Portland is full of people who are removing themselves from car culture and proving there are other modes of transportation that fit their needs. One area I think is especially interesting is the world of business, where bike lovers have found different ways to use their preferred mode of travel to their advantage to connect with customers and carve out their brand.
Our recent profile of Sarah Minnick, the Portland pizza chef who fetches fresh produce with an electric cargo bike, shows one person’s relationship to doing business by bike, but there are lots of other stories to be told. One of these stories comes from Joe Brown, a carfree Portlander who owns Ramblin’ Leather Goods, a leather products company with a regular spot at the Portland Saturday Market.
It’s evident when talking to Brown that he has an adventurous, self-sufficient ethos that carries him in his business. Brown came to the world of biking via his time hopping freight trains around the country when he was younger. After a while, he realized the train travel life was unsustainable for him.
“I quit doing the whole freight train thing because the lifestyle was sketchy and wasn’t what I wanted to be doing,” Brown told me. “But I didn’t want to quit traveling.”
To accommodate his yearning to travel, Brown took up bike touring. He found long bike tours provide the same sense of exhilaration he came to love while traveling on trains – just in a safer, slightly more buttoned-up way.
While on a bike tour down the Pacific Coast, Brown figured out a way to combine his passion for adventure cycling with his craft and livelihood of making leather wallets. He had materials sent to him at different stopping points along the way, and he’d craft up his merchandise and ship it out while on the trail. Along the way, he’d meet friends and potential customers.
“People would always come up and talk to me at rest stops, and they wanted to know what I was just doing. I wasn’t trying to sell anything, but I always have wallets on me, and people would buy them,” Brown told me.
When he got back to Portland, he had made enough money while on the road to take his leather goods business full-time. Once he landed the Saturday Market spot, he sprang for a bike trailer from the Seattle-based company Cyclefab that doubles as a display table for his wares. Every Saturday morning, Brown bikes in from Raleigh Hills to pick up his trailer at a nearby storage unit and takes it all to the Saturday Market to set up (no unloading in the bike lane required!)
Within the next few years, Brown wants to take his bike to Argentina and then bike across Africa and Europe – a huge feat only possible because of the freedom of his business. He plans to have an inventory of goods here in Portland that can be shipped out while he’s across the world to help fund the trip.
Brown said he’s always been a vagabond who’s up for anything. He is open about struggling with addiction and homelessness when he was younger, and going all-in on biking was a huge impetus for him to change.
“When I started riding my bike, I started making a lot of other healthy choices. It’s just a lot of fun meeting other people in the cycling community because a lot of people that I meet out riding bikes are doing something positive,” Brown told me. “I love traveling and don’t think I’ll ever stop. But the previous way I traveled went hand in hand with my addiction. Traveling by bike isn’t something I could do while trying to feed addictions. Bike touring has led me to so many different healthy things in life and changed my perspective significantly.”