Take Portland for a bike ride

  • By Jackson Holtz Special to The Herald
  • Friday, September 21, 2012 6:35pm
  • Life

Portland is beyond bike friendly.

It’s a cyclist’s paradise, a major city where bikes are given priority lanes and most motorists now politely share the road.

Consistently named the No. 1 city in the country for cycling, Portland has evolved as a place where bicycles nearly equal the number of cars.

The two-wheeled mode of transportation isn’t just for spandex-wearing athletes or moustached hipsters. Weekend tourists to the Rose City easily can take advantage of this cycling capital.

On a recent visit, I left the car at home and took the new Bolt Bus (www.boltbus.com) from Seattle to Portland. This express service, offered by Greyhound, offers seats from $1 to $25 for a one-way trip. (Yes, seats for a buck: One lucky person per trip can score. Your odds are better of getting the $1 seat the earlier you book.)

The Bolt buses are a bit more comfortable than standard buses and offer free Wi-Fi for the ride that averages about three hours. They allow bikes in the baggage area, but only if there’s room, and they are not responsible for damage.

The bus lacks the romance of the train, but at less than half the price, it’s a nice alternative.

Arriving in Portland, I walked the short distance to the Benson Hotel (bensonhotel.com), one of many affordable, full-service places to stay in the downtown core.

I rented a bike from Waterfront Bicycles on the Willamette River front, walkable from the dowtown core. There are other bike rental places all along the waterfront.

You can reserve bikes in advance at waterfrontbikes.com. For a maximum of about $35 a day, my rental bike included a helmet, handlebar bag and lock.

For help getting around on two wheels, I turned to Portland transplant Owen Wozniak. He just wrote “Biking Portland,” a quirky, fun and compelling guidebook.

“Biking is synonymous with Portland,” Wozniak told me over coffee in the Hawthorn District.

For the record, we both arrived by bicycle.

He explained that decades of public policy combined with a century of urban planning to create this cycling mecca.

His book is a combination of scenic rides just outside the city limits and several inner-city neighborhood tours, most starting from the Salmon Street Springs fountain at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This central location is close to most downtown hotels.

Wozniak combines helpful tips for getting around with in-depth historical information that makes it like having a friendly tour guide along for the ride.

“Since I discovered most of these places on my bikes, other people should, too,” Wozniak said.

His routes wind through one neighborhood to the next. I found small commercial districts, clusters of coffee shops and hip clothing stores that share little more than an intersection.

I would have missed most of these shops in a car, and never have found them by bus or on the Max, Portland’s light-rail system.

I took Wozniak’s advice and put my bike in high gear to summit Mount Tabor, a glorious park that offers views of Mount Hood to the east and downtown to the west.

There are nearly 20 rides to choose from in and around downtown Portland. Many take advantage of the extensive network of cycling paths.

All include easy connections with public transit if your tank runs out of gas.

The buses and light-rail system allow bikes on board if there’s room in designated areas. There also are bike stations at stops to lock and leave your two-wheelers.

My favorite route in Portland is the 11-mile Waterfront Loop. This ride follows the banks of the Willamette River south to the Sellwood Bridge and back to downtown. You can see the wildlife along the Willamette and get up close with Portland’s industrial past and technology future.

The trail goes right by the aerial tram that runs to Oregon Health and Science University and the old steel bridges.

Wozniak’s book includes several safety tips. Most, including wearing a helmet, were repeated at the bike rental shop. Even though the roads here are relatively safe, cyclists still must take precautions and ride defensively.

When not cycling, I found time to visit some of my favorite Portland places.

The Portland Farmers Market on Saturday mornings in South Park Blocks, a city park in the downtown area, is a celebration of the region’s abundance.

Plan an hour to stroll through the vendor booths and listen to the street musicians.

Check out the fabulous Portland Art Museum before walking up the street to Powell’s World of Books, the famous bookstore that takes up an entire city block.

After cycling all day, you’re going to be hungry for a treat. Walk around the corner to Voodoo Doughnuts, where fried dough comes in all shapes and sizes. You can’t miss it.

Look for the long lines and follow your nose or look for the giant doughnuts covered in candied breakfast cereal or maple bars topped with strips of bacon.


Bolt Bus: www.boltbus.com or 877-265-8287.

“Biking Portland: 55 Rides from the Willamette Valley to Vancouver” by Owen Wozniak, The Mountaineer Books, $18.95.

Waterfront Bicycling, 10 SW Ash St., No. 100, Portland; www.waterfrontbikes.com; 503-227-1719.

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