Bikefag Report: Portland, OR
It was in November – during my darkest moments of trepidation about my future life in an ominous, post-fixed-gear landscape – that the nightmares started.
I was back in New York City, in one recurring dream – but the city was populated entirely by college town fixie bros, all of them wearing neon green wayfarers and Itchy-from-the-Seven-Dwarves droopy hats, and riding stock KHS Flite 100s.
I was riding amongst them on Bedford Ave, and at once they all turned to me on my purple bike.
“Is that a fixie, bro?” they said in robotic chorus.
“No, it’s a hybrid.” I joked.
“Is that a fixie, bro!” they commanded, louder.
“No, it’s a Chevy Avalanche. Fuck off!”
“IS THAT A FIXIE, BRO!” They had terrifying clown-smiles.
“WE KNOW IT’S A FIXIE, BRO!”
“WE KNOW IT’S A FIXIE, BRO!”
“WE KNOW IT’S A FIXIE, BRO!”
They were all pointing down at my bike, and when I looked, the purple paintjob peeled back before my eyes! The Dura Ace hubs, the flat bar, the upside-down Salsa stem, they were all gone!
I was suddenly riding a brand new, bone stock KHS Flite 100 with a drop bar and plastic toe clips!
Then a minivan pulled out in front of me, and I couldn’t skid!
Just before I crash, I always wake up, dripping with sweat.
After three weeks of nightmares, though, I had what I can only call “a vision.”
This time in my dream, I was riding across the Williamsburg Bridge in the rain. All of the college town fixie bros with neon aviators were walking in a line up the bridge, pushing their KHS Flite 100s beside them, as I attacked the upslope with apparently untiring legs. I was expecting them to turn on me as they usually did, but something about the rain was sapping their power.
At the top I stopped and looked down upon the line of fixie bros, chuckling to myself. Then the clouds parted above my head.
Instead of the sun, a rose hung in the sky.
It spoke to me.
“Come to me and I’ll show you my secret,” the rose said.
“Wait, what do you mean. How?”
The clouds moved back in, and the rain started trickling down.
“Come to meeeeeee,” I heard, through the fog.
Then I woke up.
What the hell was that supposed to mean? I thought to myself, waiting for my half-chub to go down before I got out of bed.
Oh yeah, the “Rose City” – Portland.
Since I’d already used up all my luck shipping bikes on planes, I borrowed an “earth raper,” strapped my Purple Bike on the back, and started driving West.
First Impression: “Where are all the dread-beards?!”
Based on my knowledge of Portland cycling culture (which had come from the PDX Fixed Flickr photostream,this zoobombing youtube video, a screening of Bikeporn 3 that concluded with Reverand Phil singing naked in a college classroom, and SSCXWC), I was expecting to ride into a bacon-scented, butt-naked, two-wheeled, freak-bike-funderworld.
So I was taken aback when the first several cyclists I spotted were all so boringly practical. Everyone I saw wore neon yellow rain gear. Their bikes were unimaginative, befendered, geared affars with brakes, racks and paniers strapped to them.
Where the fuck is the tall-bike lane?!
Here’s a random sampling of ten cyclists riding on a heavily-trafficked bike route between Portland’s NE and downtown.
So, using the first ten cyclists heading from NorthEast to downtown at 10am to represent Portland’s cycling community as a whole, here are Portland’s statistics:
90% of Portlanders are befendered (the other 10% have a giant rack to block their back wheel).
100% of Portlanders are freewheelers.
A staggering 100% of Portlanders ride bicycles with brakes (10% utilize disc brakes).
90% of portlanders ride bikes with multiple gears.
40% wear helmets.
100% of Portlanders are caucasian.
Surely there was more to Portland than this, so I followed these commuters downtown.
I did find some evidence that “fixiez not dead” downtown.
This guy clearly thinks that fixed-wheel velocipedes are still cool:
And this bke messenger is riding a kids’ track bike!
Then I went into a bike shop called Bike Central that had all the snazzy track bike accessories that I expected people in Portland to be riding. They were obviously pretty involved with Portland’s racing scene (it seems like track is sorta their thing), but most of the stuff out on the floor didn’t really look like what actual track racers ride.
(to be fair, the guy working at Bike Central (as with all portlanders) was a lot more friendly than the sort of people working at most “boutique” bike shops. Not only was he more friendly, he was more fast. He’s a cat. 1 track racer who went to Elite track nationals)
I decided to leave downtown, and rode across the Hawthorne Bridge to the Southeast quadrant of Portland, hoping to find a critical-mass blocking Hawthorne Blvd, or maybe a freak-bike gang of crust-punks with matching leather Carhart suspenders rioting on Belmont St.
But everywhere I turned, I just found more practicality.
Since the southeast a little more grownup than the “first-stage gentrification” Northeast, it was EVEN MORE practical.
I’m not sure why I’m so hung up on this wild-west, bike-cowboy mentality, but it sure seems to be affecting my conclusions about Portland…
Since I was only in Portland for 2.5 days (all of them week days), I don’t have no right whatsoever making judgements about Portland’s cycling community.
In spite of this, I will now make several judgements about Portland’s cycling community:
Portland’s cycling community appears to be in a “post-adolescent” phase. Very different from the “we’re not blocking traffic – we ARE traffic” critical mass crowd, Portlanders have decided on an infrastructural scale that cyclists are indeed traffic, given them lanes and trails and bridges, and stoplights, and “bike boxes,” and let them enjoy a hassle-free, neon-yellow life to-and-from work.
In a way, it’s sort of dull. Young, radically-bent cyclists must get bored and have to move out to less cyclist-friendly cities like New York or Colorado Springs where they can have someone to be mad at.
But Portland’s post-adolescent cycling community reminds me of a more awkward, not-as-well-developed version of the Netherlands, where I rode the whole way across the country last year on a separate bike freeway system that is so well-marked that you can ride anywhere in the country without a map or any knowledge of the Dutch language.
Portland reminded me what the point of bicycle advocacy is. Bicycle advocacy isn’t about people on fixed-gear conversions getting arrested, necessarily. Bicycle advocacy is about figuring out ways for more people to ride bicycles for fun and for transportation, and for them to have an easier time doing it. And in these respects, Portland is way ahead of any other city in America.
(technically, Boulder, CO and Davis, CA are also “platinum rated,” but Portland is a lot more impressive to me because of its size)
So I guess that “the Rose’s secret” (remember that bit at the beginning?) was that it’s time for “bike fags” to grow up, get some practical, neon-yellow cycling gear, and a touring bike with fenders, and start really living by our “one less car” ideals, rather than living for our own glory and self-righteousness by riding obnoxious bikes recklessly through traffic.
The best moment in Portland happened was when I was riding on a Southeast bikeway and I came upon this family:
“Can I take your picture,” I asked.
“Sure,” the father replied.
“Why does he want to take our picture?” the girl with the red hair asked.
“Well,” I told her, “I don’t live in Portland. And where I live a lot of people would think that you guys were crazy for riding on this thing. But I don’t think you’re crazy. I think you’re smart. And pretty soon, there are gonna be a lot of people in this country riding bikes just like you guys.”
P.S. Stumptown Coffee is worthy of the hype.
P.P.S. don’t ride across the I-5 bridge on a bike. I thought I was gonna fall into the fucking river!