“Somehow, of all the dumb ideas I ever had, this is the one that caught on.”
— David Barstow Robinson, event organizer
Bikes bring people together. It’s a corny phrase, but there was never a more fitting example than at the Ladds 500 on Saturday.
Ladd Circle Park in inner southeast Portland was the center of the local cycling solar system and a galaxy of people and wheeled contraptions of every imaginable type orbited around it. Described by one participant as “hipster NASCAR,” dozens of teams and a huge crowd turned out for the very unserious “5th first annual” relay where teams pedal 500 laps around a 0.2-mile traffic circle.
The City of Portland issued a permit for the event to hold a gathering in the Park, but the road remained open to everyone. Throughout the day drivers navigated through hundreds of Ladds 500 pedalers without a problem. When TriMet buses showed up, they were ferried to their stops by volunteers and sympathetic riders.(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)
Held for the first time in 2016 and shelved for the last two years because of Covid, the Ladds 500 has become one of the biggest and most-anticipated events on the local bike fun calendar. It carries on a proud Portland tradition of “free fun” on public streets.
Founder and chief organizer of the event, David Barstow Robinson, started it on a whim with a Facebook post. “And somehow it caught on,” he shared with me. “Somehow, of all the dumb ideas I ever had, this is the one that caught on.” Barstow sees his event as the continuation of a legacy of “free fun” on bikes in Portland that goes back decades.
As for the competition? It’s really not one. “There’s no glory in it, other than the glory of having done it,” he said.
But don’t tell that to riders on all the teams whose names decorated a leaderboard at the center of the park: Champ Camp, Virgins Who Can’t Ride, WartHogz, Corvidae Bike Club, Bike Loud PDX, Shifting Queers, Team Fast Food, and so on. There were many of Portland’s bike tribes represented Saturday, and some that formed just for the event.
I noticed one guy on the edge of the circle with a look that mixed quizzical and curious. I told him what it was and urged him to just pedal a few laps. I saw him about 30 minutes later, spinning around the circle in a big group, with a bead of sweat on his face. “I was just out running errands, but I don’t plan to stop now!” he said.
Riders of a massive, circular “brew bike” also tried to keep their momentum going throughout the day. I hopped onto one of the six empty seats and learned it was piloted by members of Team Super Best Pals Forever. The best part? Turns out anyone who pedals is a member, and also, a best pal.
“See you later,” said one of the riders, “You’re our best friend now!”
That’s the magic of events like this. Just show up and you instantly have a bunch of friends.
What do nearby residents think of all this silliness? One guy on a mobility scooter pulled over after zooming around one lap. He told me he lives on the corner. How’d it go? I asked him. “It’s great energy. Great event. Best thing since sliced bread.”
If you missed it, watch our video for an interview with David Barstow Robinson and other wonderful people. And don’t make the same mistake next year! The date is already set for April 15th, 2023.
This is one of my all time favorite Portland activities. Had the absolute pleasure of living in one of the apartments on the circle for the 2018/2019 Ladds 500s, it was amazing. My favorite was a group getting towed in a trail and calling out crossword puzzle clues to everyone in the crowd for the answers.
Gr8 video. Sad I couldn’t make it this year. Appreciate the ability to experience it a bit through you video, Jonathan.