By Haley Stupasky Edited by Chloe Rask
With an appointment to make in a park in downtown Portland, thousands of bikers fly through the streets pulling trailers and bumping music on boom boxes. This is a relatively normal spectacle in Portland, a city that prides itself in being out of the ordinary, but today things are different. On this summer’s night all the riders are wearing barely any clothing, and some, none at all. This is Portland’s annual World Naked Bike Ride, which is put on to promote bikes as a “green” way of transport and to bring the community together.
People around Oregon use events like this to promote bike use as a way to reduce gas emissions and to encourage eco-friendliness as well as exercise. Many in the Oregon cycling community have adopted an attitude that prioritizes the health of the environment while bringing people together, and they are interested in getting more people involved. The bike culture in Oregon is as unique as its geography. The natural beauty of the state and laid back nature of the people and bike friendly infrastructure provide the ideal environment for biking that attracts fanatics from around the world and welcomes newcomers to the cause.
“The cycling community in Eugene is vibrant and inclusive,” says Charlie Hockett, a Eugene biker from Long Beach, California. “I think on one hand, Eugene has a great infrastructure that allows people to feel safe biking. On the other, biking is taken seriously as a way of life here.”
This combination of community-openness and bike-friendly roads encourages novices and veterans alike to ride and participate in the growing culture surrounding cycling. Oregon takes pride in bike safety and encourages drivers to be more aware of bikers on the road. The city of Eugene has even recently taken steps to make roads more bike friendly than they already are. Willamette Street, a main corridor for transit and business, will be reconstructed for a trial period to accommodate bikers by transforming a four lane road to a three lane road with bike lanes on each side. Eugene takes action in hopes that bikers will feel safer on the road.
The changes in Eugene reflect a larger change in thought by city planners around the state who are beginning to take the biking population more seriously. The city of Portland aims to have 25 percent of all trips in Portland to be made on bicycles by the year 2030. This anticipated growth will only be made possible by reconstructing roads to incorporate bike commuters by building lanes separated from auto traffic. Although a large investment, the increased popularity in biking as a form of transport suggests that the money would be well spent.
“Not all bike lanes are created equal,” states Eric Jaffe in an article written for The Atlantic. “Cyclists who use protected lanes say they feel safer, and some studies show they truly are safer, with their risk of injury cut in half.”
His article specifically references a study done at Portland State University that suggests more people in major cities, Portland included, would be willing to use a bike for transportation if lanes were more safe for bikers. Biking to get to work is on the rise while biking as a recreational activity is seeing more growth as well.
Recreational and competitive biking especially comes to life during the spring and summer, when people take advantage of Oregon’s mild climate. This is a time when group rides and tours often take place up and down the Willamette Valley and eastern Oregon. An estimated $400 million from biking and biker patronage contributes to Oregon’s tourism industry. With numbers like that, the growing popularity is hard to ignore. Whether people participate with groups or on their own, the geography of Oregon and its climate allows riders to go to many areas around the state for business and for pleasure.
“Most of my riding is focused around training for competition. Every few weeks I’ll go ride my bike just for the sake of it rather than to train,” says Michael Shelver, a cyclist that came to Oregon from South Africa. “It keeps me balanced and from burning out. That being said, I really like to compete in the sport.”
Oregon offers a good environment for competition because of the sheer volume of bike enthusiasts in the state. Bikers love to ride together and share in the unique experience that Oregon offers. Although the bike industry has a significant economic impact in Oregon, biking contributes to the larger social climate. The University of Oregon especially is a hot spot for groups to gather and ride.
“I have had the opportunity to spend some time in the UO Bike Barn, which is an amazing resource and overall fun place to hang out,” Hockett states. “An old riding partner and I used to joke that you have friends, girl friends, and riding partners- in that order of importance.”
This state of mind reinforces the importance of community in Oregon’s bike culture and is perpetuated in order to get more people to join in and bike. A desire for community and a desire to help the environment is essential in planning group events like the World Naked Bike Ride. Other events like Moonlight Mash that take place more often. Moonlight Mash participants meet in Kesey Square in Eugene every month on the full moon and ride as a group through Eugene. Through social media advertising and word of mouth, the monthly event has drawn a substantial crowd and has become an integral part of the biking social scene.
These events and others that are popping up around Oregon contribute significantly to the growing popularity of cycling. Cycling is an emission free form of transport, is a good source of exercise, and here’s the kicker, you don’t have to pay for parking. All these perks are made better by the sense of community built around cycling in Oregon and the way cities are incorporating bikers into transit infrastructure. With this growth, Oregon is rapidly becoming a place where cyclists from all around the world are interested in visiting, and Oregon is happy to accommodate them.