Portlandia is pridefully weird, with its love of beards, bikes and crazy junk food. After a couple of high-calorie days here, I want to put the fetching little city on my handlebars and ride.
So I do.
Cycle Portland Bike Tours’ basic ride-around starts downtown about a mile from the city’s core. During the two-hour ride, guide Sam Appelbaum huddles up the 10 of us at various pit stops around town for breezy accounts of the city’s history. It’s an engaging way to get a feel for the city’s layout and some of its conventional and quirky offerings.
At our first stop along the waterfront, we learn how former Gov. Tom McCall led the effort to turn the strip of freeway hugging the Willamette River into green space, changing the face and feel of downtown.
From there, we head across the river, down curling bike paths to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, better known as OMSI, where Appelbaum deftly explains how Portland is working to enhance and encourage micro-neighborhoods to cut down on crosstown traffic.
Back across the river we go, and up to the Portland State campus, another cool oasis in this leafy city. What makes the 12-mile bike tour so pleasant is the relatively flat terrain, combined with plenty of shade.
Two hours later, we’re in the Pearl, the renovated warehouse district that’s been reborn as an arts, retail and dining destination, and is home to the Portland Bike Tours shop where we began.
Besides the fine overview of the city, the tour offers insight into how much Portlanders worship their two-wheelers. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2008 that 6% of the workforce commutes primarily by bike each day.
Here, cycling is integrated into the lifestyle, with bike boxes, racks and traffic lanes a constant presence. That’s not to say there aren’t the typical tensions between motorists and riders. But Portland is further along than most cities.
For instance, workplaces feature “bike rooms” where commuters can stash their rides during the day. Perhaps most telling is the Pedalpalooza bike festival each June that features nearly 300 inventive and inspiring rides and events.
The activities include a playful Dr. Seuss ride, unicycle polo matches and all-night rides that lead to a sunrise over the Columbia Gorge. Some rides are difficult, some merely social, some bizarre (a bridal ride in wedding gowns and several naked bike rides).
A sampling of the events at Pedalpalooza:
• The Little Lebowski Urban Achievers Ride, featuring participants in their favorite “Big Lebowski” costumes and occasional reenactments of scenes from the movie (“I mean, say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”)
• The Solstice Ride, in which participants pedal off at 9 p.m. and ride all night in honor of the first day of summer to a view spot looking out over the Columbia River.
• World Naked Bike Ride, in which Portland police escort 9,000 naked and semi-naked cyclists through the city. It ends in a giant party. Its point is to show how vulnerable cyclists feel on the streets. At least, that’s one of the points.
• The Zoobomb, a lighthearted tradition down a hill near the zoo that draws mostly young adults aboard all sorts of outrageous cycles.
• “Star Wars” versus “Star Trek,” pretty much what you’d think, with participants dressed as favorite characters.
• Tater Tot Tour, a moderate overnight camping trip, 30 miles each way, in which participants refuel on one of the staples of the Portland diet.
For more info on biking Portland and the annual Pedalpalooza festival (June 4-27, 2015), go to bikeportland.org.