NW Portland’s best secret routes, hang-outs, and other cool things

NW Portland Week - Day 5-47.jpg
NW Cornell road just below Upper Macleay Park.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Part of NW Portland Week.

How often do you just bike around the city and take the time to slow down and see everything? Not just traffic or street signs but everything. These special weeks when we focus on one part of the city give us the opportunity to let a place soak in. Over the past five days I’ve discovered lots of cool stuff about northwest Portland (I hope you have too!). I’ve found new shortcuts I never knew existed, made a few new friends, and have gained a much deeper understanding of this beautiful, historic, and thriving part of our city.

Now we’re left with notebooks full of tidbits and albums full of photos that don’t fit into their own stories. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth sharing here on the Front Page. Below are just some of the secret routes, places to grab a bite or a drink, and other fun surprises from this past week…

Station Way shortcut

Looking south on Station Way toward Union Station
The underbelly of the ramp on Broadway with Union Station to my left and the post office facility on the right.

On Tuesday I ran into a friend down near NW 9th and Lovejoy. Knowing it was NW Portland Week he told me about a cool shortcut to Union Station. If you go east on Marshall until it ends you’ll come to Station Way. If you head right it’ll take you under the Broadway Bridge/Lovejoy ramp and spit you out right at Union Station!

This is a helpful trick to know about — especially if there’s a train blocking your way at 9th and you want to get up onto the bridge to avoid it. The space under the bridge is actually kind of cool too, in a dark and scary forgotten-place kind of way.

Hot spots for hot (or cold) drinks and grub

I liked Breken instantly because of its bike parking.
Mio Seafood, NW 16th and Thurman.

It was amazing to see little flashes of new life in old and industrial areas. The hub around NW 16th and Thurman has several great destinations all within two blocks. There’s Olympic Provisions, the Steven Smith Teamaker tasting room, Breken (very nice coffee/breakfast and lunch spot with a bike corral out front!), and Mio Seafood.

Inside the Clearing Cafe on Thurman.

This morning I met our friend and BikePortland contributor Ted Timmons at Clearing Cafe on upper Thurman (he must eat their breakfast burrito at least once a week). This is a great spot that gets crowded with trail runners, bikers, and local folks on the weekends. During the week it’s a nice quiet place to refresh.

Hmmm that’s Peculiarium

You’ve probably passed The Peculiarium on Thurman (between 22nd and 23rd) a bunch of times without even noticing. You should stop next time and give it a closer look. It’s full of freaky (but true!) stuff, gag gifts, and assorted oddities. And if you do this on a family bike outing, you can treat the kids to some of the fun sweets and snacks they offer.

Northwest’s bicycle industrial complex

Employees of Chris King Precision Components hard at work.

I wanted to do a bigger story on the bike industry in this quadrant but wasn’t able to put it together. I did manage however to swing by Portland’s biggest bike company, King Cycle Group. The folks behind Chris King Precision Components and Cielo Cycles have taken over a former coffee roasting factory with their growing workforce. King is world-renown for their headsets and hubs and is celebrating 40 years in business this year.

Northwest Portland is also home to the U.S. headquarters of premium bike fashion brand Rapha and Brompton, the world’s leading folding bike maker. A major parts distributor, Cyclone Bicycle Supply, also has their warehouse here and there are several great bike shops in northwest including: 21st Avenue Bicycles, Fat Tire Farm, Traction Works (a new suspension-tuning shop), Portland Bicycle Studio, Athletes Lounge, and Western Bikeworks.

Beautiful Irving Street

Northwest is home to some gobsmackingly gorgeous old homes. On Wednesday I happened upon a block of Irving Street that stopped me in my tracks. Between NW 17th and 18th Irving gets really narrow and one side is lined with historic Victorians. Add in the massive trees and this block feels extremely civilized.

To top it off I saw this great old house with a bike rack and a classy e-bike parked out front.

That great mural on the northern end of NW 23rd

I can understand if you’ve never seen this 65-foot mural. It’s on an inhospitable stretch of 23rd between Thurman and Vaughn that’s pretty sketchy to bike — or even walk — on. And that’s why this mural is so interesting to me. It depicts a scene of idyllic street life based on adjacent streets.

What makes this mural so interesting to me is how the painter has captured urban street life the way it’s meant to be. Carefree, fun, full of happy interactions with strangers and friends. But notice what the artist left out: cars. Then notice the reality that surrounds the mural: cars. The juxtaposition of the urban life we want versus the one we’ve allowed to consume us is striking.

A neighborhood and bikeway in the Forest

On NW Aspen, Forest Park comes right to your door.


A lot of you north Portlanders know about the NE Holman neighborhood greenway. But did you know there’s another Holman in Portland? Holman Lane is a steep dirt road in Forest Park in the hills above northwest Portland. It’s one of my favorite ways to get into the dirt just a few miles from town.

Just a few minutes from town (if you’ve got the legs).

To get there, ride up Thurman toward Forest Park. Just before you get to the busy trailhead where everyone parks, turn left on Aspen. Aspen is a gorgeous road on a ridge that has a nice view of the city on one side and the ferns and trees of Forest Park on the other. Take Aspen until it ends then go right and you’ll see the Forest Park gate. Stay on the dirt path and cross over the Wildwood Trail (no biking on it!). Holman takes you up (feels like straight up) to NW 53rd which you can take back into Portland via Cornell.

It’s a city code violation if you don’t!

For some crazy reason the City has an ordinance that allows biking only in the uphill direction on Holman Lane. I’m sure it was done for “safety” reasons given how close this is to many homes and hikers; but bans like this are bad policy. It would be much better to “use caution when others are present” and enforce laws against unsafe behaviors rather than have a blanket ban on something that isn’t inherently unsafe. But I digress.

And then there’s Arnold

Arnold in the jacket he loves. It’s made out of canvas so it doesn’t tear on tree branches when he sleeps.

On Tuesday I met a wonderful guy named Arnold. He was sitting on a bench on NW Pettygrove near 22nd watching a construction project. “It’s the kid in me,” he said as I stopped and smiled. “I love all the sounds. The hammering, the lifts, the cutting.”

Arnold moved to Portland from Ohio with his family in 1962. He grew up in Ladd’s Addition (which he remembers fondly), then worked as a delivery truck driver for 12 years. After getting divorced he said his wife took the kids and things went downhill after that. He lost his job, his mom was “lost to Alzheimer’s”, he had a run-in with the law and did some time in jail.

Arnold was very proud of his stout kickstand.

Arnold has been camping (he’s not homeless, he said) on Portland’s streets for the past six years. His trusty old cruiser bike is loaded up with everything he needs. He can’t ride it anymore because of all the gear buckets attached to it. Years ago he walked and rode his bike from Portland to Seaside and Astoria then back. “Eight days,” he said, smiling wistfully, “That was the best time. Me and my bike. The downhills were life flying. I had so much fun.”

Today Arnold is taking life as it comes. He said he’s never logged onto the internet, has never owned a cell phone, doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t vote, and doesn’t owe his wife any more child support. “I couldn’t be happier being out here,” he said.

For more of my photos from NW Portland, see the entire album on Flickr.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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