Gal by Bike: A day with the people who make Biketown tick

Motivate employee Nissy Cobb tests the tech during a service call.
(Photos: Kate Johnson)

Our “Gal By Bike” columnist Kate Johnson recently spent a day embedded with Biketown mechanics and rebalancers. She last wrote about guerrilla artwork on neighborhood greenways.

Selfie in full safety regalia.

One fine evening in July of 2016 I just so happened to find myself on a corner outside a warehouse in inner southeast Portland.

Biketown was just days away from launching and the anticipation throughout the city was palpable. Thanks to a truck outside the building, I was able to peer into the windows and see a full fleet of 1,000 loud orange bikes lined up like readied soldiers. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I still well up a bit just thinking about that sight. That room wasn’t just filled with bikes, it was filled with hope — hope that the title of “best bike city” wasn’t just a fluke and hope that we were on the precipice of a great transportation revolution.

Since that day, I have imagined Biketown headquarters to be absolute mania. I envisioned bikes swarming to and fro, bike stands littering the entire warehouse floor — each manned by a mechanic tirelessly torquing their wrenches as sweat beads on their forehead. Much like the New York Stock Exchange — but with bright orange bikes. This is not at all what I found when I visited the headquarters last week. As it turns out, keeping a giant operation of 1,000 bikes and 100 stations going doesn’t have to come down to chaos and hustle and bustle. The folks at Biketown are working smart, efficiently, and having “the most fun you’ll find in any office in Portland” as one employee put it. After spending a day watching how Biketown functions, to say I was impressed would be an understatement.

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Gal by Bike: How guerrilla artist Dawn Furstenberg started making ‘road signs for the soul’

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Dawn Furstenberg was here.
(All photos: Furstenberg)

— This post is by our Gal by Bike columnist Kate Johnson.

As a wise film character once said, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.

While you’ve been sleeping, guerrilla bikeway artist Dawn Furstenberg has been hard at work to remind you of that fact.

Perhaps you’ve ridden down Clinton or Tillamook a million times, your eyes looking straight ahead. Your mind is wandering — thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner or which film Hollywood Theater should play in 70mm next. Then you start to wonder, “what does 70mm really mean anyway? And, “did I remember to marinate the tempeh?” And just like that, your commute is over.

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Gal by Bike: At The Street Trust’s annual Alice Awards

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The parking lot at the biggest annual fundraiser for the city’s biggest transportation advocacy group.
(Photos: Kate Johnson)

Editor’s note: Gal by Bike columnist Kate Johnson has been a local bike commuter and biking advocate for years, but had never been to The Street Trust’s annual Alice B. Toeclips awards gala until Friday. Here’s her take.

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Gal by Bike: Modern kids and the lost freedom of “Now and Then”

Still images from “Now and Then” movie trailer.

— This post is by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Johnson (formerly Kate Laudermilk)

Where were you in 1995?

I was in a suburb in Indiana watching one movie on repeat. A movie that, dare I say, may be the most underrated bike movie of all time. Sure, Roger Ebert didn’t care for it much, but, then again, he wasn’t a pre-teen watching her life mirrored on screen. He probably didn’t have a major crush on heart-throb Devon Sawa either.

Now and Then is a coming of age film that follows four 12-year-old girls during an epic summer in a small suburb of Indiana in 1970. Seemingly the very suburb and subdivision that I would be born in fifteen years later. Their days began on bikes and ended on bikes — returning home only for dinner at dusk.

Bikes were their freedom. Their brief emancipation from their parents.

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Gal by Bike: Dispatch from a bike maintenance class

Tori Bortman holding court inside Western Bikeworks.(Photos: Gabriel Amadeus)
Tori Bortman holding court inside Western Bikeworks.
(Photos: Gabriel Amadeus)

This is the latest from our Gal By Bike columnist Kate Johnson (formerly Kate Laudermilk). See past articles here.

A few weeks ago, five determined gals, including myself, joined together at Western Bikeworks in northwest Portland to learn a thing or two about our beloved steeds. The general consensus between us was that we were all tired of needing someone else to do bike repairs for us.

We wanted to empower ourselves — and Tori Bortman was going to show us how.

Bortman is the frank, to the point, direct, and yet entirely approachable owner of Gracie’s Wrench, a business that helps people “get intimate” with their bicycle. She’s a real no nonsense gal. “If I can do this, anyone can. I am not mechanically inclined,” she assured us. I wasn’t at all surprised to find that she grew up in the Chicagoland area just like myself. We’re a unique and hearty bunch with can-do attitudes. The idea that becoming a master mechanic is within reach for anyone was very prominent in her workshop. Making mistakes was encouraged and celebrated and the needs of the those attending far outweighed any prior written syllabus.  

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Gal by Bike: When a crazy idea becomes a reality (aka my bike wedding)

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
En route to Lucky Lab NW. (Photo by Greg Raisman)

— by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Laudermilk

Two days after Kiel and I got engaged, I turned over in bed to see an all too familiar crazed look in my lover’s eyes. This look is almost always accompanied by some cockamamie idea that I, at first, am vehemently against and then end up going along with anyway. I had a split second to make a very important decision — close my eyes again, pretend to sleep, and wait for the idea to pass, or be a good fiancé and ask him what was on his mind. Being the selfless partner that I am, I went with the latter.

There are all of these societal expectations that you feel like you need to adhere to and NONE of them include sticking all of your guests on bikes.

“Let’s have a bike wedding!” he said, his eyes dilating with delight.

The next ten minutes or so were filled with me intermittently shouting out potentially disastrous scenarios of having a wedding by bike. All the while Kiel sat back waiting for me to finish — he knew I would eventually tire. Of course, in the end, we had a bike wedding. Of course it was amazing. And, of course, nothing went massively wrong. Let’s go ahead and just write my epitaph right here, right now: “Kiel Johnson is, and was, (almost) always right.”

Planning a wedding can suck your soul right clear out of your body if you let it. There are all of these societal expectations that you feel like you need to adhere to and NONE of them include sticking all of your guests on bikes and making them parade around. But, that’s precisely what we did and, you know what? The world is still spinning!

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Winding roads, wine and an all-women ride: Gal by Bike says Yes, Please

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Maybe it was the wine?
(Photos: K.Laudermilk)

This post is by columnist Kate Laudermilk.

In April, Cycle Oregon’s Chris Knott e-mailed me asking if I would like to cover the first ever women’s only Cycle Oregon ride. At the time, he informed me that they had exceeded their original goal of 250 sign-ups and were at 620.

After visiting the ride’s website, I could tell why so many women were enticed. Wine tasting? All local catered lunch and rest stop snacks? Massage therapy and acupuncture? Yoga? Live music? Widmer beer? AND bike riding!? SOLD!

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Gal by Bike: My ride on the new Columbia Gorge Express

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
My bike and my ride to the Gorge - all ready to roll!(Photos by Kiel Johnson and Kate Laudermilk)
My bike and my ride to the Gorge – all ready to roll!
(Photos by Kiel Johnson and Kate Laudermilk)

Our Gal by Bike columnist Kate Laudermilk was one of the first people to ride the Columbia Gorge Express — a new transit option with service between Portland and Multnomah Falls.

One of the arguments I made as I desperately tried to convince myself that I needed to buy a new car after parting ways with my partner (and our car) four years ago was that I needed a car to fully experience all of the natural wonders surrounding Portland.

I felt like I was going to be trapped in Portland until the end of my days.

Little did I know that, when you don’t have a car, you get creative. You use the old noggin. I no longer feel trapped in any way.

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Bikes on TV shows and the endless possibilities of cities

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
A scene from Episode 2 of "Girls" on HBO.
A scene from Episode 2 of “Girls” on HBO.

This post is by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Laudermilk. She previously wrote about how she’s been influenced by Portland’s silly group rides.

There’s something noteworthy going on in movies and television lately — especially those taking place in New York City. There’s a theme that, while seldom discussed, speaks volumes: Bikes.

They can be found lurking in frame after frame of shows like “Girls“, “Broad City”, and movies like “Francis Ha”. Much like the iconic bike next to Jerry Seinfeld’s bathroom or the cruiser tucked away in Carrie Bradshaw’s hallway — but in a new New York City — one built by Janette Sadik-Kahn.

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Shedding my seriousness one wacky group ride at a time

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Keeping a fake mustache on during a balmy June afternoon is no small feat.
Keeping a fake mustache on during a balmy June afternoon is no small feat.
(Photos: Kate Laudermilk)

Kate Laudermilk, our Gal by Bike columnist, previously wrote about the Little 500 bike race.

It’s a slippery slope.  One minute you’re teaching one of your best friends how to ride a bike and the next you’re gliding through Portland on your trusty steeds, surrounded by thousands of bikes and bodies with your breasts hangin’ out. This is the magic of the Portland bike community — a community that has made me feel more youthful and free spirited than I did when I was but a gal of nineteen.

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How a zany race sold me on bikes and made me the woman I needed to become


The author.
(Photos via K.Laudermilk)

We’re pleased to welcome new contributor Kate Laudermilk, a Portlander who’ll be sharing humor and wisdom from her biking life in the occasional column Gal by Bike over the next few months.

I know firsthand that the thought of being a “cyclist” or “bike rider” can be intimidating. Often it’s even more intimidating for women to get started and break into the biking community. And using a bike as my sole form of transportation was never my plan.

That is why I think the evolution of my life on a bike is a story worth telling.

I know that sometimes it can seem easier to just drive, walk, or take the streetcar. Just kidding, it’s never easier to take the streetcar. But as a skeptic by nature, riding a bike makes me second guess things, worry, and question my capabilities. What if I can’t ride fast enough, long enough, or what if my hair gets all messed up under the helmet? Worries aside, I have and continue to deem my decision to become an avid bike rider as one of my smartest decisions to date.

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