Is Spokane A Bike Town

I’m going to say it: Spokane is a, if not THE, Bike Town. Before you even start to turn the page, let me stop you. I know what you’re thinking. “Bike Town?!? I can’t even get from the South Hill to Hillard without somebody hurtling an insult at me about getting off the road and to start paying my taxes.”

But, really. Spokane is a Bike Town. It is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the best Bike Towns in existence. Sure, we need some work. Sure, the weather isn’t always bike-friendly, but trust me, this place is bicycle bliss, cycling Canaan, the pearly gates for pedallers. (Okay, that last one could be twisted into a dark place, but cut me some slack, I’m new here.)

Let’s backtrack. I have a tendency to get a bit ahead of myself from time to time. What is a Bike Town?

Well, thanks for asking. I’ve done a lot of research on this, mostly unscientific in nature, but spanning over forty years of riding and racing both on and off road (yep, even on the track), meeting  and riding with just about every type over every surface, I can confidently say that to be an official Bike Town, a short criteria has to be met. 

What Makes a Bike Town?

First, there has to be a great variety of terrain, and quick access to it. Second, there needs to be a community that participates and supports the act of riding a bicycle. Think shops, infrastructure, outreach and support programs. Third, there needs to be proper PRE and POST (PRE is the opportunity to meet with fellow cyclists and have a brilliant cup of coffee and plan for the day’s adventures, and POST is the opportunity to again meet with said people of like minds and share the story over a brilliantly crafted beverage). This is the social element of being a cyclist. 

            As you can plainly see, I’ve done my research. In fact, I’ve put it to film, in 1.5 cases. 

About Those Other Bike Towns

First was Bend, Oregon. Now, if you’ve been to Bend, you know it’s the kind of town where you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone with less than 5 percent body fat who smiles all the time, a professional athlete, or both. Like Coeur d’ Alene, but with more cross-country skiers and Olympic medals. 

Bend is a great example of a Bike Town. There is access to trails, open roads, bike paths, and group rides almost everywhere. The shops are bountiful, and the mayor herself (this was pre-COVID) was a cyclist. Oh, and there are coffee roasteries and brilliant local beer offerings that would make most coffee and beer snobs look like the kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willie Wonka opens the doors to the main candy room. In other words, Bend earned an A for a Bike Town. 

Next was Seattle. DON’T TURN THE PAGE! I know what you’re thinking, “Not another moment for Seattle to make fun of us here in Spokane.” NOT SO! Sure, Seattle has beer. Sure, they have coffee (duh). But, to be honest, if you have to take a car to get to your ride, and you get stuck in traffic on the way, hard pass. A great cycling community, but some of them are a little “works for Boeing, and tells you that they work for Boeing,” if you know what I mean. Seattle earned a C for a Bike Town. (I must note that I have yet to finish my research on Seattle, as COVID cut us short mid-filming, and, once the restrictions were lifted, none of my contacts rode bikes anymore. They’re all in rock bands now, and had to sell their bikes to make their house payments. Sigh.)

Photo Courtesy Patrick Bulger

The Case for Spokane Being a Bike Town

So, let’s take a look at Spokane, shall we?

Variety and Access: In Spokane, the middle of nowhere can be reached by bike within 20 minutes in any direction. Head South, you have the Palouse. North, the brilliance of Nine Mile, Wild Rose Prairie, and beyond. West, the Cheney Plains. East, the Centennial Trail all the way through Idaho. For off road, we have Riverside, Beacon, Mt. Spokane, and about twenty other trailheads hiding in various locations. Gravel? As they say in the mobster movies, “Forgettaboutit.” We were riding gravel in the Inland Northwest before it was cool. 

Community: First off, if you shop predominantly online for your cycling needs, you may now turn the page. Friends don’t let friends shop for bikes online. The LBS (Local Bike Shop) is an institution for proper fit, model, style and information. The greater Spokane area offers a bike shop for every need, in every corner of the region. Find one, get to know them, and build a relationship. The Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board (yes, it’s a thing) meets regularly to discuss all infrastructure needs of the city; there are at least five area cycling clubs to get to know the sport, ride, and even race together; and events to test your skills start in March and end in, well, March.  

Pre and Post: Think about it. Off the top of my head, there are at least four specialty coffee roasters producing beautiful products to fit just about any palate, and more incredible establishments serving it up to suit just about any mood or ambiance. Beer? I know that alcohol consumption isn’t necessarily for everyone (say no, kids), but this town offers a flavor palette of bubbly beauty that could make even a Belgian blush. 

Once upon a time, the Spokane area was the bike racing place to be. It was the host of TWO Olympic Trials. It was the home of the Mountain Bike Nationals. It had, and has, great people who can make it all happen again. My goal here is to, as long as this publication lets me, convince us all that we live in one of the best Bike Towns. 

Pat Bulger is a long-time Spokane race promoter and producer of the widely-popular cycling Packfiller podcast. This is his first but not last story for Out There.

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