Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So, that's a Real Bike Town!

Keeping It Weird

Last week, MB and I packed several bags, jumped on American Airlines, and flew to the Pacific Northwest to visit Portland OR for a week.  This wasn’t a vacation, mind you, as we both had to work; we’re fortunate enough to be able to work remotely thanks to the magic of the internet, VPNs, email, conference calls, and webinars.

The whole idea behind the visit was to spend time with our new (and first) grandson, Beckett, who is only 8 weeks of age and already a baller.  He can sleep, eat, and poop at the 98 percentile already.  Can’t wait to get him on a bike, pool table, golf course, and into the workshop with me.  Yeah, I’m a doting grandfather already.  Wanna see pictures?

We did spend some wonderful bonding time with him and his parents but we hate to be high maintenance to anyone, especially brand new parents.  Good grief, they’ll be suffering from sleep deprivation for some time, I don’t want to add to the stress.  At least, not yet.

As a result, we spent each day working East Coast hours – roughly 5 am to 2 pm local time – and then had time to visit the city as well as the kids.  That gave me a chance to explore and get to know about the city that’s been voted Best Bike City in America.  (As I live in Richmond, the town that hasn’t been voted anything except maybe City with the Largest Collection of 2nd Place Trophies 
Robert E. Lee Monument
1 of 7 on Monument Ave.

and host of the 2015 World Cycling Championships, I was hoping I could take something back for us to work on.)

Easy to See Why!

The first thing you notice in Portland is that nearly every street has a bike lane.  Seriously. And they are clearly marked, well laid out, and constantly used by cyclists. Even the bridges that cross the river in the middle of the city have them.  (The only place I didn’t see one was on the interstate and that’s because it’s illegal according to the Federal Highway Administration.  Oregon is pretty laid back, I almost expected to see them ignore this law.)  No matter where you’re going, if you’re going on a bike, you have a designated place to ride.

The next thing you notice is that there are bike racks in front of every business and they are constantly in use.  The only time you see a bike rack without bikes locked to it is very late at night, after a business is closed.  Even then you occasionally see one after hours, much like a parking lot with one car in it at 3 am.

The most startling thing to me is huge number of cyclist commuters there are.  Thousands of people ride through Portland every day, using the bike as a commuting device.  It can be cold, windy, dark, pouring down rain – even all four – and you still see riders out.  They simply dress for it, prepare their gear for it, and then they do it. (It made me change my mind about what’s acceptable weather to ride in.  I’ve been such a wuss, to date!)

One of the large bridges across the river has a counter that shows how many cyclists cross it each day.  On Saturday morning, about 11 am, it showed 372 had already crossed.  On work days, my son tells me the number is typically around 7,000 after the evening rush hour!  How amazing!

The drivers all seem to be pretty sane, too. Cyclists are given their due space, and give proper respect to cars.  I only saw two cars run red lights in a week and most people drive slightly under the speed limit, too.  Yeah, I know.  Weird.

So Why All the Riders?

I struggled with this question for a couple of days until I realized the answer is simple.  

Because They Can! 

Really, if you were able to get around safely and easily on your bike to get just anywhere, wouldn’t you?  I’ve been thinking about bike commuting to work for months but I haven’t been able to find a route that doesn’t put my butt in harm’s way for a good portion of it.  (Hey, Richmond!  Want to be thought of as bike friendly? Take a hint!)

MB and I were talking about it.  She said she thought we could probably do with one car between us if we lived in Portland, to which I agreed.  Those are strong words coming from two people that grew up in the suburbs of DC where a car is a necessity.

The same bike mentality carries through to other parts of the state, too.  We spent 2 days in Eugene, about 100 miles south.  The same bike lanes, bike racks, and riders are in effect down there.  The difference, being it’s a college town, is that all the riders are much younger.  Up in Portland, it’s every age up to the elderly; even older than me.  Like 70 plus!

I saw other reasons to bike…..about 100 or so…..

Portland is home to about 80 micro-breweries and these guys brew up some of the best beer in the country, according to my beer geek friend, Steve.  I was fortunate enough to get a taste of about 25 different ones during the week.  Cycling gives you an outlet for working off those extra calories, doesn’t it?  (Deschutes, Black Butte Porter – one of the best beers I’ve ever had.  Wow!)

Bike Shops galore!

With this many cyclists, you would expect to find a bunch of bike shops.  There is almost one every couple of blocks!  The difference here is that while the shops have plenty of bikes for sale, lots of commuter models – big surprise, they have a huge inventory of wearables.  Based on the many seasons of Portland weather, that makes sense.  You need wet weather, cold weather, any weather clothing to get on the bike, not to mention panniers to carry your stuff, good locks to protect, etc.  (My son’s rig is to die for; he commutes to grad school in town and has a ball.)

Several shops specialize in gear for the working cyclist.  You can get trailers that will handle and haul just about anything you need. I actually saw a construction rig that one guy was pulling behind his bike with a chop saw on a stand and a tool box all tied down.  He was pedaling along a secondary street at about 15 miles per hour, talking on his cell phone.

Bundle it all up, will ya?

In fifty five years of living, nearly twenty as an adult, I’ve never even thought about living on the West Coast.  I’d live in Portland though.  Great town, great beer, great cycling, great people, and terrific restaurants.  Who cares if the weather is a little sketchy for months at a time?

Just ride!