March 9th, 2005 Joel Smith | Special Section Stories
 

1976

     
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The Bicycle Repair Collective marked the arrival of a 10-speed ethos.

Two-Wheel Tango

The night before Anndy Wiselogle and Bart Jones opened the Bicycle Repair Collective, did they go to bed dreaming of yellow bikes? Bike paths? Zoobombers?

When they set up shop at Southeast 19th Avenue and Ankeny Street in the summer of 1976, the pair of grease-stained gearheads had a vision: a bikers' mecca, run by the people for the people. They didn't want to sell shiny new Schwinns, but to teach folks how to fix up the bikes they already had-and to wean them away from the internal-combustion engine in the midst of a ballooning energy crisis.

"We had a passion for empowering people," Wiselogle recalls, "a passion for bikes...and $200 to cover the first month's rent."

It wasn't obvious at the time, but looking back the Bicycle Repair Collective (which has since moved to Southeast Belmont Street) marked the start of a 10-speed ethos that was just starting to pull up kickstands across the country. What Portland's small but loyal cycling community was beginning to understand was this: Despite the rain and the hills, Portland was the perfect town for bikes.

For starters, Portland "didn't redevelop itself strictly for cars in the '40s and '50s as much as other places did," according to Steve Dotterrer of the city's Bureau of Planning. Its short blocks were friendly to bikes and pedestrians alike. Downtown traffic lights were set at a leisurely 12 miles per hour, so "people like myself were willing to ride in the downtown environment without bike lanes," Dotterrer says.

Combine that with the kind of grassroots activism that blocked the Mount Hood Freeway and the progressive thinking that led to the urban growth boundary. Then overlay a farsighted bit of legislation known as the Bicycle Bill, which paved the way for state-funded bike facilities throughout Oregon, and the course was set for a bicycle revolution.

The character of that revolution turned out to be, fittingly, somewhat circular. Bike-friendly laws encouraged more bicyclists; more bicyclists prompted the city to create more bike lanes and racks; which attracted more bicyclists; who pushed for more bike-friendly development.

In the 1980s, bike advocates got political and politicos became advocates. Bud Clark coasted into City Hall on a clunky Univega, proving that bikes weren't just for the lithe and Lycra-clad.

Clark was "kind of a pedaling poster" for a strongly pro-bike City Council at the time, says former commissioner (now U.S. Congressman) Earl Blumenauer, a confirmed bike nut who spearheaded the city's two-wheeled efforts. The city reached out to pedaling groups like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, formed in 1990. Together they put bike access on bridges, got hooks and carriers installed on TriMet's entire bus fleet and built the bulk of Portland's current 225 miles of bikeways.

And the wheels kept rolling. The 1990s saw the birth of Chunk 666, a gang of bike-building, Pabst-swilling Dr. Frankensteins. In 1994, two gearheads fixed up a few hundred old rustbuckets, painted them yellow and gave them away, a stunt that forever cemented Portland's reputation as a bike city in the national imagination. Not to mention Critical Mass, bike polo and the Zoobombers, who make Sunday-night runs from the Oregon Zoo.

"We've never quite forgotten our roots," says Rep. Blumenauer. "[Bicycling] is ready-made for our ethic. It's another case of Portland going back to the future."

The revolution is far from over. So far it has been marked by the collective labor of progressive pols, law-savvy advocates, kooks, freaks, visionaries and ordinary riders. Working together as equals. Fixing what's broke. Building anew from the old. It sounds a lot like the original vision of the Bicycle Repair Collective.

Please pass the grease.


* Mayor Neil Goldschmidt rings in the new year by announcing that police patrol cars will be equipped with shotguns.

* Unemployed father Thomas Arthur Bornson holds three hostages at knifepoint at the state welfare office on Southeast 122nd Avenue. He surrenders when the sheriff agrees to give his wife and six children food stamps and a welfare check. "This is the only way I knew of to get attention and help," says Bornson, who lives in a school bus. He is later investigated for welfare fraud.

* Pedestrians and bus riders jam Southwest 6th Avenue sidewalks during Operation Big Switch, the city's plan to build the new downtown transit mall. Anticipated traffic jams fail to materialize despite street closures and altered routes.

* After 17 years of exile in Finland, house painter William A. Mackie, 66, returns to his Portland home following a reprieve arranged by U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield. Mackie was deported in 1960 for violating a retroactive McCarthy-era law against joining "subversive organizations." He had joined the Workers' Alliance during the Depression.

* Alarmed by the potential hazard to pedestrians, traffic and the sidewalk surfers themselves, the City Council bans skateboards from downtown Portland.

* Old Town police walk the beat "bobby"-style and don 1910 uniforms à la Keystone Kops. The uniforms are part of a recommendation by the Portland Police Historical Society's museum committee to attract tourists. Most frequently asked question of the nostalgically coutured officers: "Are you for real?"

* WW's first mention of punk rock appears in a review of Lou Reed's Rock and Roll Heart and the Patti Smith Group's Radio Ethiopia.

* The last of Yamhill Street's open-air markets goes the way of penny candy and carriage rides when greengrocer Fugini Brothers closes July 31. Customers are disappointed. "My family has been coming here for 40 years, and you can't buy nicer fruit anywhere," says Molly Flood. "I'm going to write the mayor."

* Tilt! Pinball wizards flip when IRS agents raid 23 game parlors and confiscate 61 machines in August. Agents claim the owners failed to pay the $250 annual tax.

* Waterfront Park's metamorphosis from skid road to showplace begins during Neighborfair. Israeli dancers hava nagila and swamis look into the future during a daylong festival that draws 50,000 visitors.

* WW reports that "romantic ballroom dancing is all the rage."

* Cool cats jam weekly and mellow out at Earth Tavern's Hot Jazz Society, where Oregon Symphony maestros get down with bluegrass strummers. The Tuesday night sessions provide a smooth and reliable venue for local jazz aficionados.

* Italian opera inaugurates Portland State's new Lincoln Hall when Cosi Fan Tutte opens in the acoustically correct auditorium after five years of planning and $1.6 million in renovations.

* In June, the Trail Blazers fire head coach Lenny Wilkens and hire Jack Ramsay.

* Surburban video freaks zap enemy ships at the Electric Palace. The squeaky-clean arcade allows no profanity, drinking, smoking or loitering but features 40 newfangled games, including Sea Wolf, Indy 800 and Stunt Cycle.

* Former Portlander Lindsay Wagner, a.k.a. the Bionic Woman, flexes her celebrity muscle in support of Democrat Blaine Whipple's bid for secretary of state. TV's techno-babe also provides plenty of photo ops for the rich and influential.


30th ANNIVERSARY MENU: INTRODUCTION

TIMELINE:
1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004

FEATURES: Hell on Wheels: John Callahan | Neil Goldschmidt's Web of Power | Gus Van Zant: The Camera Man | Homer's Odyssey: Matt Groening | Quadruple Expresso: MAX Makes Tracks | Nike's Achilles' Heel | Biting Our Time: Restaurants Revisited | Highway to Hell

 
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