Cycle Oregon unveils routes for 30th anniversary rides

Cycle Oregon turns 30 years old this year and organizers unveiled their big plans last night to a standing-room-only crowd that packed into an elegant ballroom at the Portland Art Museum.

“It’s never really been about the bicycle. It’s been about trying to lend a hand to people who have no access to capital. If we can transfer some of the wealth from urban to rural we can build a more equitable society, and use the bicycle to build that bridge, we can give them a chance to do more than survive, they can thrive.”
— Jonathan Nicholas, Cycle Oregon co-founder

This year’s ride has been dubbed “The Classic”. It will depart from Tumalo State Park near Bend on September 9th and include overnights in La Pine, Diamond Lake, Dorena Lake, Oakridge and Rainbow before returning to Bend on September 16th. Highlights of the route include an optional ride around the rim of Crater Lake, the Aufderheide Scenic Byway, a summit of Mackenzie Pass, and much more. Also notable is that for the first time ever Cycle Oregon will offer official gravel/dirt road options. In addition to The Classic, Cycle Oregon’s successful women’s-only “Joyride” event will return to the Willamette Valley on June 10th and the Weekend Ride has been renamed to “The Weekender” and will take place July 7-9 on the campus of Linfield College in McMinnville.

While the where, when, and what took center stage last night, the event was also an opportunity to look back at three decades of this incomparable event.

Cycle Oregon started on a whim in 1987 as a way to bridge the gap between urban and rural Oregonians. One of the ride’s co-founders, former columnist for The Oregonian Jonathan Nicholas, was on hand last night to mark the special 30th anniversary. Nicholas grew up in Wales and experienced the decimation of his town and many others when the coal economy ceased to exist. Captivated by the American West he saw in television shows, he moved to the United States in the 1980s. When he got to Oregon he noticed our rural logging towns faced a similarly bleak economic and social future as the timber economy floundered.

“What I saw in Oregon seemed familiar to the small coal towns in Wales,” he told the crowd, “There was horrible community dislocation, not just economic dislocation, there was social collapse in all the communities I grew up in… all the things that go wrong when the economic basis of a community collapses.”

To try and prevent a similar fate in Oregon, Nicholas joined up with Ashland innkeeper Jim Beaver and hatched what he called a “random, very simple, silly little plan.” “We’d take people from Portland to spend some money in rural Oregon.” The plan was random because Nicholas didn’t even own a bicycle at the time, a fact that led him to say last night that, “It’s never really been about the bicycle. It’s been about trying to lend a hand to people who have no access to capital. If we can transfer some of the wealth from urban to rural we can build a more equitable society, and use the bicycle to build that bridge, we can give them a chance to do more than survive, they can thrive.”

At the end of that first ride in 1988 a hat was passed around and everyone was asked to drop in their spare change. The idea was to donate half the money to a local business and keep the other half to help fund the ride for another year. What started with a few hundred dollars has turned into the $2 million Cycle Oregon Fund. Since 1988 the fund has doled out grants to 225 projects around the state — from signature bike trails to historic barns and lights on a high school football field.

Last night Cycle Oregon Executive Director Steve Schulz announced their advocacy and fundraising focus this year will be the Salmonberry Trail, an 86-mile path that will someday connect the small town of Banks in Washington County to the Pacific Ocean along a defunct rail line. Cycle Oregon has already given $200,000 to the project to help with early planning and outreach. This year they’ve committed to raising $1 million which could lead to groundbreaking on the first sections in the next few years.

In their rides and advocacy, Cycle Oregon has matured and evolved a lot in 30 years. What remains the same are the amazing places and roads it travels through and the community of people around it. Many of those people were abuzz last night as the 2017 route was announced. Here’s why…

The Classic – September 9-16th: 490 miles, 30,656 feet elevation gain (including optional ride around Crater Lake)

Day 1: “Up and Over” – Tumalo State Park to La Pine — Miles: 55 (57.6 with gravel option) | Elevation 3,357′ (3,455′ with gravel option)

Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway en route to Sunriver.
(Photo: Cycle Oregon)

And we’re off! You and your bike tires are fully pumped as you leave Tumalo State Park and skirt Shelvin Park on country roads, leading the way to Bend. Continue through Bend, fighting the urge to stop for a microbrew every other block as you start your climb up Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway towards Mt. Bachelor. After your 5%-ish 10-mile climb, it’s time to sit back and enjoy 15 miles of downhill towards Sunriver, and then 14 more flat, mellow miles into La Pine. *Gravel Option: Just after leaving Bend, hop on 15 miles of gravel road, rejoining the main route 5 miles before the summit of Century Drive.

Day 2 – “Cruising the Cascades” – La Pine to Diamond Lake – Miles: 95.5 | Elevation: 3,600’

A roadside market in Chemult, between La Pine and Diamond Lake.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Hope you got a good night’s sleep last night because today is a long, but relatively flat, one. We start off by rejoining the beautiful Cascade Lakes Highway as we pass Wickiup Reservoir, Davis Lake and near Crescent Lake. And the day’s only big hill. This 6-mile climb is on one of the straightest highways in Oregon, but don’t let it get in your head – it’s only a 5-6% grade. After summiting, it’s a pleasant four mile cruise downhill to Diamond Lake where a hot shower and a cold beer will be waiting lakeside.


Day 3 – “No Crater Greater” – Layover Day – Optional Miles: 59.8 | Elevation: 6,470’
You might need a nap or two if you opt for the rim ride.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

You’ve enjoyed a heaping helping of miles over the last two days and deserve a break, but we know riders love to ride, so we planned some killer options to make the most of this location. Option one: Hang out at Diamond Lake and chillax. Option 2: Ride the paved 11-mile loop around Diamond Lake catching glimpses of diamond-shaped Mt. Thielsen and mountain-shaped Diamond Peak. Option 3: We highly recommend this option. For just a glimpse of Crater Lake, it’s 13 miles uphill from camp to the rim of the lake. From there you can return to camp or ride to Rim Village and the lodge (6 miles out and back) or you can ride around the entire rim of Crater Lake. This last option is a bucket list ride – the most spectacular 32 miles of bike riding on earth, but also one of the most challenging. There are no flat places on Rim Drive.

Day 4 – “Flowing Downhill” – Diamond Lake to Dorena Lake – Miles: 91 | Elevation: 3,916’

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Back in the saddle, hopefully feeling rested and reinvigorated, today’s route is a real treat. 4 miles from Diamond Lake, you hop on Highway 138 for 40 (count ‘em–4-0) miles of glorious downhill. This stretch is a National Scenic Byway and follows the Wild and Scenic Umpqua River. It’s also prime waterfall country. Clearwater Falls, Whitehorse Falls, Toketee Falls, and Watson Falls (almost 300 ft tall!) are slightly off course, but well worth the walk. After lunch, you’ll tackle a 13-mile, sometimes steep climb, before finishing up the day on 10 miles of the Row River Trail, a revived railroad track-turned-trail along the shoreline of Dorena Lake.

Day 5 – “‘Squatch Country” – Dorena Lake to Oakridge – Miles: 55.5 (51.8 with gravel option) | Elevation: 5,227’ (4,258’ with gravel option)

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Dorena Lake to Oakridge: By now you’ve ridden yourself into tip-top cycling condition and your bike welcomes you like an old friend (hopefully). From camp at Dorena Lake, it’s back along the Row River Trail for 11 miles, then around mile 19 you enter Umpqua National Forest where you’ll ride for most of the day. Count the shades of green as you work the logging roads, climbing towards the first of three summits. After the final small climb of the day at mile 39, it’s 20 miles of downhill into Oakridge for another night of sharing stories under the stars. *Gravel option: After Stop 3, 10 miles of downhill on gravel, for a total of 15 miles before joining the main route 5 miles before Oakridge.

Day 6 – “Liquid Refreshment” – Oakridge to Rainbow – Miles: 66 (61.4 with gravel option) | Elevation: 3,300’ (4,150’ with gravel option)

The Aufderheide Scenic Byway should be on everyone’s to-do list.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Day 6 begins with a lovely covered bridge passing en-route to the Aufderheide Scenic Byway. Set your peepers to “awe” as you take in all the beautiful scenery along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River to summit at Box Canyon, then along the South Fork of the McKenzie River and past Cougar Reservoir. Today you have to climb for your lunch, but after lunch the remaining 26 miles is downhill, perfect for those riders with the need for speed. You’ll pass Cougar Hot Springs (clothing optional, wink wink) and end at the McKenzie River and our campsite at the edge of Tokatee Golf Course in Rainbow. *Gravel Option: Leaves Oakridge on paved road that turns to gravel after 7 miles, then rejoins the main route 19 miles from the start.

Day 7 – “Homeward Bound” – Rainbow to Tumalo State Park – Miles: 67.3 | Elevation: 4,786’

Final summit of the ride atop McKenzie Pass.
(Photo: Cycle Oregon)
The final summit of the ride on Old McKenzie Highway.
(Photo: Cycle Oregon)

Rainbow to Tumalo: We start off on the nice, wide shoulder of Highway 126 for 8 miles before we turn onto the Old McKenzie Highway. At this point, we start a long, gradual ascent towards the summit of the Cascades and Dee Wright Observatory. The payoff once you reach the top is a spectacular view of the Three Sisters. On the way back down, you’ll cruise on 15 miles of downhill stopping in Sisters for lunch. To wrap it up, you have miles of generally flat country roads with a couple of miles riding on the main state highway between Sisters and Bend. Once you cross the finish line, take off your bibs and put on your party pants because it’s time to celebrate!

Registration for all three rides begins at 12 noon today (Wednesday, 1/25) at

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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