Browsed by
Author: Nicholas Von Pless (Contributor)

Book review: Pedal Portland by Todd Roll

Book review: Pedal Portland by Todd Roll

Book: Pedal Portland: 25 Easy Rides for Exploring the City by Bike
Author: Todd Roll
Publisher: Timber Press, 2014
Price: $16.95

Reviewed by Nicholas Von Pless

Around this time of year, I’m inviting friends from afar to enjoy the summer we yearn for after a long slog of grey and rain. But with some dry spells and surprising summery days this winter, I was able to get a preview of the rides illustrated in Pedal Portland, the new book from Todd Roll. (If Roll’s name sounds familiar that’s because he also owns and runs Pedal Bike Tours (and he also happens to be the guy who commissioned the now infamous “America’s Bicycle Capital” mural.)

In Pedal Portland, Roll outlines 25 rides that cover the entire region. From familiar bikeways in the central city to regional gems in Gresham, Hillsboro, and Vancouver. Like the guided bike tours offered by Roll’s company, the skill level of the routes ranges from very easy to pretty easy, which is great for my out-of-town friends, and great for reinvigorating the fair-weather riders of our fine city.

Many of the rides roll down familiar paths already identified by the city as greenways, so safety is really no concern. Furthermore, you can hit many of the multi-use paths — some of which I was delighted to find, like Beaverton’s eight-mile Waterhouse Powerline Park and connecting Willow Creek Greenway, on a raised boardwalk along the banks of Willow Creek and its wetland.

Passing through some of the popular streets like Mississippi, Alberta, Dekum, and Hawthorne, I found other reasons to enjoy this guide and improvise them when I lead others. Because the book is careful not to mention specific businesses (that run the risk of closing before press time), I noted bike-friendly and local businesses to visit, like North Portland Bike Works, Woodlawn Café, Breakside Brewing, Stormbreaker Brewing, and Moberi — a bike-powered smoothie cart.

Along the Willow Creek Greenway in Beaverton.
(Photo by Nicholas Von Pless)

For families and beginners, Pedal Portland allows the rider to acclimate and explore with general ease and safety, as each chapter infuses neighborhood trivia, and provides a fun scavenger hunt that one can only solve at 10 miles per hour. The book also offers an entire chapter of how-tos and riding tips to help you pedal like a local. There’s even a brief history lesson that will give you a deeper understanding of how Portland’s bike network came to be.

For those unfamiliar with certain areas (as I was in Beaverton), the cue sheets can be exhaustive and I found myself checking the book against my phone’s GPS, and still was marooned in dead-end business parks. Mr. Roll acknowledged the difficulty, and was pursuing perforated cue sheets or a GPS-assisted smartphone app. Still, the presence of way-finding signs along many of the rides provides added confidence to the journey.

With Pedal Portland, Roll has created more than just a collection of routes. The illustrations, maps, healthy serving of historical insights, and high-quality production value make this something worth adding to your library. And the best part? This book will inspire even more people — both locals and visitors — to enjoy the simple pleasures of a bicycle ride.

— Learn more and purchase the book online at You’re also invited to a launch party tomorrow (Thursday, 5/15) at 5:30 pm at Pedal Bike Tours 133 SW 2nd Ave).

Book Review: Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Rides in Washington

Book Review: Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Rides in Washington

Cover of Cycle Sojourner: Washington

Publisher’s note: Two years ago we took a look at Portland author Ellee Thalheimer’s first Cycling Sojourner guidebook that covered the best rides in Oregon. Now she’s back with a Washington edition that’s due out next month. BikePortland contributor Nicholas Von Pless received an advanced copy and shares his review below. — Jonathan

Around this time last year, I had just a couple longer distance rides under my belt: there was a two-day jaunt from Portland to Eugene (the first and last trip done without cycling shorts), and a few all-day rides within 30 miles of the city. But I wanted to get out and explore more. Fortunately, I had Ellee Thalheimer’s Cycling Sojourner, a companion for cycling through all of Oregon’s celebrated lands – from the treasured Painted Hills to the rolling vineyards of McMinnville. With Thalheimer’s expert guidance, I was turned on to some of the greatest adventures to be had on two wheels.

So on the cusp of another beautiful summer’s riding season, it was a no-brainer to again look to Ellee for guidance. And she delivers in her second installment, Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington.

Through Ellee’s conversational tone, riders of all skill levels are invited to explore Washington’s renowned landmarks and varied scenery, often via use of a statewide network of rails-to-trails pathways. There is also an emphasis on enjoying the friendly charm of many of the towns that support cycle tourism throughout the state, including well-researched tips and tricks to make your journey as fun as possible.

The nine rides featured in Cycling Sojourner span between 2-6 days, provide recommendations on dining and lodging to fit any rider’s budget, and offer options for riding throughout the year. Based on my previous rides, Ellee’s recommendations for dining and lodging are spot-on. She gives preference to proprietors that are friendly towards people who arrive by bike, or that offer something a little off-kilter and cater to riders looking for gluten-free, organic, or vegan options.

Thalheimer kickstarts this edition with a Taste of Touring, starting right in Seattle’s center, hugging Lake Washington to Bothell, meandering through Redmond and Carnation before linking up with trails all the way back in about 78 miles. Even for the adventurous beginner, the rides are split in two segments, making for an easy one-day stint. From there, Ellee provides other options: even on the Epic Washington Ride (250 miles, with a difficulty rating of 7/10, and massive climbs), the beginner can ride as little as 23 miles in a day and still get huge rewards like high alpine crystal lakes that look like a scene from the mountains of Central America.

However, intermediate and experienced riders can also choose from a number of trips, including: island-hopping in the San Juans; mountain scaling in the Olympic Peninsula; and roller-coasting wheat fields, hop farms, and vineyards in eastern Washington. The geographic variety gives you year-round escapes even when it’s pouring along the I-5 corridor.

One of Thalheimer’s greater contributions as a knowledgeable tour guide is her attention to the regional culture. Each chapter contains a unique history, including an 11-year war; its only casualty a pig. We’re also educated about the past advocacy and ongoing efforts to preserve these wild and scenic areas for future recreationists. In addition to the dining and lodging recommendations, the book also highlights art galleries, bike shops, museums, swimming holes, and other points of interest to make your journey complete: getting you off the saddle and enjoying a holistic experience of these destinations.

Cycling Sojourner provides comprehensive logistics while cramming in insightful tips, and teases tantalizing temptations like descents that make your eyes water, snow-capped mountains with clear lakes, sightings of whales, bald eagles, and cougars, serenely quiet valleys, and miles upon miles to connect yourself to the environment and communities that await you.

— Ellee’s new book can be pre-ordered for $18.95 at

Light review: Portland Design Works’ Aether Demon and Spaceship/RADBOT combo

Light review: Portland Design Works’ Aether Demon and Spaceship/RADBOT combo

Just part of PDW’s large family of lights.

— Note from the Publisher: Please join me in welcoming Nicholas Von Pless and Alana Harris to the BikePortland team. Regular readers know that this site does not review products very often. That’s something I’ve been wanting to change for a long time, and Nicholas and Alana are going to help finally make it happen. Stay tuned as we post more reviews and fine-tune the format to make these as readable and useful as possible. Email feedback to Thanks for reading. — Jonathan

Portland Design Works (known as PDW around here) launched in 2008 and they’ve grown up a lot since then. The ownership duo of Erik Olson and Dan Powell have carved a comfortable niche in a very crowded accessory market by focusing on quality design, attention to detail, and creative twists on seemingly mundane products. Today we’ll take a closer look at three of their popular light models: the Spaceship 3 head light and the Aether Demon and RADBOT 500 tail lights.

Aether Demon tail light – reviewed by Alana Harris


  • Product website
  • USB rechargeable
  • Price: $49
  • 0.5 watt LED
  • Available at local bike shops

Need proof that good things come in small packages? PDW’s Aether Demon tail light will cast behind you an intense halo of protective light with its four powerful settings, so you can have a safe journey on the road. While it looks similar on the surface to other lights on the market, the Aether Demon has some nice touches that make it easy-to-use and easy on the environment.

When I first received the Aether Demon, I noticed its relative lightness compared with other lights I’ve used. This is due in part because the Aether Demon doesn’t require your typical set of triple or double “A” batteries, and instead can be plugged into your computer with a USB cord, included, to recharge its compact, lithium-ion battery. This feature got rid of two worries of mine that usually apply to bike lights: having to carry around spare, disposable batteries, and having to then worry about recycling the countless used batteries that typically pile up in my junk drawer. (Eliminating this weight also makes this light a more viable option for use on your helmet, if that’s what you’re looking for.)

(Photo: PDW)

The feature I find most rewarding, however, is the fact that the Aether Demon will remember which mode you were last using when you turn it on so that you’ll no longer have to cycle through all the light settings to get to the one you were just using. Similarly, you won’t have to repeat this process in turning it off; the Aether Demon shuts down just like your phone, by holding its power button for a couple seconds. You can choose from a standard, solid red light stance, to an erratic flashing that demands the attention of other travelers on your road. Pick the less intense blinking setting to save battery life, or go with the “Group Ride” option that won’t blind or distract your fellow cyclists, while still alerting others around you to your position.

This LED light charges in under 3 hours, and in its most powerful setting lasted me around 7-8 hours before signaling the need for a recharge; a blinking, blue light turns solid when the battery has again reached full capacity after being plugged in. Using this 0.5 watt light as I pedaled home on some busy streets that make up part of my daily commute truly eased my mind as cars whizzed by on a typical rainy and dark winter evening. The Aether Demon definitely works to ward off on-coming traffic, which is a priceless virtue that a great, local company has made available for the very reasonable price of $49.

Spaceship 3/RADBOT 500 Combo – reviewed by Nicholas Von Pless


  • Product website
  • Price: $49 for the combo
  • Batteries included
  • Available at local bike shops

After I picked up these lights I was excited to get to work on a review; but after installing them I went on a ride and thought, now what? What do I write about a tail light that I can’t even see? Are the lights automatically good if I avoid collisions?

Fortunately, our winter weather has been a great testing ground. I have ridden this light in thick fog, snow, and of course it’s been dark and grey most of the time.

Upon first unleashing the RADBOT 500 (tail light) from its minimal packaging (definitely a plus), I was pleased to find that it easily slid onto my existing generic mount. However, I struggled with the flexible mount for the Spaceship 3 front light. I should have taken a cue from the lack of packaging to check PDW’s website, which has PDF instructions to go with every light. Nonetheless, the flexible mount resulted in being one notch too short or too long. Despite the fit not being perfect, I’ve found that I like how the mount retains flexibility for different needs – downward for low visibility, and outward to alert drivers.

(Photo: PDW)

The Spaceship 3 has provided an experience that has been nearly out of this world (ha ha). I’ve historically gone with a cheapo light that costs $8 with an $8 battery, but even compared to high-powered lights used by friends, Spaceship 3 outshined anything else I’ve seen so far. In steady mode, the ‘ship’s beam lit up every street sign, and I could read every street name without slowing down and squinting. Pointing at the ground, the trio of powerful LEDs clearly marked my course. This was extremely helpful when finding a smooth path in the snow, biking at night along the Springwater or near PIR, or making my space known when joining a Midnight Mystery Ride.

The RADBOT 500 comes with 2 lighting patterns that are brilliant and unique, so I felt confident and safe while riding. The RADBOT also comes with a “Euro reflector” for added safety. The power button, which you hold for a second, remembers your last setting.

As a combo, these lights both offer sleek and sturdy design, especially with RADBOT 500 boasting see-through packaging. And maybe this is silly, but a huge perk of both lights are the buttons! I mean, they feel like real buttons on real electronics. It’s not rubbery feeling, it doesn’t feel like a toy, and I’m not afraid of accidentally turning them on and running out the battery. At $49 for the both, this combo makes a lot of sense.