Ride report: Providence Bridge Pedal 2009

Today was the Providence Bridge Pedal.

I signed up not too long after I arrived in Portland, excited about the opportunity to ride so many of the bridges over the Willamette, especially those not ordinarily open or friendly to bike traffic, including the Fremont and Marquam bridges, which are freeways (I-405 and I-5 respectively).

I didn’t realize until much more recently that this is a huge, huge event. There is no cap on registration, and based on the numbers I heard this morning, more than 15,000 people were riding today. With that many people riding, it isn’t just the car-oriented bridges that are barricaded; virtually the entire route features blocked cross streets and at least one lane of traffic, sometimes more, reserved for ride participants.

You can find the route maps at the Bridge Pedal website, although perhaps not permanently. I signed up for the 11-bridge ride, 38 miles long and crossing eight bridges eleven times (crossing the Fremont, Marquam, and Broadway twice, and the St. Johns, Burnside, Ross Island, Hawthorne, and Sellwood bridges once each).

In addition to the 38 miles of the route I biked to the start via the Broadway bridge (so I crossed it three times today), about 3 miles, and home via SW Oak, SW Park, NW Couch, NW 14th, and NW Johnson (1.8 miles from the finish area at SW Ash and Naito Parkway), for a total mileage of 42.8.

Even with a lane or more of traffic blocked off and a staggered start, the ride was extremely crowded and speed was largely determined by the flow of traffic (and one’s skill at passing in crowds). I waited in a big pack to start (around 7:05 or 7:10), and it remained congested for most of the way, except a few times on long flats or downhills where I was able to go my desired pace. Because of the congestion, downhill speeds were generally limited, although I did get to 30 a few times when we had a whole road or freeway available.

The weather was cool and cloudy, which is fine for riding but less exciting for taking pictures. I mostly just rode but did snap a few pictures from the bridges — it was just too trippy to be riding my bike and seeing freeway exit signs, plus there were some nice views and interesting bikes (my favorite a tri-tandem with a child trailer). Even though I’m a little out of shape, the ride was well within my capacity, with only a few substantial climbs on the bridge approaches. I’m a little tired now and my legs and body feel well-used rather than exhausted. I could feel my W2W-acquired endurance kicking in after the first ten miles or so, as usual. I’m pleased my body has learned to respond that way, even though it makes me a little slow to start sometimes.

My favorite bridge was the Sellwood, where the approach went through a long stretch of neighborhood streets that were quiet and pleasant, and the view from the bridge was of the river, with downtown Portland rather far off. After crossing, the road wound through a more wooded area before returning to downtown. I also liked the St. Johns bridge for its attractive architecture, and a section of N Willamette Blvd for the best pavement of the entire ride.

In spite of the crowds, most everyone was careful and courteous, and I didn’t see any actual mishaps, though there were a few careless roadies and clueless slow people. I wish the organizers had done more to emphasize how to ride in large groups (slow to the right, shoulder checks before lateral movement, signaling stops), but aside from the lack of variety in the food and drink, that was really my only complaint.

I’m really glad I took the opportunity to do this even though biking in crowds is really not my thing. It was wonderful to have the chance to explore so much of Portland (even all the way down to Sellwood) without having to worry about car traffic, and fun to ride my bike on the freeway, thinking about how usually it’s so busy with cars. You can fit a lot of bikes on a freeway, is all I’m saying.

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