(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
In my opinion, the best thing about Cycle Oregon Weekend has nothing to do with cycling at all.
Now in its tenth year, the Weekend Ride (a.k.a. Summer Bike Camp) was created as a kinder, gentler version of Cycle Oregon’s legendary week-long ride. Instead of seven days of grueling climbs and lots of mileage, the weekend ride offers two days of riding (with six total route options) with something for everyone from a complete novice to a hardened enthusiast.
But the riding is just one part of what makes this event so enjoyable. This year I brought along my three kids (ages four, nine, and 12) and my wife Juli. We filled our weekend with picnics, card games at our campsite, a few history lessons, a ferry boat ride, swimming, skipping rocks, hanging out in parks, listening to live music, picking blackberries, exploring roadside attractions, and much more.
The event uses Western Oregon University in Monmouth as a base camp (meals are served in the dining hall and there’s even an option to sleep in the dorm rooms). With around 1,500 attendees, the college campus feel more like Cycle Oregon University from Friday through Sunday. The several acres between the tents on the grass athletic fields and the main city park where the beer garden and live music stage are set up, feels like one big residential block in an old neighborhood where everyone knows each other and kids run and ride freely from one house to another.
For the kids who aren’t ready to ride the 20-mile short course, the Community Cycling Center runs camps each day. On Saturday night campers grab the spotlight on the main stage during nightly announcements. They’re always just as goofy and charming as you’d expect.
Where fit and fast middle-aged riders dominate Cycle Oregon’s longer event, families and kids are the norm on the Weekend. I was struck at how many families had three generations riding togeter! Grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, and their kids. This is a true “8-80″ event where everyone’s welcome. It’s sort of like Sunday Parkways but out in the country.
Speaking of feeling welcome, Monmouth city councilor Marshall Guthrie was on hand Saturday night. He loves cycling and wants his little corner of Polk County to be a magnet for bicycle tourism. So much so in fact that he invited the entire crowd to join him on the road. “Send me an email next time you’re in town,” he told the entire crowd from the main stage, “and we’ll go for a ride.”
And if you want to focus on the riding, you won’t be disappointed. People who chose the long route each day covered 134 miles and over 5,500 feet of climbing on some of the most beautiful and lightly traveled roads in Oregon. In the tiny towns around Monmouth, horses, cows and tractors far outnumber people. You’ll pedal by historic farms, picturesque barns and majestic rolling hills covered in wheat, mint, corn, lavender, berries, cherries, and more.
On Saturday, my family and I rode southeast of Monmouth to Buena Vista. We hopped aboard a ferry for a round-trip ride, then returned to Monmouth via the Little Luckiamute River. On Sunday we headed the opposite direction and explored historic Dallas before looping back to campus via Cooper Hollow Road and a few secret gravel roads I found thanks to a “wrong” turn.
Despite what you might expect, my wife and kids are anything but hardcore riders. To them biking is “daddy’s work” and it’s not their first choice of activities. This was a rare occasion where we all rode together, without my usual focus on work. And it was sublime. Quiet roads, easy conversations, and just the right amount of challenge to test legs and minds (it was my 12-year-old’s first time on a real road bike, my 9-year old got over her fear of gravel, and my little 4-year-old co-captain did his longest ride ever!).
Overall, I speak for my entire family in giving this event a big thumbs up… And that’s not the free ice cream talking.
Disclaimer: BikePortland is an official 2015 Cycle Oregon media partner. Cycle Oregon paid for my registration at the Weekend Ride..