: Photo courtesy of Cycle Portland

Pedaling, Pints and Portland History

Experience the City of Roses with a guide on this freewheeling e-bike tour.
May 17, 2024

There’s no better way to see a city than on two wheels, especially Portland, which consistently ranks as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. Bicycles have the power to take you into the parks, neighborhoods and pathways that form the true connective tissue of a place. So when I got the chance to hop on an e-bike tour of Portland breweries with local bike tour outfitter and rental company Cycle Portland, I was thrilled. While I’ve spent lots of time biking around the city on my own, I’d never been on an e-bike and was excited to try it. The promise of a couple of thirst-quenching Portland ales on the Brews Cruise was even more appealing. Here’s what we experienced.

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Portland Waterfront (Photo courtesy of Cycle Portland)

Old Town History and Classic Patio Pints

My friend Kat and I arrive at Cycle Portland in Old Town Chinatown on a sunny afternoon. Our guide, Piers Rippey, gets us set up with loaner e-bikes and helmets, an option we chose because it’s easier for distances and uphill. Beginners love them, but it’s worth noting Oregon law requires e-bike riders to be 16 or older. The outfitter also operates as a repair shop, so we knew the equipment was in great shape. After a quick tutorial about how to safely operate the bike — just turn it on, hop in the saddle and start pedaling — we’re off. 

Rippey points us toward the Willamette River. On the way, we pedal through Portland’s magnolia-lined historic Chinatown and Nihonmachi (Japantown), passing beautiful old brick buildings that once housed the center of the Chinese and Japanese communities in Portland. At the waterfront, we pause at the Japanese American Historical Plaza, which houses Portland’s famous waterfront Akebono cherry trees, planted to commemorate Japanese American incarceration during World War II.

As a Benson Bubbler drinking fountain burbles quietly in the background, Rippey draws our attention to the five bridges crossing the Willamette we can see from here, including the Steel Bridge. “It’s the only vertical lift bridge of its kind in the country,” he says. Truly multimodal, the Steel Bridge carries everything from pedestrians and cyclists to cars, buses and heavy rail traffic. Appealingly for us, the bicycle crossing is set completely apart from vehicle traffic. We pedal across alongside pedestrians, joggers and a few circling seagulls.

From the river, we climb a gentle slope into the Lloyd District in Portland’s central eastside. Rippey leads us confidently through a few busier intersections in clearly marked bicycle lanes. With the extra power of the e-bike, navigating uphill is truly effortless. We pass through a light-industrial district filled with creative manufacturing, small warehouses and the heavenly aromas of the historic Franz Bakery before arriving at the original Migration Brewing brewpub.

Founded in 2010, this laid-back locals’ favorite is now internationally distributed, but it all started in this chill space surrounded by independent restaurants and vintage brick apartment buildings. With 30 different taps inside, it’s tough to choose, but I opt for a refreshing, low-alcohol Me Time Lager to enjoy on the sunny patio, which is prime for people and pup watching. There’s also a hearty food menu with burgers, wings and “Glisan crunchwraps,” inspired by a famous fast-food chain.  

Cascade Brewing Barrel House (Photo by Susan Seubert)

Portland Parks and Sour Beers

From Migration, our next stop is the Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland’s oldest. Named for the solitary tree left on the parcel in 1866, today that original fir is anything but lonely. The cemetery is now also the second-largest arboretum in Portland, with 67 species of trees on-site. Notable people buried here include Asa Lovejoy, one of the famous coin flippers who determined Portland’s name, and Augustus “Gus” Waterford, Portland’s first Black firefighter. Rippey shows us the tomb of the Bottler brothers, 19th-century German immigrants who were two of Portland’s first brewers.

It’s not far from here to scenic Laurelhurst Park, a 31-acre leafy oasis of rolling green lawns, shady conifer groves and a peaceful pond centerpiece. We pedal along the central paved pathway, passing families feeding the ducks and a busy pickleball court before heading downhill toward our next destination: Cascade Brewing Barrel House on Southeast Belmont. Founded in 2006, Cascade is a groundbreaking Portland brewery and one of the first to specialize in sour beers.

A vast list of nearly two dozen sour beers greets us, including a couple poured straight from the barrel. I choose one of the excellent non-sour ales, Hay Cutter Lager, a collaboration with Occidental Brewing Co., while my friend opts for two small pours of sour beers: the Vine Rosé, a sour blonde ale refermented with Oregon pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, and Kriek, a blend of sour ales aged in red-wine barrels with Oregon-grown Bing and Montmorency cherries. Cascade also serves hot sandwiches, gumbo and a warm pretzel from Fressen, a wonderful Portland bakery specializing in German breads and pretzels — all with suggested beer pairings, of course.

Eastbank Esplanade (Photo courtesy of Cycle Portland)

Cruising the Willamette River on Car-Free Pathways

Our whistles wetted, we hop on our bikes and pedal south toward Ladd’s Addition, one of Portland’s most labyrinthine neighborhoods. With all its roundabouts and diagonal streets, I’m happy to have a guide to follow — even though I actually lived in the neighborhood in the early 2010s. Then we head toward the river again, weaving into thick commuter-hour bike traffic on our way to the water. The riding is easy, but the route is a little convoluted, so I’m glad Rippey’s there to lead the way. Even better, the guide handles parking and locking the bikes at stops.

We turn onto the Eastbank Esplanade, a car-free pedestrian and cycling path that flanks the east side of the river, then head toward the Tilikum Crossing, the only car-free Willamette River bridge in the city. We stop at the top of the span for a quick photo as the Max light rail whizzes across, then coast down toward the Waterfront Park Trail on the west side of the river. A final, easy pedal back to the bike shop along the riverbank allows us to pass Salmon Street Springs (a big fountain, not an actual spring), appealing coffee shops, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Mill Ends Park, the smallest park in the world. 

Back at Cycle Portland, I’m a little sad to relinquish my trusty, speedy steed, but a souvenir pint glass sporting the shop’s gear-shaped logo is a welcome consolation prize.

Portland Biking Tips

Biking in Portland can be a great experience — even for beginners — but it’s essential to understand a few safety rules: 

  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Know the rules of the road. As a cyclist, you’re expected to obey the same laws as drivers of motorized vehicles, including traffic signals.
  • While cyclists are technically allowed on all surface streets of the city, it is safer to plan your route to take advantage of Portland’s many Neighborhood Greenways and bike paths. Traveling with a guide like Cycle Portland can take the work out of planning.
  • Always cross Max tracks at a 90-degree angle so your tire doesn’t get stuck and cause an injury.
  • If you’re biking in low light, make sure your bike has a front and rear light for visibility.

 

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About The
Author

Margarett Waterbury
Margarett Waterbury is a lifelong Northwesterner who writes about food, drinks, travel and agriculture for local and national press. She lives in a 90-year-old bungalow in Southeast Portland and enjoys high-octane coffee, low-ABV beers and walking long distances.

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