Tag Archives: bicycles

Mansplaining Bicycle Tires

Is there a female cyclist alive who doesn’t have a cocktail party’s worth of stories about when they’ve been mansplained to?

According to one source, mansplaining is “that thing where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter. It’s paired with a ‘slimy certainty’ (thanks Urban Dictionary) that the mansplainer is right because he’s a man.” (Mansplaining 101: How to Discuss Politics and Feminism Without Acting Like a Jackass)

Now, I’ve been mansplained to plenty in the past (here’s my usual reaction)—I even wrote last summer in “Mechanical Woes” about some mansplaining I got from a mechanic at my (former) local bike shop.

A few nights ago I made my way to the one bike shop in town that stocks Nifty Swifties—the tires I have on my Sweetpea. Walking in the front door, I instantly felt out of place. The counter was full up with tall, very lean dudes. (If you have never met me: I am not tall, not lean, and my large breasts often get in the way when I’m doing yoga so I’m pretty sure I’m not a dude.) I stood a comfortable distance from the counter and waited patiently for a few minutes until the token woman offered to help.

As she was checking their stock of Nifty Swifties, the next clerk over had an exchange with a new (male) customer who had come in, expressing remorse that the customer needed to wait. Gosh, I thought. He didn’t care that I was waiting—patiently.

The female staff member found the tire I needed and started working a computer for an invoice. A thought occurred to me: since I had to go out of my way to make this purchase, I should make sure I was getting the exact same tire I had.

Asking an innocent question was my big mistake.

“Do Nifty Swifties just have one diameter?” I asked. I was almost certain they did, but better be safe than need to delay my repair, right?

The female staff member, who may have been new, was perplexed. As she started looking up the shop’s stock again, the customer on my right chimed in.

“The 650B is a very unusual size.” Mr. Buttinsky said, in a way that instantly felt condescending. “Almost no bikes have it.”

(Note to random customer: you’ve never been to Europe, have you? Or known any short women? Or checked out the new Jamis models? I know at least two people, not including myself, who have bikes with 650B wheels…)

Wishing I could shoot laser beams into his skull with my eyes, I asserted back, “I have a 650B.”

If I was better at comebacks in the moment, I might have added, “Natalie Ramsland drew two options for me when we were working on my bike together, and I very thoughtfully and deliberately chose the one with 650B wheels.” I know what tire I need, you jerk. UGH!

After I left the shop and headed for yoga class, I thought more about the interaction. Lately I’ve been looking for possible miscommunications in unsettling interactions rather than assuming the knee-jerk worst and letting it color my approach to my fellow humans. Another man I know really likes being helpful, and on many occasions has helped me when I’ve had a lack of technical knowledge. (He also does so without the slightest bit of condescension.) Could this stranger have merely been trying to help, and my own situational insecurity misinterpreted his intent?

It seems possible—until I think about other bike shops where I’ve never once felt out of place. The shops I’m thinking about are proactive about being female-friendly and have more than just one token female staff member. I have a personal connection to at least one person—reinforcing my thought that bike shop loyalty is built largely on relationships. The contacts I have and cherish, like my man friend, share knowledge without disdain. And recognize that I am no newbie to cycling.

Guys—just because someone doesn’t look like you doesn’t mean that they’re not a knowledgeable cyclist. Bicycling in high heels is fairly de rigueur in Portland these days. Seniors were racing the wind since before you were bornGary Fisher could probably school you on bikes, but doesn’t look the part. If you’re trying to be helpful, check your tone.

And for the love of Pete, when will more shops start stocking Nifty Swifties?


Filed under Bicycles, Oregon

How to Bike with Your Dog (Long Version)

Would you ever leave your child alone by herself when you went to work all day? No you wouldn’t, fair reader—I just know it. Yet it is commonplace for us to leave our animals by themselves for hours each day, without supervision. What if you have a particularly sharp, social, active animal as a housemate, as I do?  If you’re a cyclist, you’re in a double pickle—using your precious free time to go on a bike ride is likely to yield those eyes. Those sad, sad eyes that wonder why you’re leaving—again.

This has been my experience at least. My faithful sidekick Atticus loves going places and meeting new people, but biking with him has been impossible. When he was much younger (and more skittish) I tried acclimating him to a trailer, but one paw placed in the trailer made the thing wobble. He would have none of it.

In the time since, a new option has made serious inroads around Portland: the mighty cargo bike! Able to carry anything you can dream of, cargo bikes have gained enough traction in Portland that there are annual cargo bike competitions such as the Fiets of Parenthood and the Cargo Bike Disaster Trials.

I secured a cargo bike for the weekend from Splendid Cycles, owned by the kind hearted Barb and Joel Grover. Barb and I met when we worked together at the local bike advocacy organization—she was an extraordinary volunteer for a major fundraising event we held each year.

Friday: Getting Our Bearings

Friday evening I picked up the bike at Splendid Cycles. Our chariot for the weekend? A Danish Bullitt cargo bike, in a color called “Milk Plus.” It had a box with a non-slip bottom in the front for Atticus.

The Grovers’ experience is that dogs generally do great in a cargo bike. “There’s something about being in front,” Barb said—and it made sense. Atticus likes to be in front on our walks, so perhaps being in front on a more solid vehicle than a bicycle trailer would make sense for him too.

Barb wheeled the rental across busy Belmont to the much calmer SE 14th—a residential street. She explained the two errors newbies always seem to make: watching the front wheel and steering incorrectly. She said that almost everybody gets used to their Bullitts after riding about a block.

While I didn’t watch the front wheel when I took off, the steering still felt foreign. Riding the slight downhill on 14th helped, and by the time I reached a traffic circle and made my way back up to Belmont, I was confident enough to start making my way home.

The way home was slow. Normally that journey would take about 30-35 minutes on my usual bike, but I believe it took about 45 minutes on the Bullitt. It was a combination of still feeling a little foreign riding the bike and making my way up the hills along the route home. But the second I got home, I brought Atticus out to see how far we could get on the first introduction.

Turns out, getting Atticus in the bike wasn’t that tough. The last few years he’s been pretty good about getting into a bathtub if I point and sound assertive. Making sure the bike was on its center stand for more stability, I gave my bathtub command. The first time we had to help his back end into the bike, but after that everything was fine. I wrapped a leash around the head tube of the contraption and attached it to his harness, just to make sure he wouldn’t leap out.

We started with just a trip around the block, and the only time Atticus looked nervous was when he felt the stand flipping up and hitting the bottom of the cargo box (he got used to this over the weekend). One successful trip deserved another, and then another. Atticus only risked trouble once that evening, when he shifted his weight in the box as I took off from a stop, and we nearly tipped the bike. After that, he nestled in the box and rested his chin on the edge as we ended up biking around our neighborhood, and even over to the Woodstock library, as much as we could fit in before dark.

At sunset, it felt like a new day had dawned.

Saturday: Human Cargo

Atticus didn’t go for any rides on Saturday, but I did experiment that day with human cargo. When I offered the above photo of Atticus successfully meeting the cargo bike on Friday, Steven immediately replied, “when do I get a turn?” He came over Saturday and I had a new challenge.

That part went pretty well—we moved more slowly because Steven weighs more than Atticus’ 65 pounds, but the bike actually felt more stable/less likely to tip because of it. Again, we started with just a trip to the local park and back, but before we knew it we were headed to the Woodstock library again, around Brentwood Park a few times, and generally any old place I could go that didn’t require any hill climbing.

My legs were a little tired when I finally got off the bike, but I was properly prepared for Sunday.

Sunday: East Portland Sunday Parkways

If you’re not familiar with the concept, Sunday Parkways (or ciclavias, Sunday Streets, etc) is an event where certain streets are closed to cars for people to come out and play. The first Sunday Parkways of the year was held in East Portland—historically the least packed of the bunch, which I saw as a great opportunity.

Atticus isn’t fond of other dogs, which normally makes taking him to a crowded Portland event like this a bit unfair to him. He loves exploring new places and enjoys meeting strangers, but other dogs that get in his face and stay there are Canidae non gratae.

A possible solution? Riding around an event in a cargo bike!

Dressed in ship-piloting theme clothing (Union Jack helmet and Moby-Dick socks), I loaded Atticus into the Bullitt Sunday morning. Steven joined us, and we headed for the course, just over a mile east of my home.

But before we got to the event  Atticus randomly decided to jump out of his cargo box—mere feet from busy 82nd Avenue! It wasn’t too hard to keep him out of harm’s way, but it was a bit of a scare since we hadn’t even reached the event yet. He peed, and soon enough we hit the road again.

Once at Sunday Parkways, Atticus had a swell time. He was lying down for about half the seven-mile course, but then he sat upright and just let his ears and tongue float on the wind, face relaxed. He enjoyed getting to go for a ride, appreciated not being left behind, and delighted in the attention he was getting from passersby, whose children would point and shout, “look at that doggy!” A few gravelly voices noted how Atticus clearly had a great life, getting wheeled around on a cargo bike. We avoided stopping in the most crowded places so Atticus’ patience wouldn’t be tested. In hindsight, the cargo box probably offered him the protected feeling of a kennel, calming him even more. This was one happy dog.

Since my full attention was on Atticus and the bike on Sunday, I didn’t take any photos of us. Steven got a few of us riding the course—we’ll see how they turn out!

After the event, we went back home to briefly rest and compare notes with Steven before the bike needed returning. Soon I piloted the Bullitt back down to Splendid Cycles before the shop closed at 5pm.

And when I got home, I immediately started scouring Craigslist for used cargo bikes…


Does Atticus have an easy life? Decide for yourself: subscribe to The Daily Atticus to follow his adventures, in pictoral form.


Filed under Bicycles

How to Bike with Your Dog (Short Version)

Step 1: Get a cargo bike.

Step 2: Get a dog. (We recommend an Australian shepherd.)

Step 3: Combine steps 1 and 2.

(Not enough detail? Don’t worry, I’ll be posting the long version soon.)


Filed under Bicycles

A Bikish Year (2012) in Photos

Over the past week, I’ve been realizing how much I have to be proud of this year. My friend who goes by Mudlips over at Peregrination inspired me to post a year in photos like she recently did. I thought it would be tough to fill up the year in photos on both this blog and Bookish without having holes—I was wrong. There were times I was doing more booking than biking, or more biking than booking, but I managed to get at least one photo per month this year of both.


I babysat Lily’s Xtracycle the first few months of the year. I only ended up riding it about four times, and I never had reason to haul anything, but at least it was in good hands while she was in Germany. I didn’t even remove the narrow saddle that made me wince every time I rode it. This photo is from an outing to Bar Carlo, my favorite restaurant that is relatively close to me.


Under the inky cover of night I assisted with installing a series of bike rack cozies at Bertie Lou’s Cafe in Sellwood. A knotty yarnbomber named Lefty O’Shea has created a number of similar installations across Portland, which aim to tie in with the adjacent business. For example, Bikeasaurus got a bike rack cozy that had a dinosaur spine, and the cutesy decor at Bertie Lou’s was honored with roses on top of this series.



I was mostly in the throes of working on my MPub project report titled Publishing to Inspire: The Role of Publications at Adventure Cycling Association. On this sunny day I managed to take the Xtracycle for a spin over to the Woodstock Library. I also discovered that I could wear my hair sticks if I used my Union Jack helmet, as shown. A good discovery!


Work on my project report was coming to a close, and I got myself a bikish graduation present: I signed up for Adventure Cycling Association’s Introduction to Bike Touring course. In celebration, I took Sweetpea due south along the I-205 path until we got to the bridge at High Rocks. The bridge was still closed for some construction, but I had never traveled that far south on that deplorable multi-use path. It would not be the last time I would do so this year.

April was also the month I decided to forge ahead by myself in my biking activities.


In May I enjoyed my first solo bike overnight trip. Wrote about it for the Bike Overnights blog (My First Solo Bike Overnight: Champoeg State Park) which then got chosen by Mac as one of the Top Five Bike Overnights to be used whenever they want to market or promote the site. W00t!

It was also the first time I got to see the exhibits at the Champoeg visitor center—exhibits that I helped develop in 2004. Working on that project was how I met Marie Naughton, who has since become my mentor and one of my best friends.


Emily and I biked to Metzler Park near Estacada for an overnight trip (The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Traversing to Metzler with a Ninja).



In preparation for my bike trip I climbed Mt. Tabor, Mt. Scott, Rocky Butte, rode the 40 miles from my house to Kelly Point Park and back (on the way home, above), got some mechanical issues solved, and the last few days of July I was on my bike trip.


Bike trip (The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Certified Excellence in Bicycle Touring)! Oh, but it was great. The people were interesting and nice, we had a good route, and I experienced parts of Oregon I’ve not been to for decades, if ever.


Completed the pronunciation guide for this project. Greg had bandanas made earlier in the year, but when he knew Adventure Cycling was to start selling “Bikelingual” T-shirts, he asked for me to do a little more research and come up with a pronunciation guide that would ship with the shirt.


Diana (Zippy Diana Finishes her Trip) visited Portland and we did the Brewcycle Tour (Brewcycle Portland and the Triumphant Return of Diana), during which we just happened to run into a pair of cyclists making their way from Seattle to Utah.


This month’s biking mostly took place in the rain. But this fall I hiked much more than I biked.


First guest blog post for Adventure Cycling (Winter Tips from a Rain Expert)! This photo is one of the “DVD extras” I wanted to include in that blog post, but didn’t.

It looks like the next year will bring a couple more guest posts for Adventure Cycling Association, but beyond that, things look hazy. My housing situation is problematic, to put it mildly, and my time is increasingly crunched. Even if I can get out on my bike, I may not be able to document it as thoroughly as I’d like. Only time will tell.

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Filed under Bicycles, Oregon

Lessons from a Trumpet Guy

(Photo by Mark Blevis on Flickr)

Meet Kirk Reeves.

I knew Kirk, like many did, as “the trumpet guy.” He used to sit on a traffic island on the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge on weekday afternoons and entertain passersby. Usually he played the trumpet, but often pulled out props like an expanding ball toy (at left). He wore distinctive hats and had a smile and a kind word for everybody.

If you are a cyclist and know anything about Portland, you probably know that the Hawthorne Bridge is Bikey Ground Zero. It’s the bridge where bike traffic can easily outnumber car traffic, where bike traffic jams are a very real threat, and where thousands of bikes streamed by “trumpet guy” every day.

And as such, many people who commuted by bike were very familiar with “trumpet guy.” Like me.

When I worked in Chinatown, I often used to cruise down Naito Parkway to bike home, rather than riding through crowded Waterfront Park. This meant that I needed to circle up to the Hawthorne Bridge in an unusual way. Instead of approaching via the bike lane behind him, I accessed the bridge by biking up a closed onramp, spitting me out on the crosswalk directly in front of “trumpet guy.” I rode this route for nearly two years.

If he wasn’t playing trumpet, Kirk often said hello and smiled at me as he waved his rubber chicken at traffic. Cars were often paying more attention to the oncoming traffic lane than the crosswalk, and Kirk’s presence made me feel like if anyone ever hit me, I’d have a witness to tell the world just how innocent I was.

Earlier this week, I read online that Kirk had died. The Portland Police were searching for any relatives he may have, and Portland started sharing memories of him. A few news outlets covered the story of his death.

It wasn’t until today, after the police had found a relative, that the real story emerged: Kirk was found near Bybee Lake in North Portland with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This man whose smiles never ceased was hiding a lot of inner suffering, as it turns out.

Even before the suicide angle emerged, the story had picked up enough steam that Facebook fan pages started emerging for Kirk. Remembrances started pouring in: KGW found file footage of him working the bridge, The Oregonian ran a loving tribute, Portland Community Media shared a short documentary about him.

There are two lessons I take from Kirk’s sad story.

First: never underestimate the ripples you make in the world around you. Sure, Kirk auditioned for some big television shows and didn’t get selected, but people definitely noticed when he was absent from his post on the Hawthorne Bridge for more than a few days this past week. Those people have organized a candlelight vigil this weekend that even Portland’s Mayor, Sam Adams, says he will attend.

Second: Portland is known for, and often prides itself, on its “weird” citizens. It seems to me that a fair amount of this “weird” behavior may be a cry for attention, a happy face covering an inner pain. After all, Portland is pretty bleak in the winter, a never-ending sea of gray mist from October through May—that can get to even the most stout-hearted of us.

So, to anyone who has ever been deeply irritated by the attention-whoring of someone else, perhaps considering this possibility may help you be more compassionate toward them. And to anyone who has been that person, trying desperately to keep a smile on to just get through the day, know that you impact the world far more than you may think. And consider talking to someone about those worries! Reach out when you’re feeling the worst and you may soon find that the feelings aren’t quite as bad as they used to be.


Filed under Bicycles, Oregon

A Struggling Relationship with Rain Capes

Rain capes and I have had a long and tenuous relationship. Curiosity interested me for years, but I didn’t have the opportunity to try one out. Now I have. And I want to like, them—really, I do—but the reality of using one has not matched up so far with how they’ve been explained to me.

If you’re not familiar, a rain cape is supposed to work like a big tent that shields water from your body underneath. Practical applications: if you hate wearing a rain jacket and rain pants, or perhaps if you are too short, too tall, too big, or too curvy for the few decent selections out there on the market. Available sizing got you down? No problem, a rain cape is for you!

But if you live in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest (like I do), beware.

In Montana last summer, I received a bright red rain cape from the Dutch company Fast Rider. It worked when I biked a few blocks in Missoula’s spring showers, but I knew the ultimate test of this rain cape’s abilities would be testing it during a Portland winter.

Since coming back home last fall I’ve worn this rain cape out on three occasions:
• Riding downtown to see a bike-related brown bag presentation and meet a professional contact in person for the first time. The rain was pouring. While my top half stayed sufficiently dry, my pants were sticking to my legs when I arrived at City Hall. They remained so for hours. Tres professionnel.

• Biking about an hour to my friend Chris’ house the evening before Thanksgiving. Despite almost never having any unwanted attention while riding my bike, on this round trip I had a person from a car holler at me as they drove along a major street while I was waiting for a light. I had a frozen custard (or something similar) thrown at me on Williams Avenue (it hit my shoulder). Then I had a group of high school kids next to me at a light roll their window down to ask if I was warm biking in the rain. It felt like my bright red rain cape was a matador flag, invoking ire as I crossed town.

• Yesterday I journeyed to inner southeast. As soon as I left my house the rain went from pouring to drizzly, and stayed there most of the time I was in it. Result: while the rain cape protected me well from the top, my socks still got wet from the spray being kicked up by my wheels from standing water on the pavement.

If getting unwanted attention and wet pants from pavement moisture wasn’t enough, there’s also a signaling problem. When your arms are covered by a big tent of fabric (and your wrists are pulled through the loops inside), it’s impossible to signal your turns.

In theory, there is a solution to this. I like to call it the Bricker signal, for the person who introduced it to me. It involves using your head to communicate your intent (you may have to click the image to see what I’m talking about):

Of course there are problems. The Bricker signal isn’t exactly street legal. It’s not as easy to see a bobbing head as it is to see as an arm, and the signal may be misinterpreted by those around you (“I’m going to turn left” could mean “go ahead, pass me on my left”). So far I haven’t had any problems with the Bricker signal, but then again I live in Portland where people are largely used to riding courteously around bikes, and I am a pretty defensive cyclist.

In short, the results of my rain cape experiments have been achingingly inconclusive. Two of the three times I’ve worn it out, it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. I really like having gear options, because I don’t really relish needing to don my ugly rain gear to ride most of the year. But there are more mundane options that can get the job done, like a heavy wool peacoat. I am keeping the rain cape in my closet for now, but maybe not for long. We’ll see.


Filed under Bicycles, Montana, Oregon

The Bikes of “Call the Midwife”

In the wake of last year’s Downton Abbey fever (which surprisingly, I successfully avoided despite being an incorrigible Anglophile), PBS is putting a lot of marketing behind their new series Call the Midwife. Set in the 1950s, the show follows a group of midwives (some are nuns, some are not) as they make calls on London’s east end—home of the city’s poorest residents.

Delightfully, the midwives get around by bike! Here are a few stills from the first episode, all beautiful:

Actually, one of the reasons the show piqued my interest was seeing publicity stills, banner ads, and trailers that all featured bike riding scenes. And what beautiful bikes they are! Raleigh cruisers, I’m sure.

(The rest of the show is pretty good so far too…)

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Traversing to Metzler with a Ninja

One week ago my friend Emily (aka Ninja) and I biked to Metzler Park, a county park outside of Estacada. Joined by Emily’s brother Dominic, we had a nice overnight adventure, complete with a couple of unexpected twists.

Emily biked from her place in North Portland and met me one mile from mine. Rare indeed are the times when “friends” are willing to bike to my house, as I live outside of the edge of civilization according to many. If you’re wondering where that is, here’s a closeup of my neighborhood on the map of Portland.

Soon we headed south, then east along a highway I had traversed many times, but never by bike. The freeway noise was loud, but the novelty of the new experience kept me from even noticing much. As it turns out, the freeway is also fairly well-equipped for bikes, so we had a pretty smooth ride!

As we approached Carver the shoulder petered out, but we were close to our exit. After a brief refreshment break, we branched off on our last major turn, where we were to follow one of Clackamas County’s backroads for about 15 miles.

Springwater Road had a lot of up on our way out, but most of it was fairly gradual. It was warm, the first sunny day in nearly a month. Mount Hood beckoned us across deliciously scented strawberry fields. Even Mount St. Helens was out! Along the way my bike was making a noise that I suspect had to do with the extra weight, but before long the noise vanished again. (Note to self: get this checked out before your trip later this summer!)

After the final push up one last hill, the ground gave way beneath us and we hurled downward at quite a clip entering Metzler Park. Which was great, except it would mean a cantankerous uphill first thing in the morning.

Dominic had driven Emily’s car to the site, and he was already chatting with the park host when we arrived. Soon we set up our tents, and I ran away to check out the surroundings while Emily showered. I discovered a great suspension bridge crossing the creek, a placid swimming hole that reminded me of Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula, and more salmonberries throughout the park than I have ever seen in one place. Dominic wanted to see the final game of the Stanley Cup, so at about 5:30pm we piled in the car and headed to Estacada, where we ended up at the Safari Club.

The legend behind Estacada’s “Legendary” Safari Club is that the original owner was a big game hunter, and many of his kills ended up as trophies at the restaurant. And man, is there a lot of taxidermy in that place. The dioramas are strange enough, but for this place to be in the heart of Estacada takes the cake. Given the lack of upkeep on the specimens and how nobody seemed to care if we touched them, I wouldn’t be surprised if this place has changed hands multiple times since the original owner provided the trophies.

The Safari Club is also not the ideal place for a vegetarian to get a meal, although I managed. Considering I had brought some leftovers for dinner and wasn’t nearly as tired from our bike ride as my ride to Champoeg, I could easily have skipped the trip into Estacada and been fine. But then again, I would have missed the prime opportunity to take funny taxidermy photos with someone who shares my sense of humor.

When we returned from Estacada, dark clouds had started creeping in overhead. We built a campfire using wood the previous campers had left (hurray!), and sat around chatting in the dark until nearly midnight.

At 5:30am I woke to quite a racket: RAIN. Water would come into the tent if I left to use the restroom, so I just listened for a while. Finally when the noise died down a little I headed out, and it wasn’t horrible. Despite a weather forecast for a chance of “showers” (“a fall of rain for a short duration“) this rain didn’t even pause for about four hours. The inside of my tent mostly stayed dry—pretty good considering I hadn’t put the rain fly on 100% perfectly.

The question of the morning became whether we would take the car home. Emily had already said she was planning to get a ride out of the park in the morning, in order to avoid that nasty hill. Given the rain, she was planning to take the car all the way back to Portland. Originally I was planning to climb the hill (after all, I need hill training for my upcoming trip), but the rain fouled things up for me too. I had not brought any raingear, thinking that the chance of showers was small enough I could just live through any sprinkles I would encounter on the way home.

Lesson learned, eh? Oregon et Fortuna, you are harsh mistresses.

After much deliberation I did accept a ride home. I wouldn’t have done this had the car not been there already, nor if it hadn’t been raining for the last four hours. Estacada gets more rain than Portland because it is closer to the mountains, and it didn’t rain at home for the rest of the day. So, I ended up pretty disappointed in myself. Rather than working through a challenge, I took the easy, convenient way. That hasn’t happened for a while.

It is regret like this that teaches us to do better in the future, yes?

Photos: Emily and HA Bike to Metzler Park on Flickr.


Filed under Bicycles

The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: First Solo Overnight to Champoeg

“Adventure is a loose word, encapsulating a spirit of trying something new, trying something difficult. Going somewhere different, leaving your comfort zone. Above all it is about energy, enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity.”
-Alastair Humphreys

Over the past several months, I’ve often pondered why I bike. There are the surface-level reasons, such as concern for my health and the environment, but it seems unlikely that those things are the driving forces that keep me zipping up my raingear and bravely facing the deluges of Portland each winter.

In the end, I think it comes down to this: when I started bike commuting as an adult, I became an autonomous being, free from the angering ritual of fighting traffic. The world was new again, rife for adventure. It piqued my energy, enthusiasm, ambition, and curiosity to explore the city I thought I couldn’t know any better. In the spirit of rediscovering such adventure, I recently decided to undertake my first overnight trip by bike, to Champoeg State Heritage Area.

It was extremely important to me to do this trip completely by myself, from dreaming up the concept to unpacking my dirty socks. In the past I’ve fallen prey to messages that I couldn’t do such a thing for a host of reasons. Over the past year I’ve proved many times over that I can get through anything. In fact, challenge usually finds me rising to the occasion and kicking it square on the bum. It was something I had forgotten about myself over the past decade.

Given my “no outsiders” rule, it was also important for me to not utilize route information from people I knew. People I didn’t know, on the other hand, were fair game, so I took my Clackamas County Bike It! map and combined my thoughts with a couple of ideas from strangers on Bikely. Two thirds of my route to Champoeg was made of roads I had never seen, so going in I had only guesses about whether a road might have some steep hills, lack a shoulder, and/or sport high traffic.

Journeying to Champoeg on Friday was a sunny and scenic affair. My ride took about three and a half hours, including a brief snack stop in Canby. The route I planned was a little challenging but not so bad. Climbing through Oregon City and the series of smaller climbs between Oregon City and Canby burned through much of my energy, but biking through miles of bucolic scenery helped my spirit remain high!

Nearly at the park, I stopped in at the Butteville Store—one of my favorite things about Champoeg. The store is not technically inside the park boundaries, but it’s run by the Friends of Champoeg and easily accessible via the multi-use path that runs from the park directly to Butteville. Housed in a historic building decorated by old photographs and artifacts, the store serves good food, sells snacks (Tillamook ice cream!) and cold drinks, and offers visitors plenty of comfortable seating and hospitality. Relaxing in a rocking chair on their shady front porch, I enjoyed a delicious veggie sandwich and spinach salad before riding the final two miles into the park. Traveling through miles of farms in the afternoon sun had warmed me up, but the multi-use path was shady and cool.

If you’re not familiar, Champoeg State Heritage Area is where citizens voted on May 2, 1843 to pursue statehood by forming a provisional government. Oregon didn’t become a state until February 14, 1859, but this vote destined the land for statehood over the interests of the British and French-Canadians who were also present that day. The park features the Champoeg Pioneer Memorial where the vote location is commemorated by a stone monument, the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Cabin, and the former site of the town of Champoeg. (The town washed away when the Willamette River flooded in 1861—the grassy field where the town once stood now hosts regular archeological digs.) Adjacent to the park but independently operated is the Robert Newell House, a residence that the 1861 flood failed to damage. All this historical significance is of course complemented by more usual state park amenities like a disc golf course, a boat dock, camping facilities, a visitor center, miles of trails, special events, and wildlife viewing!

In other words, Champoeg is a great destination for a bike trip!

That evening I took in as much of the park as I could, both biking and hiking around the park. In fact, I trudged right through the Champoeg townsite when the “Townsite Trail” didn’t take me as close as I wanted, and I sighted the first of two snakes! Once I was back in my tent I tried reading my book about Oregon history as long as I could, but lost consciousness well before dark.

After listening to birds and napping in the morning, I realized time was getting away from me and I had yet to hit up the visitor center. This was of particular importance—the Champoeg visitor center holds the first museum exhibit I worked on, and I had not had a chance to see the finished product since it had been installed.

After chatting with many of the costumed volunteers about the exhibits and the very few errors that only the most nit-picky visitors had found, I realized it was already noon and high time to be getting back to Portland! My body was sore from hill climbing and a pillow issue while sleeping, and I knew it was going to take me a while to get home. After taking a couple snaps at the main entrance, I headed back home using the main road rather than the multi-use path.

It took me about five hours to bike home, including a meal stop in Canby. (Several people at Burgerville asked me if the triathalon was over. Apparently a) there was a triathalon happening in Canby that day, and b) Canbyites don’t know what triathletes look like, nor what they eat!) As I suspected the back roads were busier on Saturday due to the beautiful weather, but happiness was overflowing and I barely noticed the increased traffic at all.

Saturday was also warmer than Friday, and my body felt it. The closer I got to home, the more each little uphill challenged my body and slowed me down. Despite the weariness, upon returning home I was very proud of having successfully completed my first solo overnight trip! It was challenging at points, but at no point did I need any assistance.

Some of my favorite things about this overnight jaunt were the smells. The smells! Once outside of Oregon City, the sunny farm roads offered heavenly spring fragrances. I smelled fir trees, warm grasses, fruit blossoms—even the smell of cow dung was a welcome change from the mundane odor profile of Portland. The sun on my skin, the smells in my nose, and getting to listen closely to the sounds around me—rather than the uninteresting conversations of others—was a real joy.

Despite having done three overnight bike trips previously, this was the first one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Why? I suspect it has something to do with sparking that sense of adventure. Not only did I give myself a challenge and totally rise to meet it, but I called each and every shot along the way. It was an empowering, energizing, enjoyable, and easy experience—made more so by being by myself.

Champoeg trip photos on Flickr.


Filed under Bicycles

Xtra Fun on Lily’s Xtracycle

One of my favorite things about working at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) was that I often got the opportunity to try out new kinds of bikes.

Visitors to the office would often drop by with quirky getups, and occasionally I’d get to try them out—most memorably a Bike Friday tandem my friend Gregg brought by one day. (I shrieked as he captained us around the block.) Every year for our annual fundraising event we would get at least a couple bicycles donated as auction items—one year I pedaled a cargo bike around inside our office building, and later got familiar with a Brompton when I needed to deliver it to an auction winner who worked about six blocks away.

Until recently though, I had never ridden an Xtracycle.

Lovely Lily, treasured friend and ex-coworker, had an Xtracycle as her primary means of transportation for the past few years, but she was heading to Germany for six months. In November, she asked if I’d like to babysit Persephone Xtracycle while she was away. Would I? I leapt at the chance.

The beauty of trying out a bike short-term is that you don’t have to buy it, store it, or find a new home when you don’t need it anymore. But you still gain the experience of riding the bike, and potentially some other details in the setup. For example, Persephone Xtracycle has a dynamo/generator light setup from CleverCycles, meaning I don’t need to make sure my headlight is charged before leaving home—I’ve got a power supply that only stops when I do! Given my issues with making sure the battery on my regular light (a NiteRider MiNewt Dual) is recharged, trying out a dynamo system is a great thing.

The bike changed hands after Lily left on Christmas, and my first ride was all the way from NE Portland to my home just into Clackamas County. Although I was a little anxious about riding all that way on a new bike, it all went fine. Including a brief social stop, I made the trip in average time. A few weeks later I decided to ride the Xtracycle again to brunch at Bar Carlo (above)—a relatively short, flat route from my house. Just because.

There is a down side though: I am looking for more opportunities to test the Xtracycle’s famed cargo hauling capacity. In the last two months there haven’t been many bike moves that I’ve been aware of. At the moment, the only option I can think of is to use the Xtracycle to pick up the next batch of dog food for Atticus—but that doesn’t seem particularly challenging since I can already do that on my regular bike.

Lily is slated to return home in May, and I need to get more use out of the Xtracycle before then!


Filed under Bicycles