When Lisa Gilbertson and her partner, Phil Amaya, travel somewhere new, the first thing they do is book a bike tour. For these outdoor enthusiasts, cycling through a bustling city or the idyllic countryside is the perfect way to get a sense of place. After moving to Oregon’s Chehalem Valley in 2016, the couple promptly began exploring their new home on two wheels and quickly fell in love with the winding country roads. Eager to share their favorite routes with others, they launched Wine de Roads in 2019. Years later, Gilbertson still loves guiding visitors around some of the most scenic roads in the state. Here are some of the reasons why she cycles in the Willamette Valley.
What are your favorite things about biking in the Willamette Valley?
Cycling lends itself to really immersing yourself in the place you are visiting. I think in this day and age, when many of us tend to be on our phones whenever we have a free minute, there’s something about biking that heightens all of your senses. We notice this on all our trips as we pedal by hazelnut orchards and rolling vineyards and fields with horses and cattle and sheep. Which leads to another great thing about bikes: We can easily stop anywhere we want to take pictures and answer questions that visitors might have about the area.
What are people often surprised to discover when biking in the Willamette Valley?
Everyone is always in awe of how pretty it is, even for those who have traveled these same roads by car. It’s a different perspective by bike. Thanks to our ample rain, there’s always something green to enjoy in the landscape. Our participants are also surprised by how much education we include throughout the day. We discuss the history of Oregon wine, the winemaking process and other agriculture in the area.
What is the best time of year for biking in the Willamette Valley?
Our tours run April through October. I love April and May, when all the spring flowers and fruit trees are blooming. Summer is just as pretty with all the different shades of green from the hillside vineyards and leafy deciduous trees to the evergreens. But my favorite season to bike is autumn, with all the changing colors and the buzz of grape harvest. If one of the wineries we visit has grapes in for crush, we’ll stop and watch with our group, and explain what’s happening. That’s always a fun experience for riders new to wine country.
Any tips for someone taking your cycling tour for the first time?
The routes we ride through wine country are geared toward what we call “energetic beginners.” They are mainly flat with a few rolling hills and might have some sections of gravel. The total distance we cycle is between 8 and 12 miles at a leisurely pace so you can enjoy the sights as we ride. On each trip, we always talk about safety first, which starts with helmets. On any road, it’s important to be highly visible, so we provide safety vests and blinking lights. As a cyclist, you have to be the one that’s on the lookout, because drivers aren’t always paying as much attention as they should, so constantly be alert about where you are and the traffic around you.
What other tours do you lead?
In addition to our Chehalem Valley Tour — which includes a visit to three wineries and a picnic lunch — we offer a tour that runs along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. For this we cycle 8 to 10 miles on paved bike paths and quiet forest roads from the historic Champoeg State Heritage Area, located along the Willamette River, to Willamette Mission State Park. We’ll have a picnic lunch at either Lady Hill Winery or in the park, depending on what the group prefers. No matter which tour we lead, we always feel like good friends by the end of the day.