Tour de Lab September 1st

Portland lags behind in urban mountain biking

Posted by on May 1st, 2007 at 9:14 am

Cities across the country are embracing mountain biking and adding singletrack trails to urban parks.

According to an article in the NY Times last Friday,

“…in cities from Philadelphia to Santa Fe, mountain biking is gaining as a viable urban activity. Extensive trail networks designated for the knobby-tire crowd, some many miles in length, now wind through parks…or under freeway viaducts in places like Seattle…About 15 major metropolitan areas have legitimized mountain biking in urban parks…including Pittsburgh, Austin, Louisville, Tucson, Salt Lake City, suburban Los Angeles; and Vancouver, British Columbia…The increasing desire to suit up, clip in and ride a mountain bike from home to nearby trails is prompting recreation managers to reassess a sport long outlawed in city parks.”

Absent from that list, despite being home to one of the nation’s largest urban parks, is Portland. The 5,000 acre Forest Park, includes many miles of trails, but bicycles are not allowed on any of them.

Riders ascend Saltzman Rd. in Forest Park.
Photo: Brian Ellin

There are several logging roads and one recently added, 4 foot wide “trail”, but local mountain bikers are not allowed to use any of the more desirable, and narrower, singletrack trails.

The article also features a quote from Chris Bernhardt, a Hood River-based consultant with the International Mountain Bicycling Association. He says,

“the face of the sport is changing, with urban terrain receiving more attention than traditional wilderness trails in some areas…It’s great to take a weeklong bike trip to Moab or Colorado, but people want trails closer to home for riding on weekends or after work.”

Fueled by growing demand and a lack of mountain biking opportunities close to the city, pressure is building from advocates to take another look at Forest Park’s trail policy.

Some members of PUMP, a local mountain bike club, see a new survey of Forest Park users as a golden opportunity to demonstrate the size of the off-road biking community. A group of Portland State University students is working with Friends of Forest Park and Portland Parks and Rec to collect information about park users.

There was an effort to develop a Bike Skills Park in Portland, but last I heard it was shelved when the leader of the project moved away.

If Portland politicians and bureaucrats are serious about becoming a “Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community“, they might want to take heed of a recent announcement from the League of American Bicyclists. They have added access to singletrack mountain bike trails as an essential criteria for attaining Platinum status.

The sport of mountain biking has matured in recent years, and so have its enthusiasts. Now it’s up to them to work with Portland Parks and Rec, Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and the Friends of Forest Park, to open up more trail-riding opportunities for Portlanders.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Tbird May 1, 2007 at 9:54 am

    I agree. Forest Park is an untapped resource. There are a few ‘trails’ at Powell Butte, but they are subject to weather and multi-use. Not exactly Platinum…
    The trails in Scappoose are pretty sweet too, you can even take the # 12 tri-met bus to the bottom of the hill. But, they are not in PDX. I’d love to see real single track in the Forest Park!

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    mattf May 1, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Thank you Jonathan for continuing to report on this issue. I talk to so many cyclists like myself who want to be able to mountain bike in town without resorting to riding illegal trails. It seems as though momentum is building; however, there needs to be a major organization effort by someone to harnass this energy and direct it. It appears to me that there needs to be a person/organization that brings together all of the disparate mountain biking groups: PUMP club members, racer types, free riders, huckers, dirt jumpers, urban mtn bikers, trial riders, stunt riders, etc. As you can see, the mountain bike community is actually quite disparate in type of riding and personality. There needs to be some type of umbrella group who can bring the energy of all of these types of riders together. Any suggestions?

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    Tomas Quinones May 1, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Falcon Guide listed Mt Tabor as having some single track, but what a cruel joke it is. I never ride Powell Butte because the sign always seems to say that it is closed to mountain bikers.

    Forest Park is PRIME for developing a real trail system to help train world-class mountain bikers if only there weren’t so many political hurdles to building new single-track.

    As a mountain biker without a car, I’m kind of limited to my options without hitching a ride to something 30 minutes to an hour away.

    As Shift is the group to see about “bike fun”, then PUMP is the group to work with to get more single-track in the area. Oddly, many people don’t even know that PUMP exists.

    If you’ve never experienced real single-track, you don’t know what you are missing.

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    Casey May 1, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Yes, the current state of mountain bike trail access in Portland is very unfortunate. I am baffled that we have so many miles of trails in Forest Park, and we’re allowed on less than 1 mile of them. Thank you for bringing this issue up, there are certainly a great number of us riders who also enjoy some quality dirt time. It is essential to have decent singletrack close to town if we are to consider ourselves ‘bicycle friendly’.

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    Attornatus_Oregonensis May 1, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Forest Park is HUGE and could be home to many miles of awesome, dedicated single-track with minimal impact on the environment or other users. Its size and topography offers Portland the opportunity to blow other cities away in this category, as no others have this kind of resource within city limits. This is a big opportunity for PUMP to step up.

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    gabrielamadeus May 1, 2007 at 11:03 am

    AO, I think PUMP has been very active in stepping up, but has been faced with a lot of oposition from the city and friends of forest park. (correct me if I’m wrong) There is no reason all outdoor activity modes can’t share forest park, it is a great attribute to portland.

    On a related note, come ride in the Ridiculous Ride! A pedalpalooza event designed to ride to and find as much singletrack as possible in portland. At 60+ miles long just too connect a scattering of trails, it should make it apparent how bad MTBers have in PDX.

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  • Avatar May 1, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Single track exists in PDX and you don’t need a car to get there! Find it or make it!

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    Dabby May 1, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Yes, there is plenty of single track in Portland, as many as 60 miles of it within a reasonable realm….

    Of course it would be great to have more, but the ideas that have come up to do such have not been the best, ie: freeride park in Washington park, which caters to such a very few…….

    More trails in Forest Park will be a very difficult, if not impossible task.

    Of course we could never have enough urban Mt. Biking.

    By the way, did you know you can ride from downtown Portland to the coast off road, only crossing roads briefly?

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    Roger W. Louton May 1, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    For all those who KNOW of 60+ miles of LEGAL singletrack (Dabby, singleminded), how about you show up at the BAC meeting listed below and show us where it is? We will have a map available for all to write on, a presentation by PUMP describing our efforts to help with Portland winning Platinum Status. Now is the time to show up or shut up:

    From our friend Roger Geller: Bicycle Coordinator, City of Portland Office of Transportation, this is a recent e-mail he sent me:

    “Good to see you face-to-face the other day. As we discussed, I’d like to
    have you and other PUMP reps (as many as you’d like) come to May’s Bicycle
    Advisory Committee meeting and have a round-table conversation about the
    current state of mountain biking in Portland and where you’d like to see it
    go, what obstacles you see in your way and how you think Portland will be
    able to address those obstacles.

    How does that sound?

    The May meeting will be on the 8th (2nd Tuesday) from 7pm-9pm in the Lovejoy
    Room of City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave). I’m more than happy to dedicate the
    majority of the 2 hours to a moutain biking discussion if you believe you’ll
    have that much to discuss/present. The only other things on the agenda
    currently are brief reports from members on topics they’re following and a
    brief discussion about recruiting new members.

    I’m looking forward to this conversation as I believe it will provide much
    of the background needed to describe the current state of mountain biking in
    Portland and what deficiencies exist, which is what we’re working to do with
    this first phase of the BMP update. We’ll continue talking as we plan how to
    get where we want to go, which will be the Phase II work, beginning
    approximately in July.

    Get back to me as soon as you can with your thoughts on the above.


    Roger Geller
    Bicycle Coordinator

    City of Portland Office of Transportation
    1120 SW 5th Avenue, Room 800
    Portland, OR 97204

    voice: (503) 823-7671
    fax: (503) 823-7609
    TDD: (503) 823-6868



    There you have it folks, spread it far and wide, PUMP, the club that was started in 1988 when bicycles were almsot kicked out of Forest Park, is inviting you do do your part, not just sit back and let us do all the hard work,
    show up and make a difference.

    Contact me @ if you wish for more information and a .pdf of the entire 225+ page city document that details the rules and regulations for Forest Park. Education is the best policy.

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    Attornatus_Oregonensis May 1, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    I didn’t mean to disparage PUMP’s efforts, so my apologies if it came off that way. I only meant to say that we should all focus our efforts through PUMP, since that will give us the most leverage. My understanding is that they have worked hard, but that there are many locals who don’t want to give any ground to mtn bikers.

    And thanks for the info, Roger W. Louton. I’ve got the May meeting on my calendar and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you there. And I’ve also printed out the membership form and will be joining PUMP and IMBA.

    On the 60 miles of singletrack “within a reasonable realm,” I don’t even know what that means — within a reasonable distance of Portland? Regardless, I’m sure it’s not 60 miles of *contiguous* single track, which is what people want to ride. And since PUMP doesn’t even know where it is, I’d be surprised if it was all that great. But I’ll need to ride it first to decide — so tell me where it is!!

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    spencer May 1, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    I have a friend who works for Portland Parks in the summer and he indicates that the major issue is the no-bike mindset of the leaders there.

    The North portion of forest park (N of German town)would be a prime area for single track development. There are already a number of well constructed feeder roads and great terrain. PUMP and other local clubs could provide the labor and increase the miles of the trail network at minimal cost.

    This could serve to increase the economic viability of North Portland and and the Linton area in particular. This idea would limit trail conflicts and provide additional trails for hikers and bikers alike.

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    Matt Picio May 1, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    It’s going to be a real uphill battle (no pun intended) to build more singletrack in Forest Park. Hikers don’t want mountain bikers on “their” trails. Period.

    There definitely needs to be some sort of dialogue between hikers, bikers, and the Parks Department about a proper balance of park uses. It’s very likely some sort of compromise will need to be made on all sides, and probably no group will be entirely happy with the results.

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    Jonathan Maus/BikePortland May 1, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    we need to organize a Portland Mountain Bike Summit. An event like that could bring all the stakeholders together to talk about the issues, share research and create some action plans on moving this conversation forward.

    at the Summit I could envision local industry reps, tourism officials, elected leaders, advocates, enthusiasts, bike shop owners, etc…

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    Attornatus_Oregonensis May 1, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    spencer (#11) and Matt Picio (#12) are right that we need separate, dedicated trails because multi-use trails are only going to enhance conflicts and the anti-bike mindset. And Jonathan (#13) is right that we need to bring everyone together. Linnton would make a great natural ally here because that part of the park is best suited for mtn bike trail development and Linnton is eager to bring in some outside money.

    So, how do we organize a summit?

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    Jonathan Maus/BikePortland May 1, 2007 at 2:51 pm


    wow. Linnton. I didn’t even think about them. You’re right. If we could get the folks there fired up for mountain biking…they could be great allies in City Hall (which I have feeling will be where this issue ends up soon).

    If there were more trails in the northern end of the Park, Linnton could/would become a natural post/pre ride hang out!

    Linnton is well-situated to become a bike destination. given their location near Sauvie Island and the West Hills… now, if only there were mountain bike trails in Forest Park….

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    CDB May 1, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Expanding on the existing system of trails on the western-most end of the park could help alleviate conflicts w/ hikers that are basing their activities closer to town.

    I figure that you might be disrupting hikers less often when you’re further out in the boondocks. Maybe this could include the construction of more trails in the regions upslope and downslope of Leif Erikson, wherever Wildwood might NOT currently be. There is also potential for expansion out west of Germantown right? BPA powerline system of trails?

    I certainly agree that hikers should be able to enjoy some nice quiet experiences w/o bikers bearing down on them. That is quite a priviledge to be able to enjoy that by foot while walking on Wildwood. There is also this thing called “wilderness areas” that can accommodate this need more effectively. If you’re not in wilderness areas, you should be willing to consider that multiple users may be sharing that same trail.

    More citizen involvement, more volunteering, More trails with clever technical elements combined with a little environmental sensitivity with the design. That’s all it takes. Pretty simple stuff. There are more than enough people willing to help make it happen.

    Bring on the summit!

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    Roger W. Louton May 1, 2007 at 5:50 pm


    we will discuss a MTB summit at the May 8th meeting:
    The May meeting will be on the 8th (2nd Tuesday) from 7pm-9pm in the Lovejoy
    Room of City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave).

    I have personally been involved with the Firelane 5 re-build and opening to bikes, I know all about the rules, regulations, reasons etc. I could spend 2 entire days typing in here what has happened over the years on Firelane 5 alone. The bottom line is: the cost for permits, planning, environmental impact studies, fees was $15k…all for 2/10’s of a mile of trail, and took 2 years of hard work by the Friends of Forest Park, Parks and Rec and PUMP.

    Job Number One: We must work WITH everyone, and NOT poach the good stuff.

    See you all on May 8th, ideas in hand.

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    Dabby May 1, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    In my reference to miles, I of course estimated….but not by much…

    And I only ride trails that are not closed to bicycles, by the way.

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    Dabby May 1, 2007 at 8:52 pm

    By the way, one of our city parks could be a perfect place for what is known as a “Pump Track”.

    A pump track is a low profile, contained track, meant to garner speed by pumping instead of pedaling.

    I have pump track plans that fit into a 60′ by 120′ space, which is bigger than they need to be……

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    Disco D May 1, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    Sign me up for the pump track…those things are endless fun.

    I also think the freeride park was a great idea. Someone above mentioned that it would benefit only a few, but I honestly believe you would be surprised how many people would happy to have something like this. You don’t hear about it much but the Portland metro area has a large number of DH/freeride riders as well as a ton of bmx kids who are being ignored.

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    Ryan May 1, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    “PUMP club members” are “racer types, free riders, huckers, dirt jumpers, urban mtn bikers, trial riders, stunt riders, etc.” PUMP is the “umbrella group who can bring the energy of all of these types of riders together.”

    PUMP is your local non-exclusive mountain bike organization. PUMP has been harnessing the energy of its members for 19 years to participate in all aspects of mountain biking – including countless volunteer hours for trail maintenance/construction, advocacy, and of course riding.

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    spencer May 2, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Maybe a way to get more interest in the area North of German Town would be to host a weekly ride. PUMP has the wed night south forest park ride and the Friday night Scappoose ride. Maybe the time has come for a weekly north forest park ride (Thur?). Have it meet in St. Johns or Linton as a way to develop local business connections. A suggested meeting location is by Weir’s Cycles and a post ride watering hole could be the McMennemans across the street.

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    doak May 3, 2007 at 3:44 am

    I’ve been hitting up the outskirts of FP for the first time in a few years. I could be wrong, but it looks like people have been building tons of trail out there. I rode down to the old girlscout camp (downhill at the bend just past waterline trail) which used to be hardly a trail… its perfect now! is quasi legal legal enough in FP? do we risk messing up PUMP by riding these trails or by building up new’ns?

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    DDH June 1, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Wow, I used to ride a ton of trails in Forest Park, Powell Butte, Happy Valley, Rocky Butte and all the other trails that used to exist on the west side of Skyline in SW Portland. Heck, I remember riding an organized ride in Forest Park that was put on by the American Heart or Lung Association. I assume that isn’t still around.

    I had no idea this was such a problem now. When did that all change in Forest Park?

    I guess that’s what I get for moving to Central Oregon for the last 10+ years and just returning.

    I guess my only advice would be, don’t rely on others recommendations or myths. Get out, ride, explore, shred!

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    Steve November 7, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    My wife and I were hiking tonight on Wildwood Trail, and came across two mountain bikers who where riding the trail illegally. The trail was very muddy, and it pained me to think of the damage they were doing. We told them they were not supposed to be on the trail, and that it was also too muddy to ride after all the rain. They didn’t give a flip.

    These types of riders are your problem. I another city, an area that was very similar to Forest Park was eventually closed to mountain biking, as too many people rode when it was a mud pit, and literally destroyed the trail.

    Guys like the ones tonight will ride, tear the crap out of trail, never volunteer to help maintain them, and move on once the trail is destroyed. I asked one of them “do you help maintain this trail?” he replied “I pay taxes.”

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