Say Portland and as with all good word association games, you are likely to receive a range of responses; Coffee culture. Cool. Rain. Nike. Craft beer. Rain. I know, I mentioned rain twice. That's because the Pacific North West can get a little bit damp. So for a company like Always Riding which is based on the edge of the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire, England, we are going to feel right at home.......
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. At Always Riding, we thrive on relationships; with our customers and with our partners. And there is no better way to nurture those partnerships than by visiting friends and spending quality time with them, talking bikes and bike stuff. So with that in mind, Danny and Richard recently embarked on a fairly epic journey. Over the course of nine days we would visit Portland, San Francisco and Squamish in British Columbia, hooking up with some of the coolest cats in the cycling world. This is Part 1 of the story of that trip.
Portland, first stop on our journey, is state capital of Oregon and last year one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. There are good reasons. It has benefited significantly from the tech boom of the last 20 years with companies such as Intel being based in Portland. It is famous for being the home of Nike, the incredibly successful, multi-billion-dollar sports brand that employs around 10,000 people on the 200 acre Nike Campus in Beaverton. Worth noting that Nike also sponsors the city's hire bike scheme - Biketown.
Portland has long been considered one of the most liberal cities in the US with a strong "counter culture" approach to life. That makes it cool, very cool as it turns out. It has a thriving artistic and cultural scene, a growing student population and some of the best cafes and coffee shops you will ever find concentrated in one place. Then there's the beer. In the last 10 years, there has been what can only be described as an explosion in the number of wonderful craft breweries. Rogue, Ten Barrel Brewery, Deschutes and Hair of the Dog to name just a few.
Unsurprisingly, the city is home to some great bike shops and no trip to Portland would be complete without checking a few of them out. Our first day in the city is a Sunday and so we take the opportunity to get over the jet lag by making a trip to the East Side and Breadwinner Cycles. Breadwinner is a coming together of heralded US frame builders Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira where each bike is tailored specifically to each customer with a focus on everyday functionality. Whether it be a race bike in the shape of their Lolo Road or their go everywhere Komorebi frames these are some of the best looking and best made bikes in the US. The coffee isn't bad either.
Just south of Breadwinner is one of Portland's best-known cycling destinations, the remarkable River City Bicycles. Housed over two floors in an iconic building, the store is an Aladdin's cave of great bikes, apparel and accessories. Many products on sale are displayed in incredible hardwood racks, cupboards and display cabinets hand made by founder Dave Guettler who just so happens to be a skilled woodworker as well as bike industry visionary.
As soon as we walk through the door, we are welcomed with a smile and an offer of help should we need it. Staff regularly check in with us to make sure we are finding what we need and not in need of any assistance. It's never pressured selling though, just genuine and professional.
Monday, and our first big meeting of the trip is with Chrome Industries. Chrome was established in 1995 and for our money, make some of the best bags in the business. The great thing about Chrome is that they are far more than cycling bags, their origins in messenger culture make them rider-centric to the core. Indeed their travel and photography bags are bought by people who just want a really great bag that is stylish, beautifully made and incredibly practical. Having had a sneak peak of new bags and apparel for 2018 Chrome is certainly a brand to keep an eye on.
We check out the Chrome store in the city first and then head over to the office located in the Pearl District of the City, a curious but pleasing mix of bars, converted warehouses and light industrial units. Chrome occupy a narrow two storey rectangular building that used to be a taxi dispatch office. As soon as we arrive we are greeted by Slate Olson, President of Chrome Industries for around a year and formerly US head of cycling uber-brand, Rapha.
Slate introduces us to the rest of the team and we spend a few hours talking product, design and cycling culture. Slate is excited about a collaboration he's just about to launch with Chris Cosentino, the brilliant chef responsible for great restaurants such as Jackrabbit in Portland and Cockscomb, San Francisco. Slate and Chris have worked on a special bag roll that will allow Chris to transport his chef's knives safely. It's a great example of an innovative collaboration that will help raise the brand awareness of Chrome.
The time literally flies by and yet we realise we've only just scratched the surface of what we could talk about. Slate suggests retiring to a local bar where the snacks and beer are great and we readily agree. Over a couple of IPAs and whilst munching popcorn, roasted Brussel sprouts and cheese croquettes (with beer gravy of course) we talk about the Portland cycling scene, our mutual love of running and the various exciting plans we all have for the future. Frankly, we could not have imagined a better way to start the trip.
Tuesday morning and the jet lag is still in the background so we rise early and grab a coffee. Right on schedule, Eric from Portland Design Works arrives to pick us up and whisks us off for breakfast and a chat. Portland Design Works is, along with being possibly the best mudguard maker out there, a small team of riders and designers who make great pumps, tools and lights. Over more coffee, pancakes and Farmers' scramble (a frittata that contains pretty much everything one would ever associate with breakfast!) we chat about what's new, potential trips to Europe and their plans for the future.
Eric then takes us the short ride to the warehouse unit that serves as their Operations HQ. It's pretty similar to Always Riding in size and layout but as with all the folks we get to meet on these trips, it's always great to see them in context. We communicate by email all the time of course, but being able to picture in one's mind exactly how everything is organised and arranged at Portland Design Works and Chrome means we can bring everything to life much more easily for our customers. The stories and the people behind the brands are what really bring them to life for us.
We finish with Eric and the guys at PDW then it's off to the airport and the short hop to San Francisco.
To be continued.......