In other cities when bicycles take to the street en masse they are cursed, honked at and crashed into. In Portland they are cheered, waved at and photographed. What is the Portland Slow Riders group doing right?
Several friends had encouraged me to check out the group’s Facebook page which calls all “mellow pedalers” to rides that include “picnics, friends, ice cream” and “pretty bikes”.
Fortunately all that is required for a Portland Slow Ride is a bicycle of some sort and a sense of fun. I had missed the Party Dress Ride and the Red Light Dance Party, but am out and about on this hot July night for the “United States of Awesome Ride.” Along with the bike riders, Monument Square is filled with street musicians, belly dancers and the usual Friday Artwalk throng.
A woman dressed as a flight attendant addresses two dozen bike riders, describing our route. I am standing between someone in a cape (no, not the person dressed as Superman. The other person in a cape) and a bike covered in purple fuzz and peacock feathers. A large speaker on a home-built bike trailer provides music. I consider my T-shirt, shorts, my un-festooned bicycle and little bike bell and feel woefully unprepared. At least I’d wiped most of the road grime off my bike. Maybe next time I’ll accessorize a bit.
We take to the road and start riding up Congress Street. I am not without worry. I ride my bike to work every day and am all too aware that there is a vocal minority of drivers who are not into “sharing the road.” They usually vocalize by honking their horns and revving their engines a lot. Surely this many bikes are bound to annoy somebody.
My worry proves groundless as we cruise up Congress and back and then circle around for another pass. Drivers are courteous, patient, amused and confused — or perhaps a combination thereof. In any event, we coexist peacefully. Meanwhile people on the sidewalks cheer, dance, sing and hoist their kids up for a better look.
As we bike toward the Old Port, someone yells out “Are you Critical Mass?” “Hell no!” someone shouts back and we laugh. We’re stopping for lights, signaling turns and obeying the rules of the road. We’re not riding to make a statement (unless that statement is “Biking is fun!”).
After lighting sparklers and cruising Commercial Street we stop off to stimulate the local economy via large drink and food purchases. Tales are told, friends are found and seeds of ideas for future rides are planted.
I bike home sometime later in the cooler night air. It feels somewhat lonely but in my mind I can still hear the music playing and the people laughing. I give my bell a ring and smile.
Mike Popovic rides his bike in and around Portland every day just so he can eat more doughnuts. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or on AIM: mik3pop