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Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Traveler Seeks Cyclists

Posted by on March 3rd, 2020 at 9:20 am

biking around El Ángel

Biking around El Ángel
(Photos: Robert Wagner)

Our Pacific Northwest Fake-out February sure was glorious. There were a few days I ditched the coat and I’m missing it already. Looking ahead to summer, I’m so excited about this Pedalpalooza stuff. I’ve never heard of these things in my own city, and after last week’s talk about arm signals and bike camps for kids, all of this got me thinking about travel and vacations. Due to our payment plan, we will not be taking any extravagant vacations this year, but we do have an inexpensive and short trip to the Southwest planned.

I’m curious: Do you seek out bike adventures when you travel? Do you look for organized rides? Are you an adventure seeker and travel just for biking new places? If so, do you look for bikes to rent? Or do you ship your own bike? I only know of this last option because there are vans parked within a couple miles of me that advertise a service that will pack your bike for you and ship it. I had no idea that was a thing.

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bikes for rent in Mexico City

Bikes for rent in Mexico City.

The husbeast travels a bit for work and shot these incredible photos for us. This is the Monumento a la Independencia in Mexico City, Mexico. It is located in the Paseo de la Reforma in downtown. Mexico City shuts down the major streets and this roundabout every weekend. Cyclists, pedestrians, and large outdoor exercise groups get to use the area, carfree. Some of the major cross-traffic streets get a light to go through, but most of it is shut down for the public to enjoy.

Wouldn’t that be amazing? I think that would be amazing. To be able to boast that about your downtown every weekend being carfree? I would choose a city to visit over another for that perk.

How do you go about searching for such perks when you travel? I mean, I’m born and raised here, and I knew of some bike rides and popular routes, but I really had no idea of the true breadth until I got on here and started drinking from the firehose. Being that Portland is a bit more bike-friendly than other cities, how do you go about searching for cycling in other places? Is there a go-to method I’m unaware of? I definitely want to seek out biking while we are traveling.

I hope you enjoy these photos. Consider the eye candy a gift of appreciation from my family:

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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mark smithSteve ScarichDavid LaPorteMiddle of the Road GuyDavid Hampsten Recent comment authors
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Jesse R
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Jesse R

From my experience, there are two types of travel and bike overlaps: Travels TO ride, and Travels WITH riding. If I am going TO ride, I’m dedicating a large portion of that trip to playing bikes. I’ll bring my own and maximize the riding time I have. Alternatively, I traveled with a bike where it was tertiary to the trip and it was a royal pain in the butt. The bike, and case (or box or whatever) had to be moved around, and the extra fees for larger taxis and checked bags just wasn’t worth it for me versus just renting a bike for one day when I had down time. Besides Glacier NP, all the trips I’ve taken that I’ve been able to ride have been for weddings, as I am that age where everyone is getting married, so I just did some googling about cycling routes and whatnot in that area if I was going to try to get a ride in.

middle of the road guy
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middle of the road guy

Good point there. I sometimes pack a Saris rack with me. Rental cars vary and if you are traveling with a friend it’s a necessity.

middle of the road guy
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middle of the road guy

TL;DR – Depends on the type of riding you are going to do.

I take my own bike when traveling. I have a S&S coupled bike that I take to Europe for a 3 week cycling adventure (and other US destinations) every other year. Cannot really stomach the idea of riding a rental that I don’t trust or doesn’t fit perfectly.

Travel in Europe provides much more consideration for the cyclist – space on trains, bike lanes, and cyclist specific hotels that offer guided rides, amenities such as covered storage, repair/cleaning areas and great food (usually included in the price), etc. Personally, I think there is a market here for such things, though it is niche. You could probably chase mountain route closures or Fondos for a few weeks in the summer if you were so inclined.

I’ve done a few group rides in Europe like the Sella Ronda that are just amazing – the Euros really know how to put on a Fondo. Cycling is so much more popular there that the roads over the mountains are pretty much guaranteed to have a steady stream of cyclists, and the only two times I’ve ever been honked at were due to my own fault. I’ve even had a semi wait behind me patiently for over a mile before it could safely pass (there was no area to pull over to let them go by).

You meet some fascinating folks on the bike. Last summer in France I rode over some gorgeous Cols (Turini and Braus) and chatted away with two yacht captains from Monaco. Another time I met an inspiration 73 year old Swiss man suffering over the Gavia pass on a cold day. That was a cool guy.

However, I would say it really depends on the type and extent of riding you intend on doing. If you are going on a bike vacation, bring your own. Just tooling around town for a few days? Rental is probably easier.

Matt
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Matt

I don’t use Strava myself, but I’ve heard that viewing an area’s Strava Heatmap is a great way to learn where the cycling hotspots are.

PATRICK
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PATRICK

About 6 years ago I visited Detroit, rented a “Detroit Bike” and participated in the Detroit Slow Roll and it was a gas.

Jason
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Jason

I’ve never done a bike specific vacation. Although, I’ve always wanted to do one with Backroads. All inclusive: accommodation, food, a bike (or your own but why bother?), sag van and support. https://www.backroads.com/award-winning-tours/biking

Sarah
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Sarah

I make a habit of using bikeshare anytime I can fit it in while visiting another city. It’s a great way to see a new town and nearly always makes me grateful for Portland’s cycling infrastructure. (N.B. I mostly travel to other cities in the US – I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were regularly visiting Europe or cities with weekly ciclovias!)

David Hampsten
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I regularly take a comfortable bike with me when I travel on Amtrak, be it a local all-day trip to nearby cities, overnight to DC, or cross-country to the West Coast. You have to get two tickets – one for yourself and one for your bike. Most Amtrak trains now have hooks for your bike – you wheel it to the baggage car and the baggage attendant hooks it on, but you need to remove your bags and anything else that’s loose. (There are still a handful of Amtrak trains nationwide that still require you to box your bike in huge Amtrak boxes, remove the pedals, etc, so check with Amtrak beforehand. The PDX to Spokane train is one of those alas.) Bike travel free within North Carolina (and maybe on Cascades?), but Amtrak generally charges $20 for each trip leg regardless if the bike is boxed or not.

I bike to the station, check in about a half-hour before departure, get a tag for my bike, then wait for the first call, then wheel by bike+bags to the platform (I often get a minor boarding priority along with families and elderly), dump my bags near the car I’m traveling on (theft is rare on Amtrak platforms), then wheel the bike to the baggage car, give it to the attendant, then hurry back to my bags and board the right train car (Amtrak requires all seats to be reserved.)

For overnight or longer trips I typically take a sleeper – much more privacy and all meals in the diner are free, and if you are flexible and traveling with companions, it’s not much more than coach.

When I travel through Chicago, DC or LA, I have a 3-7 hour layover downtown, so I grab my bike from baggage, get another tag beforehand for the next leg, then head out for a ride downtown. Chicago has excellent protected bike lanes, DC has the mall, and LA, well… it’s not as bad as you might think. I do bring the kind of lock you would use in Portland.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

My very first job out of grad school, I was working at the Chicago Department of Environment and sat in on the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council as our Dept representative.

Chicago was ahead of its time back then in some regards.

David LaPorte
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David LaPorte

I’ve traveled a lot specifically for bike touring, when I usually bring my own bike, but if I want to ride while I’m on vacation I usually rent a bike. Talking to people and scouring the web can give you great ideas for bike-friendly areas and cities to visit. Bikeshare is usually great in big cities, and you’d be surprised how many rural areas have a local bike shop that will set you up with a rental bike and great route ideas. Strava heatmap is good to see where the MAMILs ride, and the ACA route map (https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/interactive-network-map/) gives a good snapshot of long-distance routes. Rails-to-Trails are great family-friendly riding destinations. For nearby weekend riding vacations, my partner and I usually rent a pickup truck that can fit our tandem and camping gear.

Steve Scarich
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Steve Scarich

I travel a fair bit in the Western States. I always take my road bike. I go on the Internet, and find the local recreational bike club rides and show up. I am always greeted warmly. My last ride was in San Luis Obispo last Summer. A ‘moderate, rolling’ ride turned out to have a six mile, 2500′ climb, with sections of 12%. I had my 39/23 gearing and was the fastest uphill until I wasn’t, had to walk for 100 yds, but got lots of encouragement. They warned me about a ‘little bit of gravel’ on the descent into Pismo Beach, which turned out to be in the shade, at 40 mph. Still, had a great time and got back to town in one piece.

mark smith
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mark smith

Are the wheels smaller on the mexico bikes? I just thought about it a…and it’s kind of dumb that rental bikes have 24 or 26 inch wheels. Having smaller wheels and smaller frames and higher handlebars like the folding bikes would make bikes more appealing to folks of all heights. I have ridden the jump bike. Even as an experienced rider…that bike is a handful. It’s big but it’s pointless to be big because it has almost zero cargo space and can’t carry a passenger (like a kid). No wonder they arent’ used much. Plus they are expensive.