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Oregon City's Bike Concierge powers unique views of local landmarks

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When I met Thom and Shelley Batty at the Bike Concierge, the business they co-own in downtown Oregon City, for a Saturday morning ride, it had been nearly four years since I last got on a bike.

I hoped I wouldn’t fall from my bike — and off the side of the road — like I’ve done a few times in the past. Primarily, I really hoped bicycling was truly one of those things someone never forgets how to do.

PHOTO BY BEVERLY WONG - Reporter Anyi Wong-Lifton (left) and Shelley Batty (right), co-owner of the Bike Concierge on the bridge over the Clackamas River near High Rocks City Park.I figured I was in good hands with the Battys, who founded the Bike Concierge in 2014 with a mission to make Oregon and southwest Washington easier to explore by bike.

“Call us with your adventure, and we will make it happen,” Shelley PHOTO BY ANYI WONG-LIFTON - Thom Batty's tattoo of the Bike Concierge logo, which was designed by a professional graphic designer and friend of the Battys.Batty told me. What she means is, the Bike Concierge will help cyclists with the many logistical challenges involved in long bike tours, especially those coming from out of town. “Lots of people want to ride in Oregon, but don’t know [how to arrange] the logistics. That’s a big reason for starting the Bike Concierge in the first place,” she said.

I’m not familiar with the bike tourism world, so I asked the Battys to tell me more about what they do. They explained that the Bike Concierge offers a number of services for cyclists, including emergency rides home, shuttle services to and from a trip, and a regional winery tour. They also rent several types of bikes: road, city, mountain, fat tire and more.

PHOTO BY ANYI WONG-LIFTON - Shelley Batty takes a quick break on the path off Highway 99E overlooking the Willamette River, on the way back to the Bike Concierge office.Entering the Bike Concierge office, I got a good look at the plethora of bikes on hand, which are maintained at a level exceeding the expectations of experienced cyclists who sometimes rent them, Shelley Batty said. The largest room of their space was nearly full of bikes, many hung from beams along the ceiling. Thom Batty estimated they have nearly 60 bikes.

For out-of-town clients who would rather bring their bike than rent, the Bike Concierge will assemble a bike shipped to them by a client and take the sender from the airport to the start of his or her bike ride. Thom Batty said this “ship and ride” service has been very popular this year.

PHOTO BY ANYI WONG-LIFTON - Shelley and Thom Batty are co-owners and founders of the Bike Concierge in their office behind First City Cycles on Main Street in Oregon City.A certified bike mechanic, Thom Batty describes himself as a “bike geek,” while Shelley Batty was not always a very confident rider. Like many people, both learned to ride bikes as kids. They told me they got more serious about biking together after the local search and rescue group added a mountain bike team about 10 years ago. Before founding the Bike Concierge, they led volunteer bike tours and clinics.

Since the two were serious cyclists long before starting the Bike Concierge, I wondered if owning a bike tourism business has taught them anything new about the sport.

“It’s made us much more aware of the cycling industry in the nation and cycle tourism,” Thom Batty said. “It’s an interesting business education because bike tourists spend more money than many other tourists.”

He referred me to Travel Oregon’s report that bicycle travelers in Oregon spend $400 million annually, which is nearly $1.1 million per day. Thom Batty described that while cyclists cannot travel as far as people in vehicles, they still move much faster than walkers. Also, biking’s slower speed allows riders to see every business or attraction they pass, which could make them more likely to stop and shop.

Free weekend rides offered

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Bigfoot came out from hiding and did local tourist things like take a wine tour with the Bike Concierge in Mt. Hood Territory's tourism campaign.That morning, it was just the four of us — the Battys, my mom, and me — though sometimes other locals join the couple on this low-key weekend journey offered to the public as a free trial of the Bike Concierge.

“I started this ride to be more of a casual, more novice ride” after friends commented that Saturday rides led by other bike groups were too intense, Shelley Batty said.

We planned to do 5 to 10 miles, but she reassured me that we could adjust the trip depending on how I was feeling as the least experienced rider of the group. Their business specializes in creating custom bike tours for clients, which usually involves three to seven days of biking 40 to 60 miles a day. These custom adventures often are planned around nine months in advance and include only six to 10 folks. Although the Bike Concierge can handle groups of up to 20 people, they prefer smaller numbers so they can give each person more attention than other larger tour companies could.

If you’re wondering about food, like I always am, Thom Batty’s got it covered. He’s a culinary school-educated chef and prepares the meals on the trips. If you’re worried about taking a shower, which I enjoy almost as much as food, the Battys told me they try to book hotel rooms every third night. Otherwise, they will set up the tents along with carrying their clients’ gear.

PHOTO BY BEVERLY WONG - View of High Rocks City Park from the bridge crossing the Clackamas River.While the Bike Concierge is based on Main Street in Oregon City, its custom tours take the Battys around the state to many remote towns and hidden landmarks. As Oregon natives, “we have had our whole lives to find these spaces,” Thom Batty said.

The Battys told me they also create tours catering to clients’ other interests. Their business has connections with locals wineries and breweries that often are able to open during off hours and provide private tastings for custom tours planned far in advance.

“A great part about building the business is having friends who have unique expertise that can add to the trips with their knowledge,” Thom Batty said. He added that one of the Bike Concierge’s part-time employees is a notable naturalist, who can provide environmental information about the regions they tour.

The couple tries to show their clients parts of the state they might not see otherwise. They like traveling through smaller towns to economically help out these communities by bringing in tourists. Shelley Batty said these less-sought-out places are especially welcoming to the bike tours.

The Battys arranged at least five custom tours between May and October of 2015. They plan to do many more tours than that before this season is over.

Catering to inexperienced cyclists

One of the memorable custom tours the couple has done was an Oregon Coast trip for a group of 13 high school students and four adult chaperones from Toronto, Canada. Since the tour was in April and the winter before the trip was cold and snowy in Toronto, the students had only trained on stationary indoor bicycles. The Battys quickly realized these students, many of whom were not native English speakers, did not know how to ride regular bikes. For these clients, the couple started off their tour by conducting a cycling lesson in a parking lot.

But I can’t say I’m a much better cyclist myself. My mother, who came along for the ride, is a biking enthusiast and brought her own bike. I borrowed a city bike, which Shelley Batty said had lights powered by a built-in generator hub. The bike looked new, the seat was easy to adjust for my height, and it sat higher up so I could easily look around and be comfortable while I rode. Shelly Batty recommended that I take a ride around the parking lot to see how I liked the bike. It felt very wobbly and uncomfortable. Still, I reminded myself how promising it was that I didn’t fall or run into something or someone.

The four of us left the Bike Concierge office with Shelley Batty leading and Thom Batty following behind me. Fortunately, I did remember how to ride a bike.

Unfortunately, the bell on my bike dinged every time I went over a bump in the path. This chime seemed to announce the arrival of this nervous, inexperienced rider to all others we passed.

At different points, we biked on big streets and through busy intersections. Shelley Batty, a model bike rider, always looked before crossing the street and signaled right and left with her arms. As a cautious beginner rider, I felt very safe following behind an experienced rider like her.

We stopped to admire the Clackamas River, waved hello to other walkers and bikers, and took in the information Shelley Batty shared as we passed interesting places. My mother’s favorite part of the ride was when a group of geese flew over our heads. Biking with the Battys didn’t turn me into a passionate cyclist, but the experience did give me a unique appreciation for Oregon City — its natural environment, parks, bike paths and lanes. I would not have noticed all these things if I had just driven through on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard.

My mini-tour with the Bike Concierge took us down Oregon City’s Main Street, through Clackamette River Park, across a bridge into Gladstone’s Cross Park, along Clackamas River Boulevard and across the John McLoughlin Bridge, then back through downtown Oregon City.

Shelley Batty offered to take us on a 7-mile ride, but true to her word, she adjusted the ride per my request. Our adventure ended up being a 5-mile loop that only lasted around 45 minutes. I was thoroughly tired by the end of it, but I left happily satisfied.