Take a close look at a row of bike racks anywhere in the city and you'll see a diverse ecosystem of bicycles, from Wal-Mart beaters with ornamental suspensions to tricked-out commuter hybrids with baskets, belt drives and internal hubs to hand-built fixies with aggressively skinny rims and handlebars. There are a lot of varieties out there to choose from, but some riders aren't satisfied with a rare breed—they want a different species. I spoke with a few owners of atypical cycles to find out why.
Morgan Patton rides a "tadpole trike," which has two wheels in the front and one in the back, and orients the rider like a recumbent or reclining bike. Why? "Because I can," he explained. "It fills a need that a mass-produced thing, you know, doesn't—I want something specific, and I can make it, so I'll make it exactly how I want." Patton says tadpole tricycles sit very low, so some riders attach a flag to make themselves more visible, but he just limits his riding to places without cars or rides with many cyclists to minimize the danger. If you are interested in getting a similar trike, Patton warns that you have to think about where you can store it—it can be impractical for apartment dwellers, who have to surrender a lot of floor space. A garage is ideal. On the upside, tricycle riders don't have to worry about losing their balance.
Another unique character unicycling through Portland, playing the bagpipes, is the Unipiper. Brian Kidd plays traditional bagpipe tunes as well as the often-requested Star Wars theme song and even "Happy Birthday" (at birthday parties) or the "Bridal Chorus" (at, you guessed it, weddings). How and why did he get started doing this? Kidd enlightened me: "While in college, I originally found a unicycle in the dumpster, and it just so happened at the time I was learning to play the bagpipes." This serendipitous occurrence was just five years ago, and now the Unipiper tries to make it out to the PSU Farmers Market and along Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard at least once a week. To request a performance at your event, contact Kidd at facebook.com/theunipiper.
What about those bikes that are almost as tall as two bikes stacked on top of each other? City Bikes co-founder Tim Calvert says he rocks a Rasta-colored tall bike with an Earth flag because "it makes you feel like you are flying." Tall bikes, he says, bring a "mood boost" and light everyone up with smiles—especially kids. He bought his first in 1993, made some modifications, and has loved it ever since. He can easily lock his bike up, but intersections can be a tricky because a tall-bike rider can't put a foot down on the ground. "You have to go really slow, find a sign [to hold] or put a foot on a car," he says. (Calvert's commute avoids most intersections.) He also enlightened me about other riders of tall bikes who are riding them for very different reasons, such as bike jousting. So whether you fit more into the PBR-swilling jouster or Earth-flag-flying positivity clan, just get on for the first time over grass.
Russ Roca, a photographer and writer, and his partner, Laura Crawford, a photographer and metalworker, are planning to redefine the American road trip by forgoing cars or airplanes for a ride across the country on folding bikes (for about 70 percent of the route) and Amtrak trains. This is not the couple's first time biking cross-country; last time they took full-sized bikes, which Roca explains are not as good for combining with other modes of travel. On the train, you cannot get your bike off at every stop, whereas, with Roca and Crawford's Brompton folding bikes, which fit into the passenger railroad car, they can avoid missing out on the quaint small towns and back country roads along the route. If you want to fly with your bike, most airlines will charge a fee of over $100, but the Brompton folds up, and Roca says he can take it on a plane for free if he says it's part of his photography equipment. Roca says his and Crawford's professions are "entirely mobile." The couple just email ahead where they are stopping along the way and other bicyclists meet up with them, sometimes purchasing one of Crawford's decorative head badges or getting a portrait taken by Roca.
Who Bikes Now
*Source: Portland Bicycle Count Report 2010. **Source: 2009 American Community Survey; Rounded to the nearest percentage point.