If anyone knows bikes, it’s Sacha White.
Owner of Portland-based bike shop, Vanilla Workshop, White comes from a background of racing bikes and restoring and customizing vintage Vespas and Lambrettas. When he moved from Boulder, Colorado to Portland at age 20 and became a bike messenger, his love of scooters transferred to motor-less counterparts. Between messengering and racing, White was riding more than seventy-five miles every day. It was then that he broke his bike and took it to a frame builder to have it fixed. “I didn’t even know that frame builders existed at the time,” he recalled. “He was working on a raw frame from scratch, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that that was what I was looking for.”
Fast forward fifteen years and White has established a worldwide following for his Vanilla bikes. The modest, yet efficient shop is churning out some of the finest products on the market. While the namesake Vanilla bikes are what sparked the initial craze, these days the company is primarily selling its Speedvagen bikes, which are available at a lower price point and are faster to produce than the Vanilla bikes.
photo by Bruce MacGregor
White believes what impresses his customers is the balance of their bikes—from ride quality to the clean and elegant design. He attributes this balance to keeping everything in- house. “Rather than dealing with middle men, we can make sure that every last little bit is just so,” he said. “We’re able to fine-tune every detail without one aspect overwhelming another.”
Although the bikes are assembled in Portland, most sales take place elsewhere—about half domestically and half internationally, with particular demand from Australia, Asia and Scandinavia. The Vanilla team recently returned from its first fitting tour down the West Coast. In August, they will be embarking on another tour through Australia, where they will fit customers for bicycles. White emphasized that each bike is customized for the rider. “For me, it’s been important to always choose to do it better rather than faster or cheaper,” he said. “It would be relatively easy to make a decent bike, but the world doesn’t need more of that. If we can contribute a higher level of excellence, then we’re contributing something valuable to the world. That’s been my guiding light.”