You know the state you live in is serious about bike tourism when it has a dedicated “gravel working group,” whose mission is to catalog and figure out how to promote its thousands of miles of gravel roads. This past weekend, we made the trek out to John Day, in Eastern Oregon; where Mike Cosgrove, one of the region’s most passionate rural bike advocates, wanted to show us a fraction of the thousands of miles of non-paved and mixed-terrain riding opportunities in the area. We went out there with a member of Travel Oregon’s destination development team and a marketing person from Chris King to see what the region had to offer.
Mike Cosgrove, rural bike provocateur, standing by his magic bike bus.
Mike, always one to take initiative, created a brochure advertising the 10,000 miles of gravel roads that can be found in the John Day area.
Before we get to the gravel, this bus / #adventuremobile deserves mention. It is an old Blue Bird school bus transformed into a crazy multi-colored Ken Kesey fun mobile, if Ken and the Merry Pranksters rode bikes. Definitely not what you’d expect to find out in Eastern Oregon. On the outside of the bus is a bright mural of mountains and rivers with a few wagon wheels and half a bicycle thrown in. When Mike isn’t shuttling some bikey ne’er-do-wells from Portland out into the middle of the forest, he uses the bus for rural Safe Routes to School and bike education programs.
How’s this for an #adventuremobile.
Our rough plan for the weekend was to have a mini tour de gravel in the John Day area. Mike had proposed three routes of varying lengths and difficulties over a multitude of riding surfaces, to figure out what sort of gravel riding would be best suited for cyclists. We arrived in the afternoon on the first day and had lunch at the diner in Dayville, with three local cyclists who looked at us with some skepticism when we told them that riding off pavement was a thing.
After lunch, we all hopped into the bike bus and Mike drove us up some delightfully empty paved roads until we hit some gravel. We unloaded the bikes and immediately put on some warmer clothes. We had gained a lot of elevation and the sky was looking somewhat ominous. What was drizzle down in Dayville had transformed into “graupel” at elevation, round icy pellets falling from the sky that had the knack of hitting you in the face. Thankfully, the first part of the ride was all uphill which gave us a chance to heat up and keep warm. The riding was really a picture perfect stretch of what you would expect for gravel riding in Oregon’s many forest service and logging roads. Low traffic. Unpaved and gravelly but a highly rideable surface. The road also offered peeks at the surrounding mountains and valleys when the weather cooperated.
Dylan, from Chris King, enjoying one of the sweet early stretches of gravel.
The road descended and we were met by Mike and the bike bus at the bottom of the hill. The next part, we were warned, might be a little bit muddy, especially with the recent storm. We were having such an awesome ride the last few miles, that we wondered how bad could it be? It turns out, pretty bad. We pushed on, past a gate to a road that was no longer maintained. The first quarter mile or so was mushy but rideable. We were in an obvious low part of the terrain judging by the small swimming pools that were forming in the middle of the “road”. About a mile in, I noticed my tires had apparently lost all traction. The mud was so thick and sticky that it clogged up the treads on my tire and I was essentially riding a 29+ mud tire slipping and sliding all over the place. At one point, while avoiding a rock, I slipped and fell on my side. At least the mud was soft-ish.
That time when all our bikes communally exploded.
At about mile two I rounded the corner and saw everyone standing around a bike in pretty sad shape. Harry’s derailleur had thrown itself into the rear wheel (perhaps to save itself from the muddy hell we found ourselves in) and broke a spoke and bent his derailleur hanger. While Harry and Dylan tried to bend the frame back into rideable shape with the help of a Leatherman and good ‘ole brute force, I tried to unclog my bike. The mud was so bad at this point it verged on comical. I literally couldn’t push my bike any further. The mud hung in fist size globs at both my brakes, beneath my rear fender and on my rear derailleur. I removed my rear fender and strapped it to my rear rack for the rest of the ride.
This, of course, brought up an interesting lesson about gravel roads and attempting to market them for general consumption. Gravel roads (at least in the PNW), unlike paved roads, have a seasonality. At certain times of the year, the riding is more manageable. During the wetter months or after a storm, you had better be prepared for a long walk in the woods. Also, the word gravel is such an inadequate descriptor for the range of surfaces you could encounter (everything from pea size stuff on up to chunkier loose pieces and the occasional baby head). Another huge consideration, which was staring us at the face at the moment, was that gravel roads are remote and people riding them must be fairly self-sufficient if something goes wrong. This became really obvious as we tried to call Mike and the magic bus and got no signal. We huddled and decided that it would make more sense to push on and continue on with the plan. We had about six miles until we got to a deserted ranch and from there we would be on more rideable roads. What’s six miles anyway?!
From mud to sharp pointy boulders, but the scenery was worth it!
It was slow going for another mile or so and a fair amount of cursing under the breath. It was obvious that we were pretty under-gunned for the terrain, but the saving grace was the absolute beauty of the place. After leaving the low muddy area, we were on a high rocky ridgeline that we were pretty certain no bike had traversed in a really long time. The terrain was the polar opposite of what we had just experienced. Instead of the road surface being softy and muddy, it was full of fist-sized rocks and mini boulders. While we were able to pick through it all with our more road-oriented bikes, the general consensus was that it was verging on cross-country mountain bike territory.
After the ridgeline, we descended to the aptly named Murderers Creek, probably because of the “bridge” we were going to cross. With some good old fashioned teamwork, we moved the remaining boards of wood into something slightly less treacherous and formed a bucket brigade to bring bikes and riders across one at a time. From there, we pedaled a few more miles to a rather picturesque abandoned ranch where bike tires began to puncture left and right. It was as good a time as any for a break.
Totally not sketchy at all.
At this point, it had taken us two hours to go six miles, and the sun was rapidly descending. Another lesson learned is that normal mileage/time computations for paved roads are useless. The six miles we just rode weren’t particularly hilly, but the combination of mud, rock and other obstacles brought us to a crawl. After another river crossing (this time a lot less treacherous, but the water was freezing!), we pedaled hard to where we were suppose to meet Mike hours ago. There was a bit of urgency during the last five miles to get to the bus before it got dark, but the setting sun along the cliff wall and the smoothest gravel we’d seen in a while made it hard not to appreciate the beauty of it all.
By the time we reached the bus, we were all ready for a beer. There was a lot of toasting and laughing and the smiles of people who had just narrowly escaped what could have easily been a bad time. On the bus ride to John Day, the consensus was that the route today was definitely an adventure, but should it be something promoted to other cyclists?
After the first eventful day of riding, Mike and the local cyclists took stock of their routes and re-evaluated where we should ride next. One day took us through a series of beautifully rideable forest service roads up to a fire lookout. Even though it was cold and we got some snow, it seemed like a piece of cake after the ride the day before.
Jim, a local cyclist in Prairie City and avid bike tourist, powers up a hill in the Strawberry Mountains.
On the third day, we rode along the cinder surface of an old railroad grade. It was a little soft and rocky in parts, probably more the terrain of a mountain bike than a traditional touring bike, but still very rideable. It wound through the forest and crossed over creeks that filled in large holding pools of water. The route then joined up with some more logging roads and back to the main paved road where we saw only one other car the entire day.
Riding along a rocky old railroad grade.
A few creeks formed large holding pools of water along the railroad grade.
After three full days of riding and learning about the area from local cyclists, our heads were exploding with all the possibilities of mixed terrain riding out in Eastern Oregon. You could probably basecamp in John Day and spend three weeks riding in the area and barely scratch the surface of what was out there. There is everything from quiet paved roads, to remote forest service and logging roads, to stretches of right of way that would barely qualify as a road!
The challenge from the gravel working group’s perspective is to make sense of it all. What would be fun for one rider would be hell for another. Do you classify riding surfaces with a number system or minimum tire width recommendations? What percentage of a ride must be gravel for it to be considered a gravel ride? How do you adequately communicate how remote these areas are? How do you deal with the seasonality of gravel roads? We came away with as many questions as we did answers, and it forced us to really examine, from a bike tourism perspective, what would be a good route that you would want to promote.
All’s well that ends well. Trying beers at 1188, the new micro brewery in John Day!
By the end of the three days, we were excited by the possibilities of mixed terrain riding in Oregon. Oregon has some great paved roads; but if you add the forest service roads, publicly accessible logging roads, gravel roads and everything in between, the potential network is really mind blowing. The gravel working group is still defining its role and trying to figure out how to make sense of it all and what best practices would be; but whatever happens, our eyes have definitely been opened to fun and challenging new routes in Eastern Oregon that we will have to return to ride.
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.
May is known nationally as Bike Month, when cities and communities host bike commute challenges, bike safety rodeos, and various other events to show they support cycling. A lot of the great changes that are happening in our cities is because of the work of passionate advocates – but they do not operate in a vacuum. Supportive businesses and business improvement districts are also helping accelerate change, and this month we’d love to flip the script a little.
Let’s give thanks to the businesses that support biking this month! Let’s frequent the restaurants, pubs, hotels, and retail shops that are supportive of bicycling. I had a creative writing professor tell me that “it’s always better to show than tell,” so in that vein draw a little bicycle icon or thank them for supporting bicycling on their receipts this month and take a photo of it and share it. If you are on Instagram or Twitter, tag it with #bikenomics. If you are on neither, you can email us the photo and we can post it for you.
Our goal is that, by the end of the month, we’ll be able to illustrate to businesses that bikes (and the people who ride them) do generate business in very real and tangible ways! So start drawing bikes and snapping photos!
While our primary focus is on bicycle tourism in rural communities, we also do a few other bike-related video projects with bike advocacy groups because we have a good understanding of the issues at stake. This video is the culmination of several months of interviewing the initial Green Lane Project cities for PeopleforBikes. We traveled to Memphis, Chicago and Austin to interview city officials, engineers and everyday riders to make a short and punchy piece that explains what a protected bike lane is, shows some of its success and provide an emotional hook. The goal was to provide the on the ground advocates a tool to show to their city leaders that can explain what they are asking for in a concise and compelling way.
Walking our talk, we traveled to all the shoot locations largely either by bike or transit. In Chicago we navigated in from the suburbs via commuter rail and bus, in Austin we borrowed an electric cargo bike from Austin B-Cycle, in Portland we used our bike trailer and in Memphis we took the bus from our motel and carpooled with the city Bike/Ped Coordinator. All our gear was condensed into a handful of bags that we had to be able to drag across airports and onto buses, trains and even bikes.
This shoot was easily one of the most challenging involving multiple cities, LOTS of plane hopping, navigating strange new transportation networks, as well as the challenge of threading a narrative from hours of interview footage. At the end of the day, we are pretty happy with video and hope it can serve as a tool for advocates and city officials. That said, the video wouldn’t have the breadth of imagery if it wasn’t for the Clarence at Streetfilms who have been documenting this stuff for years! So grab some popcorn and enjoy and share.
Last summer, we had the great opportunity to film the Portland Disaster Relief Trials. As a video project it was a lot to cover, multiple locations with moving targets who weren’t going to stop for very long. We put a call out and assembled a small band of videographers and positioned them in strategic locations at different time slots. The final vid, a sizzle reel to build excitement and promote this year’s DRT has finally been released to the general public. Check it out, then visit the www.DRTPDX.com for more details!
The Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Bikeway video was released to the public by TravelOregon a few weeks ago. It stands as one of our favorite shoots; not only because the scenery and riding is great, but because we had the chance to add something a little different to the bicycle marketing stratosphere.
Bike travel and adventure-by-bike are enormously popular right now, but the stories and marketing of those experiences trend toward a really male-dominated narrative. Not that this is inherently a bad thing, but we have learned that successfully marketing an idea to a broad audience means showing said broad audience in your marketing. In other words, if you only see and hear guys, you’re likely only appealing to guys. And, for us, it was important and exciting to produce a statewide marketing piece that showing women, on bike tour, doing rad stuff.
There are lots of little details that seem minute on their own, but contribute to the feel of the piece and make it different from typical bike marketing. From the style of bikes (a custom Pereira, mixed with a vintage 3-speed) to the clothing (sporty but causal, with no giant logo blobs) to the action (camping, rock climbing, and playing a ukelele!). The experience is neither a hammerfest of a ride or a Cycle Chic parade, but remains fun and sporty at the same time.
In the end, it’s just a short 2-minute video. But the more we dive into video production, the more we we recognize the enormous impact these small details can have on bike advocacy and inspiring a broad diversity of people to try riding a bike.
To learn more about the Scenic Bikeways and hear some more behind the scenes details, be sure to come to the Scenic Bikeway Video Launch Event at Chris King!
We’re really excited to announce an event with TravelOregon, Chris King and Basecamp Brewery to release the latest Scenic Bikeway videos. As many of you may know, we spent the better half of last year riding and filming the amazing Scenic Bikeways around Oregon. We’ve been spending the colder months editing the footage and they are all done! What is really special about this event is that we are having proponents from each of the Scenic Bikeways at the event! That’s right, the local advocates from Central and Eastern Oregon are making the long trek out to Portland to be at the event.
So if you are wondering where you should stay in John Day, where you can find an IPA in Heppner or are curious about local gravel rides out of La Grande, then come to this event. The local proponents know their towns and surrounding areas intimately and are a great source of information about riding and recreation around the area.
Also, there’s beer from Basecamp and some awesome snacks coming out of the famed Chris King kitchen. You don’t want to miss it! Here is the Facebook event link and the nitty gritty details below!
Did you know Oregon has Scenic Bikeways!? That’s right, we are the only state in the nation with Scenic Bikeways – offering Oregon’s “best of the best” road biking routes.
For one night, Travel Oregon is bringing the Oregon Scenic Bikeways to Portland! They’ll showcase the short, inspiring Bikeway videos by The Path Less Pedaled – including three new ones never before seen by the public. Intros will be led by the filmmakers, Travel Oregon and Bikeway proponents. Tasty bites will be served by well-known chef Chris DiMinno, and Base Camp Brewing will provide fresh-brewed libations.
-Thursday, March 20th, 2014
-LOCATION: Chris King HQ @ 2801 NW Nela Street, Portland, Oregon 97210
-6-8:30pm (networking 6-6:30pm)
-Libations from Base Camp Brewing Company
-Appetizers by chef Chris DiMinno
This event is free with donations encouraged for the Oregon Travel Philanthropy Fund.
See you there!
It’s going to be a crazy week. On Tuesday, we’re off on a whirlwind trip to conduct a series of interviews for a video project with PeopleforBikes. The goal? To document how protected bike lanes are changing cities. We’ll be interviewing elected officials, business owners and everyday riders. This is where you come in!
We have several interviews already scheduled, but we also have gaps of time where we will be shooting b-roll and trying to capture man on the street interviews. So, if you’re interested in talking to us about the experience of riding in a protected bike lane, we would love to hear from you. Contact us in advance or simply drop by while we’re filming b-roll.
Chicago: On Wednesday, February 19, we will be filming on Milwaukee Ave, near the Paramount Room, roughly between 4-6pm.
Austin: On Friday, February 21, we will be filming on Guadalupe, near the bike share station at 21st, roughly between 4-6pm. On Saturday, February 22, we will be filming along the Bluebonnet and Barton Springs protected bike lanes, roughly between 12noon-3pm.
Memphis: We have nothing concrete planned yet, so suggest something! On Monday, February 24, we can meet you in the Broad Avenue district, roughly between 9-11am. On Tuesday, February 25, we can meet you downtown or elsewhere, roughly between 10am-12noon.
If you are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter we’ll be posting updates with the hashtag #PLPGLP (short for PathLessPedaledGreenLaneProject). So don’t be shy and send us an email us so we can set something up.
One of our bigger projects for the year is a video with PeopleforBikes about protected bike lanes. We’re about to go on a whirlwind tour this month to capture interviews of riders, business owners, planners and civic leaders about the benefits of protected bike lanes. We need your help!
If you live in Chicago, Austin or Memphis and can speak to your experiences about protected bike lanes in those cities and are willing to do it on camera, please contact us! The interviews will be pretty informal and short (probably no more than 10-15 minutes). And footage will be heavily edited to just short clips. Experience has taught us that we need to shoot a lot of interviews to get just the right mix of voices!
So if you know someone, or know someone that knows someone or would like to be interviewed yourself. Email us. We’re looking for a diverse group of young and old, men, women, business owners, young professionals, you name it!
We are collaborating once again with our friends at CleverCycles to make a fun video on how to fold a Brompton, but we need a good spokesperson! Help us out. Ideally, the person would live in Portland and have a great personality. Brompton experience is not necessary but preferred. Check out this link for more details.