By Justin Short

The national demand for bikes has taken shop owners by surprise. Just walk into any bike shop across the country and you’ll see evidence of the triple digit growth in sales in various sectors of the bike industry. I think the temporary removal of many distractions has reminded us of the mind-altering value of getting a little wind in the face, and perhaps a few bugs in the teeth. The Inland Northwest isn’t especially buggy compared to other parts of the country, but I think the metaphorical bugs in the teeth are the most important ones to collect. 

Normally, on my springtime excursions through the trails of Riverside State Park, I’ll see riders out, including a parent with a kid or two here or there. This year I saw whole families out on the trail—a lot of them—at a time when all the trailheads were closed. This is truly amazing! Retired pro cyclist and YouTube star Phil Gaimon has instructed his audience of avid cyclists: “We have an opportunity here, so don’t screw this up!” His message is essentially to encourage new riders, don’t correct them, and don’t teach “at them” unless they specifically ask for help. 

The aforementioned wind in the face and bugs in the teeth are drawing them in. The accompanying shift in mood and mind is enough to improve a person’s life for a moment and, potentially, health for the long term. More riders equal a better city to bike in. I have been accused of piloting a pie in the sky that was never meant to fly, but in 1999 when I moved to Portland, I was not impressed by the bike infrastructure they had at the time. I was, however, shocked by how civil and bike friendly the traffic was, which is what happens when a rider population that dense comes together. This is our opportunity. 

Illustration by Justin Short

Some new and/or returning riders will enjoy a spin around the block periodically, while others may bike across town to work. Perhaps a handful will eventually join the Gravel Braintrust Trifecta, a 300-mile social distancing adventure bike race organized by local elementary school teacher Todd Richards. The route consists of three 100-mile loops routed from the Riverfront Park fountain going east, west, and south on gravel, trails, and pavement. Certainly, A LOT of wind and bugs await those goofballs, to say nothing of lovely views of many places they’ve never been before. 

Whatever your appetite for adventure, something happens when the pedals turn and you find other riders smiling back at you. At times like that, the mind can settle down and let the enormity of life seep in, which might just give us a fighting chance against the challenges we face as a species right now.

Justin M. Short is a local rider who you might meet commuting at some obscene hour, tearing up the jumps at Beacon, or grinding gravel in the middle of nowhere.