DANA MERRYDAY/THE CHRONICLE
Shop owner Chris Compton advises a customer at Rainy Peak Bicycles in Cottage Grove.
Cottage Grove has a history of reinventing itself.
For a while, gold mining dominated the local economy. After the glimmer of gold faded, the Grove became a timber town with small mills up and down the valley and provided the bulk of the local economy before fading in the 1980s. There were hopes at one time of landing an important railway terminus that would put the town on the map, but that didn’t pan out. Local politicians even agitated for the creation of a new county with Cottage Grove as county seat in the early part of the 1900s.
Alas, the hope for Nesmith County was not to be, and was rejected in the statewide vote.
What has emerged in these modern times is a nice town to raise a family and one that attracts tourists. Two of the biggest draws are the incomparable scenery and the largest concentration of covered bridges anywhere around.
These attractions have become Cottage Grove’s biggest asset. Drawing visitors is the new gold rush. Not all of the visitors want to see the sights from auto windows. A large percent coming here are bicycle enthusiasts.
Cottage Grove is ideally situated to welcome those who want to view scenery over their handlebars. The grades of the surrounding hills are perfect for challenging-but-doable routes. The auto traffic is low enough on local roads to bike road tours, like the complete covered bridge tour. We have the nationally-known Row River Trail, too.
This trail takes over from another tourist attraction as it uses the old railway from “The Goose.” This steam locomotive was an attraction that promoted Cottage Grove as “Railroad Town USA.” It in turn followed the route of the old “Slow and Easy” rail line laid to serve the Bohemia mines, then later carried the timber coming down from the hills. The Goose ran as a weekend tourist attraction from 1971 until its last whistle call in ’88. Poor tracks, insurance costs, and the fact the line had never really made any money doomed the weekend excursion train.
The tracks stood empty until 1994 when the Bureau of Land Management bought it to develop a public recreation trail. The Row River Trail today is a well-known biking destination because of its easy grade and scenic views. The trail is maintained and operated by joint cooperation between the BLM and the City of Cottage Grove, and volunteer Donald Strahan.
Trailhead Park, the beginning of the route, is right at the gateway to the Historic District, which invites visitors to begin and/or end their journey in one of the choice downtown eateries for a bite or a drink.
Also in the Historic District is Rainy Peak Bicycles, Cottage Grove’s local bicycle shop. Cottage Grove is indeed lucky to have a full-service bicycle repair shop. Town size is actually what brought Rainy Peak to Cottage Grove. The original store was in Elkton, Pop. 195, the road sign says.
It was there that Eric and Randi Reichmuth founded Rainy Peak Cyclery, named for the local hill where they had often ridden bikes. The couple met at Evergreen State College and bonded over their love of bicycles. The low population of Elkton didn’t allow the shop to make ends meet, so they picked up and moved to Cottage Grove. Things went better here, financially, with enough business to support it.
Current owner Chris Compton grew up in Elkton, where Randi was a family friend. He landed in Cottage Grove between jobs and soon found himself learning bike repair from Eric.
“He patiently instructed me in the ancient arts of the bicycle mechanic,” Compton said.
Compton was still considered an apprentice when the Reichmuths decided to focus on the “soft” bike equipment they had created and were producing. A gifted costume creator and seamstress, Randi designed bike bags, caps, tool aprons, and other cloth bike accessories. Randijo Fabrications is still thriving but has moved back to Elkton.
The couple sold their Rainy Peak to Blair Winter. For Blair it was full circle as he had started working in bike shops and was now returning to his first love. He had spent years working for some of the biggest bike companies, including the high-end bike wheel company, Rolf Prima in Eugene. Even with his success in the big-time cycle circles, Blair missed being in a small shop.
After taking over Rainy Peak, Blair promoted Chris to mechanic and shared his vast experience.
Compton hadn’t always been into bicycles. He is a recovering video game-playing couch potato. It was an unreliable car paired with a cross-town job in Eugene, that got him off his butt and onto bikes. After dealing with frequent auto stalls, his roommate convinced him to buy his bike for $20 and ditch the car. He tried it and found he quickly progressed past the painful stage and was soon enjoying being on a bike.
Chris noticed the change in his body – feeling better, stronger and more alive. He worked up to long bike tours, a trip to the Canadian border and across Utah. It was as a new convert that he had come to Cottage Grove and Rainy Peak.
After working together for five years, Blair decided it was time to change course again and sold the shop to Compton. Compton adds mechanics in the summer when business spikes.
While I was there, a steady stream of folks came into the store, dropping off bikes for fine-tuning or changing out parts. Phone calls interrupted his consultations, but Compton gave his full attention to each inquiry.
“The bike business is very seasonal. We get slammed in the summer,” Compton said. “In larger cities like Eugene, bike shops tend to specialize; one does mountain bikes, one tour bikes, and so on. I get to work on them all.”
Compton said sales have increased, but the industry is strained due to the pandemic.
“With people’s lives disrupted, there has been a huge demand for bikes and for parts. I have to backorder many parts and bikes; I tell people it could take one month or maybe up to six months or more,” Compton said. “For example the 26” bike tire – the most commonly-used size in the world – is totally sold out. You can’t get them anywhere.
“It’s a really bad time to need a bike. Covid has put a strain on bike shops even though the bike business is booming. I was surprised when I heard my trade mentioned on NPR in two different programs on the state of the bicycle industry during Covid,” Compton said.
Well-meaning people occasionally offer Compton suggestions, like the idea of moving to the “other” Cottage Grove, over to “Fast Food Row” to attract more business.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere but right downtown,” Compton said. “It’s such a nice feel – the Row River Trail starts right here, and there are lots of great restaurants.”
Besides the 17-mile paved trail, there are other nice rides in the environs, starting with the town itself. The bucolic traffic flow here allows for safe biking on our streets and alleys. It is common to see families on a group ride. The Scenic Bike Way takes in sights like the covered and swinging bridges. Weyerhaeuser Road can be picked up off London Road and is paved for about 20 miles before turning into gravel.
The Carpenter Bypass Trail system is near Lorane. You’ll need your mountain bike and some grit for some of those runs. These single-track trails have been developed by a volunteer group, “Disciples of Dirt,” originally as unsanctioned trails but now in partnership with the BLM and private landowners. There is something for every ability range on these trails.
About an hour away is the town of Oakridge, which has gone into mountain bike riding in a big way. It is more than a system of trails – it is a mountain bike destination on par with Moab, Utah. They have the annual Mountain Bike Oregon festival, which draws visitors from around the world. There are a number of businesses that have sprung up to support the riders coming to take on the trails. Oakridge Mercantile can help arrange shuttling to trail heads, bike rentals, repairs, and more. The trails are maintained by another volunteer group, Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards (GOATS). There are all levels of trails, from friendly ones meandering along the river banks to high altitudes.
Since it is so bicycle-friendly, Cottage Grove has drawn big bike events. We are a regular stop for Cycle Oregon, which comes through every other year or so with thousands of bikers. The Oregon Gran Fondo has happened here and is scheduled to return June 5. The famed Cycle the Lakes event that ran for a number of years has taken time off, though many of its fans would love to see this ride revived.
All those bicyclists who come to ride the trails or participate in events leave a lot of dollars in local pockets. Restaurants, hotel stays, gas, shopping in local stores. Bikes bring business.
A while back the Row River Trail appeared in one of the popular tourist magazines as a bicycle destination and the phone started ringing in the Rainy Peak shop asking if they rented bikes. After a number of similar calls Blair decided maybe they should. So a bike rental service was added to the store’s repertoire and is still available.
You might have to wait a bit due to the Covid-induced shortages, but it will be worth it to be peddling your way to better health under your own power.
Rainy Peak Bicycles is open Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Give them a ring at 541-942-8712, and ride on!
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