PDW Is 15 Years Old!

PDW Is 15 Years Old!
2023 marks the official 15th anniversary of Portland Design Works so I thought I’d better write a little something up to commemorate the occasion. The short version is below, and a whole bunch of random photos and tales from over the years follows for the true heads who really want to get in deep. 

Back in 2008, there were primarily two types of bicycle accessories. One type was performance-oriented, designed to be lightweight and/or aerodynamic with promises of speed or endurance gains for the user. The other type was utilitarian, designed to fulfill specific tasks such as holding a water bottle or panniers, all at an affordable price. But in the realm of bicycles, more than just performance and utility bikes were being created at that time. In 2008 there were dozens (hundreds?) of custom frame builders crafting bikes that weren’t lightweight or simply utilitarian. They were beautiful. They were fun. They were cool. They made people want to ride! I wanted to do the same thing in the realm of bike accessories- create fun, beautiful, high-quality products that inspire people to ride. So I recruited a couple of talented friends, sold my house, and started Portland Design Works.

Fifteen years later, PDW is still creating fun, beautiful, high-quality gear for everyday riding. Besides inspiring people to ride by making cool stuff, we’ve consistently donated at least 1% of our top line revenue every year to nonprofit organizations that improve cycling access and infrastructure in their communities.  We take great pride in that.

Finally, I want to sincerely acknowledge that the survival and resilience of PDW through all of the ups and downs of 15 years in business would not have been possible without the help and support of our customers, manufacturing partners, families, friends, bike shops, creatives, the Portland cycling community, and everyone who has been on the PDW Crew over the years. Thank you all so much. I feel extremely grateful. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

-Erik Olson, Co-founder


Below left: PDW Crew 2008 - Lars, Erik, and Dan

Below right: PDW Crew 2023 - Lars, Kate, Lise, Chris, and Erik

PDW staff 2008 and 2023 


Our first office/warehouse space was literally the cheapest thing we could find. We had to leave the building and trek around to the other side to use the bathroom. Sometimes it would flood so much that we had a inch of water on the floor, and that's despite this ingenious system of tarps and PVC pipe that you see below to catch roof leaks:



warehouse rain catching tarps


We've changed offices a few times and as anyone who has ever moved knows, it isn't a whole lot of fun. Luckily we've always had generous friends and co-workers willing to lend a helping hand and get us through it. Clockwise from upper left: Date night on the curb while taking a break from office painting, Andy and Michael come straight from lawyering to climb scaffolding and paint, Dan grinds down old anchor bolts in the floor.


Refinishing the warehouse


Early concepts for the icon portion of the PDW logo:



A couple t-shirts from the '00s:


PDW t-shirt designs from 2000s

 Sketches our friend Leah made for us which we overlaid onto photos for grip packaging:


Sketches of handlebars and grips

 Our original 2008 website concept. Another of Leah's sketches is overlaid on a photo for the hero image:


PDW original website concept art

Original sketch and 3D rendering of the 3wrencho, one of our first products: 


PDW 3wrencho tool art

 Mini pump with bamboo handle concept art. This would eventually become the Little Silver pump.


mini pump concept art

Our Panda Treat grips (circa 2009), which we did in a pink colorway for some reason:


 Panda Treat Bike Grips

Some wild light packaging concept artwork for the Spaceship and Danger Zone lights by Shin Tanaka. 


Shin Tanaka Artwork

 Design for a front basket that we realized would be waaaaay too heavy even before we tried a prototype:

PDW front basket rendering

High concept packaging for the Radbot 1000 taillight that never saw the light of day because it was too time consuming and overly complicated to fold the cartons:


Packaging for Radbot taillight

 We've done a lot of goofing around in the warehouse over the years. Basketball has probably been the most popular activity but we've also played a little wiffle ball, hockey, and a long stretch where we constantly played ping pong.


sports in the warehouse


We've been incredibly lucky to have many very good dogs help out in the office and warehouse:


dogs resting



dogs in the warehouse


The popularity of our products in countries outside the USA has given us the opportunity to ride bikes abroad in some lovely cities. Here are a few from Osaka where our Japanese distributor Teisuke showed us around the town:


Riding bikes around Osaka


 Most PDW gear is manufactured in Taiwan by folks we have now worked with for 15 years. These companies took a chance on us when all we had were a binder of designs and a dream. They helped us open tooling for new products, extended loans when times were lean, and worked with us to make our ideas become reality. Over the course of countless meetings, dinners, hikes, and bikes rides we've forged wonderful friendships and always look forward to the next trip. (Also the food is sooo good.)


Meetings in Taiwan

Below: Monkeying around, tea time, motorcycle touring, climbing the "carp's back," celebrating Halloween on the Taipei subway, setting a Taiwan Beer pyramid unofficial world record.


Taiwan images
Back in 2010, before we had properly moved into our new warehouse and office, we decided to take advantage of all the empty real estate and throw an event with PDW super friend, DJ, and party-thrower Amanda. Like most of our events, we were extremely happy no one suffered a debilitating injury. Three to five brakeless single speeds racing around an oval enclosed by makeshift hockey boards capped off with some pool riding on the aforementioned bikes that were already barely rideable. What could go wrong? Apologies for the terrible video. It was 2010 and the tech we had wasn't great.

In the summer of 2012 we put together a little video of community events we were involved in. Perfect vibe. 

Watch the video below for the full story but the super short version is that in 2010, PDW co-founder Dan saw that this kid down in California had created a circular mini velodrome called "Circulus" and needed to get rid of it. He hatched a plan to fly to Los Angeles, buy this thing, drive 14 hours back to Portland, rebuild it, and then figure out what to do from there. I (Erik) told him he was nuts. We didn't have any money or any place to store it at the time. Undeterred, Dan rustled up some funds and the next thing I knew he was pulling up to the warehouse with a 24' long truck full of disassembled Circulus. 

We realized pretty quickly that the track wasn't built for heavy use and it was so slippery that it was unrideable except at really fast speeds. Thus began a lengthy process of shoring the whole thing up with extra lumber and carriage bolts, as well as coating the whole thing with a mixture of watered down Coca-Cola, an old skate ramp trick. 

The rest of the story is below, as filmed and edited by the incomparable James Wilson. The post script is that we did drive Circulus to the Interbike show in Las Vegas where we almost died of stress watching pro racers almost fly over the top of it into the amassed crowd. But all's well that ends well, and anyone who rode Circulus had a smile on their face and wore their road rash (Circulus rash?) as a badge of honor.

Riding the Circulus

Hey, you made it to the end of all of this nonsense! To reiterate what I said at the top of this post, PDW is still around after 15 years because of all the individual people that have supported us: our customers, manufacturing partners, families, friends, bike shops, photographers, videographers, artists, the cycling community, and  everyone who has ever been a part of the PDW team. Thank you, thank you, thank you.