Dirt Rag Magazine

Industry Insider profile: Dan Powell

Dan Powell

Hometown?

Born in Detroit, Michigan. But I grew up in Lansing and went to college in Marquette, so really I consider the entire state of Michigan my hometown. Michigan is America’s high-five you know.

Current location?

Portland, Oregon.

What do you do for/with/to bicycles?

I, along with Erik Olson, am one of the co-founders of Portland Design Works (PDW) a small bicycle accessory brand formed in 2008. We design, produce, import and sell lights, fenders, pumps, grips, etc. I handle the marketing, tweets, customer service, warranty, and drive a fork lift. I also occasionally freelance for a few bicycle publications and blogs.

What’s the best thing about your job?

We work for ourselves, doing the things no one in their right mind would pay us to do… and some stuff they would. Essentially, we recalled saying “We can do better than that” for about 1,000 things, so we sold our houses, uprooted our lady friends, put our money where our mouths are and started our own company.

What’s the toughest part of your job?

When you pour so much of your energy into something like starting a company, it is very difficult to “leave it at the office.” We want to make the best product we possibly can. I hate to let anyone down. Also, I try to never listen to the haters.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles?

We always had bikes around growing up. My old man was a gear head. He was into bikes as a kid, then it was a Corvette, then a 1928 Ford Model A. Then when my brother and I were old enough to ride, he got back into bikes. Monkey see, monkey do, I guess. When we needed bikes growing up, we just built them up out of stuff he found in the trash. In about 1996, my cousin sold me a bunch of his old Shimano XT stuff, and I built up a hard tail to start racing. Got a job building bikes for a local shop soon after for the cheap parts. In college I continued to work at a shop in Marquette, Michigan, lived in a house called “Fort Panic” that was filled with all manner of bikes; choppers, race bikes, cruisers, etc.

I started putting out my own zine and throwing races in about 2000. I think I knew then that I’d start my own company. My wife and I moved to Madison to find jobs after graduation, threw more races, met more fun people. Things just grew. It was a natural progression. I interned for Bike Magazine, living in a van in a parking lot in ‘04. Moved from the shop to tech support at Saris, then onto Planet Bike where I worked until 2008 when we started PDW. I love working in the bike industry, and it is honestly tough imagining myself doing something else.

What was your first bicycle?

My first bike had solid rubber tires. It weighed a ton. I can recall it being passed down to my brother, and my old man getting me a candy apple red bmx style ride with yellow pads. When I figured out there was a hole in the fence that went around the huge city park we lived by and I could get in whenever I wanted, my whole word changed. There were some pretty sweet dirt trails and jumps there.

What bike do you currently ride the most?

Either my 1965 Schwinn Tyhoon or my Ahearne Cycle Truck. Daily around town stuff mostly. I love steel bikes and coaster brakes.

Where is your favorite place to ride?

Great question. Honestly my favorite place to ride is anywhere with the right crew. It is tough to pin down one place that is THE favorite. But I guess if I had to ride one trail forever, it would be a kind of hybrid loop I’ve put together over the years at Fort Custer Recreation Area outside Augusta, Michigan. The US Army used the area to train soldiers for trench warfare, now those trenches are buffed, bermed turns that snake into one of the most fun places to ride I’ve ever been. And as is the custom, post ride beers at Bell’s in Kalamazoo are always cold and tasty.

What music goes through your head while you ride?

I hear “Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny over and over again. Everything is smooth, slow motion and arcing turns. Why is everyone in such a hurry all the time?

What are your interests aside from bicycles?

My interests are: hiking, mountains, restoring furniture, reading, surfing the internet and walking. I walk a few miles every day without fail, usually with my dog Elsa. I also like percolating coffee because it makes me feel more like a cowboy, and less like someone waiting in line for a “coffee drink”. Lately I’ve been keen on researching non-traditional home construction. I want to one day live in a house that I built.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I wasn’t around bicycles for a living, I’d love to be doing something in the maritime industry, working on a freighter in the Great Lakes. Or the Coast Guard maybe. I’ve dreamt about that since I was just a kid. There will always be a certain romance to big bodies of water.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry…

In about 2002 NORBA came to Alpine Valley ski area in Wisconsin. As far as I know it was the only stop NORBA ever made in Wisconsin. Anyways, my buddy Sam Adams and I ended up with a proto-type helmet cam and a commandeered race official radio. We basically bluffed our way into every off limits area at the venue. The stuff we saw going on made me realize I needed to get out of the shop, and make it to that “next level” in the industry, whatever that was. I’ve probably never had that many laughs since in an 8 hour period. It was a great day, right up until the radio was snatched out of my hands. Actually, it was still fun after that too, who am I kidding! I miss NORBA.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series?

Another good question, and it is one I’ve been pondering. There are so many interesting people in this industry, it is tough to pick just one. Steve Garro, honcho at Coconino Cycles, builder of fine custom mountain bike frames. I’ve been checking his blog every week for years.

Why?

He’s one of those guys who is damn fascinating. I used to follow his exploits long before he started building awesome bikes, and before getting hit by a car on a bike nearly killed him. I love his interactions with his customers via his blog.
 

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