Erik Tonkin CAS ’96
September 18, 2012
Robert M Reynolds
Students riding bicycles to class are a common sight on the roads leading up to Palatine Hill, but few make their first visit to campus on two wheels. Back in the early 1990s, Erik Tonkin did.
“I’d never been west of Minnesota when I decided to transfer,” he says.
“I landed in Portland, took a bus downtown, opened up a phone book, and rented a bike from the downtown Bike Gallery. My first experience of Portland was, on a sunny spring day, riding my bike from downtown up Terwilliger Boulevard to the campus. I found the trails in Riverview Cemetery before I even got to campus, and I destroyed that rental bike in the mud. I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m coming here!’”
Tonkin now owns Sellwood Cycle Repair on Southeast 13th Avenue. After joining the business as its second employee in 1998, he gained an ownership stake in 1999 and took it over entirely in 2007.
The shop, which moved to a much larger space in 2011 to accommodate its growing business, sells many Lewis & Clark students their first bicycles. Tonkin says remaining the de facto Lewis & Clark bike shop is among his top priorities because the college is “a constant fantastic source of smart young people.”
In addition to his work at Sellwood Cycle Repair, Tonkin is also an accomplished athlete. He and his wife, Rhonda Mazza B.S. ’96, both rode with the U.S. team in the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Cyclo-Cross World Championships. (She placed 11th in 2007.)He is a reliable presence at races and educational events. Through the shop he supports both Kiel Johnson’s work with bike trains and Lewis & Clark Law School’s Public Interest Law Project. Washington manufacturer Kona named one of its bicycles the Honky Tonk in his honor.
Tonkin credits Lewis & Clark’s emphasis on overseas study and the outdoors with creating so many dedicated bicyclists. “There’s always been something about bikes to me that has equated to freedom, mobility, and exploration,” he says. “That adventure, that spirit, is very ‘bikey.’ Bicycles aid and abet your connection to a sense of place.”
Read more about how other alumni continue to put the bicycling stamp on every area of Portland life.
Started Go By Bike which provides valet bicycle parking, bicycle rentals, and repair services.
The City of Portland’s transportation policy director and former executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
Senior cartographer for Metro.
Bicycle advocate and employee of Nutcase Helmets.
Program manager at Alta Planning and Design, a bicycle and pedestrian planning and design firm.
Author and advocate for women building bicycle-related businesses.