10,000 Flock to Mississippi District for Bicycle Race and Art Bike Parade
Portland is well known for being a great place to ride bikes, a place where the city government is dedicated to designing bicycle-friendly streets and advocacy organizations raise awareness about cycling. This wealth of infrastructure and safety support leaves plenty of room for others to focus on the more creative side of cycling: the arts and culture. And get creative the Portland cyclists do! Portland boasts an incredibly impressive collection of art bikes. Here’s your quick introduction to the common categories of “freak bike” as they’re often known: Tall bikes (very, very tall), Choppers (with a long front fork and the wheel way out in front), Swing bikes (the front half swings independently of the back half!), Mini bikes (modified kids’ bikes) and Chariots (just like you might imagine, only with a bike in place of the horse. Other bike artists, such as expert sculptor Neal Feagen, create bikes that are simply beautiful sculptural pieces that also roll. Some of his bikes emulate animal forms as metal criss-crosses metal in sweeping, fluid designs that pedal as smoothly as they appear.
Every June, Laughing Planet Café organizes an Art Bike Parade to bring these treasures out of the garages and onto the street for a day of velo pomp and circumstance. 10,000 people flock to the Mississippi District for the parade, a family bike ride and a nighttime professional bike race. Bike clubs and ad-hoc groups come out in force to represent their true love: riding bikes together. They don fantastically flourished costumes, ride their bikes with heads held high and show off the creative spirit that makes Portland the unique community it is. True to club form, some of the groups look a little rough around the edges – an homage to Harley-style biker gangs, perhaps – with their jean jacket vests emblazoned with the club name and logo on the back. This club affinity, taking pride in their creative steeds, does not go unnoticed by the thousands who come out to watch them strut their stuff along the two-mile parade route.
After the art bikes have had their moment in the spotlight, the street is roped off and closed down for the Cirque du Cycling Criterium, a bicycle race in the street. Professional and armature racers take to the streets for high-speed racing as the contenders vie for a selection of prizes, including giveaways from neighboring businesses and cash purses totaling $4,000. But for most racers it’s not about the money – it’s about conquering the course at their best top speeds. Criterium races challenge competitors to complete the most number of laps on a short, closed circuit course that is usually staged on city streets. The short course creates excitement with racers consistently passing spectators at top speeds so fast spectators can actually feel their arm hairs flutter as cyclists zoom by. The Cirque du Cycling Criterium ramps up the traditional criterium excitement with a double looped course featuring two-way racing in the center and racers passing each other with only a barricade to separate them. It’s a feat of skillful racing and packed with action making this a thrilling event to watch.
Mississippi Avenue is the heart of a popular shopping district flanked on both sides by residential neighborhoods creating a welcoming, stroll-able district for dining, people watching and relaxing at the bar. The neighborhood boasts a fiercely independent spirit exemplified by a street lined with thriving independent business, including the popular Amnesia Brewery with it’s sprawling patio and Laughing Planet Café, hosts of the parade. So Cirque du Cycling, an all day circus affair, fits right in. The neighborhood wholeheartedly embraces the opportunity to flaunt their love of creative culture. And the icing on the cake, the frosting on the tires: Cirque du Cycling is a benefit for Self Enhancement Incorporated (SEI), a non-profit organization that has been serving the needs of underprivileged youth in the neighborhood since 1981. SEI provides these families with much-needed year-round academic, enrichment and family support programs. SEI is has had a positive impact on thousands of young lives, making Portland a better place to live – a better place that is highlighted by creative events like the Cirque du Cycling. So grab your noise makers, and head on out to Mississippi Avenue to cheer on the racers, gawk at the art bikes and enjoy a day that is truly in the spirit of bike-friendly Portland.
For more information, see CyclingCircus.com.
Ayleen Crotty is a bike enthusiast in Portland, Oregon and the editor of ORbike.com. Ayleen also organizes some of the area’s best bike rides and races with her team at Good Sport Promotion. She is also the director of the bicycle film festival Filmed by Bike.