Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Velo Cult Grand Opening

After a couple of weeks of pretty nasty weather - lots of rain, wind, a bit of snow - it looks like spring is finally here for real. I started my spring break one day earlier than most ("Budget Reduction Days" they call them) and got out for some nice non-commute riding around town. Lots of bright green buds, and the cherry and plum trees are in full glory. Good cruising.

Portland-made wood helmets
Friday evening I rode out to far NoPo to help set up for the PDX Bike Show. It was mostly chatting up vendors and volunteers, with a little banner-hanging and carpet-taping to justify my presence. I made another ride out there Saturday morning for the show. Honestly, it was mostly stuff I'm only mildly interested in, a mix of expensive bikes I don't really want to ride, niche gadgets I don't need (upright bar extensions, cycling skirts, race-changing backpacks) and a couple intriguing items (the retro-shift system designed for cross racing, and wooden helmets (I suppose to go with the local wood Renovo frames and wood Sacro Bosco rims, both of which were also at the show.)

In the back room they had a section for used vendors, and I finally found a 26.8 Suntour XC seatpost for the 89 MB-2. I've been looking for three years, so I was pretty happy;  it's past time to get that bike on the road (and trail). Another guy had a pretty nice 700c rear wheel. Deore LX hub laced to a Bontrager asymmetrical Fairlane rim with a nearly new 11-28, 9-speed cassette. $15. I'm getting ready to build up a new (to me) Soma Double Cross to replace the Nishiki Riviera GT as my commuter/tourer/all-purpose bike (It's getting too hard to find and maintain 27' wheels/tires and 126mm spacing w/freewheels.) Because the Double Cross has 132.5 rear spacing, it can take road or mountain hubs, so while I was mostly just looking for a 9-speed cassette, it's kinda like I got the whole wheel as a free bonus. The guy who sold it to me said it came off his recumbent, and was built by the guys at Sunset Cycles. Nice guy, nice wheel.

But now my "problem" was that I had already scheduled a stop to look at a wheelset for the Soma on my way home. A fellow OBRA member had built a set of XTR hubs up with Ambrosia rims and Phil spokes for his Surly LHT, which he was now selling. It seemed like a perfect wheelset for $200, but I'd spent part of my wad and needed to make a bank run on my way there. Short story: they were gorgeous wheels, I had a good talk with the builder/owner - a great guy, and he accepted my offer of $180. My neighbor took a picture when I rolled up with a grin on my face and wheels strapped on my back.

Later that evening I rode back into the Hollywood district for the grand opening of Velo Cult. It was kind of a re-opening, I suppose, as Velo Cult has, well, legendary cult status in San Diego and SoCal bike circles. Jonathan at bikeportland has background info on the move and opening here, here, and a grand opening recap here. Suffice it to say, the legendary status already seems deserved, and I think this is going to be my new favorite bike shop - and not just because I can get coffee AND beer there.

The space is big and beautiful - the former home of an antique mall. Hardwood floors, lots of wood counters, benches, and tables. The ceiling is open beams with a skylight/cuppola in the center. One thing I like is that you don't walk in the door to a rack of merchandise or the need to negotiate a maze of new bikes. Instead, you step into a large and inviting open space. To your right is the shop area, a wall of tools (like a mural, really) topped by a display of vintage road, track, and cyclocross bikes, with benches and tables for sitting and chatting. to the left of the work area is a retractable drawbridge - a stage to be used for performances and guest speakers. To the left of the entrance is a long beautiful counter with more benches where the beer and food are served. This space is topped by a small collection of vintage mountain bikes. All the merchandise is actually in the back half of the store, with the new bikes against the back wall. All steel, I think. I saw Surly, Raleigh, and All-City Cycles, but they may carry more. No carbon anywhere. Component selection leans heavily towards touring and vintage-y stuff, with a a lot of Brooks, Nitto, Velo-Orange, and On-One (who also just opened North American operations in Portland.)

I had a chance to talk with a couple of the employees, as well as owner Sky Boyer, and all seem truly happy to be in Portland. The grand Opening started at 6, by the time I left at 7 the place was packed. It looked like most of the vendors from the Bike Show had migrated to the opening, and I saw plenty of others from Portland's bike glitteratti, including Martina from Clever Cycles, Kiel "Mr. Bike Train" Johnson, Chris King, John Howe and most of Team Beer, and plenty of others.

Cunningham designed roller-cam brake. Cam plate unhooked so bike could be mounted on display stand
There was a lot of eye-candy to check out, but a couple of Velo Cult branded bikes caught my eye - they looked fully rando-ready, were obviously getting used, were almost certainly employee rigs on display. and they were quite different in several respects. I didn't get pictures of the one in the center of the display, but closer inspection of the head badge showed it was one of Mark Nobilette's frames - in 650b. The other had a couple odd features I recognized - a beefy unicrown fork and a rear roller-cam brake mounted beneath the chainstays. Many years ago I bought a new 1987 Trek 850 mountain bike and it came with a beefy seatstay mounted U-brake. I also know the spacing isn't right to replace them with cant brakes, but you can use roller-cams, which are IMHO awesome brakes. I suspected something and asked Sky about it. Turns out it's a powder coated Diamondback MTB he built up for his wife's first overnight tour. And it's now her favorite bike. Another vote for the awesome and comfy mid-late 80's MTB's!

Velo Cult touring rig - a re-purposed late 80's Diamondback MTB
Comfortable seating in front of the shop area
Beer taps in foreground. Eventually tere will be mexican food as well. And coffee, of course.
Some of the comments on BikePortland when news first broke of Velo Cult's relocation were of the sceptical "another Portland bike shop?" variety, but I think Velo Cult will do well here. Surprisingly, there isn't another local shop like this. Most of our other shops cater either to high end racers or wannabes, or are fixie-oriented. We've got a Specialized concept store, a chain of Trek-focused stores, the big national P-chain, and some small neighborhood selling-a-little-bit-of-everything-everything bike shops. But Velo Cult is something different - It feels instantly comfortable, like the kind of place where you would plan to meet other pre or post ride (I hear they plan to open at 7 on Sundays - smart!) or just to get a bite or a drink and hang out. Of course it's a business and won't survive unless we buy stuff. But the emphasis seems first to be on celebrating the bike and cyclists and the riding life, and then on selling you the stuff you want to make that happen. I find that much more refreshing than the usual experience of stepping in the door to a rack of spandex and a smiling salesperson.