June 28, 2017
By John Rezell
Inside Info at the Mercantile
Olivia Smoody and Richard Veatch wrench bikes in work stands as mountain bikers stream in and out of the Willamette Mountain Mercantile in a seemingly endless parade on a spring Saturday.
Smoody smiles and sets down her tools whenever someone strolls into the outdoor store on Highway 58 near the eastern edge of town. She says hello and pretty much knows what she’ll hear next.
“Mountain bikers drop in all day long and ask where to go,” Smoody says. “We take them over to the map and find out what they are looking for, and then show them all the options we have. We have a little something for anyone, really. It’s just a matter of knowing what you are looking for.”
If it weren’t for the line of dual-suspension mountain bikes out front of the Mercantile, you might mistake it for a general store. But that’s just the way things are here. The easy-going pace of mountain bikers fits perfectly with the ambience of Oakridge, Oregon to create a match made in off-road heaven.
“In a 35-mile radius from our shop we have about 400 miles of trail, and we’re building more,” Veatch says. “We get people from all around the world — a lot of Canadians, of course, folks from Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe.”
Oakridge calls itself the mountain bike capital of the Northwest, although you can hardly call it a boast. It appears on some websites and some brochures — nothing close to a true marketing blitz.
The Word is Out
The welcoming, unassuming vibe of Oakridge reflects the true soul of mountain biking.
“It was beyond its infancy when I got here 17 years ago, but it just continues to evolve each year,” Veatch says.
“Whenever a magazine article talks about us there’s a boost, but a lot of it continues to be word of mouth as mountain bikers talk about their favorite places.”
Smoody knows a lot of mountain-bike hotbeds in the Northwest attract riders from everywhere, and Oakridge quietly capitalizes on that.
“We get a lot of people who have come to Bend (Oregon) to ride,” Smoody says, “and then they ask the locals up there where they ride, and they say Oakridge. So people come on down and end up staying here.”
Veatch says that the Mercantile, which offers biking, hiking and other outdoor equipment, and the local brewery, serve as the town’s mountain-biking nerve center.
“When it gets really busy you’ll see a lot of them here and at the pub,” Veatch says. “I’ve seen a hundred bikes outside the pub on some days.”