Bicycle Culture

Cycle: Portapedal Bikes Unfolds Unique Shop in Tempe

When you talk to Al Cappello, co-owner of Portapedal Bikes in Tempe, he'll immediately sound like one of the most fervent bike advocates in town. But he has a distinct bone to pick with the two-wheeled traditionalists.

"We have become servants to the big-wheeled, rigid framed bikes," says Cappello.

This comment would raise an eyebrow or elicit a confused double-take if it didn't come in the middle of the store he and his partner, Jeff Looker, opened a little over a year ago focused on folding bikes.

Portapedal is the only store in Arizona to cater to the growing market of folding bikes. Previously considered a unique, utilitarian option for multi-modal urbanites, folding bikes are becoming a preferred option for cyclists of all types.

According to Cappello and Looker, folding bikes are based on three principals as set forth by folding bike pioneer Alex Moutlon: small wheels, stiff frame, and integral suspension. What results is a surprisingly comfortable riding experience on a machine that becomes incredibly serviceable for cyclists of any age.

"We had become trained to serve the traditional, big-wheel bike by worrying about where to store it, how to keep it safe, how to transport it if we want to take it with us somewhere," says Cappello. "Folding bikes are beautiful because they are inherently pragmatic and functional while also being as high quality as the finest carbon framed race bikes in the world."

Cappello and Looker are not your typical bike shop owners. Both are architects, graduates of the ASU Design School, and have been partners designing retail and residential structures over the past 25 years. As the architecture business hit various economic recessions, they turned to a common interest of cycling to keep income flowing.

Now, their architecture firm offices have been retrofitted to house their boutique bike shop, as well as the ongoing architecture firm and their Acoustic Vibes music instrument business, and it is teeming with folding bike inventory.

Their deep selection of brands includes the top names in the folding bike market: Brompton, Moulton, Bike Friday, Tern and Montague. They also feature components and products from Brooks, Osprey, Schwalbe, Biologic and Arkel.

"We work really well with other local bike shops because the folding bike market segment is a part of the business they don't want to deal with or understand," says Looker, who says their still-young business is already performing well for them.

The Cycle Test Team (of one) took out a couple of models, including a $14,000 top-of-the-line stainless steel Moutlon Speed outfitted with a Campagnolo Super Record 11 grupo. While not a traditional ride, there was no denying the upright comfort of these bikes and the ease of which they handle.

The fact that they can fold down and fit into a standard suitcase that will save any bike cargo fees with the airlines means that these bikes are ready go anywhere and comfortably accommodate a bike tour of any level. Something Looker and his wife will be doing this summer as they take a couple of their models for a touring trip in Spain.

For local riding, both Cappello and Looker ride their bikes all over town but especially enjoy taking their rigs on the local bike paths and canal trails and letting their inner child out as they climb and descend hills in Scottsdale or around Tempe Town lake.

As for the shop, they both quickly admit that selling bikes is a bit more enjoyable than the long-standing architecture gig.

"When you get a phone call for bikes, it's always a fun call to take. When you get one for architecture, it's almost always a problem."

Portapedal Bikes is located at 2070 E. Southern Avenue.

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Jason Franz
Contact: Jason Franz