Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portland’s bike culture, from a San Francisco perspective

Posted by on June 24th, 2008 at 1:59 pm

“Portland doesn’t have the same level nightlife of San Francisco, so they tend to make their own fun here, and the result seems to be a large community of bicyclists that has become very engaged with the struggle for street equity.”
–SF Bay Guardian reporter Steve Jones, after a ride in Portland

Steven T. Jones is a city beat reporter with the San Francisco Bay Guardian who recently got a dose of Portland bike culture.

Jones was sent here cover the Toward Carfree Cities Conference, but he ended up experiencing much more and has shared his thoughts in an article titled, From geeks to freaks, a look at Portland bicycle culture.

During a mobile workshop on the last day of the conference he joined the Transportation Geeks Ride to get a look at Portland’s innovative bike facilities and wallow in what he calls “transportation geekspeak”.

When that ride converged with several other, less-geeky Pedalpalooza rides (Sexy Cyclists Ride, the David Bowie vs. Prince ride, and others) for a solstice celebration on Mount Tabor, Jones founds himself face to face with a “vivid display” of Portland’s “rich and varied bicyclist culture”.

Here are a few excerpts from the story he published shortly thereafter:

“As the shortest night of the year began, colorful cyclists seemed to take over the streets, pedaling in small groups and huge, slow-moving packs…

The rides converged into one as they ascended volcanic Mt. Tabor just after midnight, still several hundred strong and acting as if they owned the night, which they really seemed to.”

“…late night bike rides with young, carefree, carfree Portlanders was a welcome chance to just pedal, dance, and enjoy the city. Some of this is not about struggle, but about love…”

“Portland doesn’t have the same level nightlife of San Francisco, so they tend to make their own fun here, and the result seems to be a large community of bicyclists that has become very engaged with the struggle for street equity. And there are enough of them to cover multiple events and fronts.”

I think some of Jones’ observations are spot on.

Much Portland’s bike culture has nothing to do with activism, a “cause”, being anti-car, or anything like that. What is special about what happens here (and I think should provide a lesson for those in other cities) is that “bike fun” (a term that is common parlance thanks to Shift) and a simple love for riding are what brings people together and gets people on their bikes.

Read Jones’ full piece on the Bay Guardian’s Politics blog.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Peter June 24, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    good stuff.

    duly noted!


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David Guettler June 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Much of the personality of cities lie in the people who live there. San Francisco certainly has its share of colorful people, but Portland has a completely different vibe. We have a lot of pride in where we live, and the way we have fun seems to come out in a very natural way. In my opinion, we are all lucky to be living in Portland in this day and age.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • a.O June 24, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    This is the first year I\’ve really participated in the Pedalpalooza rides and some of the other more colorful PDX bike traditions. For example, I did the solstice ride and the most recent MMR. I\’ve met some really interesting people. We have a beautiful and unique culture. It doesn\’t come from a \”lack of nightlife\” or anything else you can point to in comparison to other places. It just is.

    I get sorta frustrated sometimes that more of the bike love isn\’t dedicated to activism because I badly want safer streets for everyone to ride on, but I don\’t think we\’d even be having that conversation (bicyclist safety) without the wonderful culture that has gotten so many people riding. Although not particularly focused on \”legal geekspeak\” this bike love is extremely valuable for helping everyone see how important it is to share the road. And I think that gets missed sometimes. Also, this town is full of people who can rise up and make themselves heard when necessary.

    I love this town. There is no place else like it anywhere.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Diogo June 24, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks Johnatan for the link. It\’s funny to see the all the silinnes that folks do (like pants down and what not) described in a national paper.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • peejay June 24, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Hey a.O., welcome to the wilder part of the bike culture. The deal is, you can do all the advocacy you want at daytime, but at night, ya gotta shake your thing, or just ride. The buzz I get off a great MMR spurs me to do all kinds of good for the rest of the month. The freaks and the geeks are really the same people.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mark Allyn June 24, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    It\’s interesting that he commented that Portland does not have the night life that San Francisco has.

    Belonging to the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgender) here in Portland; I know of several gay men who gave up that night life in San Francisco and came up here. This is especialy profound as San Francisco was, for a long time, considered to be \’the Mecca\’ for the LGBT community. That is now changing.

    Perhaps the night life down there is not what it\’s cooked up to be.

    As someone who\’s lived in both San Francisco and Portland, I can see the differences. Portland is a much cozier city than San Francisco. Here, I can go \’out on the town\’ by myself and still feel that I am part of \’the family\’, espcially when I see people that I know at events that I go to. This happened far less in San Francisco.

    And we beat San Francisco to be the first major US city with a gay mayor, Sam Adams!

    I do have to ask, though; does anyone know if San Francisco\’s bicycle culture includes an LED artist such as myself?



    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Opus the Poet June 24, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    All I can say is that your bike culture is lightyears ahead of anything in TX. The closest we have is Austin, but then Austin has the slogan \”Keep Austin Weird\”…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • a.O June 24, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    Opus, do you know the Austin band the Old 97s? They played in Portland last weekend. I went to the show, and the lead singer, Rhett Miller said, \”Yall have a wonderfully weird city here. It\’s like Austin that way. But we have a big college, yall have … no excuse. You\’re just weird.\” I love it.

    Peejay, I am going to stand in the center of the group before the next MMR and shout \”PEEJAY, PEEEEEEEEEJAAAAAAYYYY!!\” until you answer.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • texan June 25, 2008 at 1:04 am

    I am not saying that a.O. is wrong here, I am just saying that the Old 97s are a Dallas band.

    People in Austin and people in Portland are about the same. This is a good thing.

    hook em.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Duncan June 25, 2008 at 7:47 am

    We arent as cool as SF.

    I like that.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • JayS. June 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

    To bad we didn\’t head over to Tabor after kidical mass because a rapidly growing segment of P-town bike culture is families.

    Duncan, We are cooler than SF because we don\’t want to be that cool.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • a.O June 25, 2008 at 9:52 am

    Yes, the band is originally from Dallas. And Rhett claims to be from Austin. That, and the recent death of George Carlin, reminded me of one of my favorite of George\’s jokes (more of a one-liner): \”There is a good side to all those executions down in Texas … Fewer Texans!\”

    Anyway, people are quick to make comparisons, whether it\’s Austin or SF or wherever. But it\’s just wishful thinking. There is no place like Portland, only those that aspire to be.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • peejay June 25, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Maybe every city gets the bike culture it deserves. Portland\’s pretty open minded about things and very tolerant, so we can exist here. I doubt you\’ll find an uptight city with a good bike scene, or a cool place with a bad one.

    Now, aO, come to the dude ride tomorrow. I\’ll be the one with the marmot.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jamie June 25, 2008 at 10:51 am

    IMO, the article whiffed on portland bike culture…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • gabriel amadeus June 25, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Mark, there are a few folks making some pretty awesome light bikes, check em out here:

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mark Allyn June 25, 2008 at 6:15 pm


    Thanks for the links! Great idea!


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jeff June 26, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Good article.

    You definitely won\’t ever see a culture like that spring up in San Fransisco… just too many hills (steep ones).

    Riding bikes can certainly be a lot of fun, it can also save you money, save the environment (I don\’t know if anything can fully \”save\” the environment, but its a start) and its great exercise.

    Recommended Thumb up 0