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Some cities never sleep. Portland never stops dreaming but we don’t count sheep in this town: we count bicycles.
If you can walk in your sleep and talk in your sleep then you can wander around telling people that you are living the dream and nobody will know you’re not awake. In Portland, somncyclists are living the green, wet and possibly sustainable dream of riding in the very best bicycle venue in the whole, wide world.
This notion has some basis in fact. If I highlighted every good bike route in town, the map above would look like a plate of rainbow spaghetti. Bicycle Magazine declared Portland to be the top-rated bicycling city in the USA for 2012, unseating the former winner, Minneapolis. This seems like a low-hanging achievement to me: would you rather pedal your bike in a cool, gentle rain or mush through a raging blizzard at 20 degrees below zero?
There are about 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths in Portland. These numbers are impressive but in truth, these things did not make the town a great place to bike, they only made it better. Most of Portland consists of quiet, residential neighborhoods and dozens of local parks that make everyday biking a pleasant, practical alternative to other modes of transportation. Portland was a great place to bike long before the term ‘bike-friendly’ became a ballot-box imperative.
Another thing: the drivers here in Portland do not run down bicyclists for sport nearly as much they do in other cities. Boston, for example, has close to 600 serious bike injuries a year, compared to around 300 in Portland, despite the fact that in Portland the hunting season is longer and game is more plentiful.
On the map above I have marked some of the major bike routes, a few points of interest in town and three important avenues of escape from the city altogether. I did not include Max light rail lines. Taking your bike on the train to Hillsboro or Gresham can save time and effort but the whole point of biking is to expend time and effort. I’m not a sneering bicycle purist and I do use Max on occasion; it’s just that extending the scope of this blog to include public transportation would be a waste of time (and effort).
Being weird is being wonderful in Portland. Schizoid might be an even better term but geologically speaking the town is only bipolar. The hills on the west side of the Willamette river are properly called the Tualatin Mountain and this long, 1,000-foot ridge is actually part of the tectonically uplifted costal range. The prominences on the East side of the river are cinder cones in a region of volcanic activity that belongs to the Cascades. If you like biking on hills you’re in luck. If not, you’re still on a roll because most of the city is built on relatively flat land that is covered with alluvial deposits from the Missoula floods. If you have multiple personalities then biking in Portland’s eclectic landscape will make every one of you very happy.
The superb variety of terrain, the plethora of parks and bicycle paths, bike-tolerant drivers and the year-round temperate conditions is why Portlandians, when they are not dreaming, tell outsiders that this is the very worst place in the whole, wide world to bike. Don’t even come here. It rains all the time, seasonal affective disorder is considered a virtue and everybody who isn’t involved with some dungeons-and-vegans, nude tap-dancing counter-cult is hooked on meth. Go to Minneapolis or Boston, especially if you are from California.
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