Editor’s note: Cycle Oregon’s rides for 2020 have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but read on for future inspiration.
Since 1988, Cycle Oregon has led thousands of cyclists through verdant valleys, remote countryside and Scenic Bikeways of the Beaver State, often showcasing the landscapes to riders for the first time so they might return with friends and family. It’s just one of dozens of annual bike events in Oregon, ranging from short to long, quirky to hard-core and everything in between.
What sets Cycle Oregon apart from other events is the sheer breadth of ground covered — nearly every corner of the state — as well as the amount of support they give to local communities.
The routes have grown to include four epic, all-inclusive rides: the weeklong fall Classic ride; a two-day, all-ages summer Weekender; a single-day, women-only Joyride; and a rugged and remote Gravel ride, with varying lengths for each.
The flagship Classic route takes riders through the Painted Hills of Eastern Oregon, with stops in the frontier towns of John Day, Monument, Fossil, Mitchell and Dayville. Now riders have the chance to customize their routes. They may choose to join an organized excursion, tackle a more challenging route or opt for a shorter route to leave time to relax (and recover) at camp. Each event is powered by hundreds of volunteers who sign on for the route or come from the hosting community to make the event a seamless one — from food service to moving baggage, organizing recycling stations and setting up the finish line.
Whether or not you consider yourself a cyclist, here are a few reasons to support Cycle Oregon’s mission.
Giving Back to Communities
Since 1996 the nonprofit has earmarked proceeds from its rides to distribute hundreds of community grants throughout Oregon. To date, Cycle Oregon has awarded $2.3 million to 325 groups for projects to better their communities.
Recent grants have been awarded to the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture for Native American arts programming; to the city of Seneca for a new fire station; and to the Creswell Heritage Foundation to repair a historic schoolhouse and to build a bike-repair station in the town of McKenzie Bridge at the entry to the Aufderheide Scenic Byway, among many other projects. Cycle Oregon also gives direct grants to the hosting communities’ school districts and chambers of commerce to use as they see fit.
“At a time when we need to come together as a community, in my opinion, it’s the perfect opportunity to do something that’s good for someone else,” says Steve Schulz, Cycle Oregon’s executive director, who’s ridden 19 of the past 20 years’ routes.
In addition to supporting local communities, Cycle Oregon invests in major statewide projects as well. One project that just came to fruition is the public purchase of a nearly 1,800-acre parcel of land at Wallowa Lake’s east moraine — the glacial crest of land framing the iconic lake on its eastern edge. Cycle Oregon has contributed $98,000 over the past decade toward the $6.5 million purchase of this property, which will now be owned and managed by Wallowa County and barred from development. It will be preserved as a working community forest, protecting native plants, wildlife habitat and cultural resources. For thousands of years, the moraine has been a refuge for wildlife and is sacred to the Nez Perce tribe. Find more information on the project at the Wallowa Land Trust.
“It’s such an iconic landmark,” Schulz says about the Wallowa Lake site, which Cycle Oregon has traveled to a handful of times over the years. “The growth of the state is exponential. Our lands are being gobbled up. To be able to preserve that and work with the Nez Perce in management principles is just amazing.”
Looking to the Future
Over the decades, Cycle Oregon has had the opportunity to constantly evolve, adapt and innovate. When wildfires caused smoke in Oregon in fall 2017, Cycle Oregon was forced to cancel their weeklong ride for the first time in the event’s history. Each year since then, Cycle Oregon has prepared a Plan B route in another part of the state — securing permits, working with communities and taking on other logistical efforts — in case Mother Nature or a global pandemic forces a cancellation again. Cycle Oregon announced May 5, 2020 that the uncertainty around COVID-19 would force a cancellation for its 2020 events.
As the popularity of e-bikes has grown, Cycle Oregon has fielded lots of questions about whether they may be allowed. “We are working on our e-bike stance,” Schulz says, noting that they currently have a pilot project with a small group of riders on pedal-assist e-bikes to see how they’d be supported in a large event. For those who worry that e-bikes give an unfair advantage, he notes that it’s not a race, so that shouldn’t be a factor. Allowing pedal-assist e-bikes in the future will let more riders of all skill levels participate. “We have lots to learn on inclusivity,” Schulz says. “It’s a slow wheel, but we’re trying to make a safe space for them to join us.”
Classic riders now have the option to choose shorter routes — 270 miles as opposed to 430 miles over seven days — which makes the distance more manageable. “Even if you love to ride your bike a little bit, you can train for this,” Schulz says. Cycle Oregon also is adding new opportunities to engage in the communities along the way — like reading with children or cleaning ballfields or parks — that may attract those looking to do good along the way.
More women are participating in Cycle Oregon rides than ever. Nearly a third of the riders on the weeklong Classic ride are now women, Schulz says, and women make up more than half of the participants on the Weekender ride, set on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis with a festival vibe. In addition, the Joyride was added in 2016 as a ladies-only event, with 1,000 women of all ages riding through Willamette Valley wine country on routes of varying distances. As with all Cycle Oregon events, each ride ends in a party with food, live entertainment, massage therapists and physical therapists available for appointments.
“We’re building community through bikes,” Schulz says. “You just come and ride, and we do everything else. And we get to do good and have fun along the way.”