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In Portland, Cultivating a Culture of Two Wheels

PORTLAND, Ore. - Susan Peithman did not have a job lined up when she moved here in September to pursue a career in "nonmotorized transportation." No worries, she figured; the market here is strong.

"In so many ways, it's the center," Ms. Peithman, 26, explained. "Bike City, U.S.A."

Cyclists have long revered Portland for its bicycle-friendly culture and infrastructure, including the network of bike lanes that the city began planning in the early 1970s. Now, riders are helping the city build a cycling economy.

There are, of course, huge national companies like Nike and Columbia Sportswear that have headquarters here and sell some cycling-related products, and there are well-known brands like Team Estrogen, which sells cycling clothing for women online from a Portland suburb.

Yet in a city often uncomfortable with corporate gloss, what is most distinctive about the emerging cycling industry here is the growing number of smaller businesses, whether bike frame builders or clothing makers, that often extol recycling as much as cycling, sustainability as much as success.

Like the local indie rock bands that insist they are apathetic about fame, many of the smaller local companies say craft, not money, is what drives them.

"All the frame builders I know got into this because they love bikes," said Tony Pereira, a bike builder whose one-man operation has a 10-month waiting list, "not because they wanted to start a business."

Mia Birk, a former city employee who helped lead Portland's efforts to expand cycling in the 1990s, said the original goals were rooted in environmental and public health, not the economy.

"That wasn't our driving force," Ms. Birk said. "But it has been a result, and we're comfortable saying it is a positive result."

Ms. Birk now helps run a consulting firm, Alta Planning and Design, which advises other cities on how to become more bicycle-friendly. In a report for the City of Portland last year, the firm estimated that 600 to 800 people worked in the cycling industry in some form. A decade earlier, Ms. Birk said in an interview, the number would have been more like 200 and made up almost entirely of employees at retail bike stores.

Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/05/us/05bike.html?_r=1&oref=slogin