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Hundreds of riders light the night at carfree Winter Wonderland event

Posted by on November 29th, 2016 at 11:35 pm

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A rare window of dry skies was an unexpected treat.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

It was a perfect night to bundle up and enjoy the holiday lights at the annual “Bike the Lights” night at Winter Wonderland. With dry and relatively clear skies, hundreds of people (organizers expected over 1,200 based on last year’s numbers) showed up for a chance to pedal stress-free around the racetrack at Portland International Raceway.

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This is an event where big crowds just add to the fun and festive feel.

As they’ve done each year since 2009, organizers transform the track into a holiday-themed light display. The event runs for a month between November 25th and Christmas night; but last night was the only time it’s for cycling only. The bike-only night has grown steadily each year and now features an expo area complete with prize giveaways from vendors, free service from Bike Gallery, cheap treats for sale from Voodoo Doughnuts and more.

The event is a fundraiser for the Sunshine Division, a nonprofit that provides food and clothing for people in need.

I rode over with my five year-old and we pedaled along with a bunch of other families. One thing I love about this event is — similar to Sunday Parkways — it attracts people we never see in the bike lanes in our daily riding around town. The parking lot was full of families and friends who loaded up bikes onto racks and carpooled to the event. There were people of all ages and they covered the full spectrum of cycling experience and culture — from people who probably only ride a few times a year to experienced racers and enthusiasts. I even saw a pack of riders from the Belligerantes, a northeast Portland-based Schwinn gang.

There was a steady stream of bike traffic coming from north Portland’s Kenton neighborhood and many of the riders came from Washington.

Jim Thomas was one of a crew of about 30 people who rode over from Vancouver with their bikes fully decorated. Thomas said his group — which included people from Camas Bike Shop, Vancouver Bike Club, and Bike Clark County — got lots of honks from people as they rode en masse over the Interstate Bridge.

Costumes and lights on bikes were encouraged by the organizers.

Here are a few more photos of the fun…

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This light tunnel was a big highlight.
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Bike the Lights night at Winter Wonderland

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My boy got to meet the Grinch!
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Jim Thomas from Vancouver.
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A lot of people took advantage of the free bikes offered by Biketown.
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If you missed out, make sure this event is on your calendar next year!

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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  • Spiffy November 30, 2016 at 7:53 am

    did they run out of Biketown bikes? how many did they have on-hand?

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  • lahar November 30, 2016 at 9:02 am

    One of my favorite family bike events of the year.

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  • Kyle Banerjee November 30, 2016 at 10:08 am

    I’m not normally into organized rides, but I would have been there if I knew about it. I love holiday lights and riding at PIR is always fun.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 30, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Hi Kyle,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t know about it! Tell me how we can do a better job at BikePortland to make sure you don’t miss events like this in the future. We didn’t feature it on the Front Page, but it was listed on our Event Calendar and it was featured in the sidebar to the right. We also posted it several times on Twitter. Getting more people informed and enthused about events is a very important part of our mission at BikePortland so I’d love to hear your feedback. Thanks.

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      • Kyle Banerjee November 30, 2016 at 12:33 pm

        Sounds like the publicity was fine and I just missed out. I follow BP on Twitter but things move very fast there and I often don’t keep up. I’ll keep in mind to check the calendar more regularly. Plus, I was just being a dope. I noticed a lot of lit up bikes moving along Denver looking like they were headed towards PIR and wondered what was going on, and it didn’t occur to me to investigate further (or just ask — gasp!)

        One thing I do wonder is how more people who don’t follow cycling news could learn about stuff like this.

        This PIR event in particular strikes me as having such universal appeal that I would think local news agencies might be interested in covering it so perhaps news releases to them stressing the bike option would be good (if that weren’t done already).

        Local news makes this look like a car event However, even people who drive everywhere and who don’t think of themselves as cyclists might well prefer to do it on a bike because the experience would be much more immersive, quieter, and there’s more freedom of movement and ability to take pictures.

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        • stephanlindner November 30, 2016 at 4:22 pm

          Hi Jonah,

          These are wonderful pictures, thanks for posting! As to Kyle’s comment and your question, I also did not realize this event was happening (not sure I would have been able to come with two small kids …). The event calendar provides a great overview of all events but it treats every event the same. Perhaps when there are big events such as this one a special post on this page would be great. I think that’s what you do with some events such as Sunday bikeways.

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    • Spiffy November 30, 2016 at 10:24 am

      I always find out about it too late to participate… already had a neighborhood tree-lighting to go to, and the Mrs had to work late…

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    • BradWagon November 30, 2016 at 11:31 am

      It’s a shame they only allow bike one night a year… I get having a bike only night and making it a big event but why couldn’t bikes also ride along next to 5-10mph cars the rest of the nights? The track is plenty wide to allow vehicles on one side and bikes on the other.

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      • Chris I December 1, 2016 at 5:39 am

        They should do more bike nights, as it is the best way to see the lights. Now that they have the free Biketown option, I see no reason to not do this every Monday night for the whole season. I did see a few cars pull up while I was waiting, expecting to drive the track. It might be easier if they can just state that no cars can drive on any Monday night, rather than just the one bike night and the one dog walking night.

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    • James November 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      I found out about it through a group ride listed on the Shift2Bikes calendar. If it weren’t for that, I would have missed it as well.

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  • Kate November 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

    I also came to the front page to look for it yesterday after hearing someone mention something about it. I tend to forget about the events calendar and shun twitter. I usually catch those sidebar things- but alas. Now I will know to keep my eyes peeled for it next year, looks like a good time.

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  • Skate November 30, 2016 at 10:33 am

    This is always a great event, which is why it was SO disappointing that PIR turned away roller skaters this year.

    Roller Skaters and skateboarders have been welcome every year in the past, but PIR said last night they had new management and ownership and were turning skaters away at the door, including Moms pushing strollers on skates.

    They said skaters were welcome on “Dog Walk Night” – cause you know how dogs LOVE roller skates and skateboards!

    Pretty sad night for a lot of folks who made the trek out to PIR to skate the lights

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  • bikeninja November 30, 2016 at 11:10 am

    We will know we are making headway when every night is bike-only-night with a single night devoted to motorcars.

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  • austin November 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    It’s a shame they only allow bike one night a year… I get having a bike only night and making it a big event but why couldn’t bikes also ride along next to 5-10mph cars the rest of the nights? The track is plenty wide to allow vehicles on one side and bikes on the other.
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    We went last night and there are SO many kids (even saw some ~3 year olds pedaling along) that I think cars would seem dangerous. There were a few police cars driving the course, and it was a little uncomfortable.

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    • BradWagon November 30, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      Yeah I agree that it’s good to have a family night but wouldn’t think allowing adults to ride the other nights poses any exceptional danger…

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  • MaxD November 30, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Did they let people under 18 yo ride the biketown bikes?

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    • Kyle Banerjee November 30, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      There’s nothing to keep someone from an account from checking one out and lending it to a kid.

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  • Eric Porter November 30, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Sad I missed it last night, this has always been a great time. It’s even snowed on us a couple times. As for riding along at the same time as cars… no thanks. The last place I want to be is next to people slowly swerving along as they look at all the lights. The place can turn into a mile+ long traffic jam, too. Strange the cops started showing up to drive the course… where are the bike cops?

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    • Chris I December 1, 2016 at 5:43 am

      I saw a few. But yes, I don’t know why they drove the course at all.

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    • Mike Untz December 1, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      They were there too. Lots of overtime Tuesday night for the PD.

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      • Chris I December 1, 2016 at 9:21 pm

        You are making assumptions. This event is run by The PPB Sunshine Division and all the money goes directly to the non profit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the officers working the event were volunteering their time.

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  • Christopher Sanderson November 30, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Any chance that they can do this for cyclists later? Geez, it’s still November, and Christmas does not officially begin until Christmas Eve (December 24th)!

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. December 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Also, this event ends as soon as Chanukah starts. So much for it being a “holiday” light show. (As if we didn’t all know what “holiday” this light show was actually about… Last I checked, Chanukah doesn’t feature red and green elves.)

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