were a cakewalk compared to what was to come.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Riding “road” bikes on gravel and dirt roads is experiencing a major boom in popularity here in Oregon. On Sunday, I joined a dozen other intrepid riders for the “Women’s Bullshit 100” ride to found out why.
The BS 100 is one of a growing number of events on the annual calendar that lives in a hybrid space between official event and just a bunch of friends getting together for a ride. Thanks to a region full of bike adventure lovers, these type of rides are growing like weeds. A pioneer in this style is the Ronde PDX, an unsanctioned ride through Portland’s West Hills that attracts thousands of eager participants each year. Another prime example is VeloDirt, whose founder Donnie Kolb has become something of a legend for his epic annual events such as The Dalles Mountain 60 and the Oregon Stampede.
Speaking of Kolb, he was one of the dozen folks — five women and seven men — who turned up in the parking lot of New Seasons Market at Orenco Station in Hillsboro on Sunday morning for the BS 100.
I had no idea what to expect out of this ride. The name itself gave me pause. Was the entire thing a joke? After all, our local bike riding and racing scene is known to be full of creative pranksters. Thankfully, it was real. All 71 miles and 5,600 feet of elevation gain of it. Even though most of the route was bullshit (I’ll explain later), Gould and her riding buddies led an unforgettable ride.
From Orenco Station we made our way northwest to Banks where we hopped on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. “This is the last stop for water,” I heard someone say at the trailhead. Over at the water station was a big pack of Reeses peanut butter cups with an orange ribbon tied around it. A ride fairy had placed them there just for us. This was the first of several pleasant surprises of support we’d find throughout the day.
About six miles up the Banks-Vernonia we hung a right at Bacona Road. Then the fun began. The next 32 miles (or so) were all on dirt and gravel roads. We rode northeast (in the direction of St. Helens) on rural farming and logging roads with names like Hershey, Jeppeson, Pisgah, and Gunners Lakes. I only know those names because of the map downloaded into my GPS unit (thanks Portland Bicycle Studio!). Due to a complete absence of signage or civilization of any kind we had no idea what roads we were actually riding on.
No one on the ride, except for Gould and her friends who helped her scout the route, had ever ridden these roads. And that’s the appeal. Unknowns. Adventure. Exploration. Possibilities. To someone who loves to ride, there’s nothing like discovering new roads — especially when they take you to such amazing places.
The riding was excellent, or terrible, depending on your appreciation for riding (relatively) skinny-tired bikes over dirt, rocks, bumps, and loose gravel. There was a mix of tough climbs (much of them over 10%, with a few pitches nearly 20%!), exhilarating descents, and windy carving through shaded timber forests. Along the way we were treated to expansive views, a few small lakes, and like I mentioned above, some nice surprises from our ride leaders.
At one stop along the route, a friend of Gould’s, Jen Leonard was waiting for us. She’d driven to Banks and got a head-start so she could serve up fresh bacon at about the half-way point. Then, at about mile 50-something (I think), we found a stash of eight gallons of water right when many of us were running low. But the best treat of the day came just a few miles from the end — “dairy treats” on NW Dairy Creek Road (by the old general store). Nothing like a mouthful of sweet creamy caramel after a tough day in the saddle.
We all made it back to the New Seasons parking lot by about 5:00 pm and it was time for some proper refreshments.
When I asked Gould why she planned this route, her answer was simple: “Because I saw all these cool roads on a map.” That reminded me of the famous quote from mountaineering legend George Mallory. When asked why he climbed Mt. Everest, he said, “Because it’s there.”
Getting off the pavement is about opening up more places to ride. Doing it on road or cyclocross bikes means you can cover a lot of ground. I’m starting to think that gravel roads are to road biking what singletrack is to mountain biking.
What about the bullshit? Where did that come from? Gould said she and her Squadra riding mates had gotten into randoneurring and had planned out a series of 100-plus mile routes. In randoneurring, the 124 mile (or so) distance is called a “brevet”. So brevet series was shortened to “BS”. They also found that many of the far-flung, off-the-beaten-path roads they’re attracted to tend to turn into gravel or other forms of disrepair. “The roads would all turn into bullshit,” Gould explained.
After one of the best rides I’ve had in years, I’d put up with more of Gould’s bullshit anytime.
Several people have asked about what types of bikes were on the ride and the nature of the terrain. The dirt roads came in every imaginable form on this ride. There was loose gravel, hard-packed gravel, lots of washboarded bumpy sections, sections with larger rocks embedded in the ground, and so on and so forth. There were a lot of flats and a wide range of speeds on the downhill sections. From a bike standpoint, most people had cyclocross bikes with disc, cantilever, or V-brakes. My Cielo/Chris Kingwas the only bike with traditional, road caliper style brakes. I ran 32c tires and didn’t have any flats. I have to say, my bike handled everything I threw at it on this ride; I bombed down the descents full-tilt, I climbed some very steep and loose roads, and I stayed in the fast paceline on the paved roads down in the valley. My Cielo continues to impress me more every time I get on it!
Below are a few of the bikes on the ride:
— Special thanks goes to Molly and Joe at Portland Bicycle Studio for getting me all set up with Garmin GPS unit for this ride. Not knowing what to expect out there, it gave me a lot of confidence knowing I could track the route as I rode along.