Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- 7-25-07 (Portland)

After lunch Todd and I ride back over the I-5 bridge into Portland. Todd explains that Vancouver really doesn't have much in terms of bike shops. The tax situation works against Vancouver shops, Oregon doesn't have a sales tax and Washington does and given a choice most consumers want to avoid the tax. While Vancouver is bike shop poor, Portland is bike shop rich.

We stop by a shop called Revolver Bikes. Todd's looking for a solution to keep the grips from wiggling around on his bike and I chat with Mark Pickett about his business. Lots of practical bikes here but the one that catches my eye is a Redline Monocog 29er. I've always been very happy with my 26" wheeled Monocog and while I've been intrigued by the big-wheeled bikes, I've never been sure how they'd work for someone of my relatively small stature. Mark happens to be about the same height as me (5'6") and he says it's not a problem. Then he adds what I've heard so many times from the 29er folks, "those big wheels just roll over lots of stuff that would bog down a smaller wheeled bike." Mark also tells me what I've heard in every shop, "business is up, more folks are riding."

Todd and I split up here. I've got the address of my internet friend Beth Hamon and I've got her instructions and the Portland bike map and Todd's advice on how to get to Beth's place. Everything works and at 2:00 PM, I'm at Beth's house.

This is the first time I've met Beth in real life, but we've traded a lot of emails, we know a lot of the same people and we're on the same wavelength on a whole bunch of issues. Beth is a wonderful person and she's just a delight to be around. She's taken the day off from work and she and her sweetie opened their home to me and Beth made it clear that I could do as much or as little as I wanted to in terms of seeing Portland. If I wanted to veg out, that was fine, if I wanted to go places, she could guide me or I could check things out on my own. If I needed to work on my bike, her home shop was at my disposal.

Beth is super knowledgeable about bikes and Portland and a bunch of other stuff. I took her up on her offer to play tour guide. I'd arranged to meet Jonathan Maus, the man behind the wonderful Bike Portland Blog, at Clever Cycles at 4:30. Clever Cycles was another place that I really wanted to see when I was in town. I knew that Jonathan's office wasn't to far from Clever Cycles and I figured I could make the best use of my time by meeting him there.

After spending a bit of time at Beth's we rolled south. Beth filled me in on local history while we rode and showed me the big "hill" in the neighborhood. I had to put "hill" in quotes because it highlights a difference between Portland and Seattle. Portland is a heck of a lot flatter than Seattle. They label things as hills things we wouldn't bother to mention. Portland's Mount Tabor would wind up in the "hill" category back home.

Beth rode her wonderfully practical city bike which sports a handy Citybikes Bike Bucket. The bucket pannier is made locally at Citybikes, the worker-owned co-op where Beth works as a bike mechanic.

On the way to Clever Cycles we stop by another great Portland bike resource, the Community Cycling Center. The Center is huge and since Beth used to work here, she knows everybody. She introduces me and proceeds to give me a tour of every nook and cranny of the place. To quote from their website:

The Community Cycling Center, founded in 1994, helps build skills and foster personal development of youth and adults through community-oriented educational and recreational bicycle programs and services.

We refurbish donated bicycles and redirect them for use in programs and our neighborhood bike shop.

I chat a bit with Alison Hill about where they get their bike donations and if they get any off the bikes forgotten off TriMet buses.

"Some of the drivers will donate bikes that are forgotten and unclaimed," I'm told.

I then tell Alison and Beth a bit about one aspect of my job up in the Seattle area. "The Bike Alliance has a contract with Metro and Sound Transit to handle the bikes forgotten on King County buses."

"Do you get a lot of bikes left on buses?"

"Over 700 last year."

Beth and Alison are amazed, "What happens to them?"

"51% are claimed by their owners, another 5% get claimed by drivers (it's in their contract, they get dibs!) and the remaining 44% get donated to local charities." I realize that I sound like a total bike wonk but I guess I am a bike wonk, so it's OK. Plus I'd happened to have run the 2006 numbers for the lost bike program just before I'd left on this trip, so the stats are fresh in my mind.

"I don't think that many bikes get left in Portland," Alison ventures.

"Maybe not," I say, "but you should check into it. Of course there are a lot of Magnas and Verticals and other, uh... bike-shaped objects, but some of it is decent, usable stuff. We've recovered stolen bikes from bus racks and then there are just some genuine spaced-out dudes. I talk to lots of people who've forgotten their bikes on the buses and I talk to a lot of spaced-out dudes."

I go on, "We always see get the most bikes after a weekend and then there are some events that generate a bunch of lost bikes. You know what our biggest single day is?"

"Folklife?" Beth guesses.

"Close," I reply, "it's the Monday after Hempfest."

We're starting to run low on time so Beth and I pedal off to Clever Cycles. Todd Farhner opened Clever Cycles a few months ago and it's a really cool shop. Here's Todd's fifty word description of the place:

Clever Cycles serves families and businesses seeking to avoid dependence on cars with stylish, practical bicycles and accessories for everyday use. Dutch bakfietsen and city bikes, folding bikes, and our Stokemonkey electric assist for Xtracycles feature passenger and cargo capacity, plain-clothes comfort, all-weather readiness, and low maintenance.

The shop has an open, airy feel, almost like an art gallery and the bakfietsen and the bikes are all very stylish and practical. In the accessory department, Todd proudly shows me that they carry Rainlegs. I really like the looks of some of the practical grocery hauling panniers and it's super neat to have a shop where you could do something like test ride both a Bike Friday Tikit and a Brompton.

The bakfietsen are incredibly cool machines but I've worked my car-free life in such a way that I really don't have to haul big loads, so I think I'm immune to their charms. But they are amazing machines and for many folks, they really are the sporty utility vehicle that makes sense. Todd is well on his way to selling out is second batch of these machines.

Of all the folding bikes I've seen, the Brompton is the one that always strikes me as the cleanest folding. My wife often points out that I have too many bikes (she often says crazy things like that and things like "bikes don't belong in the kitchen," but she puts up with me and I think maybe someday a Brompton may find it's way into the Peterson household.

Both Beth and I get to test ride the bakfietsen but the real treat is when Todd takes each of us out for a spin as cargo. Todd has some pretty decent power in his legs (and for those of you who want an added boost, talk to him about a Stokemonkey electric assist) and he can make these machines just zoom. I felt like I was in a low-flying plane as we zipped around the Clever Cycle neighborhood.

I was quite impressed with the degree of walk-in traffic in the shop. The bakfietsen are their own best advertisements and they really draw people in. And of course, Portland is a very bikish town. A fellow whose name I didn't catch stopped by with his tall bike. One of the overwhelming things about Portland is just how darn many bikes and shops and riders you see. Cyclists really are a significant part of the transportation mix and there are lots of riders. Because there are more cyclists, drivers by and large expect to see cyclists and basically I saw drivers and cyclist coexisting quite nicely.

Jonathan Maus stopped by the shop and we chatted. Jonathan's blog is amazing. There is so much bike related stuff going on in Portland and it seems like Jonathan manages to cover all of it. Jonathan's take on our conversation is here:

As is often the case on this trip, I wish that I had more time to stay in one place, but Beth and I have to get rolling. We stop at her current place of employment, the the Citybikes Sales Annex. Citybikes is a worker owned and operated shop and on this Wednesday afternoon the place looks busy, although Beth tells me this is actually kind of slow. "The other day," she tells me, "we had a dozen people waiting for us when we opened up."

Our next stop is the grocery store where I get supplies for the road, and Beth picks up food for our final stop of the day: a potluck dinner over at Joel Metz and Ira Ryan's place.

The potluck is great fun. I first met Ira and Joel a few years ago when we all raced the Raid Californie-Oregon and Ira happens to be wearing the very sporty shirt from that very sporty event. Joel is a partner in the Magpie Messenger Collective and Ira builds beautiful bike frames in his business, Ira Ryan Cycles.

A few days ago I'd said to Laura Stone "I know people, urban chicken people, bike co-op people, foodies...I know lots of people." This was not just some smooth line to impress the chicks (pun intended!) but it's true. To illustrate the point, let me point out these facts:

Joel has a chicken coop and a garden behind his house. Michael Rasmussen (the commuter, not the guy who just got thrown out of the Tour de France), who organized this potluck, raises chickens in his back yard. And Patrick and Holly, who brought this wonderful chickpea, lentil and smoked wheat-berry dish, founded the Eastside Egg Cooperative. So yeah, I know chicken people!

Other folks at this little shindig include Beth's sweetie Liz, David Rowe and Sara Stout. David is a fellow randonneur and blogger and Sara is an interviewer for the local KBOO Bike Show. Sara is creating a small piece on randonneuring for KBOO so she interviews those of us who have ridden rando events. She says the show will probably air in the next month or two.

Michal brought the legendary pound cake, which his sweetie made because the recipe called for so many eggs. When you raise chickens, you tend to have a surplus of eggs. I do my bit for the cause by having three (or was it four?) slices of pound cake.

It's a great time with great people but I have to get up early to pedal to Olympia tomorrow, so as it starts to get dark, Beth and I head back to her place.

Stats: Dst 21.39 miles Ave 9.6 mph Max 22 mph


Lindsey said...

Enjoyed reading about your adventures in Portland--the pictures are great, especially of Clever Cyles. I have been wanting to get down there and check out the shop!


Anonymous said...

I want to know how you got your wife to accept having a bicycle in the kitchen.
I'm still trying to convince Liz that two bikes may not be quite enough...! = )
It was fun to host you -- come back anytime.

Anonymous said...

My Sweetie Jennifer made the pound cake! I can't take credit!

It was a great pot luck.

Tarik Saleh said...

OK, that freaks me out. I first met joel at a cross race in SF in 1996. He looks *exactly* the same now. Iam pretty sure I have aged at least 10 years in the same span...

Looks like a great trip, I must return to portland soon...

Unknown said...

Hairspray inside the grips then put them on. To get them off again you will have to cut them off.

Vik said...

Nice trip the pics of all the cool bikes and tales of so many interesting bikey people...=-)

Keep 'er rolling!

lynnef said...

with respect, Kent, you were riding on the flat east side of Portland :-) Granted, Portland's central area is flatter than Seattle. But trust me, we have HILLS here, too. Come over to the west side next time!

Anonymous said...

hi kent,

it was wonderful to spend some time with you on your visit. thanks for linking to our blog. I took a few photos at the potluck, they're on my flickr at

come back soon!