Pacific Northwest Cycling Culture


Bikes lined up in front of Pike's Public Market, Seattle, WA

My vacation to Seattle & Portland was 3 weeks ago.  I spent a week out west–4 days in Seattle, 1 at Mt Hood, and 2 in Portland.  None of it was enough.  I’ve been told by scads of people about the enormous bike culture in the Pacific Northwest–particularly in Portland.  They were all right.

Seattle: 

Maybe it was because I spent more time in Seattle, but I almost got the sense bike culture was stronger in Seattle than Portland. In fact–I was altogether, quite taken with Seattle.  I love being both on the ocean close to epic mountains.  But back to the bikes–fixies rocketing through city streets, bikes chained to every lamppost….the fleet of bike commuters unloading off the morning ferry from Bainbridge Island, commuter bikes….e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.  It was embraced, fully, by the city.  As I walked the streets of downtown there were all kinds of people, tall, elegant, european looking men with pinned pants and leather satchels, polished women, native american citizens, outdoorsy types with high-tech clothing on their way to the office, a fair number of homeless and clearly heroin addicted souls, and the next generation of whatever comes after the grunge era.  Maybe it was because it wasn’t raining all week, and it had, by local accounts, been cold and dreary until the week we arrived.  But Seattle had a very positive vibe for me and I liked it–a LOT.

I learned that any new office building that is built must have bike racks and showers for employees to encourage bike commuting.  Anyone who has been stuck on Interstate 5 will understand what a good thing this is, green economy notwithstanding.  I started to just enjoy looking at everyone’s ride–the amount of style and personalization each commuter bike had.  Some were beaters but other were truly beautiful, unique, funky, classic, original machines.  And they were everywhere–every corner, every railing.

The cycling was just one part of it though–with the flagship REI Store located in Seattle, as well as Northface, Columbia, and Nike stores–the temperate climate, the epic rugged scenery, and the natural beauty of the area, blended with the high-tech, nearly cosmopolitan downtown Seattle, and yes, a coffee shop on every. single. block.  This was a place I could get used to.

Of course, if it rains as much as the says it does, I’m sure I’d grow depressed and hate it.  I need my Vitamin D.  But when the sun shines in Seattle–it’s a pretty great place.

Mt Rainer: We visited Rainer for a day.  Visiting a place referred to as Paradise–for the fields of colorful wildflowers that only bloom in August–we were surprised when we arrived to 10-15 feet of snowpack high in the park.  Where the ground was bare, flowers erupted, but the rest of it was dirty, deep, glacial snow.  Paths were blocked by it, and the streams still rushed violently.  Rainer stayed blocked by clouds, but it’s 14,411 feet peeked out and it’s hard to describe the massive beauty of this stratovolcano.  I was most impressed by cyclists in the park climbing, climbing, climbing.

Mt Hood:

The intent during this trip was to rent mountain bikes at a place called the Ski Bowl at Mt Hood.  I had been looking forward to mt. biking out here and adding it to the list of great places I’ve mountain biked in North America.  Going to Mt Hood was kind of like entering the Twilight Zone.  We drove through a town called Government Camp and could not locate anyone over the age of 20 in the whole town.  It was–strange.  There were discarded beer and Red Bull cans in the streets, weeds popping from the sidewalks, all amidst a backdrop of beautiful rugged architecture that looked like a resort in Aspen.  It was as if the developer ran out of money, didn’t finish building the resort town, and left. Feeling out of our element–we killed our plans to rent bikes and drove up to the Timberline Lodge where the snowboarders and ski bums were still playing in the snow.  They were pretty impressive.

Portland:

As we checked into our hotel on the riverfront, we heard the concierge giving another guest directions to the infamous Voodoo Doughnuts.  This was a definite on the list and it did not disappoint.  We waited in line, a quick 10 minutes, for what was hands down the most pleasurable donut experience of my entire life (sorry Kane’s, my hometown shop was named better than Voodoo by Bon Appetit magazine but I disagree…Voodoo wins).

But back to bike culture–on our last night purely by chance they had an independent documentary film festival for bikes & beer called “Clips of Faith,” on the lawn next to our hotel on the riverfront.  We didn’t even plan this and here’s yet another example of how pervasive bikes are in the fabric of Portland’s community.

Along with 40+ bicycle shops in Portland proper–this is definitely the most bike friendly region I’ve visited.  And some people may think it’s weird, but I’d agree with this following sentiment:

I’ll be back~

–Karen

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About Karen

When I was 10, I used to think I was the bionic woman.

4 responses to “Pacific Northwest Cycling Culture”

  1. chris says :

    your cycling trips sound awesome –hope to follow in your trails someday–I’m relatively new to cyclingand am looking for livestrong cycling shorts-do you have any for sale–i read on one of your sites a couple yrs back that you had jerseys, bands, etc Please feel free to contact me via email Thanks

  2. Karen says :

    Chris, You should be able to get Livestrong gear at livestrong.org That way a % will go to support cancer patients :) We don’t sell anything here at this site, but occasionally will point out a cool item for sale or review gear/equipment we have purchased for our own use :)

  3. Jeff Moser says :

    I really love the Seattle area too. I think the traffic and bigness of it all kills it for me though…coming from a pretty small city. Seems like once you’re in a neighborhood though, you don’t have to drive as much. I took the bus there too, and that worked out pretty well.

    I still have to visit Portland. I’ve only driven around it. Sometimes it’s frustrating looking at the bike culture up there. Hundreds will show up to ride naked in Portland…I have trouble attracting 10 people to some of my much more tame events!

  4. Forrest says :

    That Mount Hood trip looks awesome! When do the roads typically open up enough for a skinny tire road bike?

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