Biking in America’s Most Bicycle-Friendly City: Portland

Ed Forester by Ed Forester June 25, 2014   Activities

For much of the year—most of it, if we’re being honest—Portland isn’t really all that great for biking. There’s the rain, for one thing, which is ever-present for about eight months straight beginning each October. Then depending where you are in town, there are the hills—not quite as problematic as they can be in Seattle or San Francisco, but in no way the ideal grade for easy biking. And we can’t forget to mention Portland’s growing MAX train system, which means an ever-extending network of bicycle-jarring tracks. 

My point is that if you were to travel to Portland anytime between October and May, you might find yourself asking how the city earned its renown for being the most bike-friendly place in the country. There are two key reasons why Bridge Town takes the title… 

First, Portlanders in general are a hearty, dedicated bunch who tend to be committed to both fitness and environmentally-friendly behavior. Clad in an armor of North Face raingear, Portland bicyclists pedal forward with an aloofness to the rain that borders on scorn. 

Second, once Portland’s rainy season comes to a close, the city transforms into nothing short of a cyclist’s paradise. From late spring until early autumn the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, the pavement is rarely if ever slicked with rain, and the streets are filled with oddly-garbed Portlandites, most of whom are on their way to their next tallboy of PBR or a front-porch barbeque, or both. If you’re looking to travel to Portland for the biking, this is the best time for it. 

It is during this period when the Zoobombers pedal into action; a group of more-or-less city sanctioned riders who mount child-sized bikes then blast down a steep hill that runs through the zoo at top speed. 

June also brings Pedalpalooza, a three week orgy of cycling events which include races, performance art, food stands, bike polo, a gay pride bike parade, and the largest naked bike ride on the planet. Many cities around the globe participate in the World Naked Bike Ride, but no city draws anywhere near as many bare-bicyclists as Portland. It was estimated that 8,000 people took part in the last one. 

The season of unbridled biking doesn’t stop there, with events such as the Cirque du Cycling taking place in the historic Mississippi district, Bridge Pedal setting bicyclists loose on the temporarily automobile-free bridges (of which there are many in Portland), and the Portland Twilight Criterium, which beckons some of the nation’s leading bicyclists for the largest race in the region.

Despite the fact that Portland’s ideal biking season blooms only for a short while, the city remains bike-friendly year round. 

Portland Street Biking

Bike lanes are becoming almost ubiquitous. Virtually every major road is bordered by a green bike lane. There are also a number of bike routes that were carefully selected to make summiting the hill in the north part of town less of a task—northbound runs along Williams St. with southbound paralleling one block away on Vancouver Ave. Portland is so alternative-transportation friendly, that it even has specially charted skateboarding routes. 

Bike parking is just as readily available, with some bars practically competing to offer the most stands and locking options. Then you have bike-oriented bars like Hopworks Bike Bar and BrewCycle, a bike shop on every other block, and the most expansive array of widely varying bicycle monstrosities you could ever imagine. The “fixie” is no longer king of the Portland bike scene. That crown goes to Frankensteins—the swing bikes, the tall bikes, and a million other piecework designs.

When all is said and done, if you’re looking to travel a U.S. destination of unrivaled bikeability, pedal your way to Portland.

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