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Local Bike Routes to Keep You Riding During the Pandemic

Riding bikes is one of the things that keeps me sane and healthy in general, during the coronavirus pandemic all the more so. There is something about the feeling of bike wind rushing through your limbs that makes you feel like you’re really going somewhere, really traveling, even when you’re close to home. These are just a few of the local bike routes I recommend and outlines of actual rides I’ve been on recently.

I initially wrote this post weeks ago. Since then we have had a lot more than just (haha) the pandemic to contend with also. I’m going to assume you’re aware of the protests of police brutality but if you want to check out what a couple of black, LGBTQ, and outdoors folks have to say about companies’ responses check out my Black Lives Matter, “Happy” Pride Month post. With so much going on I almost abandoned this post. But a bike ride can be just the respite we need from news and action so I decided to finally put this out there.

Bike rides also provide a lower risk way of hanging out with your friends when you know it’s still not safe to have a party. Even though you feel like you’re having an experience together, seldom are you within 6 feet of your fellow cyclists. And in this late spring/early summer weather mashup that Portland loves to provide you only need to make slight adjustments whether its hot and sunny, cool and overcast or even just a tad drizzly.

As the weather warms, bike camping is also a fun option, and doesn’t necessarily require a dedicated campground. Though if they are open soon, there are several hiker/biker sites that allow camping for about 7 or 8 dollars a night throughout Oregon and Washington, many within cycling distance. If you need advice on how to get started you can check out my article on first-time cycle tourists of size that I wrote for Fatventure. I also have a helpful post about what gear you’ll need. It may be a bit overkill for a 1 or 2-night bike camping trip but you can pare down a bit for your own needs as it outlines all the basics. Lastly, you can check out a rundown of a couple of rides I did a couple of years ago that take you north to Battleground Lake State Park or west to some private campgrounds if you want some more ideas of where you might go for a quick overnighter.

So here’s the lowdown on some easy rides I’ve taken that should be good for almost any level of rider with a link to more information courtesy the city of Portland at the end.

Smith & Bybee Lakes to Kelly Point Park

The first longish ride we took as the pandemic descended was just a couple of days before everything really got locked down. But the writing was on the wall so I called it End of Days, End of App. But it was also at the kind of end of Portland. That little tip at the end of westernmost North Portland neighborhood St Johns (which back in the day used to be its own town) is the confluence of Portland’s two most important among our many rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia. The final destination of this ride by Smith & Bybee Lakes is called Kelly Point and it’s is really a great route if you want an easy ride that involves water and has a fair bit of multiuse path off-road options but is a mixture of neighborhood and more out-of-town feeling rides. Plus you can stop and hop off the bike to walk around interesting marshlands.

Woman on a bike ride on a riverbank
Look at this cutie with her wheels in the sand at Kelly Point Park. Plus peep that little snow covered mountain (Wy’East) in the background.

Riding on roads is one of the things that scare away beginners, so this is also a good ride for them, although right now there is less traffic than usual and the city of Portland has enhanced its neighborhood greenways to become a new initiative called “Slow Streets.” A new strategy to “…repurpose streets, including closing them to car traffic, to make it easier and safer for Portlanders to practice physical distancing as the city recovers” reads a statement released by PBOT by way of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. Check out a map and further explanation the city of Portland’s website.

Sauvie Island

Another popular place to ride by the water is Sauvie Island. It’s about a 12-mile loop around the island itself, more if you bike down the beach area. You can drive up and park near the bridge or just ride from town, which will add 10-15 miles each way, depending on where you’re coming from exactly. Popularity may dissuade you and I wouldn’t blame you, but Sauvies is a beautiful island and there are just a few less cars than usual on streets that don’t usually have a shoulder, so it’s honestly not the worst time to go.

Woman drinking on a riverbank on a local bike ride
Just a little roadie sodie on the Columbia riverbank on Sauvies Island.

The island also offers a cute little garden nursey on the island called Cistus that’s remained open during the pandemic, with strict measures in place about mask-wearing and where you can walk when. But it was a welcome chance to walk amongst fields of plants, both native and international, as I chose some new houseplants. We opted to take a short stop to sip and snack along the Columbia and while there were definitely others there walking dogs and even trying to dip into the chilly water, there was plenty of room to keep socially distant.

Marine Drive

Lastly, for those who want to stay a little closer to home (especially for those in Nopo or on the eastside) Marine drive is always a nice ride. It’s another along the water that has its own separate multi-use path. I’ve found the two easiest entry points to be from Vancouver Avenue or from 33rd.

If getting to it from Vancouver you’ll have to wind through a small mixture of industrial and swampy neighborhoods until the bike path technically begins somewhere around Salty’s. And on 33rd you’ll have to cross an overpass so you can get across Columbia Blvd that some might find a little intimidating if you’re afraid of heights, but it’s really not too bad.

The ride we did recently (above) we really didn’t go very far, just wanting a quick jaunt to some river-gazing, but Marine drive continues well past 205 probably almost to Troutdale? I dunno, I think I’ve only ever been a little farther than Costco. Here’s one from pre-pandemic times where I go as far as 158th.

Essentially though, Portland is just a great place to ride around even within town. I’m constantly heading up Willamette Blvd between North Portland, University Park, and all the way down to St Johns. This is a nice ride with some views of the river and train tracks (industrial as it may be) on one side and cute houses on the other. And it’s not too far from the bluffs if you want to chill and watch the sunset at the end of the ride.

For those closer in and/or farther south the Eastbank Esplanade that flows into the Springwater Corridor is also a great bet. It even connects to the 205 path and the aforementioned Marine Drive in a big loop around town called the Intertwine.

Then, of course, there’s the iconic Banks-Vernonia Trail, but it may be crowded and some facilities closed. But I have done bike rides in various pieces of it at various times if you want to check out those routes and elevation profiles.

But my fav example to show might just be this little trip we took to the SideYard Farm, an urban, queer-owned farm that hosted a socially distant Farmer’s Market early on in the pandemic. They now offer direct-to-consumer produce that was previously only available to restaurants. But yeah, I also chose to feature it here because it fits with my desire to cleverly title as many rides as possible. You can check my last post for ones that I think just might actually be a little funny.

I’ve touched on a couple of these rides here but the city of Portland has a since concise list of 9 great bike rides around Portland, complete with downloadable maps, mileage, turn-by-turn directions, and a quick rundown of how tough the elevation profile is. Travel Portland, with whom I’d been working until this GD virus, also has some good local bike resources (and I helped put together the page on their new website, so I’m happily biased).

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