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Getting to know Otto Miller Road – UPDATED

Posted by on August 13th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

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It was nice to finally meet Otto Miller.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

On Saturday I finally explored Otto Miller Road. I say finally, because I’ve heard about it for years; but I just haven’t gotten out to do it. Now that I’m finally riding a bit more and have some legs under me, I figured it was time to find this legendary road and give it a try. And I’m glad I did.

Before I share any more, I should thank Rapha — the awesome bike apparel/lifestyle company based in the UK with its North American headquarters right here in Portland. The first time I heard about Otto Miller was (I think) on a tag inside one of their jerseys. I figured it was some legendary European rider. It wasn’t until a few months later I realized it was actually a road. And they simply loved riding on it.

About 20 miles north of Portland on Highway 30, just as you enter Scappoose, you come to Dutch Canyon Road. Take that about 5 miles west and you’ll find Otto Miller Road. It’s a gravel road that climbs southward for about 3 miles, with a few extra miles of rollers before you make your way back up to the southern tip of NW Skyline.

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Riding Otto Miller is tricky. It’s full of tiny rocks (both loose and embedded), washboard bumps, off-camber turns, and so on. Maintaining traction on skinny-tired bikes while working hard to keep the pedals turning is a challenge. Bigger tires would some of the edge off, and of course a cyclocross bike would make things a bit easier. I ran 25c tires on a racing-oriented road bike (aluminum frame and straight-blade carbon fork) and did fine.

If you go, keep a few gravel road climbing tips in mind:
- Keep your weight balanced as evenly over both wheels as possible.
- Stay in the saddle if you can (standing up will almost surely lead to your rear wheel spinning out).
- Use as high a gear as possible to lessen torque and maintain traction.
- Keep you hands on the hoods (versus the tops or drops) for better balance.
- Keep your spin smooth through the entire stroke.
- Don’t turn too sharp.

Whether you like this kind of riding or not (I crave it), the rewards are the same: You get solitude away from traffic, a ride through pine fir and hemlock forests, and a sense of accomplishment.

It was nice to meet you Otto Miller. I’ll be back soon.

Otto Miller opens up some fantastic loop possibilities. Depending on your fitness, or the time you have to ride, you can get there any number of ways. I found this ride map on Trimble Outdoors helpful.

UPDATE: Turns out that PBOT has some great, bike-specific maps for riding out in these areas. Check out their recreational cycling map page and click on maps 3 and 3-A.

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Comments
  • Kristen August 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I did a ride up there earlier this year. The mountain views are gorgeous. Unfortunately I got mildly verbally harassed by a motorist who said “everybody in the neighborhood” is tired of having their roads taken up by bikes.

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  • Suburban August 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Rapha has also recently invented another fun road called Alex Barr Rd, which you will also enjoy.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      Very funny! ;-)

      And thanks for the tip. That road looks like a good one too.

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    • Champs August 14, 2012 at 12:26 am

      I did not enjoy going down Alex Barr. Never again.

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      • Otis August 15, 2012 at 3:58 pm

        Alex Barr is for going up.

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    • spencer August 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

      Palmer Mill out East is also good, and hits higher up on Larch. Its a push on 23′s but it goes (not according to google though)

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  • LESTER August 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Remember back in the day when Springwater was an awesome trail for gravel grinding? * sniff, sniff.

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  • Champs August 14, 2012 at 12:30 am

    For something more relatable, how would you compare Otto Miller to Saltzman? It’s not a road I’d make a habit of going up, but during RondePDX it seemed just fine.

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    • spencer August 14, 2012 at 9:21 am

      I ride Saltzman a lot when its dry . I think the key is to ride a training tire (ie gatorskin etc). Its nice to climb with zero to minimal car traffic

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  • Ted Buehler August 14, 2012 at 9:26 am

    https://maps.google.com/?ll=45.738896,-122.961173&spn=0.012101,0.044632&t=p&z=15&layer=c&cbll=45.738883,-122.961189&panoid=raCtOb_qswtLw097CFuMEw&cbp=11,324.99,,0,0.55

    When I moved back to the Northwest in ’08 I thought I’d do more recreational road riding. Hasn’t happened. Yet. Thanks for the introduction and motivation to do more.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Kristen August 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Reminds me a bit of Mountain Home Road off Bell Rd, Newberg to Scholls area.

    Bell has a monster climb, and then Mountain Home goes to gravel for about a half mile to a mile downhill. Quiet roads, polite drivers… except for the monster, I enjoyed it heartily. I may even enjoy it this year, now that I feel like I have some fitness in my legs.

    From Sherwood, head towards Newberg on 99W. Turn Right on Bell Rd before the big climb up the flank of Parrott Mountain. Ride uphill a lot, turn right on Mountain Home Rd. Right on Seiffert Rd. T into 210/219, take a right onto 210. Then right at the River Road-Scholls Ferry intersection. To get back to Sherwood, take a right on Roy Rogers, blast all the way down to 99w.

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  • Art Fuldodger August 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

    here’s another bike map that shows the roads – paved/unpaved – in this area. Click on Map 3:
    http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/index.cfm?c=36638&a=316792

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  • KRhea August 14, 2012 at 11:40 am

    For an even longer adventure…at the top of Otto Miller there’s an intersection, you can head to the left and eventually you’ll come into Skyline or you can go right and begin a bit of excellent “mixed surface” riding. If you can read a map, have a sense of adventure and enjoy riding without vehicle interference you can ride all the over to Pumpkin Ridge Rd, turn left go down a bit and then turn right onto Murphy Rd which will take you all the down to the bottom of the valley at Dairy Creek Rd. hang a left and roll back to North Plains, grab a bite/beer, head back to Hillsboro, hop the train and head back into town or ride back up and over the west hills. I’d suggest at least 28s or even a bit wider for this route. You’ll encounter a couple of “green gated” pathways as you meander down the west slope. Everything is very rideable and beautiful. Just explore, there are 100s of miles of non-paved roads to explore around PDX. Alex Barr is a fun road riders were using way before the Rapha guys rode it. I was introduced to Alex Barr almost 20yrs ago by one of the local cycling clubs. There’s another hidden gem just off the road up Larch Mtn that allows you to ride from Larch Mtn road all the way over to Welches on glorious packed dirt/gravel…check NF-20/NF-10…2 wheeled adventure awaits those willing to explore…
    Another good one: Ride up Larch to the gate, turn left and head down the gravel road, go all the way to the bottom and the stops at Palmer Mill Rd. Turn right and it’ll take you the Scenic Hwy. Turn left and you climb up NE Brower Rd, follow Brower to a right turn @ E. Haines Rd, follow Haines and it will intersect back with Larch Mtn at which point you’ll turn right and head back downhill towards The Womens Forum State Park. OR, while on Haines you’ll come to Alex Barr Rd on your right which you can take down to the Scenic Hwy. This is a great mix of packed gravel and pavement.

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  • Art Fuldodger August 14, 2012 at 11:48 am

    “…a ride through pine forests…”

    not to get all botanically fussy on you, J., but I’m guessing the predominant conifers up there are fir and hemlock.

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  • wade August 15, 2012 at 8:35 am

    perhaps it’s best to avoid Otto Miller on weekdays when there’s more truck traffic. although, i’m not sure if that’s an issue.

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  • Scott Kocher August 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I’d definitely recommend sturdier rubber than a road racing tire. My recent dry August experience up there was lots of dust, and a flat tire from a tread cut from the gravel on a faster stretch. Without at least 28mm, preferably with a bit of tread, you’ll probably want to ride gingerly, and what fun is that?

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