City and Mellow Johnny’s agree to phase out bike contract



a group of people riding on the back of a bicycle: Austin police use bikes as protesters advance during a protest on May 31. Local bike shop Mellow Johnny’s decided it no longer want to sell bikes to the Austin Police Department, but the city has asked it to stay on until the department can find a new vendor. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]


© Bronte Wittpenn
Austin police use bikes as protesters advance during a protest on May 31. Local bike shop Mellow Johnny’s decided it no longer want to sell bikes to the Austin Police Department, but the city has asked it to stay on until the department can find a new vendor. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

You perhaps recall that last month the folks at local bike shop Mellow Johnny’s decided it no longer wants to sell bikes to the Austin Police Department.

The decision, the shop said in a statement, was made “in the context of the current evaluation of community policing in Austin.” And it came after Austin cops’ use of bikes at downtown protests caused some consternation among some folks. Those folks included some Mellow Johnny’s employees.



a group of people riding on the back of a bicycle: Austin police use bikes to form a boundary during a May 31 protest in downtown Austin.  [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]


© Bronte Wittpenn
Austin police use bikes to form a boundary during a May 31 protest in downtown Austin. [BRONTE WITTPENN/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

There was one potential obstacle to Mellow Johnny’s effort to de-couple from the cops. That obstacle is some pieces of paper, 40 in this case, that lawyers call a “contract.”

The city and the shop signed one of those in October 2019 and it calls for Mellow Johnny’s to sell 40 bikes a year for five years to the cops for a total purchase price of $314,000. The bikes are Trek models commonly used by law enforcement agencies, though the popular bike maker has also expressed concern about how cops are using its products.



a group of people standing next to a bicycle: Austin police during a May 31 protest in downtown Austin [LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]


© Lola Gomez
Austin police during a May 31 protest in downtown Austin [LOLA GOMEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

“Recently we have seen photos and video of Trek bikes that have been used by police in ways that are abhorrent and vastly different from their intended use,” Trek said in a statement.

So that’s the backdrop. And now it looks like Mellow Johnny’s is going to have to continue to sell bikes to APD, if needed and if available, until a new vendor can be signed up. It looks like both sides are OK with the outcome.

Back on Aug. 6, Cyrenthia Ellis, the city’s procurement manager, spoke with Will Black and Dave Ryther of the bike shop. The details of what they talked about and how Mellow Johnny’s will be allowed to get out of the contract were detailed in a letter Ellis sent to Ryther last week.

“The city understands that Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop no longer wishes to perform the requirements of their contract with the city,” she told him. “Per the terms and conditions of the contract, Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop does not have the right to cancel or to terminate the contract without cause.”

She continued: “As the city relies on this contract to support a portion of its law enforcement and public safety services, ending the contract before the city can put a new contract in place could negatively impact the city’s ability to provide these services.”

So that’s a problem, but one that seems to have come to a mutually accepted solution, as delineated in Ellis’ letter. The terms:

“Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop will continue providing equipment and services as required under the current contract. The city’s Purchasing Office will proceed with the development of a new solicitation, with the intention of awarding a contract sometime before or shortly after the beginning of the new calendar year. And as soon as the city awards a new contract, the Purchasing Office will issue a bilateral amendment to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop to end the current contract with 30 days’ notice — in accordance with the contract’s terms and conditions.”

Seems like a reasonable path to allow the bike shop to roll away from a contractual obligation.

Will Black, general manager at Mellow Johnny’s, said his shop complied with the city’s request to continue to provide bikes until a new contract is signed with another provider. Generally, the Police Department orders some in the fall. But, citing the nationwide bike shortage caused by pandemic-spurred purchases, Black said he’s not sure if Mellow Johnny’s will be able to get the ones the Police Department uses.

“We are more than happy to work with the city and make this as easy on them as possible,” Black said, conditioning future sales on availability.

How hot is the bike market?

“I started working in bike shops as a 13-year-old kid,” Black said. “I’m 53 this year. I’ve never, never, ever, ever seen anything remotely close to this. I joked with Lance when this first started … I haven’t seen people buying bikes since he was winning seven Tours (de France).

“And he kind of chuckled and laughed. And then, probably two weeks later, I told him, ‘Dude, this is like you winning Tours times five.’ I mean it’s insane,” Black said.

Lance is Mellow Johnny’s founder and co-owner Lance Armstrong. You know about him.

As expected, the shop’s decision to stop selling bikes to the cops has divided Austin.

“I’ve certainly heard both sides,” Black said. “We were bombarded with mostly bad. But as a business we’re still thriving.”

There are plenty of other bike shops in town. It will be interesting to see if any of them want to sell bikes to the cops. I’ve got a feeling some might not.

But the bigger question might be whether there’ll be any bikes for anyone to sell to anyone.

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