Opinion: Portland’s inclusive and accessible bike scene

(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Did you see what I saw in the Weekend Event Guide this week? Take a look at the events our community offers up over the next three days and you’ll see one of the most inclusive and accessible bike scenes in the world.

“Portland cyclists” have taken their lumps over the years. And while I don’t agree with painting all the people who fit that definition with the same brush, some of the stereotypes — as is the case with any community — have been well-deserved. But over the past decade or so, the Portlanders actively involved in building a community around cycling in this town have taken great pains to open the gates and welcome everyone who wants to pedal through them. And the slate of rides on this year’s Pedalpalooza calendar are a powerful manifestation of how far we’ve come in expanding cycling to people and groups that for all of Portland’s illustrious cycling past had been all but invisible.

Just look at the slate of rides this weekend…

On Friday, the PDX Unity Ride collective — formed to “build a community of queer and trans-friendly folks through a shared love of riding bikes,” will host one of their many rides this summer. Then on Saturday morning, the Black Liberation Ride will kick off two days of Juneteenth celebrations. One hour after that ride takes off, people with disabilities or — who are unable (for any reason!) to ride a traditional, two-wheeled bike — will have a ride of their own on the Eastbank Espalande thanks to the Adaptive Biketown program. And right after that, a duo of deaf riders will lead the first-ever Silent Ride where participants will communicate with sign language and finally be able to enjoy the social side of cycling in the way they know best. On Saturday night, there’s a ride that pays homage to the Latin American tradition of Cumbia music (which I had to look up as I wrote the Weekend Event Guide). Then on Sunday, there’s a ride devoted to normalizing mental health where the leader will create a safe space for people who carry the heavy weight of life experiences that lives in their heads and can’t be stuffed into a pannier or box of a cargo bike.

All these rides. All these people who can find their people. Over a span of just three days. That is how I define Portland’s bike community: It’s beautiful, it’s diverse, it shatters stereotypes, and it’s open to everyone.

Enjoy the long weekend. If I don’t see you in the streets, I’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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fp
fp
8 months ago

Friendly reminder: a group of people getting together to express themselves and celebrate a shared identity doesn’t make you oppressed! That’s what makes this country (and Portland!) great.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  fp

Unless they’re from Washington, coming to Portland to express (rightfully) unpopular political opinions.

Jim Gould
Jim Gould
8 months ago

Is there a Republican ride? Now that would add some diversity. (Full disclosure, I’m a registered Democrat).

David Hampsten
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Gould

Until I moved out of Oregon to NC, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a far-right Republican bike shop owner, and my new community has two of them! (Plus three liberal shops, an REI, and a corporate Trek store.) Our local mountain bike advocacy group are all hard-core corporate types who actually build trails themselves, vary lean exacting rich conservative men and women, while our local version of the Street Trust are all over the place and just as ineffective. Even our bike co-op has a few MAGA members, though most are far to the left – generally we try not to discuss politics, just bikes.

A local friend got kicked out of his Saturday morning road riding group because he wasn’t Republican enough, so he joined a non-partisan group who ride at a somewhat slower pace.

Randi J
Randi J
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Wow! You mean a shared passion for biking could bring people together and not divide us? Never would realize that from living in the frequently intolerant city of Portland. NC is sounding better and better y’all.

Shawn Murphy
Shawn Murphy
8 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

The sad thing is Portland seems to value identity politics far more than actual quality of life. Just look at how the city has deteriotated.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
8 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Murphy

This is why I ride alone for the most part. I just want to enjoy the time pedaling and getting fit, not trying to solve the world’s problems or make a statement. Sadly, everything is now corrupted. You cannot ride, run, drive, eat, drink, shop, or go to work without someone trying to label you or critique that choice.

HJ
HJ
8 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

It sucks that your friend had to opt for a slower group because the other one was so intolerant. It’s definitely a lesson on what women and minorities go through in this sport. That is the norm for us, not the exception.

David Hampsten
8 months ago
Reply to  HJ

I was talking more about MAMIL-type rides. One of our conservative Republican bike shop owners works with our version of the Street Trust (Bicycling In Greensboro or BIG) to sponsor a regular non-partisan Tuesday evening community ride of 6-10 miles. We plan the routes out and announce them ahead of time – I personally help out in both the route planning and participation along with several other core people – and our group of participants varies weekly, mostly white but also a lot of Latinx and African-Americans; pretty evenly split by gender. Our routes include both the nice parts of town and the not-so-nice parts with all the drive-by shootings. When we started 2 years ago, we typically had 11 riders per week – our last ride had 38 – but still pretty small numbers by Portland standards; even nearby Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and Durham get more riders. The hotter the weather, the more riders we get. http://www.greensborovelo.com/Easy-Rider-series.htm

HJ
HJ
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Gould

There are actually a lot of Republicans in the cycling scene here in Portland. Some are jerks, some are truly wonderful, welcoming people. Same as the Dems and Independents in the crowd.

Chris I
Chris I
8 months ago
Reply to  HJ

I heard that Rene Gonzalez and anyone who voted for him was a Republican, so I guess that makes a lot of us.

HJ
HJ
8 months ago

These events are a great step in the right direction, but there is still so far to go as far as inclusivity in the cycling scene in Portland.
Cis male voices are still consistently featured over those of others. And the more blatantly discriminatory side is alive and well too. If I had a dollar for every time a guy at a race has told me women don’t deserve equal payouts, or even events to race in, I’d be rich.
Women and minorities still face far higher levels of danger while cycling as we endure bigoted yelling from passersby, catcalls, and those outright actively trying to harm us with their vehicles at a rate and in a way that cis white men simply don’t. While I recognize that that isn’t necessarily the fault of the cycling community itself, I also see the same rhetoric expressed in the cycling community that those who actively assault us while we ride do.
Overall I think the Portland cycling scene is trying to improve and has made great strides, but it still has a very long distance to go on its journey to equality and true inclusivity.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  HJ

A study in the UK showed that drivers gave female riders more space than male riders. Maybe it’s different here.

J1mb0
J1mb0
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I remember I was riding out in the valley. Stopped at a store and met a female cyclist doing the same route. We bemoaned the challenging ride and I went into the store. As I went in, a good old boy came out and I overheard him seriously telling her that she needed to be careful. That anything could happen to her. Thinking about it afterwards, he had that Dennis Reynolds “implication” vibe. He didn’t say any of that to me. She was of course faster and more veteran cyclist than me, so I am sure she didn’t care and didn’t let it affect her ride.

It’s scary enough trusting your life to drivers riding on some of these roads, and that kind of attention does not help. The worst part is I am sure he didn’t have any idea what he was doing. He was just looking out for the “lesser sex”. I am sure he would never let his daughters or wife expose themselves to danger like she did. This is the thing about the patriarchy, it just makes doing anything when not a man just that much more difficult.

Timothy
Timothy
8 months ago

I would never ride in such segregated group ! I like people to ride with who our opre mindedj.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  Timothy

I like to ride with people who make lots of typos. Let’s roll!

Watts
Watts
8 months ago

I recently went on a ride with a group of Midwesterners. I don’t know what their politics were, because we never discussed it. It was great!

A lot of them were, apparently, blue collar folks from rural areas, and they actually seemed like decent humans, contrary to what you’d think living in the Portland bubble.

dwk
dwk
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

This is about the weirdest strawman you have ever thrown out there.
Who exactly said or thinks people from the Midwest are not decent human beings?
When did that occur except in some fever dream you must have had….Bikeportland readers don’t like “blue collar” folks?
This seems like this just might be a self projection on your part because I have never read anything like that on this site…..

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  dwk

This is about the weirdest strawman you have ever thrown out there.

Glad you’re enjoying my posts!

While I’ve never heard any (much) anti-midwestern bias here, there are constant jabs at rural folks, some of which I’ve commented on, most not, characterizing them as ignorant Trumpers who can’t speak properly.

The vast majority of riders in Portland that I’ve encountered are white collar or adjacent, so it was genuinely surprising that in this group, at least, it was not the case.

dwk
dwk
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

“While I’ve never heard any (much) anti-midwestern bias here, there are constant jabs at rural folks, some of which I’ve commented on, most not, characterizing them as ignorant Trumpers who can’t speak properly.”

Thanks for acknowledging you made up the part about anti midwest bias…
As far as rural Oregonians are concerned. most are Trump supporters, that is a fact according to the last Election so that is not a made up bias.
Keep on both siding every post here, it is entertaining to read contrarians but you are far too predictable…One ride with some people from the “midwest” and you are a ‘midwest” people person expert….

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Thanks for acknowledging you made up the part about anti midwest bias

I didn’t “make it up”; I never intended to say it. It was there for context, to support the main point of my post, which was that biking without politics is a thing, it’s very pleasant, and it seems to be going strong in other parts of the country.

blumdrew
blumdrew
8 months ago
Reply to  dwk

I would say there is a prevailing idea in “West Coast American Culture” that the midwest is a place to escape; that it’s backwards, boring, too religious, etc. Phrases like flyover country come to mind as well. As someone who did move here from the Midwest, I am fairly sensitive to it. I don’t really think BikePortland is some hotbed of anti-midwestern sentiment, but I have responded to some comments that refer to various places in the midwest in a negative light. Not very often though.

I think the idea Watts is getting at is more of macro cultural trend than a specific instance

Amit Zinman
8 months ago

Portland is the most progressive city around, but also the least diverse. You can get anywhere by bike, yet it is also a city where there’s car parking available EVERYWHERE. As there are still many streets in Portland with no sidewalks and the rest of the urban infrastructure is indeed diverse (though not in a good way), and the Adaptive BIKETOWN program is only available at a single downtown location in parts of the year.
There was one outspoken woman on the city council, quickly replaced by a black woman, also quickly replaced by a man. There hasn’t been a female mayor since 2004, all have been white males.
My point is that these rides are aspirational but the truth is that Portland wants to appear to be more progressive than it actually is. In reality it’s a city with no clear future, and that hasn’t decided what it wants to be.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago
Reply to  Amit Zinman

There was one outspoken woman on the city council, quickly replaced by a black woman, also quickly replaced by a man.

“A black woman” did not replace “an outspoken woman”.

Presumably you mean Joann Hardesty (a black woman), who won the seat vacated by Dan Saltzman (a white man). Chloe Eudaly (a white woman) won against Steve Novick (a white man), then lost to Mingus Mapps (a black man who she had fired). Hardesty lost her seat to Rene Gonzales (a half-Latino man). Other commissioners are Dan Ryan (a gay man who replaced a dead man) and Carmen Rubio (a Latina woman who replaced an English woman).

What do you conclude about Portland, a city that’s about 70% white (or more, depending on how you count), from this tally of identities?

The rides I’ve been on (and I’ve been on a lot) aren’t aspirational; they’re fun. As they should be. Not everything needs to be a political statement. See my comments above for more on that.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

It’s curious how white men are so upset about being asked to not attend a ride that they would probably not want to attend.

YrSocialistFrend
YrSocialistFrend
8 months ago

Can we put to rest the question of “why does everything have to be political or about identity politics these days?” Think about basically everything you do in a day and basically every single thing you do has been touched by politics. I really wish we could get past this stumbling block over ‘why does everything have to be political’. because it literally is. From brushing your teeth (does your toothpaste have fluoride? hopefully! cause our water sure doesn’t! and why is that? well, it’s political) to where we live to how we travel around all day to how we cook our food. it’s all been shaped by politics and that’s ok! something isn’t inherently worth discussing or not discussing just because it’s political. Identity politics for many of us is survival. If you are a cis hetero white man, your identity has never been legislated against, you can literally do whatever you want! so i can kind of understand why having to hear about everyone else’s identities is confusing and/or pointless. But it is far past time for you to recognize that the assaults on the rights of basically every other group to exist, to have our healthcare needs met, to live and work where we choose, are happening at an alarming pace and you can either help or stay out of the way.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago

I love to meet new people, but I really don’t need them to explain their identity before they share the fun new project they’re working on or the cool bike ride they took or the great book they just read. And, generally speaking, I’d prefer they didn’t, at least not until we got to know each other better.

I also don’t need the details on how folks brush their teeth (or what political message they think they’re sending by doing it), unless, perhaps I’m married to them, and probably not even then.

YrSocialistFrend
YrSocialistFrend
8 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You spectacularly missed the point.