LET ME PICTURE your confusion. You just moved to a city that touts itself as a bicycle mecca—and, sure enough, there are bike lanes and cyclists all over the place! But all anyone ever seems to talk about is that (a) cyclists are irresponsible wastrels, or (b) that this city is doing nothing to make biking a viable transportation option.
I mean, what the hell, right?
The truth is, newbie, we're as confused as you are.
In decades past, Portland was at the bleeding edge of American cities looking out for bike riders. That paid huge dividends by the time the early 21st century rolled around, laying the groundwork for the two-wheeled culture you see about you. Something like six percent of people commute by bike in Portland, which is incredibly high in this country. Other American cities can brag about a big fancy bikeway here and there, but just try to find a network as complete as Portland's. You can't.
So why is everyone so pissed off? Partly because that network still has huge holes—places like the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge, where a formerly pleasant bike lane completely disappears just as cyclists enter the crush of downtown traffic. And while advocates try to push city and state officials to close those holes—and also build impressive new bike lanes—some motorists are deathly afraid that parking will dry up, or commutes will get even longer because of what they see as cyclists being selfish. Voílà! Everyone's shouting.
But put all that out of mind—there will be time to delve into the politics later.
For now, just know that you've moved to the best damn bike city in the country, and it's time to enjoy it. Bike share's maybe coming next year, but you can't afford to wait. Buy a bike now. Plan to spend at least $200 for a dependable steel steed from decades past. Or go fancier. You can probably afford it, Cali.
Then ride! Ride anywhere you feel comfortable, and can do so safely and legally. It'll be great, provided you remember three simple streets, and avoid them at all costs:
The city's most violent road, SE Powell is actually a highway that whooshes cars from Southeast Portland over Mt. Hood. It's owned and operated by the state, and the state cares mostly about efficiency and jamming as many cars on this street as possible. People lose life and limb on Powell all the time. Never, ever ride on Powell. Deny businesses your hard-earned (and copious [Cali]) cash simply because they had the temerity to set up shop on Powell. It is no friend to the cyclist. Your best bet, if you've got to be Powell-adjacent, is to pick your way along side streets to the north or south. SE Clinton, several blocks north, is a solid choice.
It may sound placid, but the truth is riding on NE Sandy is nearly as difficult as riding your bike in actual sand. It's just no fun, and your heart's racing by the end. Making matters worse, if you want to get to one of Sandy's many fine establishments, you can't just ride a quieter parallel road because the goddamn thing slashes diagonally through the Eastside. Dust off that old graphing calculator to help you determine the proper route. Do not ride on Sandy.
It's home to the most authentic Asian food, used car lots, and roach motels this city has on offer, but 82nd represents a sort of gateway for the cyclist. It's a barrier, east of which the city's vaunted bike network begins to rapidly dwindle. You can, and should, explore East Portland by bike, but know that the helpful way-finding signs will be fewer, the vexing dead ends more common. And the actual road is a cyclist's nightmare. Avoid it, and welcome to it.
More Newcomers' Guide Articles:
Welcome to Portland!
Rain! Rain! Rain! Rain!
A Portlander's Pronunciation Guide
A Newcomers' Guide to Making Friends
Portland Free Stuff
Getting Around Town
Finding a Place to Live
How to Apologize for Moving to Portland
Bicycle Death Traps
Portland History 101
Portland Myth Bustin'!
Portland Tourist Traps