Lori Waters (center), with employee Tony Kic
outside Baldwin Saloon in The Dalles.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)
It seems like every notable bike city has its unofficial bicycle ambassador. Sometimes it’s a blogger and consultant, like the case of Mikael Colville-Andersen in Copenhagen; or it can even be a city official, like when Mia Birk led the cycling charge in Portland in the 1990s. Out here in The Dalles, the position rests with a man named Chad Sperry.
Sperry is co-owner of Breakaway Promotions, one of the largest and most successful bicycle race event production companies in Oregon. Sperry runs the business with wife and business partner Lori Waters. Together, they’re responsible for an impressive list of events; from mountain biking to elite-level road races and national championships. In total, they put on over two dozen events with over 60 event days in Idaho, Utah and Oregon. His Gorge Roubaix is one of the reasons I decided to come to The Dalles. And it’s an event with extra meaning because Sperry lives here and he’s an unabashed advocate of cycling in his home town.
When The Dalles Mayor Stephen Lawrence spoke at the Cycle Oregon route kickoff party in February, he only name-dropped one person. After thanking Cycle Oregon for choosing The Dalles as their base camp this year, Lawrence said, “I want to recognize Chad Sperry, who’s going to make The Dalles one of the best cycling places in Oregon.” That’s a high expectation, but it’s a role Sperry seems comfortable in.
Beyond the events that Sperry and Breakaway Promotions put on each year, he’s embraced the role of bike advocate here in The Dalles.
The Dalles is the first city in Oregon to host workshops for businesses to become officially certified under Travel Oregon’s Bike Friendly Business Program. And guess who’s facilitating those workshops? Mr. Sperry.
Another place Sperry has asserted his ambassadorship is with farmers. Agriculture is a big deal out here. Wheat and cherries mostly — both of which have very busy harvest seasons where farmers and their trucks and tractors use the same roads that are popular for cycling. To help build relationships and calm tensions between farmers and bike riders, Sperry has attended the monthly “farmer’s breakfasts” to answer questions and calm tensions.
A former employee of Oregon Cherry Growers, Sperry’s partner Lori Waters, told me during a dinner meeting Friday night that, “The farmer’s are coming around [to cycling]. It’s all about relationship-building.” During the harvest season of June through August, Sperry pays for “Bicyclists Use Caution” signs that are placed on roads with heavy farm traffic.
“It was a battle for many years with the agricultural industry,” says Sperry about getting farmers to welcome people cycling on rural roads, “But there’s been a shift in their thinking.” Sperry says this shift happened in part because a few leaders in the agricultural community stepped up and realized cycling was here to stay so they’d better figure out how to co-exist with it.
And like any good ambassador, Sperry is full of impenetrable optimism when it comes to cycling in The Dalles. “We’re the Palm Springs of the northwest,” he assured me, as he pointed out that The Dalles is the easiest way to get to the “dry side” of Oregon since you don’t have to go over a mountain range to get here.
Sperry went to high school here. He left after graduation, then, like several people I’ve met in the past few days, he decided to come back. Now he’s been promoting cycling in the area for the past 12 years.
“It’s really exciting,” he said, “for me to start seeing things click here in The Dalles.”
— This story is part of our special reporting from The Dalles. See the rest of the stories here.