On March 5, 1995, Dave Guettler opened the doors of his dream bike shop in Portland, Oregon. 22 years later River City Bicycles and River City Bicycles Outlet is still a dream as Dave and his staff are at the forefront of all things cycling in America’s Best City for Bikes. On the eve of this anniversary we asked the boss a few questions. That’s Dave in the long sleeve blue jersey, front row, by the door.
What remains the same about Portland & River City Bicycles over 22 years?
When I developed the concept of River City Bicycles in my mind, I knew I wanted to appeal to people like myself. People who had passion for bikes and the lifestyle benefits they provide. When I first moved here in 1994, Portland was not known far and wide as a “bike friendly” town. But the core of riders was deeply committed and there was always a feeling that something great was happening all around us. Several key city leaders and planners laid the groundwork on which we are still building. To me, coming from San Francisco and experiencing the forethought and vision the the city put into bicycle infrastructure was, and continues to be, very impressive.
When Bicycling magazine named Portland “America’s Best Bike City” for bicycles things really took off and we started gaining recognition as well. Portland sure was the right place to build River City! I’m happy every day here.
What has changed for the better since 1995?
People told me that moving to the inner southeast was a big mistake, that it was an economic and retail black hole. To me, it seemed like a sure thing being so close to downtown and the residential areas of Portland’s southeast. Additionally, the freeway accessibility and exposure to all the traffic on 99E seemed like it would be good for business. But there sure were a lot of doubters! I really like what the inner southeast has turned into with the Eastbank Esplanade and Springwater Corridor trails we now have easy routes for all types of cycling. Plus, there are so many more bikes in Portland every single day.
What are your thoughts on the future of Portland?
I have a lot of friends in the bike industry all over the country and many are extremely jealous of what we take for granted here. True, we can’t rest on our laurels and, yes, it’s getting bigger and busier here, but all the bicycle efforts throughout the years have put Portland in a great position for the future.
What are you most excited about with regard to bicycles this year?
To me, it is amazing how much technical innovation bikes have these days considering their price tags. A $500 bike is very user friendly for new riders but it is also very well designed and extremely capable of growing into the sport.
On the high-end side, a $5000 bike pretty much has “last year’s” Formula 1 or NASA technology for pennies on the dollar. The engineering, materials, and manufacturing processes are an amazing value, at literally all price points. I like the current trend of taking these slightly more robust road bikes off pavement onto dirt and gravel roads. There are so many wonderful places to explore in Oregon. We can leave right from the shop and be in beautiful places so easily.
What would 1995 Dave Guettler think about 2017 River City Bicycles?
This may sound strange but the River City of today is very similar to how I imagined it in the “best case” scenario of my business plan daydreams back in 1995. Although, I never thought we would have upwards of 70 staff members. And that’s really the best part, the people we have here. 1995 Dave wouldn’t even notice the size of the store or the bottom line, he’d be so excited to work with and ride with such a diverse group of passionate bicycle people.
What are the biggest challenges facing Portland and River City Bicycles?
Housing in Portland is getting really expensive. I saw what happened in San Francisco in the 1990’s with bike shop staff, (heck, and nearly everyone else) having to commute from very far away in order to get to work. I really hope that never happens here. People tell me traffic is getting really bad but since I ride my bike everywhere I just don’t notice it.
What has been your favorite moment/success story from the past 22 years?
My favorite times usually involve things like staff members getting married, having kids, buying a house, and being principled citizens of our great city. It means a lot to me to offer a place to work where people can serve their community in such a positive way while also creating a life for themselves. Also, doing bike events with my daughter like the River City Touring Club, the River City Cross Crusade, the Mt Tabor races – those really are the highlights of my life on the bike.
It’s also been quite nice to see how the people of Portland have embraced River City, naming us “Best Bike Shop” in the Willamette Week so many times or just dropping in to say hello, that is really special as well.
Last one, want to go for a ride?