Working in the Cycling Industry: Kyla Saucillo Forsberg
Interviewed by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
Photos courtesy of Kyla Saucillo Forsberg and Green River Cyclery
Kyla and I were two of the very lucky recipients of the QBP Women's Bike Mechanic Scholarship at the United Bicycle Institute. Before school started we had formed a small facebook group. Its strange looking back on this, but I remember seeing her photo and just knowing we were going to be friends. Perhaps its her million megawatt smile, her professed love of beer, or the maybe it was her stylish undercut. Probably more than anything I recognized a similar cyclist, who was somewhat new to the sport, yet had gone all in. Every year more and more independent bicycle retailers go out of business, finding it too hard to compete with prices on Amazon and disposable internet bikes designed to be thrown away and never serviced. Still Kyla and her husband followed their hearts, and truly risked everything to start Green River Cyclery and The Busted Bike Cafe. Her story is truly inspiring, and her work promises to keep the culture alive for future generations of cyclists. From her Girl Scout troupe, to morning barista duties, to wrenching and leading group rides, Kyla is making cycling better for women twenty four hours a day.
AM: How did you get in to cycling?
I started out as a runner. Training for a half marathon can be very boring. There aren’t a lot of people who want to go on an 10 mile run. My husband wouldn’t run with me but he would bike next to me, often ahead of me. While training, I hurt my knee pretty badly. My husband suggested biking instead so I jumped on one of his bikes and immediately caught the cycling bug. I went from not riding a bike at all to completing the 204 mile Seattle to Portland ride in under a year.
AM: In an industry where brick and mortar shops close at an alarming rate, what hurdles did you go through in opening Green River and Busted Bike?
Because Independent Bike Retailers have to compete with online sales, we knew we had to think out of the box. We had to do something that made us stand out. Most IBR depend on their spring and summer sales to carry them through fall and winter. We have the cafe to help with that.
Finding the right location was key. We almost gave up last summer when our original lease fell through. Luckily we were able to pick up our hearts and minds again and found a location right in the heart of downtown Auburn. Less than a 1/4 mile from a popular bike path. Its the perfect place to bike into. We are also fortunate to have a 4 story apartment building above us. In other words, built in clientele.
Funding was another issue. Because we had never owned a business before and I had never worked in a bike shop before, many lenders didn’t want anything to do with us even though all of them gushed about how awesome our idea was. We cleaned out our 401k’s, our family’s helped us immensely and we were able to pull it all together and open December of 2015.
AM: Tell us a little about your shop and what makes it so different?
The most obvious difference between my shop and most other bike shops is the cafe. Before Green River Cyclery and the Busted Bike Cafe, my friends and I would start our ride somewhere with coffee and ended our ride someplace with beer. My husband and I created Busted Bike Cafe to be that place. Coffee, bikes and beer, what more could you need? In addition to coffee and beer, we have great food as well. Knowing that bike shops have to compete with the online market was another reason we chose to open a bike cafe as opposed to a traditional bike shop. We’ve had a lot of people come in and tell us they have never heard of this idea and they love the feeling of community when they come through the doors. People don’t remember what they bought but they will remember how you made them feel.
My shop is focused more on the everyday rider. I have comfortable, fashionable clothing that works on and off the bike. A variety of accessories needed for everyday commuting, as well as the standard gear you always find in bike shops. Chains, pumps,tubes etc. I don’t want people to think that all cyclists are road racers or extreme mountain bikers. I don’t want people to think that getting kitted out in spandex is the only way to ride. A cyclist is whoever likes to ride their bike. You can wear whatever is comfortable and you can go at whatever pace you want. If you like riding your bike, your a cyclist.
AM: What types of women’s programming have you been working on recently through you shop?
I want women riders to connect with other women riders. I also want women to have the mechanical knowledge needed to work on their bikes, and to have fashionable, comfortable clothing to ride in that fits all types of bodies. Study’s show that afety is the number one reason that more woman don’t bike. I want to contribute to women to feeling safe when they ride. These are the central issues for my women's programming. I’m inviting clothing vendors, holding maintenance classes, womens rides, and bike safely nights.
I’m also as Femme/Velo ambassador. Femme/Velo’s mission is to support and grow women’s cycling specifically through activity and advocacy. I already host group rides from the shop for both genders, but recently started Valley Girls. Valley Girls is a group of woman who love to ride bikes. (My shop is located in the Valley, which is where the name comes from) Valley Girls are mostly comprised by a bunch of my friends who ride with me but Im really focused on outreach and growing our numbers.
What are you goals now that you’ve graduation from UBI?
Having a female mechanic in has always been part of my vision for Green River Cyclery. I’m happy to be that woman right now but eventually I would like to mentor more women interested in bike mechanics.
I’m very active in my girl scouts too and will be holding bike maintenance workshops this summer for the young women who are starting college in the fall. For many college students, cycling is their only form of transportation. Having the knowledge to fix their own bike would be truly empowering.
AM: What are you personal cycling goals for this year?
I have so many! I’d like to cross off another state or two on my bucket list of cycling every state. I’d really like to become more active in cyclocross. I’ve toyed around a bit but it looks so fun and I’d really like to get more involved. I love long distance bike touring and bike camping. I want to do more of that this summer.
AM: What would you tell women who want to open their own shops?
Think outside the box. The bike industry has been male dominated for so long, it needs something new. Women have a different perspective then men. If it seems like your ideas are “not the norm” then you are probably on the right track. Unfortunately, you must be prepared for a bit of scrutiny from customers and even some employees. Know your stuff.
Be prepared for exhaustion. Im at the shop 10 to 12 hours a day. Its the best job in the world but it is exhausting. Riding keeps me sane. Don’t sacrifice ride time for anything. Even if all your doing is commuting, its therapy.
AM: And what advice would you give to other women and shops who want to grow their own clubs or women’s programming?
Learn from others. Connect with local bike clubs. Connect with local advocacy groups. Talk with other women who already have clubs or programs they are leading. Dream big and start small. Have a clear vision. You don’t have to do it all at once, baby steps.
AM: Whats your favorite ride?
I’m fortunate to live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We have so many beautiful scenic routes. My favorite rides are any where you have a clear shot of the Cascade or Olympic mountain ranges. Its breathtaking. Even after living my whole life here, Mt Rainier always impresses me.