Adventures in bike culture at First Thursday

First Thursday Framebuilders Show-18

Builders, bikes, and socialites
mingled in the Pearl last night.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Unlike its more funky offshoot in the Alberta Arts District, First Thursday in the Pearl isn’t known as a hotbed of Portland’s bike culture. But last night, Pearl District residents and visitors got a healthy dose of two-wheel art and entertainment.

It was a night of PBR and IPA, in a setting where wine is usually the drink of choice.

At the offices of social media marketing company StepChange Group, a steady crowd streamed in and out of the Portland Framebuilders Show. The event was pulled together by StepChange employee Michael Jones. Jones invited several of Portland’s lesser known builders to share their craft. Among them were Hufnagel Cycles, Sprout Cycles, Courage Bicycle Manufacturing, Metrofiets, Palmares Cycles, Belladonna Cycles and Cascadia Bicycles.

With free Ninkasi IPA flowing in a back room and plenty of interesting people to engage with, the builders had a busy night. It was great to see a lot of First Thursday regulars who just stumbled in — people who might not usually think of taking a second look at locally made bicycles.

First Thursday Framebuilders Show-10 First Thursday Framebuilders Show-4 First Thursday Framebuilders Show-16 First Thursday Framebuilders Show-20

A few blocks away — in the parking lot of Blitz Pearl on NW 10th at Couch — another bike event was attracted a large crowd. At the 42 Below Goldsprints, an interesting mix of messengers and other fixed gear masters rubbed shoulders with guys in suits and ladies in heels.

Goldsprints at First Thursday-5

Goldsprint competitors pedal feverishly
while the crowd looks on.

The attraction was to watch people go head-to-head to see who could sprint the fastest. In goldsprints, also known as roller races, the bikes are secured via the front fork and the rear wheel is on two rollers. Computers and a custom software system (supplied by vodka brand 42 Below — they gave all the equipment to Team Beer in exchange for running the events) track the speed and distance of the racers to determine the winner.

The contests are short (about 13-15 seconds) but the effort is all-out. A puke bucket sits between the riders just in case (it wasn’t used while I was there, but I left early and can speak from experience that it’s there for a reason).

Goldsprints at First Thursday-7 Goldsprints at First Thursday-15 Goldsprints at First Thursday-9 Goldsprints at First Thursday-1

The chants of “3, 2, 1, sprint!” and a clanging cowbell drew a lot of attention to the already-busy street.

Across the way, a line of pedicabs had just delivered Mayor Adams and other local celebs to a nearby restaurant.

A line of pedicabbers, with
the Goldsprints crowd in the background.

Unlike Alberta’s Last Thursday, which has thankfully become totally carfree, First Thursday in the Pearl is a magical mess of traffic. People on bikes and on foot swarm the sidewalks and streets, while car traffic builds up everywhere. It’s a dance that somehow ends up O.K., but it still makes me wonder why more of the streets in Northwest can’t be closed to cars — especially during First Thursday.

Maybe if bike-related arts and happenings continue to infiltrate the event, we’ll see some movement in that direction. For now, just knowing that downtown’s cultural elites (and I mean that in the best way) are getting exposed to biking in a big way is enough for me.

two sides of portland-1

A Beemer and a biker in the Pearl.

See more photos from my First Thursday adventures in the gallery. There will be more bike love in the Pearl District tonight when top pro racers compete at the Twilight Criterium.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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14 years ago

Great coverage, Jonathan. It’s fun seeing bike fun and bike art piggyback on First Thursday. Your point about the horrendous traffic is a good one, too. I can’t help but hope that many of those folks sitting in their cars desperate to be sipping Chardonnay somewhere will abandon their car next month. Events like First Thursday are great introductions to the joy of discovering a city without your car.

Lance P.
Lance P.
14 years ago

Just a few things you seem to be missing. First 35% of all housing in the pearl district is restricted income. Secondly, the pearl district is soon to be the first designated bike district in the city.

I live in the pearl and haven’t owned a car in years. The pearl district also has the highest % of car free residents in the city. Just because the district is mixed use development where many of the buildings are taller, and therefore have a penthouse, doesn’t mean that that the residents are “cultural elites”. Along with a fair amount of tourism, many residents throughout the the metro area come to the pearl for a nice night out. This article is ripe with stereotypes. I have always thought that Jonathan Maus’s articles were above this. At least they were.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
14 years ago

Lance P.,

just a few things….

this article was meant as a quick, observational snapshot of what I saw last night. it was in no way intended to be anything detailed about transportation or housing statistics in the Pearl.

i understand your sensitivity toward my use of the term “cultural elites”… that’s why I made a comment about it in parentheses.

i will re-read that line and consider changing it… but please understand i was making a general statement about what I personally witnessed first-hand (as opposed to speculation based on stereotypes) over a several hour period last night.

thanks again for the feedback.

Aaron W.
Aaron W.
14 years ago

Classic east-side west-side feud. Been going on for decades. Eastsiders view westsiders at elitest ignoring the fact that outside of some swanky sections there are lots of unpaved roads. Westsiders view eastsiders as the poor huddled masses ignoring places like Irvington and Eastmoreland. Also, what was hip eventually becomes yupified. Pearl was a different place 10-15 years ago. So was Alberta and before that Hawthorne and so and so forth. That’s okay both groups can still look down on the burbs and East County, because real Portland stops at 82nd or maybe 62nd but certainly not 167th…

14 years ago

love the shot of the beemer and the biker, classic Pearl snapshot.
this was a great event by Step Change I thought, was nice to meet Edwin from Sprout and Mark from Belladona. It was also cool to see the Metrofiet up off the ground for a closer inspection.

14 years ago

#2: “The pearl district also has the highest % of car free residents in the city.”

Got a source to back that up with? Sounds like wishful thinking to me. Who’d buy a spendy, trendy condo if it didn’t have a covered parking spot for a Mercedes SUV? I worked down there for a couple years, and every new development I saw go up had parking, parking, parking.

If Pearlites are car-free, it’s because they can afford to be: they have a streetcar at their disposal and MAX nearby. I’d also wager that more than the average number of ’em work downtown in high-ranking corporate jobs– so a car becomes a trivial expense, a toy.

I’d like to see a poor neighborhood become Portland’s first “bike district”, so people who are forced to drive their cruddy cars to low-paying jobs have more options.

froot dawg
froot dawg
14 years ago

the goldsprints were fun thanks for coming out jonathan!!! those kids are fast!! and about the all the cars i am guessing the were the people from the burbs!! pearlites know better then to drive on first thursday!! i did see a couple of hummers, they always make me laugh!! most of those drivers were from L.O. or Beaverton thats my guess!!

14 years ago

Maxadders is right, I have been part of many architectural teams designing pearl district buildings and I can tell you that every unit has an associated parking stall, sometimes two stalls. The client/unit owners demand parking stalls.

I would estimate about a 80-90% condo owners in the Pearl owns a parking stall and a car.

Do they drive at least once a week? I would guess, yes, maybe more than once a week.

14 years ago

Metrofiets had FUN at the show and at Blitz.
Team Beer LOVES that we helped them make Goldsprints CAR FREE with the METROFIETS pallet bike.

We’ll be down at he Twilight Crit. tonight too if you want to see the bikes. Head over tho the N. Park blocks and check out the Oregon Manifest preview show – we’ll be there.

14 years ago

Bummed I missed the bike show.

I bike home through NW 13 Ave. As I was on my way I inadvertantly dumped myself into the midst of the First Thursday car traffic. With all of the four-way stop signs, the area around Whole Foods and Powell’s becomes a serious traffic jam. At around 5:15 p.m. there were a lot of frustrated drivers who were going no where fast. It was such a joy to breeze through all of this knowing I was getting home just as fast as I always do.

If more drivers could experience the awesomeness of lane splitting through traffic jams with a bicycle, I bet we’d have fewer cars in these situations.

14 years ago

Yeah, Lance P., the truth hurts, doesn’t it.

Here’s some information you apparently don’t know about your neighborhood.
“In April 2008, the average home price in the Pearl District neighborhood was $580,878, making it one of the most expensive Portland zip codes.”

And just an FYI… you described the article as “ripe” with stereotype. You probably meant “rife”.

Goldsprints sounds fun though!

14 years ago

Just for fun, I went and looked at some, you know, actual data.

The most recent Census/ACS data that I could find that gets down to the census tract level is the 2000 Census. So this data is old, and likely there’s been improvement on these numbers. Also, these are just commute mode split #s, not for all trips. But they provide a look at how people living in the Pearl travel.

The following data is from Census tracts 45, 47, 49, 50, & 51.

Drive alone – 45%
Carpool 7%
Transit – 18%
Bicycle – 4%
Walk – 21%
Other – 1%
Work at home – 5%

Well over half of the residents – in 2000, mind you – aren’t driving by themselves for commute trips. I didn’t pull the numbers for Portland as a whole, but I think we can all agree that we aren’t close to 45% drive alone. (For the entire Portland region, it’s 73% drive alone, according to 2007 American Community Survey data. Portland city numbers will be better than this.)

Also, same 2000 Census tracts, pct. of households with income over $50,000:

Pearl: 30%
Portland: 39%

And those over $100,000:

Pearl: 12%
Portland: 10%

So looking at this, I’d say that 1.) yes, there are wealthy people living in the Pearl, but it’s not the concentration of wealth some might think it is (Dunthorpe, Portland Heights are waaaaay tonier, I’d guess without pulling the numbers). And, 2.) people living there seem to have made a conscious choice to put themselves in a position to live a lifestyle where they don’t have to drive for many of their trips.

I don’t know that “# of car-free people” is necessarily the goal we’re working towards, but certainly fewer #s of auto trips and vehicle miles traveled is. I think we need more high-density development in the region, to accommodate all income levels. That, more than anything else, will reduce or eliminate the need to drive. Getting it integrated with where the jobs are is tricky, and it takes time to build out the transit and bike network. What I find encouraging from the Pearl District is that it’s a place that people want to be in, that encourages and facilitates the use of alternative modes. Go Pearl!

14 years ago

2000 stats are worthless. Sorry. How many of the Condos were built since then?

14 years ago

Its weird, almost any other place in the world someone that thinks they need a front and back yard would be considered an elitist but here in the US, people seem to think that if you don’t want a big yard and want to live near the places you shop you are considered an elitist. Funny that’s all

Even though there are very expensive places in the pearl what is worse,
1) the people buying up farmland, building a McMansion, driving 40 miles to work every day, shopping a strip malls, adding to urban sprawl, …..
2) living in a place that allows them to put away the car most day (or for good), shop at a local shop or restaurant owned by someone in the community…

Also just an fyi incase you didn’t understand, which seems to be the case

1) 30% of the housing in the pearl is income restricted, as is 60% of the medium income ($30K)
2)14th & Pettygrove, 175 units, 0 parking
3) Broadway & hoyt (under construction), 250 units, 0 parking

This list can keep going but I think some of you seem to argue no mater what is put in front of you.

Have a happy and argumentative life 🙂

Tall Mike
Tall Mike
14 years ago

Screw the East – West Fued! There are good and bad types everywhere. It was great to seee a builder’s show this last Thursday. Belladonna makes some beautiful city bikes – some of the best looking and balaced (style wise) I have seen in P-Town. Nice Bikes!