South Salem Cycleworks: Salem, Oregon
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Joe Dobson, founder of Salem's The Bike Peddler, dies.

October 28, 2018: I learned today of Joe Dobson’s death, the founder of The Bike Peddler. It made me think of the long chain of events that perhaps started with my purchase of a bicycle from Joe.

It was the summer of 1976. I’d attended college for five years on a grant, with more credits than required to earn a degree, but they didn’t fall into the slots pertaining to a degree. It was decided that I would no longer receive any further funding, and in the words of my mentor, James Mattingly, professor of arts at then OCE, I needed to get out and experience life. I was divorced by then, and had a girlfriend, Leana Warnken, whom I’d met working in the cannery. I’d settled into a routine of being employed in the cannery during the season, and substituting as a custodian for Salem’s school district. A bohemian lifestyle, compared to my earlier upbringing, Leana and I decided to get road bikes, perhaps inspired by the Bike Centennial of ’76, perhaps as a means of conserving money for the lean winter months. She bought a beautiful blue, Schwinn Super LeTour II, made in Japan.

I hadn’t owned a bike for several years, my English-made Hercules “ten-speed” being stolen from my parent’s home in the late ’60s, a bike I’d ridden throughout high school. I’d borrowed Charlie (better known as “Chuck”) Burliegh’s Schwinn Varsity for a while, and enjoyed riding it down the ramp and into the Civic Center’s Mirror pond when it was being constructed!

I bought a French-made Motobecane Grand Touring, a gun-metal grey, with a black head tube and seat tube panel. The lugs had cut outs and were outlined in gold. Joe Dobson was the owner of The Bike Peddler, where I bought it, and agreed without hesitation to install “safety levers” on what I considered an expensive bike at the time, $350. ¬†Only after getting a job as a bike mechanic in Eugene, did I realize that they were commonly referred to as “suicide levers” in bike culture. He also switched out the silver Dia-Compe brake calipers for some black ones, an aesthetic choice on my part. When the bike was ready, I not only paid for it, but also tipped Joe three joints. His expression, though surprised, was not noticeable, as he quickly slipped them beneath the counter.

I rode the Motobecane here in Salem for the next four years, just using it for errand-running and an occasional ride around Minto-Brown Park. I moved to Eugene afterwards, out of fear of becoming a “lifer” with the coming season at the cannery, with no way of finding a job that could pay as much. I’d intended to continue my pursuit of cinematography at U of O, but accidentally found myself employed as a bike mechanic at Hawkeye’s the Good Life, a family-owned outdoor store. They only needed a mechanic until the end of fall, with the return of the university students, and that worked with my plan of attending school myself.

I quickly learned how little I knew of bike culture, or mechanics, and when the service manager quit, I remained on for the next two years. Riding centuries, touring by bike, learning of the Tour de France, mis-spelling Merckx’s name, I engulfed myself in that world of cycling. I managed to injure each of my knees, consecutively, those two years, and decided I needed to get a job with medical coverage, and give up the bohemian lifestyle of Eugene.

Returning to Salem, I spent that summer working for Nelson Sherry of Monmouth Cyclery and racing as a novice in local criteriums. At some point, I began working for the Bike Doctor’s with Steve Weiss and Steve Dolan. Both shops would occasionally purchase inventory from other shops in Salem, and so I would make an appearance in The Peddler. I remember asking for double-butted spokes from Joe, and being informed that they were a waste of time, straight-gauge being sufficient. Joe was not without opinion, and he was more than willing to share it.

My Motobecane, though vastly upgraded from the original purchase, had by now become my commuter bike. It had made several trips up and down the Oregon Coast, and had “bike hiked” to ride the Gulf of Mexico. But with the return to the pursuit of serious jobs, and having two custom road bikes, it was now my go-to bike.

In 1990, fourteen years after purchasing it, I finally diagnosed the creaks coming from the frame as cracks in the head tube lugs. Motobecane, along with the lifetime frame warranty, had long left the United States, but I thought perhaps Joe would assist me in getting a replacement frame, perhaps at cost. I wandered in one afternoon, explained the situation to Joe, and his crusty comment was “Michael, you’re an adult now.” I agreed and left, not really surprised, but perplexed nonetheless.

I opened South Salem Cycleworks the following year, and found myself learning to become a business person. I acquired Univega bikes, a brand that Joe had sold for a number of years, but as my eager-to-sell-bikes rep explained, Joe was only cherry-picking the line by then. Joe contacted me and, in a business-like manner, sold me the Univega neon sign soon afterwards.

I’m sure I had some interactions with Joe in the years afterwards, but it was with surprise I learned of his stomach cancer in 2008. I had been treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma three years prior and was in remission. I recovered, but every time I saw Joe from then on, it haunted me. Yes, Joe was blunt, but to me, now that I had an understanding of what it takes to operate an independent bike shop, it was his way of conducting business.

His cancer was certainly a life change. Being freed of the shop’s responsibilities allowed him to participate in community activities and politics. I was pleased to see another bike shop owner involved in bicycle advocacy and felt guilty for excusing myself from attending noon meetings downtown.

My cancer returned in 2017. It was a more vigorous and aggressive mutated non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Whereas the prior version only required a one-day, once a month, chemo treatment to beat it, this time it was once a month, week-long chemo treatments that left me wasted after six months. I somehow beat the odds, leaving my oncologist “surprised and perplexed”. I can now better appreciate Joe’s life after surviving stomach cancer.

I learned thru a former employee that Joe died this morning. Despite Joe’s testiness, he had a profound influence on my love of bikes. My Motobecane frame was discovered when I closed the shop last spring, not worth repairing, but beyond dumping in the scrap heap.

A lot of my custom personal bikes have the contrasting headtube and seat tube paint scheme of the Motobecane. And it was only because of that Motobecane Grand Touring that I spent ten years restoring and building the Motobecane Grand Record with the French anodized gold components.


My restored Motobecane. Without knowing Joe Dobson, I surely would not have this beautiful bike today.