How does a bike-centric city get its gears in gear? For many people in Portland, Oregon, the answer is a mass bike ride put on by Pedalpalooza. Portland residents have likely heard of Pedalpalooza by now, or at least their most common events like the big Kickoff Parade or the Naked Bike Ride. The organization—which puts together group bike rides—started its events this year in June, and will continue through August with daily volunteer-led free bike rides.
Meghan Sinnott—one of the organizers of Pedalpalooza—said that the wheels of the organization got rolling in 2002 while she was writing her thesis on bicycle subcultures. She said their first breakout event at the time was called Bike Summer, and it became the blueprint for future events.
“The first Bike Summer…was an itinerant festival that would go from city to city hosting these bike events,” Sinnot said. “Portland loved it so dang much that we hosted a mini Bike Summer the next year, and then just kept it going, and then we made it bigger and bigger and it turned out Portlanders love a good bike event.”
With the introduction of the Summer Bike Festival and such positive feedback from the community, Shift 2 Bikes was born. Shift’s mission statement states, “As a loose-knit and informal bunch of bike-loving folks, we ask for no membership, nor dues, only a shared passion for the bicycle in all its glory: as toy, as transportation, as a tool for social and environmental change!”
Portland was a blank canvas for Shift to color with collaboration and ways to connect with the community. Sinnott said this was part of why she got involved in bike organizations in the first place.
“I got involved [with Shift] mostly just because I was not really sure what I needed to attend to learn about Portland’s bicycle subcultures, but I was fascinated at the time with this heavy overlap with the bicycle world and the DIY culture, like building their own bikes,” Sinnott said. “Then this bizarre overtone of clown antics and basically this idea of turning the world upside down on its head, like men dressing like women and adults riding kid bikes. You know, just questioning everything and trying new worlds on for size.”
The organization’s first events, Breakfast on the Bridges and the Multnomah County Bike Ride, were major hits out the gate. “Our first events were like…hosting breakfast on the bridges, which was like serving coffee to people as they commuted to work,” Sinnott said. “Things like the Multnomah County Bike Fair, which was a place for people to go get free helmets and watch people tall bike joust or do whatever stupid stuff people were doing then.”
Setting up a ride on the Shift calendar is easy and accessible—anyone interested in participating can start and lead a ride with a few clicks and cohesive planning. Sinnott recommended that anyone scheduling a ride do some research in advance in order to ensure an enjoyable event.
“To lead a ride, it is free, and it is shockingly easy to do, and honestly you don’t even need to ride a bicycle to lead a ride,” Sinnott said. “You don’t even have to be a cyclist or an avid cyclist…the more diversity we have for ride leaders, the more magical the rides will be.”
For people who don’t feel like the strongest riders, Meghan recommends rides called Family Friends. These rides are often on a loop, allowing individuals to go at their own pace and not feel intimidated.
Sinnott also spoke about her goals and aspirations for what she wants Pedalpalooza to grow into going forward. “I’m hoping that Pedalpalooza continues to expand to farther reaches of the Portland Metro Area,” she said. “We have some great ride leaders who are trying to get the event out to Tigard or Beaverton. …I’m also actively working to diversify not only attendees but ride leaders, advertising in The Skanner and Asian Reporter and liaising with local BIPOC in the Pacific Northwest—that’s huge for me, and I’m also hoping to bring the age down in Pedalpalooza.”
Sinnott said that organizing a community event like Pedalpalooza that brings people together is essential in these challenging times.
“Pedalpalooza not only brings good feelings and friendships, but for some people Pedalpalooza is summer,” she said. “For them, summer is not here until the Pedalpalooza kickoff ride. It’s a great way to meet people [and] discover your city. I sure hope that this concept gets populated in other cities and especially with people who are attending PSU.”