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It’s not your imagination: Pedalpalooza’s big rides are getting bigger

Posted by on June 24th, 2015 at 7:47 am

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This year’s massive kickoff ride was the first sign that something was up.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Pedalpalooza veterans sometimes tell stories of 2009, the year the festival seemed to hit the big time.

This year’s ‘Loud and Lit’ ride was probably the “largest clothed Shift ride in Portland history.”

“Everything seemed to be three to four times bigger than it was the previous year and nobody was really planning for it,” Shawn Granton, founder of the Urban Adventure League, recalled Tuesday. “Everything was just 100-people rides when before it was like 20 people.”

For the annual Portland bike festival’s biggest rides, at least, 2015 has been such a year again — and the biggest ride of all is coming on Saturday.

Three weeks back, the kickoff ride drew 900 or more. The following weekend, Loud and Lit drew something around 2,000. The World Naked Bike Ride, scheduled for this Saturday, always draws many more participants than admit on Facebook that they’re planning to be there … and so far it has 6,000 RSVPs.

Saturday is currently forecast to be one of the warmest days in Portland history, with late-evening temperatures in the 80s.

2014 World Naked Bike Ride -38

Prepping for the World Naked Bike Ride, 2014.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Ted Buehler observed that this year’s Loud and Lit party was probably “the largest clothed Shift ride in Portland history.”

“I videotaped 15 seconds of riders in the Lloyd parking garage, and had 35 riders go by, for 140 a minute,” Buehler wrote in an email. “And the ride took at least 15 minutes to roll by, probably 20. I was well behind he beginning of the ride when I stopped and corked 28th and Sandy, and there was a sea of headlights covering the entire 28th Ave overpass for a really long time, probably more than 10 minutes.”

Lillian Karabaic, founder and longtime co-leader of the Bowie-vs-Prince/Prince-vs-Bowie rides, said she thinks the reputation of the biggest Pedalpalooza rides have outgrown the reputation of the festival itself.

“I got a question today for the Bowie vs Prince ride that was like, ‘Do you need to have a bike for this?'” she said. “I was like, ‘Yes! It’s part of a whole festival.’ It was like, ‘Oh sweet, I’ve got to get a bike by Friday because this is going to be too good to miss.'”

Karabaic, Buehler and Granton all agreed that a big factor in the change can be summed up in one word: Facebook.

Nathan Jones, whose only previous Pedalpalooza was 2012’s and led this year’s kickoff ride, said the social media site’s impact has been “huge.”

The site’s stream of reminders and photo options give ride leaders a perfect way to communicate the “persona” of a ride, he said.

“I think it’s a great way to just kind of provide a bigger image of what the rides are going to be,” said Jones. “And it’s easy to just kind of build the momentum. You can just see it ripple like waves in a pond. It’s just too easy.”

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Facebook RSVPs are obviously not the most accurate way to measure ride attendance. But the attendance counts for some of the festival’s biggest rides make it clear that, if nothing else, Facebook has become a much more popular tool:

kickoff

loud lit

prom

bowie prince

wnbr

Last year’s WNBR Facebook event page has been deleted, presumably because people began using it to prepare for this year’s before organizers were ready.

Jones also owns the shop Ride Yr Bike and has been a passionate promoter of recent street safety events associated with BikeLoudPDX. He said Portland’s bike fun community, which in the 2000s built the Shift website and listserv into one of the country’s most effective bike-promotion tools, has felt “a lot of reluctance to embrace” an outside tool like Facebook, but no longer.

“I think most people are either over the stigma or they’re never gonna get over it,” he said. “I think it’s been good all around. I think it’s going to be great for the big day of activism on Wednesday [today!].”

What about smaller, weirder rides in the festival — the ones that another veteran, Steph Routh, once described to the Oregonian as “critically acclaimed”? Everyone we talked to agreed that those brand of rides haven’t generally seen either growth or shrinkage this year.

“All the rides I’ve done this year are basically topping out at 20,” said Granton. Often, he said, that’s the way he prefers them. The best way to put a hard cap on the number of participants, he said, is to be vague about the ride’s start location and require participants to send the leader an RSVP — by email.

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28 Comments
  • Avatar
    9watts June 24, 2015 at 8:34 am

    That is so interesting about how large the Loud and Lit ride was. Some folks in our neighborhood got quite upset and voiced their misgivings on the neighborhood discussion forum because they were awakened and then kept awake for what to them seemed an interminable amount of time. Not realizing that the ride was so large they assumed the miscreants were just hanging out under their window, deliberately causing annoyance.
    But with a ride this big it changes that whole conversation, from a few rascals trying to antagonize to a movement.

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      Alexis June 24, 2015 at 10:47 am

      Not sure if we’re neighbors, but I live two blocks from where Loud and Lit posted up in Irving Park, and the amplified music and illegal fireworks kept me (and my petrified dog, and my neighbor’s howling kids) up past midnight.

      I’m all for organized group rides, but throwing a rave in a park in a residential neighborhood was a poor way to proselytize cycling to Portlanders. Some of my neighbors angrily asked me to talk to my “bike friends” about how disruptive it was, and how they lost respect for organized cycling events as a result.

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        mixtieme June 24, 2015 at 11:01 am

        Well, let them know that I as a cyclist and someone who enjoys my court yard space has never really had much respect for drivers and motorcyclists with their loud revving and speeding down my street. Bike Fun > Dangerous Driving Habits. IMHO I have always preferred happy loud obnoxious people to angry dangerous obnoxious people.

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          Josh June 24, 2015 at 12:22 pm

          Bit of a strawman. Taking some exception to how the event was handled (which could have reasonably been predicted to be as large as it ended up being) doesn’t have any direct correlation to loud and angry motor vehicle operators.

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            Chris I June 24, 2015 at 9:57 pm

            But it does add some perspective, right?

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            mixtieme June 25, 2015 at 11:29 am

            Maybe so, but regardless it is an event that happens once a year, to have fun and celebrate. Much like the Rose parade or 4th of July. It’s an entitled mindset that allows folks to complain about these events- a minor 1/2 hour of their lives disrupted. All these events were born out of Critical Mass, all these events are to gather people who ride bicycles and show our numbers and our happiness with the city and others. All these events, regardless of theme, are asking for safer, better streets. Those bothered by these requests and spirit of the events have very little perspective, very little experience in the others shoes and very little empathy for other peoples realities. We can go back and forth about laws, but really, one night of a few stretched limits versus daily reckless behavior aren’t equals especially when one clearly and often kills.

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        ethan June 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

        I ride my bike through your neighborhood often (usually daily), and every single time, there are drivers who illegally pass and endanger me. Many of these drivers live in your neighborhood.

        I’ll tell my bike friends to stop having so much fun when your neighbors stop trying to hit me with their cars!

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        lahar June 24, 2015 at 11:42 am

        They have a reasonable complaint. I think I would be upset to have a late night “rave” in the park next to my house. And equating neighbors disturbed by the noise to bad drivers in that neighborhood seems to be a misplaced generalization and a bit arrogant.

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        9watts June 24, 2015 at 4:12 pm

        Alexis,
        I live in Sunnyside, and was actually out of town myself so missed the whole thing, but the part I objected to in the neighborhood discussion was exactly the bit you mentioned:
        “Some of my neighbors angrily asked me to talk to my ‘bike friends’ about how disruptive it was, and how they lost respect for organized cycling events as a result.”

        No one treats people who walk or drive or whistle categorically, where the actions of one rogue group of pedestrians or drivers or whistlers leads us to feel justified in disdaining all whistlers, and ask them to police their fellow whistlers. Why think of people who bike monolithically, tribally?

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          J Bone June 25, 2015 at 6:50 am

          Perhaps because you suggested it was a “movement”.

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            9watts June 25, 2015 at 7:22 am

            I didn’t. The size of the ride I learned here in this article.

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    BIKELEPTIC June 24, 2015 at 8:58 am

    if I don’t immediately have the 2014 event stats (for WNBR) somewhere…… (I should actually look before I open my mouth/fingers, though), someone on our team should…. I know I screenshot the page manager with all the cool demographics right around the week of/after. Would have to sift through my laptop filing system, which I must admit – will take a moment.

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    Eric Iverson June 24, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Loud N Lit was MASSIVE. Loved it, except I couldn’t find any of my friends that I knew were there until we reached the end spot. Big props to Dropout Bike Club and Nathan Jones

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    Wondering June 24, 2015 at 10:07 am

    I call it the “Bike Summer Effect.” If it’s going to be warm & dry, like Bike Summer was, they will come.

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    Scott B June 24, 2015 at 10:07 am

    This has been my best year EVER! Normally I have 5-7 rides with around 100 riders currently I’m well over 200 with my biggest ride being the Charge of the Light Brigade having around 80 riders – we took over Division, Foster and 82nd.

    My smallest ride was the North PDX Food and Drink Ride with 10 people and I still have three rides to go.

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    kate June 24, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Another question that has to be asked is: as the rides get bigger, what is the greater responsibility of the ride organizer(s) to account for the impact of the ride on the neighborhood/environment? WNBR has always depended on a large coterie of volunteers for setup/breakdown, cleanup of the start site during and after the ride…and as it has grown has expanded to renting portable toilets, getting garbage and recycling containers from the city, and recruiting volunteer medics and bicycle mechanics to enhance ride safety.

    I’m not saying every ride leader has to go this far. But I no longer want to participate in or endorse large rides if I don’t know that the organizers are taking some responsibility for ride impact (or putting the word out there on FB and also at the ride start site) with some ground rules, or having a point person to contact so I and others can volunteer to help clean up or something, so we all can acknowledge that large rides with lots of people have an inevitable impact on the environment, and that we don’t want the irresponsible people ruin it for the rest of us.

    For some reason, it’s moved beyond our little community of bike anarchists who know how to clean up and behave. No one wants to police/be responsible for others’ behavior, and I don’t want this to turn in to complaining or finger pointing…but I think that is a different scenario from ride organizers “setting a tone” for the ride, which is something we may have not had to do before.

    For example, Dropout Prom this year…I was really amazed at how many people left all their garbage on the grass after the ride departed. I picked up a few bottles on my way out but didn’t want to miss the ride myself…and at the endpoint, I wondered how much trash would be left there, too.

    I’m not dissing on Dropouts here…in fact, as seasoned and respected ride organizers/leaders, they must have had members/volunteers who stayed at Irving Park to cleanup and also at the end site the next day (and if so, I’d like to volunteer to help make it work even better next time).

    I guess what I’m saying is that it would have been nice to know for sure…or to have had a few dedicated volunteers roaming around at the start/end site (like at WNBR) with garbage bags offering to collect people’s bottles and cans…that kind of thing. Or maybe an announcement before ride departure that the ride won’t leave until everyone has packed up/cleaned up their trash (and since the ride topped out all the garbage cans at Irving Park, we’d need extras there or volunteers with bags for that to work practically…)

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      Carl June 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      Anyone who thinks that big rides leaving trash behind is a new problem should read this Shift list post from 2007 in response to complaints about trash being left behind at a Midnight Mystery Ride (MMR).

      https://lists.riseup.net/www/arc/shift/2007-06/msg00175.html

      Huge rides leave trash. People who want the bike fun to keep going help to self-police and end up cleaning up whatever gets left. That’s the way it’s worked for years.

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        9watts June 24, 2015 at 4:15 pm

        “Huge rides leave trash.”

        couldn’t help but think of ‘The SUV ran a red light and hit the cyclist.’

        Whatever happened to everyone picking up after themselves? I’ve never understood the littering mindset. Where do people pick this up? 😉

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    Tom Hardy June 24, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Mustn’t forget the wall to wall events on Saturday. 8 t0 midnight. supposed to top 100. Drink lots of liquids and carry clothes to run into stores to refill. It is a protest against cars and imported oil after all!!!

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    KYouell June 24, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Our Kidical Mass/Pedalpalooza ride was huge, about 40 bikes many of which were cargo bikes so had multiple people. I think it was bigger than the one we did in 2013 which as an Ice Cream & Treats ride was quite a draw. I was crediting BikePortland, but if that’s just the way things are this year then I guess that’s what it was. Whatever it is, YAY BIKES!

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      Spiffy June 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      your ride needed traffic management… it got so broken that some people weren’t sure which direction the ride went because the group was so far ahead…

      and we were at Naito/9th when a kid followed some adults crossing against the light and she was almost run over by a minivan that had the green…

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    Steve B June 24, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Great post. I have seen folks lament Facebook’s impact on pedalpalooza and the SHIFT calendar. Looks like rather than serve as a detriment to ride recruitment, it has really become an effective outreach tool. I personally have been able to recruit more folks who don’t regularly participate in ‘bike fun’ to rides the past couple of years thanks to FB events.

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    Lillian June 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    The size of the rides this year is part of why I’m having Bowie Vs Prince end in a “legitimate” end spot this year (with a small $2 cover to offset the cost of insurance and security). I hate charging a cover and making the ride less chill but honestly, I just can’t find a place for 800+ people to party in a public place without a lot of negative externalities. This way, we’ve got existing apparatus to handle a huge crowd at the end. Now here’s hoping I can support all the bike parking…

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    Xor Bitwise June 24, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    obvious conclusion: extend pedalpalooza from 3+ weeks to 52+ weeks!

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    Kate June 24, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Yeah that’s the conundrum. I want more people to get in on the bike fun. But how to impress upon them that it’s more than partying…it’s about responsibility and niceness too

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    Ted Buehler June 25, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I think it’s important for ride leaders to think about etiquette and programming when planning for rides that may become big.

    Massive rides cause problems that merely large rides don’t.

    For instance, 1000 people raising a ruckus can be heard by the whole neighborhood. 1000 leaving trash will “trash” a park. While 100 peopl leaving trash is just an annoyance.

    On the streets, a fragmented ride of 1000 people will annoy ordinary Portlanders in their cars, because corkers will block the streets for 15 minutes with big gaps in the group. While a tight-packed group will block it for 10 minutes with no gaps. Or a loose ride of 200 people with gaps is only an extra minute or two of delay from gaps.

    & if you have, for instance, 2000 people descend on Ladd Circle for an impromptu dance party, it will last a lot longer, because it takes a longer time for that many people to assemble and disperse. So it’s much less neighborly.

    If you have 1000 people on the Bike Prom descend on the Willamette Riverbank on the Springwater Trail, they won’t all move off the trail unless someone marshalls the group and asks them to move off the trail. & that’s an inconvenience to our friends on bicycles and foot who are using the Trail for transportation.

    & if 1000 people on the Bike Prom take over a skinny commercial street like Division, it’s going to slow down the ride dramatically and generate a lot of conflict. And, sympathy among bystanders will trend towards the stalled people in cars, rather than enthusiasm for the bike party.

    All of these things in isolation are no big deal. Cumulatively, they are an annoyance to a whole lot of people who are ordinarily friends of the Bike Fun movement. And generate sympathy for the demographics who are not supporters of Bike Fun.

    If we want Shift rides, Bike Fun rides, Party Rides, to continue to grow and expand in Portland (and I do), then I encourage ride leaders and participants to consider these issues in ride planning and programming.

    Are you leading a ride with 500 people? Then figure out how to run that ride in a way that doesn’t annoy huge parts of the Portland population that should be our supporters.
    * Program the ride to stay on big streets.
    * Have a “sweep” that communicates to the leaders to slow down if necessary to keep the ride from getting strung out.
    * Have an alternate destination planned in case you original one can’t hold the crowd you’ve generated.
    * Avoid waking up entire neighborhoods for more than 10 minutes at a time. * That sort of thing…

    This is an exciting problem to have. Let’s deal with it a professional, respectful way to let the bike parties keep rolling all summer with less conflicts.

    Ted Buehler

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    Todd Boulanger June 25, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Looks like there will be 25,000 naked riders on Saturday then…if Facebook RSVPs to Attendees ratio trend continues (to a third data point). Woo Hoo.

    And the PPB will report that the “25,000” attendees were “5000”…as they used to do back in the 2000s. (Too bad the PPB’s overtime pay for monitoring these transportation events was not indexed to their estimate of attendees.)

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    Jayne June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    This bike event looks awesome! In Iowa we have an event called RAGBRAI where we ride across the whole state from the western border to the eastern border! It is already a huge event and would be awesome to have even more people from other states! Check out this great article I found with 10 facts you didn’t know about RAGBRAI… http://www.braceability.com/blog/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-ragbrai/ …They also have a lot of other great articles dealing with health and fitness!

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