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A Look Back At A 1980’s Bike/Car Conflict On Northwest 21st.



What do you call an apartment living, bike riding, Portlander?

Today they’re called hipsters. They either bike, walk, or take mass transit like eastcoasters.

Maybe hipsters have always been here, but the name sounds too lame to claim.

Hippie? Okay, it’s been around.

Hipster? Isn’t that pre-hippie?

Find another name to go along with those fifties-style black framed glasses, bro.

Then ask, “What would a hipster do?”

I moved to a studio apartment in NW Portland. You know what a studio apartment is? One room with a door to the hallway, a kitchen/dining room the size of a camp trailer set up, and a bathroom.

If you don’t want a lot of space to keep clean it’s perfect. If you want more room, you move.

There I was in my $155/month studio with my bike and bed and a chair. It was heaven with a view of the parking lot, also known as the asphalt beach. With no car the real beach was out of reach.

Riding the bike was a way of life in NW Portland. It brought everywhere you needed to go within reach. Everywhere included the Portland State Campus, the inner east side, and every hill worth climbing.

See, this wasn’t bike riding for pleasure, this was the future. You had to be a strong rider to get there, and the streets were full of cars like today. The goal was keeping up with traffic or get out of the way. Portland bike lanes? This wasn’t Eugene.

One day I headed up 21st toward Burnside as the usual furious clip, standing on my pedals and working the fingertip gear levers on my handlebars.

The plan was pulling the hills to the Washington Park, then the zoo, and ending up at the top of Burnside for the terrifying ride down. The only traffic light from the radio towers to the bottom came at 23rd. It was a clean shot, a high speed jolt, and if you did it right you’d want to do it again.

Just past the light on Everett an old Cadillac rushed past and cut in toward the curb to block my path. I stopped with my bike between me and the car. The driver flew out from behind the wheel and ran around the car toward me.

His passenger stayed in. They had the vague look of evil hipsters.

Since this was a first, I waited to see what the problem might be. Yes, I was a little angry with the way this guy drove his car, but so far no one was hurt. My act was nothing like the recent story in the Oregonian about a biker who felt like he was King Of The Road. I wasn’t king of road rage.

Before any polite exchange, the man driving the car stood in front of me and screamed, “I HEARD WHAT YOU CALLED ME.”

What did I say? You can’t talk much when you’re pushing those pedals as hard as you can to not block traffic, so I asked, “What did you hear?”


This was before b!tch became such a popular name to call anyone. The driver angled me off aggressively because he thought I called him a b!tch?

“I didn’t call you anything,” I said.

The guy was getting worked up now, like he wanted to fight. I stood with my bike between us, the same move I’d used to block dogs, and looked at his passenger.

“YOU CALLED ME A B!TCH,” the driver said in a higher pitch.

He was ready to pop. If I’d said anything else he would have swung. By the looks of things he was showing off for his passenger, showing how to deal with bike riders in the mean city.

He was ‘manning up.’ He just wasn’t very good at it.

Keeping an eye on the driver’s moves, I spoke to the passenger with the window down.

“Is this a friend of yours? Why don’t you ask him to get back in his car. I didn’t say anything. Did you hear me say anything? Tell him I apologize for what he didn’t hear, but if he doesn’t back off real soon he’ll be eating this bike for lunch and my shoe for desert. Save yourself the trouble because after I stomp him down I’m coming after you. We good?”

I picked up my bike, a lightweight Fuji, and held it in front while the two guys mulled it over.

“Come on, man. Let’s go,” the passenger said. “It’s not worth it.”

The driver stood back.

“You bikers think you’re so tough, huh? Well, you’re not.”

Then he drove away.

The lesson learned was don’t escalate a situation that goes wrong after a bad start. Be a good citizen on the road.

The Portland bike rider who cussed and birded the dad in the car with his kid needs to know that drivers can be bikers, too. People make honest mistakes with both. Make amends and move on.

Keep this in mind, drivers feel invincible in their car compared to bike riders. The same might be said for truck drivers in relation to cars. The bigger the rig, the more manners needed from everyone.

Bike riders are invisible. Too many have found the blind spot in a big rig’s rearview mirror.

If you want to see how things could turn out differently, look at the comments aimed toward the bike rider with the bad attitude. The bike guy got lucky. From the comments, he’d have been run down, then backed over, then burned out on by others if he blocked them in traffic.

That’s a bad idea, but why bring it on yourself?

I hope he’s not a baby boomer. We’ve got enough problems.

Portland Streets, pt 2, The Walk.





About David Gillaspie
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