Pedaling South

L'expédition en vélo de l'Alaska à l'Argentine de Lucie et Torrey

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Pedaling Revolution in Portland

November 12th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Outside the church we stayed at in Rainier, Oregon, I tried trueing my rear wheel, which had gotten suddenly and unaccountably wobbly. I immediately noticed my rear rim was cracked right down the center. “So that’s what that noise was crossing the bridge…” I thought.

I had to loosen the rear brakes completely and didn’t bother trying to adjust the spokes. The wheel was about to go supernova – eyelets ripping out, rim collapsing, tube exploding, shrapnel everywhere, etc. There’s no fix for it. Normally I wouldn’t ride a wheel like that more than a couple of blocks, but I decided to see if we could get to Portland 90 km south, where there would be plenty of options for a new rim or wheel.

I loaded up my 100-pound time bomb and gingerly rode it all the way to the city – I don’t know if I’ve ever been so nice to a bicycle, avoiding even slight imperfections in the pavement. Luckily, it held.

After getting settled in with our hosts, (a great household of grad students and teachers), we tracked down a replacement wheel at a North Portland shop, then biked across town to install it at City Bikes. It was pouring rain (it rained our entire stay) and by this time Lucie was hypothermic in her city clothes. She headed “home” to warm up, and I explored the city alone.

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One thing is certain: Portland is eminently bikeable. There’s always a clearly defined bike route to get you from point A to point B. The bridges have bike lanes (you have to cross one of three bridges to get downtown from the more residential parts of the city). Buses and light rail trains have bike racks. In terms of numbers of cycle commuters, Portland is leaps and bounds ahead of any other city in North America. Montreal seems to be slowly but surely headed in this direction, thanks to a forward-thinking administration and hard-working citizen’s groups. With a few hundred more kilometers of downtown commuter bike lanes and a light rail system, we’ll get there.

I love that Portland has proven that the bicycle can be truly integrated into a major North American city. Due to sheer volume, a necessary order reigns over cyclist traffic there. This is something I’ve never before experienced; they wait their turn at stops and lights; they don’t bunch up at intersections; they ring their bells or say “on your left” when passing. They’re legitimate vehicles. I’m from the pioneer school of urban cycling, and it’s hard for a wild cowboy like me to get his horse to trot around the track. Safety-oriented cycling infrastructure eliminates competition between cars and bikes for street space and gets TONS more people riding, but in Portland I missed the chaos of having to swerve between cars and skip over lanes to get somewhere. Hopefully after the velorution, old-timey fools like me will have a special bar to hang out at to swap stories about the frontier days.

We’re now back on the coast and rolling southward, generally with our mouths hanging open gawking at the Pacific. The ocean is absolutely magnificent. The surf has been rough with stormy south winds, and the huge pounding waves are pretty much the best show on earth. As Lucie says, watching the sea is something you can’t get tired of, like staring into a fire: beautiful, ever-changing and filling the soul with wonder.

NOTE TO ALL UNILINGUALS: Can’t read French? No problem! If you don’t want to miss out on Lucie’s posts, just open Type “pedaling south” in the search bar. Our blog should be the top result. Click “Translate this page” and voilà! Enjoy.

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Tags: Montreal

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tasha // Nov 12, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Ah yes, Portland. Unlike most cities in the US at the time, Portland’s progressive mayor in the late 60’s turned down a substantial chunk of change from the Federal Gov’t to build superhighways, favouring instead the creation of a ‘livable’ city. No ugly sprawl there. It truly is another species of North American city. Never been, but I hear it’s lovely.

    So love reading your posts and seeing the pics! If I was religious, I’d say “Godspeed!” (Seems appropriate ;-)

  • 2 Jay // Nov 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I can’t help but feel the same way about wild-west cycling vs. legitimate-vehicle cycling. The freedom of operating _around_ traffic instead of being traffic is hard to give up. Interestingly, during my lengthy stay in Amsterdam I noticed that despite all the infrastructure and cyclist culture, people still didn’t hesitate to blow through stop signs that made no sense (i.e. at a T intersection). A happy compromise, perhaps?

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