Before visiting Portland, Oregon, I'd heard it was a little "weird" -- a metropolis of cycling enthusiasts who enjoy micro-brews, locally grown edibles, a thirst for adventure, and a laid-back atmosphere.
With more cyclists per capita than any other U.S. destination, Portland deserves its nickname as the nation's most "cycle-friendly city." And it's a particularly fitting locale for the Cyclepedia: Iconic Bicycle Design exhibition, on through Sept. 8 at the Portland Art Museum.
But for visitors just itching to wheel around town, Pedal Bike Tours provides rental bikes and maps, as well as a variety of escorted tours with themes such as "Historic Downtown" and "Bites By Bike."
There are bike lanes on literally every city street, and both cyclists and drivers are quite courteous to each other when it comes to sharing the road.
A morning half-day cycling excursion allows time for exploration into the surrounding Pearl District, South Waterfront, Northeast, and Central Eastside, before wrapping up back downtown in time for lunch.
Local authors, cyclists and beer enthusiasts Lucy Burningham and Ellee Thalheimer collaborated on "Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland's Craft Beer Scene, by Bike," and it's a great resource for any two-wheeled fanatic who also wants to explore the burgeoning craft-brewery scene in and around the city.
An interesting place to visit is the bicycling cultural centre Velo Cult, a combination bike-shop, bar, cafe, theatre and performance-art space.
Proprietor Sky says he moved to Portland on a whim, closing up his San Diego shop and making the trek north to relocate in a place where he felt more at home.
Sky didn't expect that all his employees would decide to make the move with him. But they did, and he opened shop on 42nd Avenue, where he was welcomed by local cyclists of all disciplines. Sitting down for a cold brew, or grabbing lunch while your bike is being worked on is definitely a value-added service.
There are also many opportunities to get out of the city for a day or two for some cycling, with everything from rails-to-trails pathways to mountain bike and cyclo-cross terrain to explore nearby.
The fairly flat 34-km multi-purpose Banks-Vernonia Trail traverses both Washington and Columbia counties, and passes over 12 bridges and two 183-metre-long, 24-metre-high railroad trestles. Banks Bicycles at the Banks trailhead entrance is a perfect spot to rent a bike for the day.
In Vernonia, Coastal Mountain Sport Haus is a bike-friendly B&B that makes for a great overnight stay for those wanting to explore further.
An hour's drive southeast of the city towers Oregon's monumental natural play zone, Mt. Hood. Summitting at just over 3,353-metres, it offers something for visitors of every age and ability. There are hundreds of kilometres of trails of varying terrain for everything from cross-country trekking to multi-mile descents.
Mt. Hood Adventure is the one of the best sources for year-round recreation, offering guided tours and equipment rentals for outdoor pursuits.
Accommodations around Mt. Hood range from rustic mountainside camping to spa resorts, and Hood Brewery serves up a variety of ales made with pure glacial water -- a perfect end to an adventurous day.
As I bid Portland adieu, the "weird" factor has faded from memory. All I can think about now is how wonderful the city is.
NEED TO KNOW
-- For tourism information, contact Travel Portland at travelportland.com.