Can you think of your favorite memory on a bicycle? Alison Graves has seen a lot of Oregon on two wheels, but loves to relive the vivid experience of her 2015 Cycle Oregon tour of the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway, from Baker City to La Grande in Eastern Oregon.
“We started with a long climb away from Baker City toward the mountains, which were bathed in morning light,” says Graves, former executive director of Cycle Oregon. “Our first stop was at the Pondosa Store, with a charming proprietor happily serving hot coffee and tall tales. Lunch was at Catherine Creek State Park, a roadside park along the river that was full of wildflowers. After lunch, the road rushed us downhill, sandwiched between rocks and the river, and delivered us into the town of Union.”
The day was just a “beautiful surprise” to the riders as well as community members, Graves says. “I feel like the Bikeways do that over and over. There are all these beautiful surprises.”
Graves is one of the 15 members of the advisory committee to the Oregon Scenic Bikeways program — which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2019. Inspired by the Oregon Scenic Byways program (for drivers), the Bikeways program has grown to include 17 officially designated routes. It’s hailed as the first and only program in the United States with official state-designated bike routes as well as printable maps, GPS cue sheets and on-road signage.
Members of the advisory committee ride each of the Bikeways as part of the designation process — climbing the hills, rolling through valleys, cruising the rugged coastline, winding through forests and relying on the friendliness of small-town communities along the way for support.
“I think Bikeways introduce Oregon to Oregonians and people beyond; you get to see these places at an intimate pace,” says Graves, who lives nearby the 50-mile Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway, just west of Portland. This particular Bikeway includes the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, which is paved, car-free and one of the most accessible Bikeway sections to beginners. Most Bikeways are on state roads, in low-traffic but sometimes high-speed areas, so cyclists must be comfortable using hand signals and sharing the road with vehicle traffic.
The routes range in length and skill level, from the mild 35-mile Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway in Cottage Grove to the extreme Oregon Outback Scenic Bikeway, which includes 90 miles of rugged terrain in the remote high desert of southeastern Oregon.
The Oregon Legislature celebrated the 10th anniversary in May 2019 with a proclamation noting the uniqueness of the Oregon State Parks program. “The goal has always been to showcase the best of the best rides in Oregon — that means celebrating our diversity of landscapes,” says Bonnie Lippitt, a U.S. Forest Services program manager and board member who helped kick off the Bikeways in 2009. She adds that the routes are a big boon to local communities, and offer great trip multi-day ideas for adventure-seeking visitors who want to explore the state’s landscape, cultural heritage and public lands on two wheels.
If you go:
Newer riders may get a taste of the Bikeways through one of the organized rides offered in 2019 — an ideal way for individuals, groups and even families to experience sections of the routes with support along the way. Some are free, while some are fundraisers for various charities. Newer riders looking to tackle a Bikeway on their own should go with someone who’s ridden one of the routes before, if possible. Before choosing a route, riders should think of the type of biking they are most comfortable with, and match that to a route. Travel Oregon offers detailed maps, GPS info, videos, photos, guide and shuttle companies, cycling events, attractions and bike-friendly lodging. Riders may customize a route by parking in a small town and riding in and out, or having a friend shuttle gear ahead. For more inspiration, download the Oregon Scenic Bikeways Guide and check road conditions before you go.