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April 10th, 2013 WW Culture Staff | Cover Story
 

Spoke Addicts

Portland is America’s best bike city. Why does anyone here drive?

lede_cover_3923ILLUSTRATION: Iron Canvas Studios
Bike Camping bike art bike thieves bike delivery Brewcycle Cartlandia 7-day cycle spoke addicts
Portland is hell on four wheels.

Our roads are clogged with a noxious blend of light-footed Prius drivers, manic transplants in Volvos and frustrated guys in F-150s who seem convinced their balls will shrivel up and fall off if they don’t gun it between stoplights on the way back to Molalla.

Rather than being on a neat grid, Portland’s thoroughfares seem to be laid along ancient paths first traveled by lash-maddened mules dragging moonshine-swilling loggers. Our city’s bumpy topography did its fathers no favors, yet it’s hard to fathom why we should twist around a cloverleaf to get on the Ross Island Bridge. And why trains are allowed to crawl to a stop with their cabooses dangling across Naito Parkway...during rush hour.

It’s possible to replace this madness with a steady drip of low-grade joy: Ride a bike.

While Portland is a terrible place to drive, it’s a nearly perfect place to cycle. Our meandering, mildly hilly streets seem almost designed for a charming ride; our weather is moderate and our bike culture is the most advanced in the country. Though a flat tire on a rainy Tuesday night in mid-January will complicate a year-round rider’s relationship with her bike in a way people who ride the Esplanade on a sunny Saturday won’t understand, we’re on them because we (mostly) love them.

Despite what you may hear yelled from the window of an SUV, a recent study suggests nine out of 10 Portland-area bike commuters also own a car. They’re not riding for lack of options, they’re enjoying one of the great luxuries of life in Portland. This is one of the few American cities where you can properly enjoy this perfect human-powered machine, and enjoy it you should.

For our annual celebration of bikes, we had a staffer who’d never been on a bike in Portland cycle for a week—he survived. We also tested a battery of cycle-delivery services to find great bike-based pizza delivery and terrible soup delivery. We analyzed bike-theft data to get some surprising facts: Who knew Thursday is bike thieves’ busiest day? If you’re ready to get a little more serious about cycling, we put together a primer with everything you need to know before your first bikepacking trip. For hardcore bike lovers, we also assembled a calendar of upcoming bike-based art events.

The benefits of biking are not just environmental, economic or health-related. It goes deeper. When you’re in a car, Portland’s knotted streets are obnoxious and other people are but a nuisance. When you’re on a bike, you appreciate the wonders of this place and the quirks of the people with whom you share it.

By bike, Portland is a better city and you’re a better person. The sooner we all realize that, the happier we’ll all be.

 
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