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Author: Kate Laudermilk (Contributor)

Gal by Bike: When a crazy idea becomes a reality (aka my bike wedding)

Gal by Bike: When a crazy idea becomes a reality (aka my bike wedding)

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En route to Lucky Lab NW. (Photo by Greg Raisman)

— by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Laudermilk

Two days after Kiel and I got engaged, I turned over in bed to see an all too familiar crazed look in my lover’s eyes. This look is almost always accompanied by some cockamamie idea that I, at first, am vehemently against and then end up going along with anyway. I had a split second to make a very important decision — close my eyes again, pretend to sleep, and wait for the idea to pass, or be a good fiancé and ask him what was on his mind. Being the selfless partner that I am, I went with the latter.

There are all of these societal expectations that you feel like you need to adhere to and NONE of them include sticking all of your guests on bikes.

“Let’s have a bike wedding!” he said, his eyes dilating with delight.

The next ten minutes or so were filled with me intermittently shouting out potentially disastrous scenarios of having a wedding by bike. All the while Kiel sat back waiting for me to finish — he knew I would eventually tire. Of course, in the end, we had a bike wedding. Of course it was amazing. And, of course, nothing went massively wrong. Let’s go ahead and just write my epitaph right here, right now: “Kiel Johnson is, and was, (almost) always right.”

Planning a wedding can suck your soul right clear out of your body if you let it. There are all of these societal expectations that you feel like you need to adhere to and NONE of them include sticking all of your guests on bikes and making them parade around. But, that’s precisely what we did and, you know what? The world is still spinning!

First and foremost, a wedding should reflect the couple’s personalities. Any wildly expensive wedding planner will tell you this. It’s the truth, and I just told it to you for free. You’re welcome. If you look back on our relationship, a few themes will stand out — bikes, beers, pizza, and a deep love for cities. My relationship with Kiel has always existed within a city. We’ve lived in the Lloyd District for nearly three years in an apartment that shakes when the bus goes by and swells with outside chatter during the weekday lunch hour. We’ve traveled to cities around the globe — getting around mostly by bike and comparing and contrasting each landscape in great detail as we pedal along. We decided to get married with the skyline of Stockholm in the background — our Stockholm City Bikes parked next to us. We’ve built our relationship primarily on bike saddles. Our experiences and events happen not inside a metal box, but outside — sometimes, for all to hear. Our arguments, laughter, and discussions are woven into the tapestry of Portland and the other cities we’ve briefly inhabited. Why would our wedding day be any different?

For a brief time on July 2nd, 2016, Kiel, myself, and seventy of our closest friends owned the streets of Portland. Music blared from two speakers as we glided down the Esplanade. Bike bells chimed in what, at the time, seemed like perfect harmony as we rode in synchronicity around a conveniently placed roundabout on the west end of the Steel Bridge. Macklemore’s “Downtown” rang out as we took up the entirety of Naito. Friends who haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids were caught smiling ear to ear as we rode up Rodney singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” at the top of our lungs. It was, without exaggeration, absolutely magical.

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The route we took on the big day. If you look closely at my tabs, you’ll see that I needed to look up how to take a screen shot. Technology is hard.

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Ceremony prepared by our dear friend Wendy. (photo by Owen Walz)

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Wedding fashion. (Photo by Owen Walz)

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Bikes as far as the eye can see. (Photo by Greg Raisman)

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(Photo by Greg Raisman)

The ceremony took place at Go By Bike Valet (Kiel’s proud creation). You may have heard through the grapevine that Go By Bike is the biggest bike parking structure in North America and now it’s also the first bike valet business to host a wedding ceremony. We exchanged our own vows while framed by OHSU bike share bikes — all the while being gawked at by very confused tourists waiting in line for the aerial tram. Next, we all eagerly jumped on our bikes — twenty of which were borrowed by out of town guests — and took the scenic route to Lucky Lab NW — the scene of our first date. Two large car parking spots were transformed into enough parking for over seventy bikes. The folks that were eating outside at Lucky Lab were in awe of the sight of our gang. All-you-can eat pizza and beer flowed as dear friends took turns giving speeches and words of wisdom.

I found myself wondering why pizza and Superdog IPA isn’t served at all weddings.

After Lucky Lab, we took a detour to the house that Kiel lived in when we first started dating. A quick reenactment of our first awkward kiss was in order. Finally, it was off to the Portland Playhouse where we danced our already fatigued legs off, drank my father-in-law’s home brewed IPA, and devoured an $18 Costco cake alongside leftover slices of pizza. It was the stuff dreams are made of.

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First kiss reenactment. (Photo by Greg Raisman)

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(Photo by Owen Walz)

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I think everyone had a pretty good time. (Photo by Owen Walz)

When we’re old and grey, pedaling down a city street on our tandem recumbent bike, Kiel and I will think back fondly to the day where Portland seemed to exist exclusively for us. When the streets stood still to make way for our celebration of love, friendship, and a hopeful future. The day that so many of the people we love, no matter their skill level on a bike, got to see what it’s like to truly experience a city in all of its glory. The day where a crazy idea turned into a blissful reality.

Read more of Kate’s posts in the Gal by Bike archives.

– Kate Laudermilk

The post Gal by Bike: When a crazy idea becomes a reality (aka my bike wedding) appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Winding roads, wine and an all-women ride: Gal by Bike says Yes, Please

Winding roads, wine and an all-women ride: Gal by Bike says Yes, Please

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Maybe it was the wine?
(Photos: K.Laudermilk)

This post is by columnist Kate Laudermilk.

In April, Cycle Oregon’s Chris Knott e-mailed me asking if I would like to cover the first ever women’s only Cycle Oregon ride. At the time, he informed me that they had exceeded their original goal of 250 sign-ups and were at 620.

After visiting the ride’s website, I could tell why so many women were enticed. Wine tasting? All local catered lunch and rest stop snacks? Massage therapy and acupuncture? Yoga? Live music? Widmer beer? AND bike riding!? SOLD!

There were three routes to choose from. 17, 38, and 60 miles — all with rest stops that would exceed the expectations of the Queen of England and impeccable signage throughout each route. If you think for one second that any of these routes were lacking big hills, you’re mistaken. You see, ladies prefer their luxury with a side of excruciating physical feats.

You might be asking yourself, Why is it important to have a ride specifically for women? That was a question I had been asking myself the entire week leading up to the ride. It wasn’t up to me to answer that. Instead, I left that up to the numerous women that I met and spent time with on Saturday afternoon.

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When I asked Val Larson what her relationship to bikes was she clasped her hands over her heart, closed her eyes, and said, with a breathless sigh, “I LOVE my bike.” This was Val’s first time participating in Cycle Oregon. When asked what made her want to sign up for the Joyride, she said that an all women’s ride sounded too fun to pass up. A lifetime bike commuter, she’s happily retired now and can ride her bike “just for the fun of it.”

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Maggie Hamilton is the kind of person you notice first in a room. Or, in my case, a field. She has an effervescent personality and a permanent smile across her face — not to mention a hot-pink wig that attaches to her helmet and actual sparkles near her eyes. I couldn’t NOT talk to Maggie.

In 1973, she started commuting by bike while working in Washington DC. “Nobody was doin’ that back then! Especially not women!” Maggie proudly stated. After years of dancing and riding her bike, two knee surgeries sadly left Maggie unable to participate fully in her passions. 2005 was the last time she regularly rode a bike.

At 62 years old, she’s been volunteering for Cycle Oregon for twelve years — claiming that, if they started an all women’s ride, she would participate as more than a volunteer. A deep giggle came pouring out as she told me that she thought the first Joyride would be in 2017, not THIS year. “I might fall over, but I’m gonna do it!” she said about the 17 mile ride ahead of her. “This is the first time I’ll be riding for pleasure since I was a kid.”

I have no doubt that Maggie conquered those 17 miles with inspirational vigor.

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Literal harp music was playing over the speakers when I ran into Kari Lyons-Eubanks (left) and Shannon Sneed (right). I was ready to pack up my little reporter notebook and begin my 38 mile ride when I heard, “my vagina feels SO supported here.”

I spun around and asked Shannon if I could put that on the record because it made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was the harp music, or the yoga that was going on at that moment, but things were starting to feel a little TOO civilized. We just had to laugh. “Would a men’s only ride feel differently from this?” we all wondered aloud.







Kari and Shannon are the kind of women that I seek out as friends. They’re strong, hilarious, and powerful women. “In all seriousness, this is a really historic week for women!” Shannon said. We all agreed that Hillary Clinton, who had just clinched the Democratic Party nomination, would probably love this ride.

“I thought, wine and no kids?! I’m there!”
— Kari Lyons-Eubanks

Both Kari and Shannon are moms. “I thought, wine and no kids?! I’m there!” Kari said about her motivation for signing up. However, it seemed like riding her bike meant a great deal more to her than merely getting an afternoon to herself.

After childbirth, Kari shared with me that she suffered some more than uncomfortable physical complications that left her feeling unable to do the kind of riding she had done before kids. She had trained and raced regularly, worked at Bike Gallery for years — riding her bike was a part of who she was. She described to me how the bike she rode before having a baby just didn’t suit her anymore. She wasn’t comfortable on it.

Skip to Kari’s new bike and new relationship to riding. She described a bike ride she recently took on her new steed. The weather was awful, the hills were hard, but, when she got to the top she described how she literally screamed out in triumph. “It was good to be back,” she said with a reminiscent smile across her face. “Riding my bike is like being in a container of my own space,” she described. Shannon jumped in describing riding her bike as a way to “serve herself.” I’m always in awe of how powerful a bike can be.

It was overwhelming how many women shared with me that they would participate in more group rides if they were all more like the Joyride. Laurie Roland, bike riding badass and bride to be, stated “I hope that my friends and I start doing rides like this more often!” I overheard another woman in Laurie’s group say “I’m going to do this again next year! This has been a hoot!”

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The whole event had such a positive vibe. Everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives. There was no shortage of laughter and chatting. Not a competitive edge in sight.

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Ride or walk — it doesn’t matter! Just get up that hill!

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Every time I pulled over to take photos I was met with no fewer than five individuals asking me if I needed anything — was I ok? I felt very supported, just like Shannon said.

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Rest stop number two. A mechanic from Bike Gallery adjusted my gears as I stuffed my face with cheese and hazelnuts.

Would I recommend Joyride to other women? Absolutely! Heck, we should do this more often!

So why is it important to have a all women’s ride? I’m still not sure. All I know is that, though I ventured into this ride completely alone, I felt far from it. As Maggie so perfectly put it, “we’re all just ordinary people that come in all shapes and sizes. We can all feel comfortable here.” Amen, sister friend.

Gal by Bike is an occasional column about life and bicycles by Portlander Kate Laudermilk.

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Gal by Bike: My ride on the new Columbia Gorge Express

Gal by Bike: My ride on the new Columbia Gorge Express

My bike and my ride to the Gorge - all ready to roll!(Photos by Kiel Johnson and Kate Laudermilk)

My bike and my ride to the Gorge – all ready to roll!
(Photos by Kiel Johnson and Kate Laudermilk)

Our Gal by Bike columnist Kate Laudermilk was one of the first people to ride the Columbia Gorge Express — a new transit option with service between Portland and Multnomah Falls.

One of the arguments I made as I desperately tried to convince myself that I needed to buy a new car after parting ways with my partner (and our car) four years ago was that I needed a car to fully experience all of the natural wonders surrounding Portland.

I felt like I was going to be trapped in Portland until the end of my days.

Little did I know that, when you don’t have a car, you get creative. You use the old noggin. I no longer feel trapped in any way.

The new Columbia Gorge Express is great! Kiel and I tried it out this past weekend and combined it with a ride on the Historic Highway State Trail all the way to Cascade Locks where we enjoyed some of the local flavors (beer and ice cream).

Here are a few photos from our wonderful journey…

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The bus itself held about 20 people and had room for strollers and extra baggage in the back.  It has a ramp that can come down to accommodate folks with walkers or wheel chairs, and has room for three bikes on the front of the vehicle.  The bike racks are extremely similar to those on the Trimet bus.

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There was a really great energy in the bus — folks were really excited!  I overheard a lot of conversations between complete strangers.  You don’t get that when you drive in your car alone.

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Forgot to buy your ticket online ahead of time?  No problem!  You can pay with your card right on the bus!

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In this picture neither of us could believe how easy it was to get to that point.  We were already at Multnomah Falls and hadn’t even broken a sweat!

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Had I ridden all the way from Portland to this point at Cascade Locks, I would have been passed out in this photo. Thanks to the Columbia Gorge Express, this slightly out of shape gal could make it no problem!

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In the end, it’s all about the ice cream, the beer, and the comfort of knowing that I don’t have to find my car in the labyrinth that is the Multnomah Falls parking lot.  Cheers!

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For more on the Columbia Gorge Express check out the official website and watch the new video:

— Kate Laudermilk, @katelaudermilk

— BikePortland is supported by readers like you. Please become a subscriber today!

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Bikes on TV shows and the endless possibilities of cities

Bikes on TV shows and the endless possibilities of cities

A scene from Episode 2 of "Girls" on HBO.

A scene from Episode 2 of “Girls” on HBO.

This post is by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Laudermilk. She previously wrote about how she’s been influenced by Portland’s silly group rides.

There’s something noteworthy going on in movies and television lately — especially those taking place in New York City. There’s a theme that, while seldom discussed, speaks volumes: Bikes.

They can be found lurking in frame after frame of shows like “Girls“, “Broad City”, and movies like “Francis Ha”. Much like the iconic bike next to Jerry Seinfeld’s bathroom or the cruiser tucked away in Carrie Bradshaw’s hallway — but in a new New York City — one built by Janette Sadik-Kahn.

Instead of Seinfeld’s bike hanging from the wall, the new cultural vanguards of New York are riding them.

A little while back, me and plenty of other Portlanders sat captivated in the Mission Theater listening to Sadik-Kahn talk about the strides New York City has taken to make the city more livable for all its inhabitants — no matter how they choose to get around. It got me to thinking about how much I’ve seen this livability portrayed in the media I’ve been consuming lately.

Now, sadly, I’ve never been to New York. I know, I know… unacceptable. But, never fear, because, through the magic of movies and television, I’ve spent countless hours there, and it’s magnificent.

I’ve power-walked through Central Park with Carrie and the gang as they excruciatingly picked apart their relationships. I hung on every word of Woody Allen’s love poem to New York, “Manhattan.” I grew up visiting the Huxtables’ iconic Brooklyn brownstone each and every week.  I was at the top of the Empire State Building cheering on the love of Walter and Jessica in “Sleepless in Seattle.” And, today, I watch as characters like Hannah Horvath, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobson make New York the glistening background for their youthful weed and feminism powered shenanigans.

Once merely a background prop, bikes have now become, at times, a strong supporting role — supporting the everyday adventures of everyday people. Understated and sometimes unrelated to the overall storyline yet entirely apropos all at once. Instead of Seinfeld’s bike hanging from the wall, the new cultural vanguards of New York are riding them. Even uncoordinated self-proclaimed couch potatoes like Girls’ Hannah Horvath have given bike riding a shot.

Hannah Horvath and Adam Driver in Season 2.

Hannah Horvath and Adam Driver in Season 2.





Completely normal.

Completely normal.

Season 5 of Girls is, in my humble opinion, pure gold. Love her or hate her, executive producer Lena Dunham has her pulse on everything relevant in today’s popular culture and showcases it beautifully on screen each week. While hardly ever glamorous, Dunham has a way of making living in a city look effortless. Unlike so many other shows before it, the character in Girls don’t spend too much time focusing on what they are materially lacking. They don’t have cars, fancy apartments, or high paying jobs, but they still manage to make their lives look completely and utterly alluring.

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Several episodes over the course of five seasons have showcased bikes in some way.  While characters Ray and Adam always have a bike prominently parked on the wall stand in their living rooms they also sometimes go for a ride. In fact, Adam once accidentally flung Hannah off of the front of his bike where she was perching much like E.T. (I’m going to make a point to reference E.T in all of my posts) on the way to an impromptu scrapping mission.  What started off as fun quickly derailed and left Hannah screaming to get off of the bike and away from Adam — sending her flying like a rag doll into the air. Contrary to what you may think, I believe this scene was not designed to show how unsafe riding a bike can be. It was used to show that, good or bad, anything is possible on a bike.  Hannah was feeling adventurous and, for one of the first times in the series, traveled out into public with her kind of boyfriend, Adam.  This adventure was emphasized by the addition of the bike. The bike punctuated a growing experience and impending change in herself and, eventually, her relationship with Adam.  

It wasn’t until I saw characters that live much like I do traipsing effortlessly through the most densely populated city in the United States that I truly believed in the endless possibilities of all cities.

Come season 5, a very evolved, but still slightly broken, Hannah stepped foot on a bike again and the outcome was vastly different.  After a very crappy couple of days, Hannah gets flagged down on the sidewalk by her frenemy, Tally (played by Jenny Slate). First of all, this scenario only works in a pedestrian/bike friendly city. If Tally had been in a car, she would have blasted right past Hannah and kept driving. Episode over.  The fact that Tally was on a bike plays a big role in how these two nemeses got stuck together for the remainder of the episode. Much like the interaction between Adam and Hannah so many seasons before, Tally uses bikes to connect with Hannah and encourage adventure. This time, instead of perching on Tally’s bike, Hannah acquires her own in the form of a unattended, unlocked bike, outside a pizza joint.  This is the point where I mention that stealing bikes is wrong and you shouldn’t do it — but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make for good television.

With one weighted sentence, Tally convinces Hannah to snap out of her morosity and “ride into the future.” The moment Hannah stepped onto that bike, her entire demeanor changed.  A smile spread across her face, her hatred for Tally subsided, and they both became two powerful women riding through a powerful city. They journeyed over bridges, through streets with patient slow-moving cars, on protected bike lanes, and ending on pedestrian-filled sidewalks in Tally’s idyllic neighborhood. Did I mention that Vanity Fare’s “Hitchin’ a Ride” was playing in the background the whole time? It was perfection. I cried.

This thing, the bike, was the catalyst for Hannah coming to terms with who she is and where she is in her world. After her epic failure of a bike ride with Adam she came to the conclusion that their relationship may be more toxic than positive. After her escapade with Tally she realized that she doesn’t give herself enough credit for who she is. The ride gave her a confidence that she didn’t know she had in her. By the end of the episode she proclaims, in front of dozens of Moth Story Hour listeners, that, for the first time in a long time, she felt free. Slow clap for the power of bikes.

New York has always been portrayed as a city where all things are possible. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” as poet Emma Lazarus so beautifully exclaimed. But it wasn’t until I saw characters that live much like I do traipsing effortlessly through the most densely populated city in the United States that I truly believed in the endless possibilities of all cities.  Another poet once wrote, “like any great love it keeps you guessing.  Like any real love it’s ever changing. Like any true love it drives you crazy. But you know you wouldn’t change anything — welcome to New York.”  It’s with Taylor Swift’s wise words that I invite you open your mind to the possibility of more livable cities everywhere — on and off screen.

— Kate Laudermilk, @katelaudermilk

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Shedding my seriousness one wacky group ride at a time

Shedding my seriousness one wacky group ride at a time

Keeping a fake mustache on during a balmy June afternoon is no small feat.

Keeping a fake mustache on during a balmy June afternoon is no small feat.
(Photos: Kate Laudermilk)

Kate Laudermilk, our Gal by Bike columnist, previously wrote about the Little 500 bike race.

It’s a slippery slope.  One minute you’re teaching one of your best friends how to ride a bike and the next you’re gliding through Portland on your trusty steeds, surrounded by thousands of bikes and bodies with your breasts hangin’ out. This is the magic of the Portland bike community — a community that has made me feel more youthful and free spirited than I did when I was but a gal of nineteen.

“I was instantly welcomed into this big weird club…”

As a child, I was about as serious as they come. I never once had to be asked to do my homework, clean my room, or take the dog for a walk. I was on it. I started doing my own laundry, by choice, at the age of eight. I once called a meeting with my boss to negotiate higher pay at my teenage summer job so that I could start putting away more money for college. I could count the amount of alcoholic beverages I consumed prior to the age of 21 on one hand. I was a real goody-two-shoes.

I wish I could say that I relaxed and unwound in college, but I’d be, for the most part, lying. Despite what my sorority girl persona would suggest, I was early to bed and early to rise most days, staying up late and venturing off to parties mostly to drive drunk people home safely. I watched everything that I put into my body — worrying that it would affect my cycling. No 3am Pizza Express for me.  Don’t get me wrong, my college experience was pretty dang stellar — I look back at it with great fondness, but from time to time I can just kick myself for not goin’ real crazy, ya know? Like lampshade-on-your-head, what-happened-last-night, head-in-the-toilet crazy!

Enter my introduction to the Portland biking scene in my 26th year. The year I learned to shed some of my seriousness — and, as I eluded to above, sometimes my clothes.

Portland is not unique for having a bike community. There are any number of cities in the US that have group rides, events akin to Sunday Parkways, and strong biking-related circles. They certainly existed in Bloomington and Indianapolis — where I lived previous to my move to Portland, but I never accessed them much. I struggle to put into words what makes Portland’s bike community so special and so approachable to me, but I think it might have to do with how much time is dedicated to riding bikes for pure enjoyment and fun — rides that end with a beer instead of a finish line.  

A random bicycle patrol for sure.

A random bicycle patrol for sure.

“You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.”

“You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.”

I forgot to sing into the microphone and nobody actually heard me but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had doing karaoke on a giant pedal bike!

I forgot to sing into the microphone and nobody actually heard me but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had doing karaoke on a giant pedal bike!







Just a teacher sliding into the summer abyss.

Just a teacher sliding into the summer abyss.

Three 80’s prom dress beauties and one handsome beast.

Three 80’s prom dress beauties and one handsome beast.

I made a sharp shift from biking exclusively for competitive purposes to exploring biking as a form of transportation and fun beginning in the summer of 2012. Just one Midnight Mystery ride and a handful of Pedalpalooza rides in and I started to feel like I was living in an alternate universe. This was a universe where adults with millions of daily responsibilities could be sighted on a bike wearing magnificently puffy and intricate prom dresses and pastel leisure suits from eras past. One where you find yourself among a lawyer, a student, a scientist, a cashier, an illustrator, a journalist, and a teacher all surrounding the same river-side bonfire at two o’clock in the morning. One where your bike becomes an extension of your own body and gives you superpowers — like staying out past midnight.

So many of the folks that I met on group rides inspired me to live in the moment. I didn’t have to take life too seriously. I didn’t have to take myself too seriously.  

After all, it’s pretty hard to take yourself too seriously when you and fifty others are wearing fake mustaches while cruising over the Burnside Bridge. Boundaries are beautifully blurred when you meet your new boyfriend’s professional pals for the first time while they’re atop their bikes dressed as characters from “Labyrinth”. The weight of the world is pulled off of your shoulders as several fellow teachers and friends celebrate with you on the last day of school — Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” blaring from a portable bike speaker.

I was instantly welcomed into this big weird club of folks that, without the buffer of their bikes, might not have talked to one another let alone found themselves jumping on a random trampoline next to the Willamette River while the one they call “Dirty Diablo” spins the endless tunes. None of my social anxieties, self-consciousness, or earnest ways stand a chance when I’m on a fun bike ride. Especially when I have a hand painted basketball made to look like E.T wrapped in a blanket placed in my front basket. That’s just the power of the bicycle, the folks who ride them, and adorable extraterrestrials.

So, as Pedalpalooza season approaches and the BTA’s Bike More Challenge and National Bike Month get underway, I invite you to set seriousness aside and fall in love with riding your bike all over again. Inspire and motivate your office mates, coworkers, and friends to ride to work — but don’t stop there! Show them that riding a bike isn’t just about getting to a destination — it’s an epic adventure in and of itself!

Try sending out a memo for everyone to pack their brightest, most gawky neon threads for a Friday fun ride after work. Pedal around basking in the greatness that is the coming weekend while listening to a finely curated soundtrack complete with gems like Donna Summers’ “She works hard for the money” or Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”. Plan a special lunchtime ride where you venture off to a park or public space to enjoy your lunches. Hell! Propose a Monday morning meeting by bike!  Get bold and finally post that Pedalpalooza ride you’ve been too scared to put out there for the past three years. Give someone the opportunity to throw caution to the wind. Participate in the World Naked Bike Ride and throw your boxers and bras to the wind!  

We all come here on a daily basis to learn, debate, and spread knowledge about really important and serious issues in our biking community. There are things we need to fix, improve, and change. We don’t always agree on every issue, but I hope we can all agree that we ride our bikes because it sparks joy in our days and we would all do anything to make sure that joy never fades.

— Kate Laudermilk

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How a zany race sold me on bikes and made me the woman I needed to become

How a zany race sold me on bikes and made me the woman I needed to become

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The author.
(Photos via K.Laudermilk)

We’re pleased to welcome new contributor Kate Laudermilk, a Portlander who’ll be sharing humor and wisdom from her biking life in the occasional column Gal by Bike over the next few months.

I know firsthand that the thought of being a “cyclist” or “bike rider” can be intimidating. Often it’s even more intimidating for women to get started and break into the biking community. And using a bike as my sole form of transportation was never my plan.

That is why I think the evolution of my life on a bike is a story worth telling.

I know that sometimes it can seem easier to just drive, walk, or take the streetcar. Just kidding, it’s never easier to take the streetcar. But as a skeptic by nature, riding a bike makes me second guess things, worry, and question my capabilities. What if I can’t ride fast enough, long enough, or what if my hair gets all messed up under the helmet? Worries aside, I have and continue to deem my decision to become an avid bike rider as one of my smartest decisions to date.

Over the next several months I plan to write several articles chronicling what it means to go as a female from small-town, car-only Indiana to Portland.

Riding a bike has taught me a lot about myself — the simple act of pedaling has been an agent of personal growth for the past eleven years of my life. And it all began with a little race in a little town in the Hoosier state.

Over the next several months I plan to write several articles chronicling what it means to go as a female from small-town, car-only Indiana to Portland.

Last weekend marked the 66th annual Indiana University Little 500. Chances are you have never heard of this quirky bike race unless you, like me, rewatch the Academy-Award-winning movie “Breaking Away” every year. It’s with this race that my passion for bike riding began. Little 5, as it’s most commonly referred to, became the centerpiece of my college career. Without it, I’m not sure I would give two hoots about the biking culture in Portland, or anywhere for that matter.

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The front of the pack at the Little 5. Spoiler alert: I am not in this photo.

It’s important to know that first and foremost I am a crier. Sometimes — ok, most of the time — I cry AND scream. If you find yourself fortunate enough to be present for such a spectacle, chances are you will get a good laugh out of it. It is, after all, completely ridiculous. I typically wail and sob when attempting to overcome scary challenges.

It’s my way of showing anybody that may be watching that I am serious as hell — even though, due to the excess crying, I’m really only giving roughly 40 percent of my max effort.

A great number of my scariest challenges have happened on a bike. Some of them were legit, like stopping to have a nervous breakdown midway through a hill with a grade similar to that of a wall. I can tell you with confidence that one should never stop midway through biking up a hill. I got an embarrassingly low grade in physics, but even I realize that losing all of your momentum is real dumb.

Other bike challenges have been, in retrospect, far less terrifying. Like, for instance, the time I had to learn how to jump onto a bike.

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In which college-age me attempts to silence her interior monologue.

I must preface this tale by sharing that I learned to ride a bike at a slightly embarrassing age. My training wheels remained bolted to my childhood ride until I was NINE. Yes, NINE. I blame it on crippling childhood anxiety and a lifetime battle with poor depth perception. Either way, I got a slow start to the biking world and so the amount of things I have done on a bike in my adult life are quite monumental, if you ask me.

You ride in circles along with a pack of thirty or so others for one hundred laps if you’re a female and two hundred if you’re a dude — because dudes apparently need double the laps to prove their strength and righteousness.

So, I was nineteen years old and riding a bike for the first time since middle school. I was about to begin training for my first Little 5. Again, this race is very exclusive, very fun, and heavily dangerous. It entails riding on a loose, dusty track made of razor-sharp cinders on a bike with one gear that costs about as much as one wheel on a typical bike.

You ride in circles along with a pack of thirty or so others for one hundred laps if you’re a female and two hundred if you’re a dude — because dudes apparently need double the laps to prove their strength and righteousness.

This whole ordeal happens in front of a very large and drunk audience made up of everyone who’s ever stepped foot on Indiana University’s campus. Everyone has a Nalgene bottle filled with pure moonshine and they spend their time alternately cheering and singing in between vomiting and making out with the stranger next to them.

It’s college at its finest — but, at the same time, kind of a big deal. Lance Armstrong, prior to becoming one of the world’s most disappointing cycling stars, once sat in the grandstand at the race and deemed it the coolest event he had ever attended. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama attended the race, shook my hand, and wished me luck. Don’t believe me? Here’s photographic evidence:

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Boom! That’s the back of my 22 year old head.







Because it’s a relay, part of the race requires jumping onto a bike that’s moving at close to full speed. One is expected to ride out of the peloton, literally ride AT one of three teammates, and jump off a moving bike to allow for the other teammate to jump on and ride back into the peloton. Easy, right? The very thought of this made me want to shit my chamois (which is pronounced sham-eez, so this kind of rhymed). Chamois are lovely lycra shorts with a diaper-like pad stitched between the crotch and butt region. The purpose is to pad your unmentionables while you ride for hours at a time. My memories of them revolve around how incredibly unbreathable they were, often contributing to a not so sexy adult diaper rash situation. I’ve since burned my entire collection.

Here’s an example of an exchange during a race — coincidentally that goober with the red hair holding a dry erase board toward the end happens to be me during a year that I coached a team through the race. My shirt reads “Koach Kate.”

This brings me to the moment I had to learn this very specific skill. There I was, standing in a field with my college boyfriend, who at the time was the primary reason I agreed to ride around in circles on a death machine no more than an elbow distance from the person next to me. My goal was to learn how to run and jump on that damned saddle without losing speed. I was in the field because it provided the comfort of soft, supple grass beneath me instead of razor shards.

In the distance, I heard one of three main songs that blared continuously during our track practices. Typically, this song, “Black Betty,” brought me great strength and determination. But on this day, the notes fell flat. Every time Ram Jam sang “bam-ba-lam” my fear grew larger.

“She’s always ready, BAM-BA-LAM! She’s all rock steady, BAM-BA-LAM!”

The words taunted me as I plummeted to the ground on one failed attempt after another. On each fall, to convey urgency, I did what all great athletes do — grabbed my knee while wincing and sucking air in through my gritted teeth. I thought for sure that would release me from any further attempts. Wrong. This night was only the beginning.

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That’s me in the middle. Go Hoosiers.

Riding in the Little 500 was literally one challenge after another. If I wasn’t learning how to jump on a bike I was learning how to scrub cinders out of my knee caps after a fall on the track. I was learning how to communicate with the other women around me at practice and during the race to assure that I didn’t rub wheels with someone and take out thirty people like a set of dominos.

I learned how to do what I was asked to do at a moment’s notice with no questions asked. And I learned how to be a leader and prepare others for the unique challenges that I had already faced. Basically, I got brave. I got bold. And now, when I’m riding and feel like there’s no way I’m going to make it another mile, I think back to my days at Indiana University and I get an extra boost.

Then, if that doesn’t work, I can look up a video of Little 500 crashes on YouTube and then suddenly everything looks a lot more rosey.

Screaming, crying, faking false injury — these are all just theatrics meant to drive home one simple point. Sometimes shit’s hard and scary. Sometimes you get intimidated and think that you won’t be able to do something.

Then what?! Well, as it turns out, there’s literally nothing, aside from doing a cartwheel, that I’ve ever set out to do that I have not, in the end, reasonably achieved. If you think hard enough, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion about yourself.

I finally learned how to jump on a bike. I always had a bit of a stutter step, but who cares? Not this badass! Riding in the Little 500 was the beginning of what I hope to be a lifetime of bike fun. Since this fateful night in the field I have ridden countless miles, commuted to and from work each day, experienced the incomparable Portland cyclocross culture, dated by bike, moved all of my belongings by bike, biked in a sweet 80’s prom dress, and am currently daydreaming about my upcoming wedding by bike.

A bicycle is more than a way to get around. It is a way to activate your potential. I’m a gal on a bike and I look forward to continuing to share with you the ways moving around by bike has expanded how I think about myself and my place.

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Coaching the next generation.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Little 500, check out the PEZ Cycling News article Little 500: Two Days in April.

– Kate Laudermilk

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