Portland’s bikeway characters, who reside on bike symbols on streets around the city, are cute and colorful parts of our culture that have been around for almost almost 25 years.
“You never know when there might be a chicken a few blocks away.”
— Tyler Norbury
In the past, you’d have to be lucky to run into one of them on your rides if you didn’t already know they were there. But now that Portland software engineer Tyler Norbury (who you might recall from our story on the carfree St. Johns Bridge) has designed an interactive map indicating where the characters are, you can be sure you’ll see a quirky and fun piece of art while biking around the city. You might even be inspired to try a new route to check out some characters you haven’t seen yet.
Norbury says on his website that he was inspired to create this map after reading a BikePortland article in April about new bikeway characters in North Portland.
“My first thought upon reading this was, ‘Oh cool, there must be some sorta online directory of all the bike characters in the city. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, but out of that disappointment was birthed the idea for this website,” Norbury writes. “So I planned a route that would hit up the three new characters in north Portland and snagged some pictures of them. Since then I’ve been slowly documenting the various characters as I come across them.”
I was personally inspired by Norbury’s map to head out on my bike on a cold and sunny day this week. I rode around southeast Portland to check out every character Norbury located in the area. It turned out to be a very pleasant 15-mile loop ride through a big chunk of southeast, going through the Richmond, Woodstock and Reed neighborhoods before swinging around through Buckman and past Laurelhurst Park.
I was cool to have some art to look out for while biking. It felt like a scavenger hunt to me; an opportunity to “collect ’em all,” Pokemon-style. I think it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to the routes you take, and going on a trip with the specific purpose to simply enjoy these bike characters was a good way to break out of it.
Not only did I get to meet Portland’s bikeway mascots, but I also rode through areas I don’t typically get around to. It was another reminder of how cool cycling is as a means of getting around town: you get to see so much you would miss if you were going any faster than a bike will take you.
And it turns out, rides like mine were exactly what Norbury had in mind when he embarked on this project.
“This website, an ongoing project, aims to be both an archive of the characters, both presently existing or after they’ve faded away, as well as an encouragement to explore your own neighborhood,” he writes. “You never know when there might be a chicken a few blocks away.”
Norbury also says this map project is an homage to the team at PBOT who create these characters. Over the years, they’ve developed some particularly creative ideas: at one point, you could see artistic interpretations of David Bowie and Prince, as well as some Oregon local legends like University of Oregon football player Marcus Mariota to commemorate his Heisman Trophy win. The PBOT staffer who started the program just retired one year ago and it appears like the tradition will continue.
“I believe these characters are more than just thermoplastic on a background of asphalt, but they are something that makes biking truly special,” Norbury writes. “Whenever I see one of these lil’ fellas hanging out it always makes me so happy. And if I see one that’s completely new to me? Well, that’s even better.”
There’s no master list of characters, so Norbury plans to keep searching and adding to the map. Personally, I’m excited to follow the bikeway road art in other parts of the city and continue the treasure hunt along with him.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at email@example.com