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Portland’s Best Road Bike Routes

| Greg Hodges
Cycling, Road Bikes, Travel

It’s no mystery—if you love to ride you know about Portland, Oregon.

Year after year, Portland tops the “Most Cycling-Friendly Cities” list, and 2017 is no different. Why? For starters, nearly 10 percent of residents commute by bike, nearly double the number of other cycling-friendly cities that make the list each year. Then there’s the new, nationally recognized Tilikum Crossing spanning the Willamette river—a bridge that carries buses, trains, cyclists, and pedestrians—but no cars. Add that to one of the nation’s largest bike-sharing systems; an 86-mile network of streets giving priority to cyclists; and over 300 organized rides, parties, and bike-related activities—and it’s easy to see why Portland comes out on top, year after year.

Multnomah Falls

The 65-mile ride out to Multnomah Falls and back begins at Mt. Tabor Park and winds through the east side until you reach the Historic Columbia River Hwy (or Crown Point Hwy). From here, you’ll gradually gain elevation until you reach The Vista House, 733 feet above the Columbia River. Built in 1918 as a memorial to Oregon pioneers, the octagonal stone structure served as a comfort station for those traveling the old highway. Now an interpretive center, The Vista House makes for a great pit stop (restrooms and drinking fountain) if you don’t mind removing your shoes to preserve the house’s marble floors. From Crown Point, make your descent toward the Falls—they are breathtaking up close. (You brought your camera, right?) At the Falls, there are bathrooms, drinking fountains, and a small coffee shop to help fuel the ride back when you’re ready.

Recommended Bike for this route: BMC granfondo GF02 Tiagra

Bridge of the Gods

Already got the Multnomah Falls ride down? All right, let’s mix it up a little. We’re going to begin the ride at Mt. Tabor Park again, but this time you’ll cross over to Washington and follow Hwy 14 up to the Bridge of the Gods. Although the highway is mellow at first, you’ll quickly begin to climb up to Beacon Rock State Park, a good spot to stop and rehydrate. From there, you’ll pass Bonneville Dam and continue to climb. I would note that there are a few narrow, slightly treacherous spots to look out for along this route—especially considering the loose gravel choking the bike lanes after this winter’s multiple ice storms.

When you reach the bridge, look down—if you dare. The bridge is a metal grate, so you will have a view straight down into the Columbia River. Bring a couple of quarters with you because the bike toll to cross the bridge is 50 cents. After you cross, you’ll be dropped onto the Historic Columbia River Hwy and headed back into town.

Recommended Bike for this route: BMC crossmachine CX01 Force CX1

Sauvie Island/ Skyline

Welcome to the westside ride of choice for locals with a little bit of everything. Start at Wallace Park in NW Portland: you’ll get your climb in early as you begin to head up Skyline Blvd. If you’re not in the mood for a grueling climb today, stay on Hwy 30 up to Sauvie Island. However, if you opted for Skyline, be prepared for a very steep descent on McNamee Rd. and back to Hwy 30. From here, you’re able to head over the Sauvie Island bridge for a flat, picturesque detour (about 9 miles) or return to Portland via Hwy 30 or the St. Johns Bridge and North Portland. As a note, there are a few unpaved portions of this route that are in generally good conditions and suitable for road bikes with wider tires.

Recommended Bike for this route: BMC fourstroke FS01 XT Di2

Willamette River Route

This 30-mile route follows the Willamette River south to Oregon City before it loops back around and travels north along the opposite side. Other than some climbing on Terwilliger near the end (save your energy), it’s a relatively mellow ride with some great river views and a number of options of places to grab lunch or coffee. The best part about this ride? All the dedicated bike paths make for a relaxing ride because you’re rarely travelling along a crowded stretch of road.

Recommended Bike for this route: BMC teamelite 03 SLX-XT

Big Eastside Loop

This 51-mile loop takes advantage of Portland’s incredible bike trail and path network. With just a few stretches of low traffic streets and bike lanes, the Big Eastside Loop is perfect for beginner to intermediate riders looking for a relaxing ride with incredible scenery. If the 50-mile trek is too far, feel free to shorten it by using the I-205 Path and/or the Peninsula Crossing Trail—or you can even hop on the MAX light rail with your bike from numerous locations along the route.

Recommended Bike for this route: BMC teammachine SLR03 Tiagra

A special thanks to Rubber to the Road for providing information about rides and commute routes around the Portland metro area.