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Biking Abroad

We just got back from a soul-energizing trip abroad. You know how it is, you haven’t been away for a while and you finally just do it and as soon as you get that passport stamped you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

We spent 2 weeks bussing it in a loop from Cancun (skipped it) down the peninsula, through Northern Belize and the Cayes, then out Western Belize into Guatemala, explored Tikal (Indiana Jones style!) then ducked out Guate into Chiapas, and back to Cancun via Palenque and Merida (viva Mexico)!

Why there? Because it’s nearly the cheapest flight out of the country and I’ve been meaning to see Tikal since I missed my chance 15 years ago while traveling in western Guatemala.

I won’t bore you with a lot of stories of jungle choked ruins, boat rides up crocodile infested rivers, snorkeling with sharks and sting rays or showering under pristine waterfalls. What I do want to mention is the incredible number of bicycles we saw, particularly three wheeled cargo bikes like this one:

One of hundreds of cargo bikes we saw.

One of hundreds of cargo bikes we saw.

These things were everywhere and carrying everything, from chicken cages, to crates of oranges to mobile food stands:

We saw the same model, same setup everywhere we went. It’s single speed and the entire front cargo area pivots on the front wheels.

We even saw them on the side of the road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.


Of course we saw lots of regular bikes too. Everywhere you looked there were people pedaling complacently, on their way to work in the fields or home from the office. Kids, farmers, whole families sometimes; father riding, mother sitting sidesaddle on the rear rack and baby on her lap. They were as common as the stray dogs one sees everywhere.

In the whole two weeks I only once saw a brand I recognized. Of course with this many bicycles, there were also lots of bike shops. In larger cities they seemed to cluster in certain sections of town, there’d be 5 bike shops within a block. In smaller villages it was likely to be a shed, open on three sides, with one guy hammering on a wheel and another reading the paper by flashlight while a customer waited for his sole means of transport to be beaten back into service.

And speaking of flashlights, bringing your own can really come in handy when wanting to do a little biking at night. In places like the car-free Caye islands in Belize see photo of Todd riding the sand), riding at night is a blast but it helps to have your own small LED flashlight. If you’re looking for one for a future trip, check out this great article on the best  LED Flashlights of 2019.

I was very encouraged to see so many people riding their bicycles for the short distances they travel to carry out their daily tasks and I hope they continue to do so until the next time I’m able to go back and visit.

Rollin down the river

MMM bike paths.  They make me salivate with happiness.  I used to live in Seattle, steps from the Burke Gilman trail, which runs for many miles almost from the Puget Sound all the way out to the Redhook brewery in the countryside.  Along the way it passes the Gasworks park on Lake Union,  UW, Soundgarden’s Soundgarden, and Lake Washington.  It’s one of the greatest places and experiences in Seattle.

Portland has the Springwater Corridor running approximately 30 miles along the Willamette river and east toward Mt. Hood and the pathway running several miles along Marine Drive.  We also have the 2.5 mile loop of Tom McCall Waterfront park and the Eastbank Esplanade, connected by two bridges, and it is a fantastic way to see the city and get in a ride or a walk.  Until these paths went in, Portland’s rivers were mostly taken over by industry or freeways.  All these paths are part of the 40 mile loop, envisioned to provide access to green space for city-dwellers almost a century ago and all but forgotten until recently.

Now that we have public non-motorized access to some of the river, people are hungry for more; that’s where npGREENWAY comes in.

From their website:

“npGREENWAY envisions a trail system providing access to and along the Willamette River enveloping the north riverfront from the Steel Bridge in downtown Portland to Cathedral Park near the St. Johns Bridge and extending through Baltimore Woods to Kelley Point Park.

Our goal is to link North Portland neighborhoods with the Willamette River for recreation and access to jobs. This expansion of the Willamette River Greenway will include a network of trails used for activities such as walking, running, cycling, skating, skateboarding, fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. The North Portland Greenway trails will connect with the existing Willamette River trail system serving residents and visitors throughout the region.”

It’s already been a long road and probably has years or possibly decades to go, but you have to start somewhere and the citizens of npGREENWAY are in it for the long haul.

It’s great to see Portlanders are continuing to realize the Willamette river’s importance to the overall health of our natural surroundings and by extension to our own health, not to mention the benefits of exercise and the public’s right to access to our common spaces.

I look forward to the day you can ride from the Sellwood bridge to the St. Johns bridge along the river without vying for space with a car.  Dare to dream…

Cargo Bikes

Holly is unimpressed with being treated as cargo

Holly is unimpressed with being treated as cargo

So I’m walking down the sidewalk when I sense a presence behind me. I turn around and there, like the mythic Yeti, is an apparition much heard of but seldom seen, it’s Phil from Metrofiets riding one of his handbuilt in Portland cargo bikes.

Phil is actually coming to the shop to show us what is only the third of their new creations. You can certainly understand why there’s only three, the thing is almost 10 feet long and features a wooden box mounted in the middle, big enough to hold almost 2 adults, or 2 kegs. Phil says it will hold 200 pounds while still being easy to maneuver and up to 600 pounds maximum. He let me take it for a spin and it did take a moment to get the balance down (the key is to look where you’re going, not at the box!)

Ever since Clever Cycles brought the dutch cargo bike Bakfiets to Portland a couple of years ago, interest in these utilitarian bicycles has been growing. Over the last six months news of new companies and products has been springing up. The Xtracycle is a bolt on rear wheel which creates basically a long bicycle with a long rear rack. It’s been around for a while, but now there’s the Yuba Mundo, based on the same concept. Surly has also come out with their own version called the Big Dummy.

Cargo bikes have a bin mounted somewhere allowing you to put things in without securing them down like on a rack. In addition to Bakfiets and Metrofiets, which have the box mounted in front of the rider, a company called Madsen just began building their own version. Madsen’s bike has the box mounted behind the rider with a well in the middle for the rear wheel.

In Eugene, Oregon, the Center for Appropriate Transport has been making their own cargo bike for years. More recently, another Eugene company, CETMA is about to launch their own version. And last but not least out of Europe is the Long John, possibly the oldest of the cargo bikes.

The point is, while not new, cargo bikes are becoming hot in the US and it will be interesting to see where the interest goes. With a 200 pound cargo capacity they are excellent for much more than just a quick trip to the grocery store. People here in Portland are even using them to move with. Their growing popularity will allow more people to get out of their cars more often and further reduce our dependence on cars, which as you know, I think is great!

Oregon Tours

1 (503) 243-2453
133 sw 2nd avenue portland, or, 97204