Biking Is Portland's Favorite Pandemic Activity, but Cycle Celebrations Are Still a Question Mark

Pedalpalooza, Sunday Parkways, and Bridge Pedal are still figuring out how to return in 2021

By Julia Silverman April 6, 2021

Sunday Parkways, in pre-pandemic times.

Image: Courtesy PBOT

On the long list of options that a pandemic has closed off to many Portlanders—consensually smooching a stranger at a crowded bar, going on vacation to Canada, full-time public school—riding a bicycle has been a continual blessing in this most bike-friendly of American cities. 

After all, riding a bike is built-in social distancing, just like wearing a pool noodle on your head. Plus, you can do it outside, where the risk of acquiring or transmitting COVID-19 is extremely low. (A new study from Ireland released Monday found that just one in every thousand cases can be traced to outdoor transmission, or .1 percent.) 

And yet, many of the big bike culture celebrations that dot Oregon’s summer calendar are being canceled, scaled back or put off for the second year in a row, given concerns and state guidelines about mass gatherings, even outdoors. 

(Of note: The closest thing that Oregon has had to a mass gathering since the start of the pandemic is probably last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, which at their peak drew thousands of people to downtown. Demonstrators were almost universally masked, and a review by the Multnomah County Health Department concluded that not a single case of transmission could be traced to the protests.) 

The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s flagship Sunday Parkways programming—when miles of roads in different quadrants of the city are closed to cars to make way for bikes, scooters, skateboards and strollers —traditionally begins at the end of May.  

Instead, says spokesman Dylan Rivera, the hope is to “continue some online programming for Sunday Parkways and also offer some in-real-life activities that will be very exciting. 

Closing streets to vehicle traffic and inviting thousands of people to cycle at a particular time and route brings the same risks that have led to the cancelation of virtually every parade, and biking and walking event in the United States in the last year, so we need to plan what we can while adhering closely to public health advice,” Rivera added. 

Organizers of the Providence Bridge Pedal, which turns over almost all the Portland bridges that criss-cross the Willamette River to bikes during a Sunday morning in August, are still holding out hope that they can hold their event in some capacity, but say they won’t make any decisions until June 1. The annual 200+mile Seattle-to-Portland ride, meanwhile, has been canceled outright, with organizers saying they’ll return to the road in 2022. 

Pedalpalooza’s organizers, meanwhile, have been doing community outreach to plot their summer plans. They typically host a monthlong celebration of bike culture throughout June, including the famed World Naked Bike Ride. This year, to make more rides accessible to more people, they are considering spreading out the event over three or four months, but capping the number of participants allowed at each ride. 

Outside the metro area, there is at least one event that is a go for this year. In Cannon Beach, the Fat Bike Festival is on for the end of April, including a 13-mile ride down the sand to Hug Point. (You’ll have to bring your own fat tired bike though; none are available this year for demo-ing.)  

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