I REGRETTED BREAKFAST THE MOMENT I BEGAN THE TOUR.
Starting the day with a Maple Bacon Bar doughnut at Voodoo Doughnuts just seemed like the right thing to do on my first morning in Portland, Oregon. In Portland, Voodoo is an institution. Customers don't only come for the Bacon Maple Bar or the Triple Chocolate Penetration, some actually get married here.
I was booked on a bicycle tour, called "Bites by Bike." Better load up, I thought to myself. "Bites" sounds like tapas, I rationalized, and I don't want to be hungry if I'm cycling all over the city.
With more than 260 miles of urban bike trails, Portland offers cyclists the room to work off self-indulgence. Which is just as well because Portland does food and drink as well as it does bicycling. Two-wheeled culture thrives here, with bike-only traffic lights, dedicated signage, and bike racks on all transit. There's even a Create a Commuter program to provide low-income adults with free bicycles.
"Motorists here are probably the most courteous in the country," says Scott Klees, a Louisiana native who moved to Portland about seven years ago. "That doesn't mean you should assume they'll all stop for you though."
Klees guides for Pedal Bike Tours. Over the course of the next four hours, he leads me on a tour that's low on miles and heavy on calories.
From downtown we ride northwest, and, via overpass, cross Highway 405. There's a mug of Puddle Jumper waiting for me at our first stop, World Cup Coffee. I'd already had two dark roasts at Stumptown Coffee, near Voodoo, but it would be rude to turn down a Puddle Jumper now. Especially given its description: "A balancing act between the subtle sweet of baker's chocolate and the depth of a sophisticated red wine, with caramelized butter, black cherry and chocolate aromatics . . . ."
It didn't seem right adding milk and sugar, but I got the chocolate part.
Away from its cozy sofas and armchairs, World Cup roasts its own beans. In a rather sanitary-looking room, roasters perform the "cupping" ritual, a time-honoured sorting routine to detect even one defective bean in a batch that might ruin a brew. The roasters refine their palates, pouring boiling water over the grounds and slurping off the top.
"Anything they can taste in a brew is fair game to be included in a description," says Klees, which explains the 26-word ode to Puddle Jumper.
A short ride away at Elephant's Delicatessen, we're presented with a plate of seasonal salami from Seattle, Pond Hopper goat gouda from Bend, Ore., and locally pressed hazelnut oil drizzled on fresh bread. Browsing Elephant's cheese and charcuterie sections, I began to think I could live here, and by 'here' I don't just mean Portland, I mean live in Elephant's cheese and charcuterie sections.
I was eyeing up the chocolate buttermilk cake when Klees said it was time to go. We were just getting started.
Next stop was the Pearl District and Hot Lips Pizza. We each got a slice topped with locally sourced bacon and spuds, and a house-made soda made from berries grown on organic Oregon farms. Just north of downtown and about 100 city blocks in size, the Pearl is Portland's arts hub, a mix of warehouses and railroad yards converted into a vibrant collection of galleries, condos, parks, bars and restaurants. Hot Lips is in the Natural Capital Center, a restored 1895 warehouse with gardens on its roof and street-level landscaping designed to absorb the site's entire rainwater runoff.
Just when I thought my gluttony had run its course, we were back downtown at Cacao DrinkChocolate. It's more of a boutique than a store; like a spa for chocolate lovers. Cacao sells chocolates from about 35 specialty makers around the world, with each item elegantly displayed on shelves and in presentation cases.
We're served drinking chocolate in espresso cups, which seemed a little meager until I realized it's the consistency of treacle, and a bit like sipping a rich chocolate bar.
The indulgence had finally run its course and outside Cacao we admired the Zoobomb Pile, a tower of miniature bikes piled high around a girder. It was a fitting place to wrap up the tour.
"All these bikes are actually used on a regular basis," explains Klees.
Zoobombing happens weekly in Portland, usually well into the night. The Zoobomb Pile is a meeting spot where bikes are loaned to rookie Zoobombers. The Zoobombers then ride transit to Washington Park station near Oregon Zoo and hurtle downhill at up to 35 miles per hour: The smaller or weirder the bike, the better.
It's all slightly subversive, but in true Portland style, it's tolerated. It reminded me of the large building sign I'd spotted from the line-up to Voodoo Doughnuts: Keep Portland Weird.
Zoobombing is far from being the only mass bike ride you'll find in Portland. The Providence Bridge Pedal is the biggest and takes place every August. Thousands of cyclists take advantage of major roads and bridges being bike-only for a day, choosing routes ranging from six miles (two bridges) to 35 miles (10 bridges).
It might just be the best way to see Portland in a day - minus the calories.
If you go:
Pedal Bike Tours is at pedalbiketours.com.
This year's Providence Bridge Pedal is on Sunday, Aug. 12. Visit blog.bridgepedal.com.
Hilton Portland is close to the Providence Bridge Pedal start and will store your bikes. Visit www3.hilton.com/ en/hotels/oregon/hiltonportlandandexecutivetowerPDXPHHH/index.html
For more information about Portland, visit www. travelportland.com.
BITES BY BIKE
Pedal Bike Tours' Bites By Bike tour of Portland includes a bike, helmet and guided tour for $69 per person. The tour is three and a half hours/ five miles, mostly flat and suitable for all levels of rider. For more information visit pedalbiketours.com.