Cycling in Portland
Riding a bike in Portland City, Oregon, is stress-free thanks to its top enviro status and made interesting due to its unique weirdness.
Exploring the ‘weird’ city on two wheels
Grown men racing kids’ bikes down a steep road sounds like a crazy one-off stunt. Only in Portland, Oregon, it’s a regular thing. Every Sunday afternoon a group of adults grab some small bikes suitable for seven-year-olds, then pedal them downhill like maniacs. They’re ‘zoobombers’ and their antics align tightly with the city’s motto ‘Keep Portland Weird’.
The city has the most cyclists per capita in the US. In 2008, it became the first major US city to achieve a Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. Proving it’s a fun and safe ride, tour guide Crystal from Pedal Bike Tours lead us on a city jaunt. Her clear hand signals guided us through intersections and her confidence rubbed off on our eight-yearold daughter who cycled directly behind.
We rode alongside Williamette River, viewing some of its 12 bridges. Burnside Bridge has two turrets posted either side of its drawbridge. Running north, streets are named alphabetically and one of them is called Flanders (The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is a Portlander and it became obvious he’s used landmarks for a few of his key characters).
The city supports 550 kilometres of
bike access: bike boulevards and dedicated green strips in the centre of some roads solely for bikers and skateboarders. On shared roads, cycling behind a tram and then merging between large SUVs was unnerving but drivers’ consistent speed and continuous tolerance was heartening.
In trendy Pearl district, a worthwhile stop is at tranquil Tanner Park. Behind a fence made from hundreds of recycled railway lines and recycled glass is an old industrial area transformed back to its original wetland state. Goldfish are easily spotted in waterways from wooden bench seats along its zig-zagging boardwalks. Set below the road’s surface, it also serves as a stormwater catchment.
During World War I, Portland became a refuge for Europe’s roses. Now known as the ‘city of roses’ any new rose variety is painted on the entire side of a building alongside other murals. Creative artists have gravitated to the liberal city to make their mark, leaving in their wake a hip, easy-going vibe.
Our daughter loved the giant longstemmed lilies, serving as solar-powered street lamps. I loved the Benson Bubblers - drinking water bubbling into bronze basins. Organic, home-grown and recycling is synonymous with Portland. A shop ‘Made Here’ sells beautifully crafted Oregon wares built to last, except their food, which we scoff later at an alarming rate.
Across the road, two stories high and spreading over an entire block, one million new and used books cram across floor-to-ceiling shelves at Powell’s Books. It’s so huge, sections are colour coded, each with its own information centre.
Traffic signals are optimised for safer and faster bike travel so we covered a lot of ground. Mouthwatering smells awakened our appetites when we cycled near a row of food carts, a food scene for which Portland is famous. Its doughnuts and coffee are world-renowned too. Voodoo’s voodoo-doll shaped doughnuts are accompanied with Pretzel ‘pins’ and at Stumptown, baristas churn out strong, mind-altering coffee. For something more potent, Oregon has plenty of organic wineries and more than 200 breweries.
At the top of Burnside Road we braked to take in ‘the pile up’. Chained around a pole were nine kids’ bikes waiting for Sunday when the ‘zoobombers’ unleash them. We were just happy to finish our tour riding calmly down the road centre on a designated green strip, the feeling leaving us empowered.
“We rode alongside Williamette River viewing some of its twelve bridges. The city supports 550 kilometres of bike access...”
Portland, Oregon, USA
Racing these small bikes downhill like maniacs on a Sunday afternoon aligns tightly with the city’s motto ‘Keep Portland Weird’.