The Soft Stuff: Having Fun on a Bike

North Portland History Tour

This weekend marks the end of Pedalpalooza, a two week celebration of all things fun on a bicycle.  I attended a history tour of North Portland this afternoon with about 40-50 other cyclists.  We toured around North Portland, making a series of stops at historic locations, hearing from local citizens about how the neighborhood had changed over the last 4o years.  Mixing two of my loves – history and biking – made for a great afternoon!  Needless to say, my kids did not choose to attend.

Pedalpalooza is a grass roots initiative that promises “2 weeks of bikey fun”, and almost 300 events scheduled.  If you can think of something fun to do on a bike, then it should work.  The zoobombers race mini bicycles down a hill from the zoo.  The Star Wars vs. Star Trek ride is described as the following:

Time to choose sides. Do you think Han Solo can kick Kirk’s ass? Would Spock take down Yoda? Time to get your light sabres or tricorders and dress up for some serious nerd quotient. Decorate yourselves and/or your bikes and battle it out on the streets of Portland, the skies over Endor, and wherever else the ride takes us. Sound systems invited, kids welcome for the early part of the ride, but later on, the silliness may get too much for them. This ride is free, but we understand Starfleet Academy might assess penalties.

 You get the idea.

On our historical tour (interesting, but nobody dressed as Yoda), we heard some great personal stories from local citizens about the shipyards, the Vanford flood of 1948, the African American neighborhoods and their fights to improve the quality of their neighborhoods.  Our ride was slow, through neighborhoods, with nice conversations.  We managed to stop at some nice food carts for a snack or a drink.  I learned more about the city of my ancestors: my great-grandfather left Norway at the turn of the 20th century to fish on the Columbia river and live in a Norwegian neighborhood in this area.

This was about having a fun afternoon, and it happened to involve bikes.  It’s clear that making bikes fun is an important strategy for increasing bike ridership.  Biking the neighborhood gave one a more intimate look at the neighborhood, a slower look, a chance to daydream a bit about what it must have been like to live here 40, 60, 100 years ago.  I got to have conversations with other riders and hear their take on the biking life in Portland. 

Multiply this experience by 300 events, add the Sunday Parkways when streets are closed to cars and neighbors walk and bike to parks, and you have fun on a bike.  My town of Denver has many summer events, but nothing like this.  Building the soft stuff for a fun bike culture explains some of the success Portland is having with bike transit.

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