We all know Portland, Oregon, is a great city for biking, touted as the Cycling Capital of America. Once you’re there this immediately becomes apparent, as bike culture is everywhere. While visitors can easily rent a bike and explore the city, I want to help you get away from the norm and bike Portland in a quirkier fashion. To help you plan your itinerary, here are nine alternative bike experiences in Portland.
1. Velo Cult Bike Shop
If you have one alternative cycling experience while in Portland, make it visiting Velo Cult Bike Shop. A bike shop-meets-bar-meets-art gallery-meets-movie theater-meets-museum-meets-cafe, the space is a community hub for bike culture. Peruse one of the largest collections of historical mountain bikes on the west coast, many of which you’ll find hanging from the ceiling, and learn about the different breakthroughs that were made in cycling throughout the years. In true Portland fashion they also offer local beer — including flights served on retro 70s skateboards — and roast their own coffee beans. This is perfect if you need a tune up, as you can sip a “Nectar Creek Honeywine Wildflower Session Mead” or “Portland Cider Co. Kinda Dry” while you wait. Along with bike art prints hanging over the bar one can peruse hand-made and high-quality local bike accessories, like neon helmets from Nutcase Helmet and Velo Cut cycling cats. For entertainment have some fun in their photobooth, head downstairs to their 45-seat movie theater with VIP room, or see a live show on their ground-floor stage crafted from the drawbridge of a nearby castle-style mansion.
2. Take Part In A Quirky Organized Bike Ride
While simply hopping on a bike and riding around the city or pedaling along one of the greenways can be fun, Portland is also home to a number of quirky bike rides. First and foremost, their World Naked Bike Ride — which is exactly what it sounds like — is the largest in the country and promotes the vulnerability of cyclists compared to cars every June. Also during June is Pedalpalooza, featuring 3+ weeks with hundreds of organized bike rides, many with weird themes like bike jousting, teddy bears or Star Wars vs. Star Trek. You can also be a Zoobomber for a night, as this weekly ride involves riding a children’s bike — often in crazy costume — downhill at 35 mph near the Portland Zoo every Sunday around 8:30PM near 13th & SW Burnside.
If you’d rather just explore some great city rides, check out Pedal Portland: 25 Easy Rides for Exploring the City by Bike or Best Bike Rides Portland, Oregon: A Guide to the Greatest Recreational Rides in the Metro Area (Best Bike Rides Series for ideas.
3. Take A Bike Tour Of Bike Culture
While most city bike excursions show you major attractions, Portland Bicycle Tours offers a Bike-O-Rama Tour that teaches you about bike culture by taking your around the city and its suburbs to look at and learn about cycling infrastructure. It’s a nice departure from the normal “and here we have the [insert guide book attraction] built in [name year nobody will remember]” tours, as it allows you to delve into an important facet of Portland culture: cycling. Some topics covered include how mixed use zoning allowed for mom and pop shops to prevail in the city, how Protected Intersections are saving lives, why certain sections of pavement are bright green, what a “Copenhagen Left” is and why Village Building Convergence doesn’t just make the streets pretty, but is also great for safety (more on this below).
4. Walnut Studiolo
Walnut Studiolo turns bike accessories into art, as husband and wife team Geoffrey and Valerie Franklin craft leather bike enhancements out of their garage. Some items include a Boxy Saddle Bag crafted in black, dark brown or honey using hard-sewn stiff vegetable-tanning leather, or a can cage made from hand-stitched rigid leather for your beer or soda. They even sell a book featuring images of bicycle culture, art and style called “Velo: 2nd Gear.” You can find their products at Joe Bike (2039 SE Cesar E Chavez Boulevard, Portland), offering an essentially bike-themed art experience.
5. The Pyle
“The Pyle” is an al fresco work of art that inspires new uses of public space and is dedicated to the Portland Zoobombers — mentioned above — composed of a large pile of colorful children’s bikes and one golden bike at the top reaching two storeys above the sidewalk. Not only that, but it’s functional, too. The Portland Zoobombers began their fun weekly ride in 2002, barreling down hills near the Portland Zoo on children’s bikes. The problem was, for awhile participants were all chaining their bikes on the sidewalks and making it difficult for pedestrians. Instead of silencing their creative spirits, the city created a piece that could double as artwork as well as offer lender bikes and a place for Zoobombers to keep their things. It truly embodies Portland’s out-of-the-box spirit — not to mention is beautiful to look at.
6. Breakfast On Hawthorne Bridge
Hungry in the morning but don’t want to pay for breakfast? Ride a bike. Portland has a unique program where coffee and donuts are offered free of charge to cyclists and pedestrians between 7-9am on the last Friday of every month on Hawthorne Bridge, the country’s oldest vertical-lift bridge and Portland’s oldest highway bridge. According to my Portland Bicycle Tours guide, it’s interesting to note Hawthorne Bridge is the most popular cycling bridge in Oregon, with 20% of rides per day by bike. The most record-breaking day was during the 2013 World Naked Bike Ride — Portland’s is the largest in the country — where 9,000 people in one day biked over the bridge. On average, there are about 5-7,000 bikers per day going over the bridge in the summer and 2-3,000 in the winter. Click here to see the current counter numbers. Bonus: the bridge offers beautiful views of the Willamette River and the city.
7. Village Building Convergence
Village Building Convergence is a beautiful thing — literally. If you ever cycle or drive around Portland you’ll notice that some intersections have colorful painted murals on the asphalt. While beautiful, these are about much more than street art. In fact, it’s been shown that patterned and textured roadways actually make drivers naturally slow down, leading to less accidents. Every summer for 10 days, the City Repair’s Village Building Convergence (VBC) Festival brings community members together to repaint old murals and paint new ones. Click here for a map so you can see exactly where these inspiring street murals are painted and plan your bike ride to pass by them. It’s also a great way to better understand Portland’s infrastructure and creative projects.
8. Hopworks Urban Brewery
Hopworks Urban Brewery, a carbon neutral brewery and Portland’s only certified organic brewery, isn’t just obsessed with sustainability and great beer, but also bikes. To get there you can ride along the North Williams “bike-highway” and park your cycle in one of 75 spaces on their property. They even have tools if you need a tune up. Have a sustainable at their restaurant bar — like Organic IPX Single Hop Ale made with their house-made beer or an all-natural pulled pork sandwich tossed in Velvet ESBBQ sauce — and dine under an array of colorful bike frames. Hopworks also hosts the world’s only bike-in Octoberfest party in September, called Biketoberfest, as well as the annual Hopworks’ Bike to Beer Fest featuring bike competitions, BMX trick riders and the chance to power the brewery by pedaling an energy-generating bike.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland is a must-visit spot for coffee nerds, javaheads and those traveling on a budget. Every day at 3pm they host a free cupping experience where you can savor a guided tasting and learn how coffee is made and how to properly taste a cup (Tip: get there on time, as you won’t want to miss a sip). Another highlight of visiting the annex is seeing the shelves of the high-tech and rare coffee brewing equipment, as well as a small museum dedicated to showcasing innovations in the coffee making industry. One piece that’s interesting to look at is a piece of carelessly put together wood — shown above — that will probably make you stop and say, “huh? what is that?” (I did!). It’s actually what coffee pickers in Rwanda use to transport coffee beans from farm to production; however, it’s difficult to maneuver and very inefficient. When Stumptown founder and CEO Duane Sorenson went to Rwanda to visit their producers, he saw how people were moving the beans and wanted to help. His response was to create Bikes to Rwanda, which provided co-operative coffee farmers in Rwanda with cargo bicycles, bike workshops and maintenance shops.
Salt & Straw Video taken by Jessica Festa using a Nokia Lumia Icon.
And after a long day of biking, how does one re-cooperate in Portland? With delicious Salt & Straw Ice Cream — milk is often touted as the best thing you can drink after a workout as the casein and whey help muscle recover. This small batch artisanal ice cream shop works with local purveyors to source decadent additions, and quickly became my favorite place in Portland. Some top flavor picks include Sea Salt Ice Cream with Caramel Ribbon, Honey Balsamic Strawberry with Cracked Pepper and Pear with Blue Cheese. Get a visual of this heavenly stop above in a video featuring a Tyler Malek, co-founder of Salt & Straw, and fellow traveler Kirsten Alana.
*Featured image courtesy of Travel Portland
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*My trip to Portland was sponsored by Visit Portland. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated in monetary value. All opinions are 100% my own.