In case you were wondering, Portland’s bike racing scene is alive and well. Turnout at early season races has everyone buzzing and last night’s huge crowds at the Monday Night PIR race will continue that narrative.
Portland International Raceway (PIR) is built on a place that used to be known as Vanport, a city built around public housing for shipbuilders that thrived in the 1940s before it was wiped out by a flood. By the 1960s, car enthusiasts discovered its flat paved roads and several acres of the land were developed into a racetrack. On Monday nights in spring that racetrack and its perfectly paved roads are filled with bicycle riders. Last night was the second of seven weeks where the loud motors of car engines are replaced by the whir of freewheels and gasoline is replaced by water as the main fuel of racers.
I love being out at PIR. It’s more of a natural area than most people realize. The land west of I-5 between Marine Drive and the Columbia Slough is dotted with lakes and wetlands, many of which are still thriving thanks to most of the land still being relatively undeveloped. It’s a beautiful backdrop for a bicycle race. The fact that cars usually dominate the track, makes it all the more sweet to watch human-powered racing machines fly over the roads.
For bike racers, it’s a very hard course because there’s nowhere to hide from the wind. The wide open land, long straightaways, and lack of sharp turns, means that survival is only guaranteed if you are well tucked into the pack. The loud “whooosh” the pack makes is a reminder of how much wind it breaks for those inside. Despite the race’s unforgiving elements, I saw a huge range of people giving it a go. On any given Monday night, you’ll see some folks at their first-ever race and others who’ve ridden at elite levels. One thing they all have in common when the whistle blows and the lap cards fly is the pain they feel and the dedication they have to push through it and reach the finish. This experience creates a natural bond between everyone that has shared it, and there’s a strong local community of bike racers as a result.
These folks take part in a beautiful sport. The colors of their uniforms and wind-cheating bicycles cut through the landscape, propelled by nothing other than their own power pushing forward a simple drivetrain of gears and a chain. Floating through space, often on free energy supplied by the peloton, racers escape the ordinary. At PIR on Mondays you can almost do that one thing so many of us have dreamed about since we were kids. You can actually fly!