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March 30 Wednesday, October 18, 2006

(left) Ron Hinkley tests a bike outside Northwest Bicycle on NW 21st Ave. in Portland. Hinkley and his business partner, Matt Baladie, have run the shop for more than 30 years. They will be closing the store and retiring at the end of the summer.

(right) Hinkley checks the repair manual for a bike that won't shift gears properly.

Hinkley, right, and employee Hugh Nixon look over a handwritten list of customers dating back to 1974, when Hinkley and two partners put up $2000 each to open the business. The first bicycle was sold for $123 on April 2 of that year. "And he's still a customer," adds Hinkley. The store now sells about 500 bikes a year.

"I'm out of tricks," says Hinkley, unable to figure out why the gears on this cruiser would not shift properly. With more than 30 years of experience, such an outcome is uncommon. "I'm leaning towards incompatibility between the grip shift and the [gear] mechanism."

"Making wheels is a very soothing activity," says Hinkley. "You kind of get into a rhythm." He adds, "on slow days, we fight over who gets to build wheels."