(Note to BikePortlanders: This post is for your friends. Please pass it along to them if you want.)
Gas prices suck. Gas sucks. Driving sucks.
But biking rules!
If you’re reading this, you’re bike-curious at the minimum (or at least the person who shared it with you thinks you are). So, if you want to drive less and bike more, just go for it! Biking is easy and fun and all you do is hop on and go. You’ll figure it out and it gets easier with each turn of the pedals.
If you still want a bit more advice, keep reading…
Greenways are Gold
Did you know there’s a massive network of streets citywide made just for bike users? The city calls them “neighborhood greenways” but all you have to know is that bike riding is preferred and prioritized on them. It’s easy to know if you’re on one because you’ll see one of those bike symbols with an arrow on top of it (a.k.a. “sharrows” or shared-lane markings). While many bike riders have serious quibbles with some greenways in terms of how they aren’t as pleasant as they should be, I think overall they’re not so bad and have become an absolutely essential tool for getting around town.
If I ever find myself in a far-flung neighborhood I’m not familiar with, I just follow the sharrow markings in the general direction I need to go. That way I’m guaranteed to have safer crossings, calmer conditions, and even helpful little green signs that point my way home. Try it!
No Need to Beg
Another secret is that most intersections in Portland that are on a bike route (especially greenways) have special sensors in the pavement that will trigger a green light when you roll up. That means you do not need to awkwardly shuffle over to a “beg button” on the sidewalk to get a “WALK” signal. Unfortunately it can be tricky to know exactly where to stand to trigger the light. The city has marked many intersections with where you should put your front wheel. If you don’t see a marking, look for a circular line in the pavement and place your wheel along the outside of it to trigger the light.
Biketown as Plan B
If you’re worried about getting stranded with a flat tire or some other mechanical malady, whip out your phone and find the nearest Biketown station (those orange(ish) bikes parked all over town). If there’s one nearby, just lock up your ailing bike and zip home on one of the Biketown e-bikes. Biketown can also be great if you’re in between bikes, or your main bike is getting serviced at a shop, or if you just don’t trust your old dusty rig to be safe and roadworthy. Biketown can save you a lot of hassle when you need it and the new bikes and technology that runs them is way more reliable than it used to be. (Similar advice goes for TriMet if you’re down with using transit.)
Despite what you might have heard, sidewalk riding is legal in Portland except for a relatively small section of downtown (bounded by SW Jefferson, Front Avenue, NW Hoyt and 13th). I’m a big fan of sidewalks because they are often the safest place to ride (especially when I’m with little ones) and they allow me to window-shop and see cool stuff I might otherwise miss when I’m on the street.
This piece of advice comes with a huge caveat: In some respects, bikes are to sidewalks like cars are to greenways. That is, if you ride on the sidewalk you do so as a guest and you must always defer to people on foot. That means slow way down if people are present and always be able to stop quickly in event of someone stepping out of a business.
Bus Lanes FTW
Portland has installed several “Bus Only” lanes around town in recent years. They are often painted red. Since car drivers tend to stay out of them and since they take up such precious real estate on key, busy streets (like the MLK/Grand couplet), I tend to use them a lot when I’m biking. I think the city has remained intentionally vague about whether or not bikes are legally allowed to use them because they know the safety risk between a bicycle rider and a professional bus operator is very small.
Bike Theft: Don’t Believe the Hype
I think most people are way too afraid of bike theft (and thieves in general) in Portland. Respect bike theft, but don’t let it stop you from riding. In my experience if you use a high-quality lock (no cable locks!) and park in a well-lit, visible location with foot traffic, your bike will be fine. You also don’t want to leave stuff on your bike that can be easily swiped (like panniers or lights). I’ve locked all types of bikes (even really expensive ones) up at all types of locations for years and haven’t had one stolen. The two bikes I’ve had stolen in Portland were both left unlocked (one downtown, one in my backyard)
Wool is Cool (and Warm)
You’ll be a lot more comfortable if you dress smartly. That means avoid cotton and layer-up with wool or some other type of high-tech fabric to stay warm. I wear a base layer on top and bottom for all but a few warm months in Portland, and that extra barrier is my secret weapon against cold and wet weather! Wool is also great because if it gets wet, you’ll still retain warmth. Remember you want to stay warm, not necessarily dry, if you get caught in a downpour.
Embrace This Place
You’re lucky to live in one of the best cycling cities on the planet, so you might as well plug into it! Folks around here lead all manner of fun social rides year-round and there’s a club/ride/team/group for everyone. Follow us on social media (@BikePortland on IG, Twitter and Facebook) and allow us to be your community concierge.
I hope these tips are helpful. I look forward to seeing you out on the streets.