A few weeks ago, we joined a recon team coordinated by Travel Oregon, for four days, to look at the feasibility of fatbiking the Oregon Coast. Bike tour operators like CogWild, Limberlost, The Bicycle Concierge and Pedal Bike Tours were on the trip to see if it would be a product they could develop. We pedaled along stretches that were already known fatbiking destinations, but also got to ride some areas where no fatbikes (or any bikes) had gone before. Here are 7 tips to keep in mind when you fatbike Oregon’s rugged coast.
1. Sand and cameras don’t mix
Fatbiking the Oregon Coast is an amazing and scenic experience. You will no doubt want to bring the good camera and take photos of your trip! However, take note of the sand. To say that there is a lot of sand at the coast is to state the obvious. However, weeks later, we are still cleaning sand out of shoes and clothes we brought on the trip! If you bring a DSLR, it’s a good idea to not change lenses anywhere on the beach if the wind is blowing (which is always). I’m also not a fan of protective filters, but the coast is one place you definitely want one!
2. Saltwater is not your bike’s friend
While shots of you and your buddies kicking up water from incoming waves looks rad, it will wreak havoc on your bicycle’s drive train in short order. On our first day of riding, we were riding against the wind on some off-camber sand. It was tricky to stay upright and find a good surface to ride on. The dry sand was too soft to ride on, so we had to ride near the breaking waves on wet sand. Occasionally a sneaker wave would come up and hit our bikes. You knew instantly, because the bike stopped sounding like a well-oiled machine and more like a coffee grinder! We even had a rider break his chain after getting hit with one too many waves.
3. Sea caves and tidal pools are rad
The most stunning features that we encountered while fatbiking the coast were the sections with rock formations and tidal pools. During low tide, you can pedal to and through these features. Pedaling through caves and around tidal pools, looking at momentarily-exposed sea life, reminded me of grade school field trips… but a lot more fun. For the best intel on where to find these spots and how to get to them, you want to contact Karl from South Coast Bicycles and Daniella and Elliot from Bike Newport. They have been fatbiking the coast for the last few years and know the primo locations.
4. Snowy Plover Patrol
The Snowy Plover is a cute diminutive bird that nests in the sand on the Oregon Coast. Invasive beach grass has ruined a lot of their natural habitat and they are now one of Oregon’s threatened bird species. Because of this, lots of efforts are in motion to protect them. This means that during their breeding season, many stretches of beach are closed to all human traffic. Volunteers monitor and patrol the coastline to help educate the public, but also enforce the beach closures. They take their job seriously. Before mapping a stretch of beach to fatbike on, be sure to check with local resources about Snowy Plover related beach closures.
5. It’s a Jigsaw Puzzle
Oregon’s coast unfortunately is not a giant continuous beach path. Although there are long swaths of pristine beach to pedal on, these sections are broken up by rocky headlands and wide uncrossable river outlets. On our recon trip, we had multiple creek and river crossings where we had to wade through the water (best done at low tide). Access to the beach is also an issue. Sometimes getting to a section of beach meant going down a steep trail to only ride a 2 mile stretch to then scramble up the bluff with bike in tow. The romantic idea of pedaling every inch of the Oregon Coast as an alternative to the 101 just isn’t possible. Currently, basecamping at a few key destinations and exploring on day trips seems to be the best way to experience the coast.
Oregon’s rugged coast makes a continuous route challenging.
One of the unique features you’ll encounter on the Oregon coast are sand dunes. They vary from small rolling hills to mega Dunes like the one at Pacific City (which conveniently rolls downhill to Pelican Brewery). If you’ve never fatbiked on a dune before, there’s a few things to keep in mind. Their rideability is extremely variable. On super soft sand, expect to either nearly completely deflate your tires to get some float, or prepare to push your bike. In general, the windward sides of dunes tend to be firmer and harder packed. After a rain, dunes can firm up and be very rideable. Laura had a blast hiking up the dunes and bombing down. The best way to think of them is as a giant sandy skate park that you session on, rather than something that is navigable. If you plan to traverse dunes, it’s going to take a lot longer than you think.
Expect some long walks on the beach.
7. Rent a bike / hire a guide
We’re usually fans of using our own gear, but would totally make concessions to fatbike the coast. Outside the logistics of finding fatbike-compatible car racks, the daily maintenance required to keep your bike from rusting or grinding itself in a slow death is considerable. For us, this is an instance when it makes sense to pay a little extra to have someone else deal with it. The folks at South Coast Bicycles and Bike Newport have fleets of fatbikes for rent and know where to ride them. If you want a simple turnkey way to fatbike the coast, contact them. If you want a multi-day experience that takes you to some lesser pedaled locations, CogWild will soon be putting together a package from some of the cool places we rode through. If you’re coming from the Portland metro-area, The Bicycle Concierge has a van and fleet of fat bikes for your next excursion.
We are headed to Iowa! We had a chance to explore a bit of the state last year and are coming back to find some of Iowa’s most interesting riding experiences. If you’d like to join us for a ride or make suggestions about what to check out in the following areas, send us a message! Here are our riding dates:
Taco Ride (5/28) and the Wabash Trace (5/29-5-30)
The taco ride out of Council Bluffs, Iowa is so popular it was turned into a commercial for Jennie-O. We want to check it out first hand. We are also planning to ride the rest of the Wabash Trace to explore some of the cool small towns along the way. Last year we were super impressed by the tiny community of Imogene that turned a quonset hut into a makeshift bicycle hub!
Gravel Grinnell (6/1 – 6/2)
The quaint college town of Grinnell has played host to one of Iowa’s most legendary races, Trans-Iowa. This year was particularly epic, with peanut butter-like conditions that decimated the field. We’re planning to sample some of these gravel roads and find some interesting things to do along the way.
Decorah (6/4 – 6/5)
Iowa has the reputation of being flat as a pancake. Local riders in Decorah beg to differ. We are headed to this charming small town to find some of the hilliest (you heard us right!) in Iowa. After punishing the legs for a bit, we’re going to check out the very tantalizingly named Trout Run Trail (hello, #bikefishing!).
If you’d like to meet up with us and ride along, send us an email!
We shot this earlier in the summer but it has finally been released. Like many, we have been guilty of just passing through Madras on our way to Bend. After the filming, we’ve discovered that there are little gems of roads with spectacular views. Also not to mention some surprisingly good food in both Madras and the tiny town of Culver!
You’ve got to love a brewery whose owners are super excited about bike tourists and bike tourism! We made the bike ride out to Cascade Locks, along the Historic Columbia River Highway, toting our video gear, to interview the founders of Thunder Island Brewery. Dave Lipps, one of the founders, is an avid bicycle tourist himself (who rode across the US and around New Zealand). Because of this perspective, he sees the real potential benefit of trying to capture the bike tourism market.
Cascade Locks is a small community that is in the crossroads of lots of outdoor recreation. Not only is it on Adventure Cycling’s Lewis and Clark route, it is situated right in the middle of the Historic Columbia River Highway and is traversed by the Pacific Crest Trail – an outdoor recreation triple threat! The brewery is a huge addition to making Cascade Locks a bike tourism destination. Not only will it provide a treat for through cyclists and hikers (it is conveniently located on the river, right next to some camping options), but it also makes the perfect day trip for Portlanders who want to ride through the Gorge and grab a good beer. Not only are Dave and Dan brewing great beers, they are also committed to and involved in making the community-at-large a more bike friendly place. They’ve worked to get funding for bike racks in town, as well as making the bike-friendly case to other businesses in town.
If you are riding the Lewis and Clark route or just a day or weekend trip through the Gorge, be sure to stop by Thunder Island when you go through Cascade Locks. (Pro Tip: their Mosaic Pale Ale is amazing!)
While the Oregon Outback was kicking off in Klamath Falls, we did a little bikepacking mini adventure of our own on the Deschutes. May is known for the epic salmonfly hatch on the D….which we pretty much missed (one lone stonefly did make an appearance at our camp on our final day of fishing to rub salt in our wounds). That said, it was still a fun trip and is probably the most accessible bikepacking trip in Oregon. We shot some video to make a little vignette of the trip, so grab some popcorn.
The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway video is finally out! This is a great ride for someone that wants to explore the rugged country of Eastern, Oregon but wants a good craft beer at the end of your ride. It is unique to other Scenic Bikeways because it is a figure 8 route so you can slice the pie any number of ways depending on how much mileage you want to do. Baker City, one of the ride’s anchors also happens to be on the Adventure Cycling TransAm Route. If you are riding across the country and want to dig a little deeper into the area this is a great route.
Some great bike friendly businesses in Baker City are Barley Browns (awesome brew pub!), Paizzano’s Pizza and the Geiser Grand. Catherine Creek State Park was a gem of a campground on route that is about as idyllic as it gets. The small town of Union has a great hardware store and serves espresso and coffee drinks as well! If you want to experience Eastern Oregon on bike, but don’t quite want to carry all your camping gear this Scenic Bikeway is a great option.
Apologies for the website being quiet. The last few months have been a whirlwind of pre-production, filming, editing (lots of editing) of Oregon Scenic Bikeway videos. We’re finally winding down for the year, which means we can partake in some actual bicycle travel! Our plan (using the term loosely) is to head South to California. We’re taking the Amtrak down to San Luis Obispo, our happy spot, to spend a few days of some leisurely riding and relaxing in the sun. From there, we’re planning a quick trip to Ventura and possibly Ojai then off to my parent’s place near Burbank for Christmas. After a few days of riding in the mountains, we’ll head South again visiting friends along the way. The trip will be an honest to goodness ramble with a loose schedule
Of course, we couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot some video and make a little series out of the trip. Episodes will be short (probably 2 to 3 minutes at the maximum), with some fun and interesting content. We’re doing no pre-production so we’re winging the stories as we go. But, if you want to meet up or have something interesting and bikey to check out email us! We’re so looking forward to exploring again by bike and hope you’ll follow along. And if you have ideas or want to meet up, don’t be shy.
It seems these days we’ve been so busy writing articles, giving presentations and creating videos ABOUT bicycle travel that we’ve hardly had a chance to do a trip ourselves. With the weather starting to warm up, we decided to pack our bikes this past Sunday and do an overnighter to one of our favorite local camp spots – Dodge Park. You can easily get to Dodge Park from the Portland metro area by taking a combination of the Springwater Trail and some country roads and that would come out to about 25 miles. But, we were itching to do some riding, so we tried an alternate route that is more scenic and hilly and comes out to just under 40 miles.
After the freeway noise of the I-205 and I-84 bike paths, we were on quieter country roads. We stopped at the small town of Troutdale and had lunch at a new bottleshop/pub Brewligans. In the corner of the pub, they recreated the perfect nostalgic mancave for men of our generation: a wood finished TV cabinet complete with a Nintendo and a bin full of games. Mental note: have to stop there for some brews and Super Mario Bros. after riding the Gorge some time
The riding was spectacular. There was little traffic and the route was beautiful with some nice shady climbs and twisty descents down to the Sandy River. It felt great to be on loaded bikes again carrying everything we would need for the next day. When we checked in at Dodge Park it was pretty empty with the exception of some people in the day use area. By the time they closed the entry gate, we were literally the only ones in the park except for the camp hosts. It made for some great sleeping with the sounds of both the Sandy and Bull river just outside our tent.
Speaking of tents, we recently picked up a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. They are having a sale right now until June 6th on the Outfitter model of the Lunar Duo. At $143 for the tent, poles and seamseal it was too hard to pass up. It is an interesting design that splits the difference between a tent and tarp. It is not freestanding and is single walled like a tarp, but has a floor and mesh walls like a tent. It was our first time setting up and using the tent so we can’t make any long term statements about it, but so far it is pretty awesome. It packs down smaller and weighs less than our Big Agnes Copperspur UL2 tent at a third of the price! Perhaps the most striking difference was the interior room which was palatial compared to tents we’ve used in the past.
Our old paella pan which we carried with us across the country came out for a bit of a campfire encore. As did our camp coffee gear and a cute pepper grinder that was gifted to us by a reader (thanks Jolene!).
After getting camp setup, I fished for a few hours without much luck (there was one nibble) and settled for the consolation prize of standing by a beautiful river and watching the sunset. There could be worse places to not catch fish.
We slept well. Tired from a day of loaded touring. Thinking back, it is almost hard to imagine the time when that was just what we did everyday, rain or shine, whether we felt like it or not. We talked a little about whether we missed the endless road much. There are some things that are truly magical about it. But interestingly, we both are really enjoying what we are doing now also, using our experiences to inspire and help make changes to facilitate bike travel in Oregon. We are glad that we did the trip when we did and don’t regret it for a second. For now, we’re happy to follow this strange new road of sorts around bicycle travel and tourism.
The next morning, we made a breakfast fire. Ate some hard-boiled eggs that Laura prepared the day before and brewed several cups of coffee. I did a little more fishing and when it looked like the fish were going to win that day, I packed it in. We pedaled up out of the river valley and headed back towards Portland, arriving at our apartment a little more than 24 hours after we left. It felt much longer though and it reminded us about the magic of bike travel. You are so engaged and in the moment that time stretches out before you like a road that never ends.
It is hard to believe, but it has almost been a year to the day since we rode the Old West Scenic Bikeway. For the unfamiliar, it is part of Oregon’s innovative Scenic Bikeway program, which is designed as an economic development tool for small towns to attract the growing bicycling travel market. Of all the bicycling initiatives and programs in Oregon (there are a lot!), the Scenic Bikeway program is nearest and dearest to our hearts. It captures the essence of what we experienced during our years on the road. Small towns and rural places are awesome for bicycle travel and the exchange can be mutually beneficial – small towns get tourism dollars and bike tourists get amazing riding experiences.
This summer, we get to work on an awesome project that combines both our love of bike travel and storytelling! Partnering with TravelOregon and the local communities, we’ll be riding, filming, photographing and telling the story of each of the Scenic Bikeways. It’s an amazing assignment that will put all our skills (both in bicycling and media creation) to the test! Since filming the OWSB a year ago, we’ve jumped headlong into video production, doing a handful of film projects with local organizations (Clever Cycles, Hop in The Saddle, Adventure Cycling) and honing our skills.
We just finished filming the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway this weekend and we are currently editing the video. Looking at the footage, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes! We’ve improved technically and have added a few tools to our video toolkit to increase production value. While our video kit is fairly small compared to what others use, it is bigger than when we road the OWSB.
McKenzie is a fairly short Scenic Bikeway with only one real climb. Since we didn’t need any camping gear, I decided to pull out all the stops and bring a tripod, slider and a jib! The first challenge was simply to figure out how to carry all equipment! I contemplated using our Burley Travoy, but a week before we left, I decided instead to make bike scabbards for the tripod and monopod. Setting up a tripod once or twice a day isn’t a big deal, but those minutes spent setting-up quickly become hours when you do it 100 times. I fashioned some crude missile-silo-looking scabbards out of PVC pipe, steel pannier hooks and bungees. The idea was that I could just stop the bike, pull out a monopod and grab some quick B-roll, without dismounting. Not elegant, but very functional. To make sure they wouldn’t fall apart in the middle of McKenzie Pass (and to get into shape), I rode with the rig up and down Mt. Tabor in Portland.
Of course, you can prepare all you want, but you won’t know what the actual conditions are going to be at a shoot until you show up. Driving over Mt. Hood to get to Sisters, things were not looking promising. The “dry side” of Oregon was anything but dry. In fact, it was down right raining. We contemplated what we would do the next day if it was raining, but opted to not make any hasty decisions until the morning. It was a gambit. If we canceled the shoot, all the time spent in pre-production, arranging of talent, accommodations and shuttles would all go down the drain. Fortunately, the next morning, the sky looked a little less threatening. There were still clouds, but there were also patches of blue. After a quick breakfast, we decided to go for it. We shot some footage of the talent checking out of their cabin at the beautiful Five Pine lodge, loading their bikes and pushing off. Then we all saddled up and headed toward McKenzie Pass.
The McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway is unique in that there is a brief window of time when a portion of the route is open to cyclists and closed to cars. The dates are different every year, due to snow levels. This year, it opened early to cyclists and will be closed off to cars until June 16th (which means you still have time to get out there and ride it!). This is the best time to experience the Bikeway (and was also the best time for us to film it). The ride itself is fairly mellow. Although you are constantly gaining elevation, the inclines are never very steep (at least going from East to West). Some of the highlights include the eerie lava landscape near the summit and the very surreal Dee Wright Observatory.
Through most of the day, we benefited from intermittent sun breaks, and that is when I would pull out the cameras and start shooting. Our talent for the video, Kristen and Jake, were good sports about riding back and forth in front of the camera. (These sorts of assignments are a mixed blessing: Yes, we are riding our bikes in amazing country, but it’s still work.) As we rode, I was constantly scanning for the best viewpoint and mentally ticking off the shots we would need for continuity. I was trying my best to get everything in a single take (I would shoot video and Laura shot stills), because the weather continually threatened to get worse and I knew I wanted to get to the summit before it started raining. About 3 miles from the top, we encountered some cyclists coming down, who told us they got snow and sleet after Windy Point.
When we got to Windy Point, the clouds were thick and we were buffeted by some really cold winds. We had taken a gamble in the morning and now that we were close to the top, we had to decide again what we were going to do. We had been lucky all day with a patch of blue sky that followed us up the climb, so we pushed on despite the warnings from the cyclists. Just as we were within spitting distance from Dee Wright, we had another sun break. We staged a few vignettes, and then it started raining (and even snowing a little bit). We quickly hustled into the observatory, set up a lunch sequence with the talent (getting all the shots as fast as possible because a cold wind was whipping through the windows), and then quickly inhaled a real lunch.
The descent down the west side was cold and wet, but about two-thirds of the way down the mountain, we got a few more sun breaks. We really wanted to do justice to the ride, despite the wet conditions. We were all slowly counting down the miles until the hot springs at the end. When we got to Belknap, we shot some arrival footage, a few quick details of the space, and the talent enjoying the hot pool – and then we sunk in and relaxed (and warmed up). After getting the hotspring footage and soaking for a few minutes, we took off for dinner at Takoda’s in the nearby community of Rainbow. We chatted with the friendly owner who also happened to be on Big Brother, listened to some local music, and enjoyed a hearty dinner.
The next day, we had to shoot some pickup footage in Sisters, and we had an amazing lunch at Open Door.
Jake and Kristin left that afternoon, but we were planning to stay in Bend for a few more days to do some mountain biking. Of course, two days after the talent left, the weather was absolutely stunning! We decided to ride back up to Dee Wright (and sadly forgo hitting the trails) to shoot more pickup shots of scenery and the lava landscape. (There are worst things to do for work than having to ride up a stunning mountain pass twice in a week.) We got some great beauty shots of the Cascades and also managed to capture a curious little chipmunk inspecting our bikes.
When we got back to Portland, I backed up and reviewed the footage, and then the real work began. Beautiful footage really doesn’t amount to much without a story, so we started writing the script (with the help of a few beers). The script writing is one of the toughest parts. Since each video is only 2 minutes long, each word has to be carefully selected to move the story along. After about a day and a half of script writing, Laura searched for music. We recorded her voice over, and I started assembling it all in Final Cut. For some, the editing process can be maddening, but I really enjoy it. There is something supremely satisfying when all the visual and aural media come together to make perfect little moments. I love photography, but more and more I am drawn to video. It is so challenging but fulfilling creatively!
Now, the video is in the hopper and is off for final approval. We’re hoping to release it soon to get people out to ride McKenzie Pass. It really is spectacular and we’re excited to be part of telling its story.
You know it will be an interesting ride when the guy at the local bike shop tells you that you probably shouldn’t try riding up the road with anything less than a mountain bike. When you tell him that you’re planning to ride it with some touring bikes, he shakes his head as if to say, “it’s your funeral” and goes back to changing the brake cable on the bike in the stand.
Our first encounter with Refugio at 2008. Albatross bars, CETMA rack and no idea what we were in for.
For almost as long as we’ve been touring, Refugio has stood out in our minds as one of the toughest rides we ever did. We first “rode” it almost five years ago early in our touring careers. It was recommended to us by a friend as a scenic way to get from Solvang to the coast. There is of course a little matter of a mountain range in the way.
Refugio before the unpaved climb is actually quite pleasant with rolling hills.
You connect to Refugio a few miles out of Solvang off the 246. When you first encounter it, the road is downright pleasant. You pass a pastoral landscape of vineyards, farmland and undulating green hills. You even cross a small creek at one point at a peaceful and shaded bridge. Its not unlike riding through a Wordsworth poem. But you can never get too comfortable, because you know in the back of your mind the idyllic landscape will transform into a rocky grueling ascent. So, enjoy it while it lasts. The moment of truth is unmistakable. A foreboding concrete barricade and a bent Road Closed sign riddled with bullet holes is the demarcation between a pleasant Sunday road ride to the start of something completely different – dirt, gravel and ruts. 23mm tires need not apply, nor those that are afraid of having to push their bike for stretches.
The bullet riddled Road Closed sign in 2008.
The same Road Closed sign 5 years later. This time we brought some friends with us.
Five years ago, this road owned us. It was the middle of summer, highs were in the 90s, the dirt and rock surface hadn’t seen a drop of rain in weeks. Loose mini boulders the size of a baby’s head were all over the place. I gave it my best effort that first mile but after I kept slipping and bouncing off my line I resorted to pushing, which with the steep grade and uneven surfaces wasn’t any easier. This is the road that made me quit clipless pedals becauuse I couldn’t clip in fast enough on the rough and steep terrain. I remember hiking the bike about 70% of the time and Laura remembers distinctly the buzzards circling overhead and wondering how curious it was to spend her birthday pushing a bike up a mountain in sweltering heat. The only consolation was that the actual climbing was only 3 miles long and it had to end at some point. I can remember the feeling of being absolutely wrecked by the time we reached the top, cursing our friend who had recommended the road and vowing never to take his navigational advice ever again.
Laura pushing her bike on her birthday, wondering how she got talked into this : )
Our friend Cynthia and her fully loaded Big Dummy, wondering the same.
Flash forward a few years and a few thousand miles and we find ourselves once again at the bottom of Refugio. This time, conditions are in our favor. The weather is hovering at about 70 degrees and by the looks of the first half mile, the winter rains have helped to fill in the loose rocks with dirt.
Still a tough climb, but we did more riding this time around and actually enjoyed it.
That’s not to say its a walk in the park. Refugio averages 11%, meaning several pitches are easily 15% or higher. We shift down into our lowest gear, try to find our Zen centers and pedal upwards. And yet something remarkable happens during the ride, it doesn’t feel quite as impossibly hard as we had remembered it. Yes, we are moving slow, but we are moving without having to get off the bike and push. Our optimism is cautious because every turn reveals some other nasty steep gravel challenge, but each time we are able to pedal through. At about 2.5 miles into the climb, we know we are going to make it. The road keeps going upward, but it is just a formality. We’ve become stronger riders not just physically but mentally. We’ve climbed longer and higher roads with heavier bikes and those experiences have given us perspective. When we reach the top we celebrate with some fresh oranges.
Demonstrating the width of this so-called road.
Tough but rideable this time around.
When our friends who we were touring with reach the summit, we descend together. The sun is setting and Refugio, a road that has haunted us for years has never looked more beautiful than it does now. The air is startlingly crisp and we can see far out towards the Channel Islands which are bathed in warm light. That first memory of us dragging our bikes up the dirt hill years ago is overtaken with a new one of us soaring down a golden valley in the cool evening, laughing at the joy of it all and in the knowledge that some things are better the second time around.
All smiles at the summit.
A rare clear day on the coast.
Savoring the hard earned descent to the water.
Although the coastal side is paved it is a screamer of a downhill. We all had to stop a few times to let our disc brakes cool!
Happy we survived the first time.
Just plain happy this time.
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our new Brompton Touring Book, or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing, or buying your gear through our Amazon store.)