Stub Stewart State Park is a well-known bike touring destination for Portland-area bicyclists. Located off the Banks-Vernonia Trail, it is a relaxing car-free experience to gently ride up the rail trail through the forests in the foothills of the coast range. It is also featured in the Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway video we filmed. We’ve ridden there about a dozen times and have always treated “Stub,” as it is affectionately called, as an end destination for a quick bike overnight.
Over the last year or so, we’ve become more interested in mixed terrain road riding. After joining the Gravel Working Group on a recon ride a few weeks ago, and getting a sample of some of the great quiet roads in the area, we decided to try treating Stub as a basecamp for further adventure.
Usually, we take the Max out to Hillsboro and ride this route, which puts you on about 10 miles of quiet country roads before the start of the Banks-Vernonia Trail. We actually prefer this route to the official Scenic Bikeway route. It is a bit shorter, a lot less traffic, with fewer major street crossings. If you’re a beginner bike tourist or even a family, it is probably the recommended route.
We wanted a few more miles in our legs so we took this route from Portland all the way to Stub. It was our first time riding there without taking MAX. You essentially leave Portland on HWY 30, climb over the West Hills via Saltzman, ride about a mile on Skyline, descend via Springville, and weave your way through a strange tapestry of suburban trails to country roads.
The route was circuitous and strange, but generally low stress. At one point, you make a left on a gravel service road for 500 feet beneath some power lines. It looks like you are going the wrong way, but you’re not. If you attempt this route, I’d highly recommend taking a GPS, especially if you are not familiar with the trail system. When you get to Banks, it is pretty straight-forward. Hop on the trail and head into the hills.
If you need a lunch break, the Banks Cafe makes some solid hamburgers (GF bread available), has free wi-fi and even some craft beers on tap! Not bad for a tiny town. A little further down the street is the Trailhead Cafe with a green bike out front. They have coffee and focus on more breakfast-type items (the breakfast burrito was a good 2nd breakfast for the ride back to PDX).
Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets about Stub is its cabins! We’ve tented at Stub, but during the colder months, the cabins are really the best option. They are all wood and are outfitted with a futon, bunk-bed, a small dining table, and lamp. The have heat and electricity inside, as well as a fire ring (wood is available from the camp host) and picnic table outside. Bathrooms and hot showers are a short walk to a separate building. They all have a porch with a bench that overlook the coastal range (for best views, book cabins 11 or 12!).
If you are into mountain biking, there is a trail network that you can connect to from the cabins. If you are into disc golf, a short walk down the hill and you are on the course. The price is more than reasonable at $44 a night. They are popular during the summer months and weekends, but if you have a flexible schedule, going midweek almost ensures you’ll have a quiet stay.
As a side note, there are no kitchen facilities, so bring your camp cooking gear. We brought along a small electric kettle, which was awesome for not only making coffee, but for cooking dehydrated mashed potatoes and oatmeal.
The only caveat is that, if you come on bike, be prepared for a one mile slog up-hill to get to the cabin village. While nothing terrible, the road from the trail to the cabins tops out at about 9% grade. If you are hauling kids or a super heavy load, there’s no shame in walking and enjoying the view.
For us, riding in the area around Banks and Vernonia is relatively undiscovered terrain. We are car-free, so just getting out to Stub is essentially a day ride. By treating the cabins as a basecamp, it has opened up our range of roads to explore. There are two routes that have been mapped out in the area by a friend of ours, a local gravel road connoisseur. One of them starts from Banks, and a slightly longer one starts from Vernonia.
Having ridden the one from Banks with the recon group and knowing that it was a good ride, we opted for a modified version of that one. We had a chilly descent down to the Manning Trailhead and picked up the route there. After crossing the 26, we hopped on Hayward Rd, which essentially climbs in earnest. It is initially paved but quickly turns into a great gravel country road. It is important to note that, although the roads seem blissfully empty, you should still generally be aware of the errant vehicle which will definitely not be expecting you.
There are a few houses and small farms along the route and more than a few dogs. For the most part they kept away, but there is a chocolate brown boxer that lives at the top of a hill that got a little bitey during the recon ride a few weeks ago. I was carrying a friend’s Dazzer as insurance. If you are uncomfortable around dogs, this is worth noting. Generally, having some sort of deterrent or plan if a dog gets a little over anxious is a good idea.
The route climbs at a fairly steady pace, with the occasional 14% grade spike. You’ll meander along a rolling ridge before a fast descent to Cedar Canyon Rd that you take into Banks.
The gravel roads this time of year are hard packed and fast! Conditions will change as things dry out, or if there are logging trucks using the roads. I was riding on 33.3mm Jack Brown tires and they were perfect. Laura was riding on 28mm Panaracer GravelKings, which is probably as small as you’d want to go.
After another lunch in Banks, we headed back up to the cabin. Although it was sunny, it was still cold, so we decided to call it a day. The area definitely calls for more exploration when the weather is warmer and the days are a little longer. The next day, we left Stub and rode back to the Hillsboro MAX station and took it back to Portland.
Stub Stewart is a great bike touring destination, but it is also an ideal basecamp for gravel rides. We, admittedly, barely scratched the surface, but are planning to go back again and spend more time riding other routes. It is easy to imagine some awesome 3-night cabin stays in the summer when the days are long, riding loops around the area and ending every evening with a campfire, cold beers, and watching the sunset behind the mountains!
Bicycle adventures come in all shapes and sizes. From epic multi-month tours on dirt roads in remote places, to shorter trips not too far from town. Since putting down some roots in Portland to get serious about promoting bicycle tourism, our trips have been of the far shorter variety. I had coffee with our friend Joshua Bryant a local frame builder in town the other day. He had just come back from a snowy bike overnight testing out his latest creation, the NFD (National Forest Development) bike. We talked briefly about the idea of doing a bike tour every month, calling it an “S24O R-12″ or something like that.
For the non bike geeks out there “S24O” is a bike tour that you complete in less than 24 hours. You essentially ride out in the afternoon, overnight somewhere and come back the next morning. “R-12” is a term borrowed from the randonneuring community, that denotes a rider that completes a randonneuring event of 200k or longer in 12 consecutive months.
What I’m proposing is nothing as rigid or stringent, but just a little impetus to get people “out there” on the bike. Looking back (way back), I had set this as a New Year’s resolution in 2008, little did I know where it would take us. It seems like a good time to take on this resolution again. Who’s with us?!
So here’s the ground rules.
-You must complete one overnight bike trip per month for 12 consecutive months.
-Since this whole challenge thing is starting mid-January, you can double up in February.
-You can stay for more than one night.
-While tenting is preferred, an overnight to a cabin or yurt is perfectly acceptable especially in the colder months.
-Bikepacking or bike touring or bike whatevering is OK!
-There is no minimum or maximum distance you have to ride.
-You must have fun. This is not meant to be a death march.
-If you use Instagram, tag your photos #BikeTourR12 (to avoid a nonsensical hashtag like S24OR12 or something).
-Post some photos to the Bike Tour a Month Flickr Group! Prep and gear photos are totally OK and encouraged.
-Use the tag #BikeTourR12
That’s it! Again, this is really meant to just get us out there having fun.
This month, we are biking out to Stub Stewart State Park this week to stay in a cabin. We’ve toured there before and have usually treated it as the end destination. This time, we’re spending a few days there so we can use it to explore some local gravel roads. We’ll put up a separate post about that when we get back. If you want to follow along on Instagram we’re using the tag #gravelgetaway.
How much information can you share in 15 seconds? During the winter months we have more editing than filming and riding going on. Always one to keep honing our storytelling skills, we’ve started a mini project on our Instagram account reviewing products in 15 seconds! Check out the first one below and follow the hashtag #Reviewedin15Seconds.
Over the last five years the ways we try to tell a story have changed. At first it was purely words and photography, then a few (really) rough videos to more polished work as our skills have improved. I’ve become really enamored with the idea of short form videos. All the videos we’ve produced for the Oregon Scenic Bikeways are under two minutes. This week I’ve been playing with Instagram videos. The time limit is 15 seconds, which is actually a pretty decent length of time to get a targeted message across. These are still pretty rough sandbox type sketches, but something we hope to do more of in the future. If you’re interested, follow us on Instagram. What do you think of short form video content?
What is #bikefishing ? Tag your ride and rod adventures! #oregontroutback #flyfishing #biketouring #bikepacking #fatbike #roadslikethese #outsideisfred #outsideisfree #campvibes #gh4 #lumix #deschutes #traveloregon #oregonexplored #tenkara #redingtonreleased #echolife #findyourwater #rideyourwater #salmonfly @redingtongear @redsflyshop @tenkarausa @johnprolly @patagonia @salsacycles @qualitybike @cogburnoutdoors @waterworkslamson @echoflyfishing @simmsfishing @statebicycleco
Ever since our experience on the Otago Rail Trail in New Zealand, where we saw first hand how a trail can re-vitalize a rural region, we’ve been looking for a similar stories in the US. A few weeks ago, we had a whirlwind trip traveling from Iowa to Ontario, Canada to San Diego. We were in Iowa for a week and explored some of the numerous trails the state has to offer. Unbeknownst to us, there is a pretty robust trail system in the state. Many of them passing through small towns and are slowly being recognized as tourism attractions.
Perhaps the most significant trail that everyone was talking about was the High Trestle Trail, so named because of an architecturally stunning bridge that spans the Des Moines River. The bridge’s design pays homage to the mining in the area. Looking straight down the trail, you get the visual illusion of looking down a mine shaft. Since the opening of the bridge, it has become the darling of the region attracting visitors from all over the US. It has become a new tradition to ride through the bridge, especially at night when it is illuminated. More significantly, the 25 mile trail is beginning to make serious economic impact to the towns it traverses.
We interviewed Scott Olson, co-owner of the Flat Tire Lounge, that literally sits right next to the trail in the town of Madrid, Iowa (pronounced “MAD-rid”). It was fascinating to hear how their sleepy town was being rediscovered because of the trail and particularly about the new businesses that were opening in town because of the trail.
We have to admit, when we first heard about bikeshare, we were a bit skeptical. The real cause of low ridership, we thought, wasn’t a lack of bikes, but a lack of safe places to ride. Bikeshare has since rolled out in many cities and we’ve had a chance to ride multiple systems over the last year.
We first tried them out of curiosity during a business trip, to see what the big deal was. When we threw a leg over, we weren’t that impressed. The bikes were heavy, awkward, and had the grace of pushing around a loaded shopping cart. But after a few minutes, we got used to the lumbering beast of a bike, and actually started to have fun, despite ourselves.
When we were in Austin, TX (which has a fairly robust system), we were surprised at the range of people using the bikes. They weren’t “bikey” people, but casual riders running errands or curious tourists giving them a try. In Fort Worth, TX, we saw parents on bikeshare bikes riding the Trinity Trails with their kids, and tourists riding them to the different pop-up restaurants along the river trail.
That was our “ah ha” moment, because it was a completely different use than we had expected. The bikes weren’t used as a strictly utilitarian transportation device, but as a tourism asset for visitors to more efficiently explore and enjoy waterfronts, restaurants, and retail districts. We were sold.
During our current trip through the Midwest, we’ve used bikeshare systems in both Omaha, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa. We are on a pretty grueling schedule of speaking, presentations, and conferences, without too many chances to get some exercise. As an alternative to spinning away in the stuffy and sweaty fitness rooms of various hotels, we’ve taken out bikeshare bikes at every opportunity. In this context, the heaviness of the bike just adds to the workout. Not only do we get to stretch the legs but we get to do some sightseeing as well. Speaking with a person from the chamber in Des Moines, she said that they were also finding visitors among the highest users of bikeshare.
This makes a lot of sense. Bikeshare bikes are relatively inexpensive compared to a bike rental, and they are often placed near popular civic spaces (parks, waterfronts, bike trails, business districts). This combination of affordability and accessibility, in desirable locations, make them a great mode for pedaling tourists. As “business travelers” during the last few weeks, they have been a blessed alternative to hotel fitness rooms.
While we were skeptical at first, we’ve turned the corner and have become fans. When/if Portland does get its own bikeshare system, we probably won’t use them, since we already have a stable of bikes at our disposal. But when we travel without bikes to other cities, we’ll probably ditch the cab whenever we can and throw a leg over these odd lumbering beasts.
For the last two years we’ve been following the fascinating story of TREO Ranches, a bird hunting lodge owned by Phil Carlson and his wife Cathy. They had been looking for a way to create a second income during the hunting off-season to keep their staff employed and through a serious of fortuitous encounters, decided to cater to cyclists. A few months ago, we finally got the chance to make a visit and interview him about his TREO Bike Tours.
Phil is not your typical bicycle business entrepreneur (he freely admits to not riding a bicycle), but his ranch is situated in a veritable bicyclists playground in Eastern Oregon with hundreds of miles of empty paved and gravel roads. While he doesn’t ride a bike himself, he sees the potential value in bicycle tourism. Phil is not the sort of person to take half measures. He has invested heavily into making the bicycling portion of his ranch a success, both with time and money. He took the week long bicycle mechanic course at UBI, he was a common site at Sunday Parkways in Portland this year and he has purchased and outfitted a full service bus and trailer to run his bicycle tours.
Phil is also important in that he provides a rural voice that is supportive of bicycling. He can speak about the positives and potential problems with bicycle tourism. He talked at length (though not included in the final edit) about how being bike-friendly is a two way street and that bicyclists have to be farm-friendly as well. There are signs in his lodge instructing bicyclists to share the road and respect the property rights of the local farmers.
We are pretty excited to share this video since we feel it provides a great rural perspective on bicycling that is lost in our current dialog. Bicycling on the national level focuses primarily on the urban story, often forgetting that a lot of the country is rural. The problem with that is that if we can’t make the case for bicycling in rural America, we are disregarding and ignoring a lot of potential supporters. Sit back and enjoy!
A few months ago we took a little sojourn out to Eastern Oregon to capture some interesting bicycle tourism stories out there. We visited with Kim and his wife Anita, who use to own Mountain Works bike shop in La Grande, Oregon (their daughter and son-in-law run it now) and are now embarking on a new venture during their “retirement.” They are running one of the few pedal rail cars in the US!
What started out as a whim has become a pretty serious business for them and came about through some rather fortuitous circumstances. Unlike most rail in the US that is owned by a railroad company, the stretch of unused rail they are operating on is owned by the county. Through lots of meetings, conversations and perseverance they were able to get their pedal powered excursion machines up and running. One of the toughest obstacles was finding insurance, since there are virtually no other operations like it in the US. The insurance had lots of safety stipulations, so riders are required to wear a helmet and a seat belt.
Safety accoutrements aside, the rail riders are a blast! The current route goes from Joseph to Enterprise and back and takes about two hours depending on your pedaling speed. There are plans to offer a longer day route in the future. We crashed a large party that rented nearly all the cars for a family event. Everyone we spoke to were extremely excited about it and were all having a great time. The Joseph Branch Rail Riders is seasonal and doesn’t operate during the winter, but start planning your Spring and Summer trips now!
Bicycle tours, bike touring, bicycle tourism….the terms all sound similar but they mean different things. To clear up some terminology, we made a little video that gives a definition of bicycle tourism and what sort of behaviors it captures. Sit back and enjoy!
We’ve only just begun to catch up on rest from our shoot in El Paso, TX and Las Cruces and we’re already planning the next month of travel! In a few weeks we are going on a speaking tour of sorts, presenting about bike tourism at various conferences. We’ll be in Iowa, Ontario and San Diego spreading what we’ve learned about bicycles as economic development. Bicycle tourism manifests itself in many forms and one of the most visible ways is the multi day supported bike tour. Perhaps the mother of all event rides is RAGBRAI which is the country’s largest multi day event ride. Bicycling tourism is a big deal in Iowa and generates $365 million dollars a year in economic impact anually.
A few years ago we had the opportunity to film Cycle Oregon, a RAGBRAI inspired tour in Oregon. Cycle Oregon from its very beginning was conceived as a way to bring people from urban areas to ride in the rural areas that were getting hit hard by the decline of the timber industry. The first Cycle Oregon is riddled with stories of riders going hungry from not enough food and small towns overwhelmed and surprised by a thousand lycra clad visitors. 25 years later, Cycle Oregon has matured into a well oiled machine both logistically and philanthropically. Not only does Cycle Oregon create a huge economic impact during the event, but it also offers grants to host communities. Perhaps more interestingly, many riders that have a good experience in a town during Cycle Oregon will often return to visit again.
We made a half hour documentary on Cycle Oregon’s 25th anniversary ride a few years ago. Here is an edit that gets to the spirit of the ride and the possibilities of bikes as economic development.