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Summertime biking a big hit in Washington County as pros and amateurs have plenty of choices

As temperatures and gas prices rise for the summertime, many people decide it's time to hit the road — by bike. Often considered world-class for its wineries, Washington County is also a hub for cycling, including miles of paths and trails winding around the fields of future pinot gris. COURTESY PHOTO - USA Cycling holds multiple events in Forest Grove, including junior talent-identification camps.

As Mike Olson, the owner of Olson's Bicycles in Forest Grove, explains, the cycling community is large and active — and oftentimes centers around his shop.

“We have rides that take off from our parking lot every Tuesday and Thursday,” said Olson. Both rides are, weather permitting, well-attended, but the demographic changes a little between the two days.

“Both rides are fairly fast,” Olson explained. “Tuesday's a little more casual, but Thursday is even faster. Thursdays scare people a little.”

Those sorts of fast rides, and the serious riders who do them, make up what Olson calls the "community of more serious cyclists" — and Forest Grove has become something of an attraction for them. For example, from July 10-15 — as it does every year — USA Cycling will hold a talent-identification camp at Pacific University, featuring about 40 top junior riders between ages 14 and 22. Olson will serve as a mechanic for the event, which he says is a big event on the local cycling calendar.

“The camp will do rides all over,” he said. “Near campus, through town, out at Tom McCall Waterfront Park (in Portland). It's great to have such cycling talent here in town.”

Opportunities at every level

It's not just the experienced or competitive riders who can, or should, enjoy the local cycling scene. As Olson explained, there're opportunities for people at any level.

“You gotta do what's comfortable for you,” Olson said. “For people wanting a shorter ride, from Pacific's campus down to the B Street Trail and back is five miles. Same distance from the shop down through Sunset Highway and back.”

This time of year, said Olson, he sees quite a few people come into the shop to get into cycling — or, even more commonly, get back into it.

“So much of the business is people who are cleaning out their garage and find their old bicycle that's been hanging there for two or three years,” Olson said. “Then they bring it in to have the tires replaced or the brakes fixed. And then they go out and ride.”

This is the great thing about cycling for Olson: the accessibility and inclusivity.

“Literally,” he says, “almost anyone can do it. You can't casually run, but you can casually bike. You can't really run with your kids, but you can definitely bike with your kids.”

There are also indoor opportunities when the weather is ominous. Olson's shop offers indoor-ride classes: bikes are locked into place with the wheels free to spin — a do-it-yourself stationary bike.

For Sherie Pitt, this was exactly her path into cycling. Now the owner of Patton Valley Vineyard, Pitt was an avid runner in her 20s but ended up too “twisted and torn” in her legs and knees to keep going.

“I was already too injured to run and I was only in my 20s,” she said. “I wanted to be active, so my doctor said, 'Let's get you a bike.'”

Though she says she was a more serious cyclist in her 30s, Pitt is now a self-described “fair-weather cyclist” in the most literal sense. “I don't like to get wet,” she said. But weather notwithstanding, Pitt remains an active cyclist without the rigorous training or grueling marathon rides more competitive cyclists endure. Usually, Pitt rides two or three times a week: an hour if she's doing a workout, two hours if she's on a more leisurely ride for fun.

“Hagg Lake is one of my favorite places to ride,” Pitt said. “I'll drive there and then ride around te lake twice, over the rolling hills.”

If she doesn't go to Hagg Lake, Pitt likes to ride from Forest Grove north to Verboort, which she says is a perfect, flat ride.

Pitt has also found that cycling locally can lead to adventures abroad. She's done a few cycling vacations, including some in Vermont and the south of France, traveling from town to town on bike paths. It's not exhausting, Pitt explained, and for avid travelers and sightseers, it's probably the best option.

“I discovered you can see so much more scenery biking than you can from a car or from hiking,” said Pitt. “In a car, everything whizzes by, but you don't cover enough ground just walking.” Biking becomes the perfect medium.

One of her favorite tours took her through near Beaune, in the French wine region of Burgundy. “We had a van that followed us with our gear,” Pitt said, “and we cycled around, through the hills, through fields. The flowers were amazing.”

Trail sees 100,000 visitors a year

Northern Oregon is known to have a remarkably similar climate, which makes it, like southern France, excellent for vineyards, but the two spots share top-shelf biking along with the wine.

Washington County alone has miles and miles of bike trails, some of which are nationally recognized. The Banks-Vernonia Trail, which runs along for 21 miles along the old Spokane, Portland and Seatte railway, sees nearly 100,000 visitors annually, and was recently nominated for Rails to Trails' Hall of Fame. Another planned trail would run from Gaston to McMinnville, offering local cyclists another long, scenic route.

Whether in France or at her at home, though, Pitt says the sensation of cycling is always the same.

“I feel so free,” Pitt said, “and I love the combination of effort and the feeling of flying. I get chills. Plus, it's almost meditative. It's a great time to think. There's not music blaring, like at the gym.”

Also unlike the gym, it doesn't take much to get started cycling. A bike, to start, plus a helmet, are the necessary equipment, and Olson can't recommend the helmet enough. Earlier this year he had a nasty crash, and his helmet likely saved his life. His head was merely bruised, but his helmet was gashed, with jagged cuts deep in the plastic and polycarbonate shell.

“You don't think you need one, but you do,” said Olson. He also recommended that first-time cyclists, or those getting back into the sport, have their bike inspected to test the frame and the brakes, and to make sure their tires are properly inflated. If the bike fits the rider's frame well, Olson said, it can have health benefits even beyond the exercise.

“It's good for sore knees, and if you have the right bike, it can really help your back, too.”

Pitt feels the same way. Her damaged knees have no problem on a bike, and she says cycling is “remarkably easy on the joints.”

It's also easy to join some other riders, both Pitt and Olson said. The community is usually very inviting, and it's not hard to find riding partners.

“Just chat with some people,” Pitt said, “on the trail or in the shop. You'll get to know the community. Just jump on a bike and try it.”