This Bike Company Launched a Black Reparations Program. Then the Lawyers Called.

Rivendell Bicycle Works built a loyal following by ignoring convention. But what happens when good intentions spark public outrage in a country divided?

Acouple months later, on October 1, 2020, Petersen put out a press release announcing that Rivendell would offer a 45 percent discount to any Black customer who wanted to buy a bike.

“The American bicycle industry has been racist, often overtly racist, since 1878,” the company wrote in the release. “Rivendell has been obliviously—not ‘obviously’—racist most of the time since 1994. We say this not to scold the industry, not to be publicly humble, not to scold other bicycle businesses, and not to be uncharacteristically on trend. It’s just true.”

Rivendell’s nine staff members were on board to launch the Black Reparations Pricing, or BRP. The company would not increase prices on other frames and would dedicate 10 percent of its inventory to BRP for customers who identified as Black. 

Eight days after Rivendell formally announced BRP, Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer, former Republican Party official, frequent Fox News guest, and founder of the Center for American Liberty, tried to put a stop to Rivendell’s BRP program. Dhillon and the Center for American Liberty cited both federal and California laws that prohibit any business from participating in discrimination based on race. “Rivendell Bicycle Work’s [sic] Black Reparations Pricing is illegal,” Dhillon wrote in a press release. “Every customer is entitled to pricing on non-discriminatory terms. We demand you discontinue this policy immediately, or legal action may ensue.”

The program was shut down on the advice of Rivendell’s lawyers. “The whole thing—it was a grand plan that fizzled out,” says Petersen. “We were afraid for our physical well-being. It was really ugly around here. We were all miserable.”

“From a strictly legal perspective, we’ve been handcuffed,” Petersen wrote in a blog announcing the end of the reparations program.

Vernon never got his bike. He expressed the painful irony of a lawyer on the other side of the country blocking a willful transaction between him and Rivendell.

Today, more than a year after the reparations program ended, BRP lives on as BRF—Bikes R Fun—and as a standalone charitable fund that supports various causes. Rivendell customers donated $54,000 in 2021. “A lot of that went to places that would bum the right wing out, but we (I know I can use the collective we here) don’t care what they think,” Keating wrote in a recent email newsletter.


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