By Spencer Burback
Portland has always seen itself as a "bike town." But if you enjoy the fat-tire genre of riding, you've probably scoffed at that notion at some point.
Mountain bikers have always felt left out of Portland's bike culture. There has been no legal access to real mountain bike trails that feature any sort of technical features. The nearest trails were at least an hour away, making riding with any regularity difficult and expensive.
Then, on a very hot day last June, Gateway Green opened to the public. A 25-acre piece of land squeezed between the I-205 and I-84 freeways, it offers the mountain biking community a simple but much-needed playground within city limits. While we aren't completely there yet, Gateway Green is quickly helping Portland become the bike paradise it claims to be.
The entire park is hardly large by typical mountain bike standards. But what it lacks in size it makes up for with clever design. Multiple styles of trails intertwine, allowing riders to mix up the terrain. If you're looking for a good workout, it's easy to start from the highest point of elevation or the southernmost point of the park and descend the "Hillclimb" trail. It features fun and flowing banked berms and rollers that wind down to the bottom of the park. Keep heading to the right at the bottom intersection and you'll find yourself in the woods, where a few moderately sized but safe doubles help a rider maintain momentum into a mellow uphill pedal for about a quarter-mile. From there, a rider can head to the northernmost point of the park, link up with the gravel access road and pedal back to the start for another lap. Each lap takes 15 to 20 minutes.
On opening day, Gateway Green already featured a healthy balance of beginner and intermediate obstacles, but it was easy to get bored after a few visits. Fortunately, with the help of a crew of volunteers, the park's true potential is really beginning to take shape. A gathering meets weekly to "tune up" the existing trails. In just the past few weeks, they have added some brilliant berms that help riders retain more speed as they switchback their way to the bottom of the hill—think of a bobsled course with rollers and small jumps in the straight sections.
One major part of what makes Gateway Green so special is the ease of access for those living or working on the eastside of town. Portland has always had great access to bike paths and lanes, but there have never been trails to accommodate those who prefer riding off pavement. The busiest times during peak season—from late spring through early fall—are after five until dark, so it's evident that riders are using the park as a quick escape post-work. Very often, you'll see gridlocked traffic on all sides as you carve your way down the slope on the flowing, ribbonlike trails.
Pro tip for those who don't live within city limits: Bring your bike to work and head to Gateway Green immediately afterward. Ride for an hour or so, then hop back on the freeway. Chances are, you'll get home not long after you would have had you just sat in traffic wasting fuel.
Spencer Burback is a former professional mountain biker.