The Ladd’s 500 is a continuation of a proud Portland legacy: Free fun on in the streets that’s open to all — and with bicycles as the thread stitching everyone together.
The “third first annual” relay drew a huge crowd to Ladd Circle Park on Saturday, which was the perfect base camp for the day’s activities. What is usually just a sleepy roundabout in a quiet residential neighborhood was enlivened with picnics, BBQ’s (by bike, of course), music, and Portlanders eager to shed winter, embrace a dry day, and enjoy each others’ company.
This event is completely DIY. It was started on a whim by David Barstow Robinson — who still seems a bit shocked at how many people show up each year. David is an endurance rider (he just returned home from riding about 4,000 km in three weeks at the India Pacific Wheel Race) and veteran of many local bike fun events who might have taken some inspiration from fellow Portlander Merritt Raitt, whose “Circle Century” film went viral in 2013.
While it’s all about having fun, there was serious business to attend to: 500 laps around the 0.15 mile circle. That’s about 75 miles of incessant left turns. 25 teams with names like Welcome to the Dork Side, Aching Knees, Thunder Thighs, Bigg Boyz, Puddlecycle, Silly Cones, Badgehogs, and Rat Patrol, were up to the task. They kept a running tally of their laps on a big leaderboard in the middle of the circle.
Out on the street there was a dizzying diversity of riders and wheeled vehicles: Like a real-life version of a Richard Scarry book. Some went very fast, others went very slow. One woman donned a turtle shell on her back and happily rode just 3-4 mph. There were people riding skateboards, longboards, fast road bikes, tall bikes, swing bikes, scooters, fixed gears, bike camping bikes, freak bikes, cargo bikes, electric bikes, bikes with trailers, a bike with a piñata and stick to hit it with, a two-person pedal-car, unicycles, and even a ball. Yes, a ball.
And the riders were just as varied as their machines. A lot of factors come together to make events like this so inclusive. Part of it is the equalizing nature of the circle itself: If someone goes faster than you, a few seconds later they’re behind you. The constant mixing and proximity to friends and other riders — while never feeling “dropped” or too far behind — is empowering and welcoming.
BikePortland reader Simon sent us this short and very sweet video that captures the spirit…
As you might have glimpsed in the video, fourth-grader Penny Poole (daughter of skateboard advocate Cory Poole) stole the show by completing laps on a mix of devices that included a longboard, a unicycle, and — most amazingly — a circus balance ball. Even amidst the chaotic scene, everyone stopped to cheer Penny on as she walked ever-so-carefully backwards atop a ball nearly half her height.
At the end of the day, Penny won “Best in Show” — an award that the organizer said was for “Whoever looks like they’re having the most fun.”
That award could have been given to almost anyone. Even the neighbors who came out in droves to observe the spectacle looked to be having a good time…
Despite all the added traffic the event brought to the neighborhood, there wasn’t any official permit or closure. And why would there be? The park and the street is public space. “We are allowed to be in the park, and we are allowed to ride on the road,” reads the official rules. “If anyone feels otherwise, please be judicious in your diplomacy or find someone who is able to do so.”
What about drivers and their cars? I saw many of them come through. They just slowed down, merged into (the unusually colorful and happy) traffic, and then kept right on going just like any other day.
I know it’s hard to imagine given the dreary and wet week we’re having, but as peak bike fun season approaches, the crazy fun of the Ladd’s 500 will indeed become just like any other day.
And to that, we say…
Don’t miss our columnist Madi Carlson’s recap!
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