Dealer Spotlight: Clever Cycles in Portland, OR

In addition to being great partners, the folks in our carefully selected dealer network has its fingers on the pulse of their communities and the bike industry – particularly when it comes to electric bikes. So we thought it would be valuable to share their insights, anecdotes and expertise with you through a series of interviews.
Our first is with Dean Mullin of Clever Cycles in Portland, OR. Fitting, as Portland is the honorary birthplace of Faraday (with Faraday founder Adam Vollmer being from Portland and the Oregon Manifest Design Contest being our jumping off point).
Also fitting because Portland has a reputation for being a mecca of biking enthusiasm. In fact, Dean and team were kind enough to supply a bike to Drew Carney of local Portland station KGW for a recent segment on the growing prevalence of bike commuting.
Here’s what Dean had to share with us about his start in the biking world, the joy of putting a smile on someone’s face with a new bike, and his experience with a Faraday last month in San Francisco. (Spoiler alert: There were smiles involved there as well.)
What are your earliest memories of biking or bikes? 
I remember seeing a Brooks saddle as a young child. I think even before I was riding a bike myself. I have no idea who’s it was. I also remember thumbing through a Bianchi catalog and drooling over a Bianchi Green track bike — even though I didn’t know what a track bike was at the time. I stopped riding a bike and started driving when I was 16 or 17, which is the case for many at that age. I don’t think that needs to happen if you live in a city that provides the infrastructure to allow people to get around by bike safely.
How/why did you end up owning a bike shop?
I’m only a partial owner, so I’ll let you ask the others directly if you wish. Speaking for myself, I was working in the financial industry working East coast hours living on the West coast — staring at a computer and being stressed out most of the time. To reduce the stress, I used to race myself every night at 10pm on a ride from NE Portland to the top of Mt Tabor and back. I then created a 90 mile loop around Portland and found myself just wanting to ride more and more. I was riding almost 90 miles a day five or six days out of the week. That takes a bit of time. I thought about my life while on those rides and realized that I didn’t want to go back to working in the financial world.
What has been most rewarding thing about being in the bike business?
Watching people smile when they take off on a test ride. We get to see that everyday. Seeing the amount of bikes being used in Portland as transportation. We get to see the part we played in making that happen.
How was Clever Cycles born and how long has it been around?
We opened in June 2007, after our two families became partners to help make Portland an even better place to live and work, slow down in, ride every day. In a town with 70 other bike shops, we expanded our family-friendly shop three times through the recession to 7000 square feet, and in 2012 were named Best Urban Bike Shop in the United States by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
Tell us about the neighborhood you’re in, the biking culture of your neighborhood and where you fit into it. 
We’re in SE Portland, a few blocks east of the Hawthorne Bridge. Thousands of people ride across the bridge every day to do their thing. Because we’re on a one way street on their way home, we usually see a busy peak in the late afternoon. I like to think of biking culture the way I think of a power drill. I don’t care that much about it. I just want it to work. The more people out there riding will make it safer for all cyclists, no matter what they are into.
Give us a sense of your customer base. Is there a predominant type of customer (family? commuters? Recreational bikers?) or does it run the gamut? 
We are Portland’s first and largest bicycle shop devoted entirely to bicycles as primary transportation, serving urban households like ours seeking to avoid dependence on cars with practical, stylish bikes for everyday use: not just “commuting” bikes, but family transport, cargo, and folding bikes, all equipped for comfort, safety, and reliability.
We don’t sell road bikes or mountain bikes, so that weeds out “recreation” for the most part. We do sell bikes that could be considered “sunny day bikes”, but these bikes also function well on the wet days too. Who doesn’t like to ride their bike on a sunny day? We love all types of cycling, but our shop primarily serves the commuter/family market. All the bikes in our store must be able to handle fenders, as well as capable of carrying some stuff in addition to the rider.
What do you feel makes Clever Cycles unique? Is there a guiding philosophy with which you stock the store and service your customers? 
We don’t stock items because we think they will sell and we know we’re making a certain margin. Of course they need to sell at a particular rate for us to continue stocking them, but we’re not interested in following a formula that some huge industry powerhouse like Trek or Specialized has proven successful to provide a certain ROI on the items they say we must buy. Boring. We personally have used or would use the products we have in the store. There are of course, traditional rules of business that complete the picture, but we try to question if they are legit, or if they need testing.
Happy customers create more happy customers. Seeing a smile when coming back from a test ride or walking out the door with your new ride is the best part of our day. If we can’t make that happen, then we are not doing our job. We want to help the customer discover the right product that works for them today and tomorrow and five years from now. If we don’t have it, we’ll tell the customer and even offer suggestions on where they might find it. Not only do we refer customers to the stores that can help them when we can’t, but we also receive tons of referrals from other shops, because we’ve earned a reputation for helping our customers solve their unique transportation needs.
Specifically thinking of electric bikes, has adoption been growing? Who do you see most interested in them, and for what use? (Commuting? Errands? Recreation?) 
We’re still figuring this out. Portland is not that hilly. In San Francisco, it seems simple. I’ve been riding an electric cargo bike for a few weeks in order to gain knowledge on the system as well as the perceptions. We’ve got a few products that have quite a large group of narrow customer segments that add up to quite a large portion of the overall market. I’m thinking that this will be the case with electric bikes in Portland.
And, of course, we’d love to know how the Faradays have been received. What are customers saying? Where do you see Faraday fitting into the biking landscape?
I knew that we would stock the Faraday when our employees started taking our Faraday demo bike to run errands. In Portland, the Faraday will allow a customer to reach their destination quicker, while riding a bike that does not look like the typical electric bike.
You got the chance to borrow a couple bikes in San Francisco for a weekend. Where did you go and what did you think?
I rode from Faraday’s headquarters to Bernal Heights to say hello to the New Wheel people (talk about a good location for an electric bike shop). I rode up that crazy hill to the park at the top and then continued back to the Richmond neighborhood where I was staying. I got chance to ride through most of the city in the couple of days that we had the bike. I miss San Francisco already. I wouldn’t have covered that many miles of the city without the Faraday.