets hanging on the wall and you’ll have to put one on to come in.”
“A speak-easy?” I said, “That would make a great stop on the Tweed Ride!” To which Boyer replied, “Yep. We’re already a stop on that ride.”
Turns out Boyer spearheaded the Tweed ride in San Diego and now one of his employees is already on the planning team for the Portland edition.
If you’re getting the feeling that Velo Cult isn’t your average bike shop, you’re right. To understand why, you’ve got to understand Boyer.
Boyer started racing bikes when he was nine and raced mountain and road bikes at the national level for 17 years. Like many racers, he always worked at bike shops, “But I hated all of them,” he said. He quit the bike industry and started restoring vintage bikes in his garage. As his hobby blossomed, he ran out of space and moved into a workshop.
“I put an open sign on the door, but I didn’t think anyone would show up… Maybe I’d change a flat for a kid once a day,” he recalled. But six months later, Boyer had four employees and the rest is history.
shows his appreciation for vintage bikes.
That success brought with it a major realization for Boyer. “That shop was 100% me… and people liked it. From that point on I realized it’s about me… What kind of stuff do I want in the shop? What kind of decor? What kind of bikes?” (He didn’t say this in an arrogant way at all. He meant that the success gave him confidence that people appreciated the same things he does and that he could have a successful shop without taking the cookie-cutter approach.)
Velo Cult turned into a destination shop, with people from all over the world seeking it out on visits to San Diego (a very popular tourist destination). The shop had a very loyal local following as customers flocked to Boyer for his steel bikes and the gritty feel of his shop. But Boyer says San Diegans, on the whole, never really understood Velo Cult and that the city’s lack of support for independent, local businesses was in sharp contrast to what he’d seen on visits to Portland.
As someone who has worked as a volunteer on bike advocacy issues, Boyer was also frustrated at the lack of progress (due in large part to the dominance of the vehicular cycling philosophy in San Diego) in building a bikeway network.
“My employees have been waiting for me to make this move for years… We were in the wrong city,” he said.
“When I walk around Portland with my Velo Cult hoodie, random people say, ‘Yeah! Velo Cult!’ — that never happened in San Diego.”
I asked if he was nervous about leaving behind a successful shop with loyal customers and starting over in a new city. Nope. “We are a shop that bike nerds love and there are more bike nerds here,” he replied. And then he shared a funny story: “When I walk around Portland with my Velo Cult hoodie, random people say, ‘Yeah! Velo Cult!’ — that never happened in San Diego.”
Speaking of shop merchandise, you might notice that Velo Cult has several different shop logos. That’s because they create a new one every month or so. “We aren’t really into that branding thing… I think we just get bored really easily.”
If my hunch is right, I don’t think anyone will ever get bored inside Velo Cult. In addition to the live music, events, perhaps a bike museum, and other interesting pastimes this shop will offer, they’ll also be a serious bike shop with loads of expertise.
Boyer says they’ll stock a range of urban and cyclocross bikes and maybe a mountain bike or two. What Velo Cult was known for in San Diego was their focus on randoneurring bikes and parts. They’ll also offer a full menu of steel frame repair, a service that should come in handy here in Portland.
I’m excited for this addition to our community and can’t wait to see what Boyer and his crew create at Velo Cult. Boyer summed it all up when he explained that the most common reaction he heard when people walked into his San Diego store was, “Shhhit! This is a real bike shop!”
Watch for the opening next month.