I rode the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic yesterday. StP is a 205 mile Gran Fondo that took me way outside my comfort zone in more ways than one.   It starts in downtown Seattle and traverses Washington state west of the Cascades before crossing into Oregon and finishing in downtown Portland.  In between, there are a couple of big river crossings as well as a mix of suburban and rural riding including a 40 mile segment on the shoulder of a major highway.

So what did I learn from the experience?   Lots, but these are the  big three…

Our cities are becoming very crowded places.

Living in a small town in the Midwest, I sometimes lose sight of just how crowded other places have become.  With the exception of Chicago and parts of Minneapolis, the Midwest doesn’t really do density.   It has been years since I’ve been to either Seattle or Portland and they’ve changed a lot.   There are more people in the same space and this creates a whole host of challenges for cyclists.

Bicycles are especially loathed where they are especially loved.

In many ways, the Pacific Northwest leads when it comes to cycling.   The accolades keep pouring in and I get it.   Bike lanes are everywhere.  Even the protected variety is common.  I believe this is demand driven.  I saw a lot of everyday cyclists along the way and it’s the rare business here that doesn’t have a few bikes parked out front.  That said, there are still far more people in cars than on bikes here and traffic is mostly a mess.  This leads to frustration on the part of motorists and I observed more than a few acting out in dangerous ways.

Portland deserves its bicycle friendly reputation.

The last 12 miles of the course took me into the heart of Portland via city streets.  After 200 miles on the bike, I was tired to the point of maybe making bad decisions and yet had no problems at all.  Traffic was horrendous as a nearby interstate was shut down for the weekend, but connectivity and signage was the best I’ve ever seen. Navigation was a breeze. Most motorists here were considerate and willing to share the road.

Rolling through Seattle…4:45 AM

Crossing into Oregon via the Lewis and Clark bridge. Not a lot of room for error here.

Rolling through Portland. Bike lanes are wide and well marked here.

Finishing at Holladay Park, Portland. I made it!

I’m glad I rode StP.  It was a once in a lifetime experience.  For one day, at least, I got to live the Pacific Northwest bike culture.  If you have an interest in and ever get a chance to ride an event like this, I encourage you to do so.  There’s no better way to feel the essence of a place than from the saddle of a bicycle.