PORTLAND – With its brick walls, tweed riding jackets, and pricey bikes from the Netherlands, Portland’s newest bicycle shop is a veritable bike boutique.
Yet Portland Velocipede on York Street — the city’s fifth bike shop — was opened by owners confident they can make a go of it during a recession. And remarkably, Maine bicycle advocates agree.
Bicycle and trail advocacy groups have pushed to breed more cyclists in Maine, and experts say work done by the state to build bike lanes and pathways in Portland has set the stage for this green-transport movement to grow.
“Portland has made incredible strides becoming more bike friendly. Through planning studies, through implementation of bike lanes and bike trails, Portland is becoming more livable,” said Dan Stewart, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at the Maine Department of Transportation. “I think biking is increasing. it seems to be gaining momentum.”
Stewart rattled off a long list of projects to prove it.
In the past year, he said, bike lanes went in along three major high-traffic roads in Portland.
Another three projects already in the works — a bike and pedestrian path through Bayside, the bike lane planned for Veterans Memorial Bridge, and the bike lane expansion slated for Tukeys Bridge — will further cyclists’ ability to travel across Portland free of traffic.
At least three other bike-related projects in Portland stand a good chance of being funded, Stewart said.
All of this bodes well for Portland Velocipede, which arrived to fill a specific, fun niche.
Owners Gillian Kitchings and Josh Cridler sell a mix of affordable and high-end city bikes that are modeled after Europe’s — the kind built for comfort and style, as opposed to speed and distance. They sell lesser-known brands such as the Netherlands-based Batavus, and Gazelle, a Dutch brand known as the “Mercedes Benz of bikes.”
Their bikes are priced between $400 and $1,400. Some are hand-built while others are utilitarian, allowing riders to carry children, groceries, even surf boards.
“They’re fashioned after the very classic bikes from Europe and the ’50s and ’60s,” Kitchings said. “They are being made now with new parts for a smoother ride. It’s more comfortable.”
Kitchings said she and Cridler don’t have their sign up and have done little advertising outside of social networking sites. Their Web site (portlandvelocipede.com) only went up Friday.
But Kitchings has faith Mainers will find their store and see a need for casual urban bikes that focus more on comfort.
“They’re bikes for city activity, for just getting to work,” Kitchings said. “They’re not ideal bikes for a long commute into the city. We’re focusing on bikes for shorter distances, for daily rides around the city or where you live. It’s the old charm but with a newer bike. We’re hoping to get more people on bicycles.”
Despite being a fraction of the size of other cities with speciality bike shops like New York City and Seattle, Portland already has the infrastructure and interest to support growth in the bike industry, said Allison Vogt, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.
“I think if we can support five shops in the city the size of Portland, it means something about what bicycles mean to the people of Maine,” Vogt said.
Strangely enough, even Kitchings and Cridler’s competition thinks so.
“Portland is certainly a bike-friendly town. If anything, it will help put Portland on the map a little better as being bike friendly,” said David Brink, co-owner of Cycle Mania. “I hope a lot of guys who buy road bikes from us, a lot of bike enthusiasts who have four or five bikes, put one of those bikes in their quiver.
“There is always room for one more bike in the garage. It might as well be one of (theirs).”
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: