Hillsboro woman makes cycling and pedestrian safety her business

Bike specialty businesses in the Portland area are almost as ubiquitous as coffee shops. But a near-tragedy in 2005 alerted Hillsboro resident Nancy Nelson to a then-untapped market: visibility wear.

“It started just as a fluke,” Nancy said, which is her polite way of saying that in 2005, she almost lost her husband to a cycling accident.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Nancy Nelson shows off one of her reflective triangles. It was a pleasant day at the Oregon Coast, and Carl Nelson, a general contractor, was wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans when he rode into the shade of roadside trees — and almost complete obscurity, according to the motorist who nearly hit him. Both parties pulled over, and the driver of the car said that had it not been for Nelson’s socks, visible in the motion of pedaling, Nelson would’ve likely been struck.

At the time, Nancy was a stay-at-home mother of two with several years of experience in retail. When Carl’s nerves had calmed after his brush with death, the Nelsons saw a business opportunity. Research confirmed that there were few products on the market designed to make casual cyclists and pedestrians more conspicuous to cars.

“There were high-end (bike apparel) shops, but just for the average person, it was really hard to find anything,” Nancy recalls. “I saw a niche there.”

The safety shop

And so Pedestrian and Safety Products Inc. was born.

What began as an online business became a brick and mortar presence in 2006 in downtown Hillsboro. From a small storefront on Third Avenue between Main and Washington streets, Nancy offered wearable lights, as well as apparel and accessories whose bright or reflective materials made roadside recreation safer.

With the economic downturn of 2008, Nancy was forced to reconsider her business’ identity. Her store on Third Avenue was shuttered in December of that year, just before the now infamous snowstorm hit the Portland area.

Pedestrian and Safety Products became, a web-only store with a more streamlined inventory. It was a savvy move, considering the bulk of Nancy’s business comes not from the notoriously bike-centric Pacific Northwest, but from California and the East Coast.

“I do very little business here,” Nancy says. “I think on the East Coast, the bicyclists are in such a heavily populated area, they’re more concerned with safety. California? I have no idea.

“My business has transitioned. I don’t sell as much of the clothing and bicycling gear, because I figure people can get that at the bike shops. What has sold is the reflective triangles.”

Pedigreen’s target demographic isn’t a passionate cycling subculture — it’s pedestrians. Hospitals and rehabilitation centers prove a dependable source of revenue for her handmade reflective triangles, designed for pedestrians to put in their pockets or for individuals to put on the back of their wheelchairs or mobility vehicles.

Pedigreen’s new direction has proven a better fit for Nancy, who admits that she herself is not the most avid of cyclists.

“This is the ironic thing,” she says. “I ride a bike occasionally, but I’m really am not what you would consider a cyclist at all.”

Mixing business and pleasure

Nancy’s passion, it turns out, is a blend of promoting both cycling safety and local business. Running Pedigreen from home, Nancy has found she occupied a somewhat lonely segment of the market: She isn’t an Etsy seller online, casually pedaling handcrafted wares, yet she considers Pedigreen to be a “hobby business.”

Free from the demands of running a physical store, Nancy has been able to pursue another innovative idea.

“When my husband and I had our shop, we wanted to bring more business into downtown Hillsboro,” Nancy explains. “We started the Tour de Parks bicycle ride. We did that the first year on our own, and it was just luck and a prayer and a lot of people that knew what they were doing pitched in and helped us. About 150 people showed up for that first ride.”

The Nelsons wanted to continue the tradition, which invites cyclists of all ages and experience levels to tour two, six or 10 Hillsboro-area parks. The Nelsons worked with the Washington County Bicycle Transportation Coalition, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves as an advocacy group for cycling enthusiasts throughout the county. The coalition aims to improve cycling conditions and to encourage safer bike commutes.

Carl sits on the organization’s board, and Tour de Parks just held its fifth annual event.

“That’s my position: I want Washington County to be the best and the safest for cycling, period,” Nancy says.

For more information about Pedestrian & Safety Products Inc., visit To learn more about the Washington County Bicycle Coalition, visit

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