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Guest Article: Erik Tonkin on why he joined the FPC

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Erik Tonkin
(Photos © J. Maus)

[Publisher’s note: This article was written by Sellwood Cycle Repair co-owner, community advocate, and beloved off-road racer, Erik Tonkin. Erik writes about an issue that’s close to his heart, mountain bike access in Forest Park. He’s been riding his mountain-bike and ‘cross bike in the park for 16 years.

For background, read A new plan for MTB access in Forest Park. You can also browse all of our Forest Park coverage here.


“We should use our cash to support the things we love; and there is strength in numbers. Of course, by joining we should hope that our concerns will be heard, considered and acted upon.”

I believe the Forest Park Conservancy [formerly Friends of Forest Park] is the group best positioned to improve off-road bicycling access in Forest Park. Last Wednesday, the FPC’s Stephen Hatfield (Stewardship Director), Andrea Schwartz (Development and Communications Director) and David Prause (board member), invited me on a hike in the park. It was not only flattering but very educational. They shared their concerns about the park’s ecology and discussed the relationship between cyclists and Forest Park and, by extension, the FPC. I’ll never see the park or those who work to sustain it in the same light.

The FPC wants to reach out to off-road riders and include us in their ranks. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I have joined the FPC at $100 level. I’ve also pledged the membership of Team S&M riders and those regular off-road riding customers of Sellwood Cycle Repair.

Riding in Forest Park is great…
but it could be better.

This is how it works: most of us can afford the $35 fee; we should use our cash to support the things we love; and there is strength in numbers. Of course, by joining we should hope that our concerns will be heard, considered and acted upon.

However, we should join the FPC in a good-faith effort to show support for the park.

I am troubled by how many off-road riders have written-off the park for its lack of singletrack. Of course, these people still regularly ride in the park. It’s a weird love-hate relationship: happily riding while simultaneously complaining about what can’t be ridden. I have — and so has Team S&M — put this way of thinking behind me.

Riding in Forest Park is wonderful. Try Firelane 1 (both its upper and lower sections) on a ‘cross bike in December; then ride it on a dually [full-suspension bike] in June and you’re in for two very unique experiences. Bomb down Firelane 5 alone or with a group of pals, and it’s different. And these are the routes close to home. There’s a lot of good here that we should be thankful for.

“We off-roaders certainly need more routes clearly marked “open” for bikes. We can’t just subsist on what’s open or certain “gray areas” of usage.”

I recently led a large group ride of shop racers and customers through the park. We rode up Holman, down upper 1, up upper Saltzman, down 5, and then down lower Saltzman. It was a three hour ride, starting and finishing in Sellwood. Many of the riders had never been up Holman or down 5. Some had never been to the park. It was raining and muddy, and half the ride was on pavement, but all — even those who constantly jones for epic singletrack — came away w/ an overwhelmingly positive experience. Hell, there’s often only one good line, and it changes from season-to-season, from bike-to-bike. I’ve been riding my MTB or ‘cross bike in the park for 16 years now, and I’m really not sick of it.

We off-roaders certainly need more routes clearly marked “open” for bikes. We can’t just subsist on what’s open or certain “gray areas” of usage. The FPC understands that a strong partnership w/ a new, dues-paying constituency of off-road riders is a two-way street: membership has its rewards. In fact, as we met, they acknowledged that some easy victories for bike access could be on the horizon.

More than one trail south of Germantown are technically closed to bikes in a nod to equestrian-only use. There are also existing trails that could be adopted and improved by cyclists–trails that get no use or maintenance now.

If we join to show our support, we could see more routes open in the near future.

The FPC also knows that cyclists are not the only bad guys. In fact, according to them, the most harmful user group are people with off-leash dogs. However, conflicts between cyclists and other users tend to be heated and, therefore, the most frequently reported. They’re heated, I think, because we cyclists are so often on the defensive, even when we’re doing nothing wrong. (I remember riding up Holman — a legal act — and being scolded by a dog walker w/ her dog off-leash, which is illegal.)

Sometimes, we are poaching a trail, and we’re caught at it. Or we’re going a bit too fast on Lief, and we spook a runner. I say, take the high-road. Really, I never have to entirely curb my enthusiasm while riding the park: I know that the satisfaction of flying down upper 5 might have to be tempered with riding the brakes a bit of Lief.

Again, let’s take the high road…and join.

— Remember, when you fill out the membership form, write “cyclist” in the “In honor of” field, so the FPC can track where new members are coming from.