36 hours in Portland, on a bike

Dailies, Galleries -


Growing up in Los Angeles, and never having lived anywhere else, I’m used to the way people in Los Angeles act. In Los Angeles people you’ve never met don’t offer you their motorcycles, shop owners don’t let you poke around their shops with a camera and, in general, people just aren’t all that friendly. In Portland though, all that is reversed. After only three emails, and without even asking, Thor Drake offered me his CB550 while I was in town. Three different shop owners welcomed me into their shops, and were more than happy to let me take photos. An Aerostich-clad GS rider even offered to help me bump start the CB550.

Riding in downtown Portland is a lot different than what I’m used to. Wet roads, no mirrors or turn signals and an endless maze of one-way streets was plenty to keep me busy, but most of my attention was focused on not lane splitting. Zipping between lines of stopped cars and distancing myself from traffic is how I’ve been riding every day for years. Sitting in traffic and hoping the cars saw my dim taillight was more stressful than any police chase or 150mph speed wobble. I got out of downtown pretty quick and after a quick stop at the Casa Diablo strip club (a must see), the plan was to head up highway 30 into St. Helens where I was staying. I got almost a mile after leaving that fine establishment, at which point the CB called it quits. Fortunately, my friend had a truck and tie downs. After losing a few days to familial obligations, I got around to pulling the seat and tank and found fuel lines that only kind-of worked. A quick trip to the local auto-parts store and I was back riding. A quick ride around some of the local roads left me wishing for my GSX-R and a set of rain tires. The CB was fun, but I was hesitant to push my luck with worn GT-501s and a blown fork on wet, near-freezing roads. With falling temperatures and a sketchy battery in the back of my mind, I decided to call it a day and head home. The next day (after convincing myself that the battery wasn’t going to catch the bike on fire) I rode south on the 30 to Sauvie Island in search of more riding. It wasn’t great, but hey, I was on a cool looking bike and I was dry. The CB went back to Thor’s garage and I went to dinner with my girlfriend and her mom at an awesome paleo-diet themed diner.

See See

Located on the east side of the river, near where the 30 meets the 5, a motorcycle shop hides inside a nondescript warehouse. The workshop (which has a totally rad snake painted on the wall) is small compared to the vast indoor boneyard that provides Thor and Jared with a seemingly endless supply of parts bikes to play with. Aside from bike building, See See is behind The One Bike show. Jared let me photograph (poorly) all the trophies for the show, and I thought they were pretty awesome. The photos tell the story better than I can.

Dr. Brown’s Motorcycles

Gene Brown is a hoarder. If you get claustrophobic in small cluttered places, visiting this place is probably a bad idea. On the surface, it seems like a crazy old man with a house full of motorcycle stuff and toys. The workshop is less cluttered than the inside of the house, but there’s still an impressive amount of stuff. If you look to where the walls should be, all you see are old race bikes and parts. Walking between a building and a trailer that’s really more of a shed, you come to a door recessed into the wall. Undo the locks, walk down the steps and what at first looks to be more clutter is really TZ 750s, RZ 350s, strange 100cc roadracers, a Honda CR93 and, well, a whole lot of clutter. I’m not usually all that impressed by motorcycles, but the bikes in that dingy building gave me goosebumps and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. His collection is really that impressive. The next time I’m up there, I’m going to have to figure out what I need to do to get inside there with a camera.

Vicious Cycle

This shop is clean, well organized, and has a real-deal showroom full of awesome bikes. Joey (who runs the place) is super nice, and let me take pictures of all his awesome stuff. They do a lot of wok on CB160 race bikes and as soon as you walk into the back shop, it’s obvious. Less obvious are all the motor swapped roadracers lining the back wall. A Hawk with an F650 motor, one with a 525, an SV650 with a thumper I didn’t recognize. These guys build a lot of awesome stuff.

  • tomwito

    Very cool, love the shop photos. Im in love with that black Kawasaki triple, the photo you previously posted of it was my wallpaper for a while.

  • GoFasterPB

    Great story and photos. Loved the trophies, but didn’t your mom ever tell you not to go to strip clubs with suspicious looking panel vans parked outside?

    • seanslides

      My mom also told me never to ride motorcycles, drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes.

  • Gregory

    The author is right. If you have to live in the US, there are worse places than Portland, OR. In fact, Oregon is just about as “Canadian” as you can get in the US.

    Motorcycle culture here is pretty spot-on, too. Think: trendy hipster meets obnoxious bicyclist meets do-it-yourself backyard hippy mechanic.

    You have, of course, a few Ducati and Harley posers who suffer from more money than love. They only ride on sunny days and only on weekends. Every city must suffer that kind of rider.

    But more importantly, in Portland you have your hard core motorcycle nut jobs: a good share of tricked out Honda push-pedal mopeds riden by fleece-wearing hipsters; chique granola cutie chicks on their scooters; duct-tape mid-’80s cruisers riden by surly Coors drinkers; and, my ever-favourite, the dual sports with milkcrates and camping gear strapped to the back. This last category includes the few Ural nuts, whose wives have yet to divorce them for taking family holidays in the sidecar.

    Highway #30 up through Scappoose, onward toward Astoria, _is_ a very nice ride. In fact, either side of the Columbia at this point is just about motorcycle heaven.

    But weather the past few days has been hovering merely above 30 Fahrenheit. Get a good set of rain/ commuter tires when you move here. Search Craig’s List for the best bike you can get for, say, under $1’000. :-)

    Finally, I must say many a good word for Vicious Cycles. They re-did the top end on my KLR after I ran it with no oil across the Baja (oops!). I also use them for regular tune-ups. Their rates are reasonable. Their work is high-end professional. Their staff is knowledgeable. They race up at the local raceways during the season. They didn’t even look twice at me when I brought my KLR in for a tune-up in mid-December, in full leathers, armour, reflective vest and a smile on my face. Love Oregon winter riders.

    Portland, OR
    2008 KLR 650, w. milkcrate

  • Richard

    I love Portland. It’s like the cooler/friendlier version of Seattle.

    • Ian

      That comparison was tired years ago. They’re different cities, end of story.

      And how does your astute observation relate to this fine article, by the way?

  • Trev

    More information about the SV, please?!

    • seanslides

      Email Vicious; I was too busy asking about the 525 and F650 powered hawks to take a real look at it.

      • Roman

        I would ask why the swapped out the single sided-sided swingarm for double-sided. That’s blasphemous in my book. Neat engine swap though…

        /Hawk GT owner

        • Vicious

          F650s have a right-side chain drive. The carbon fiber Blackstone Tech wheels are also right-side chain drive, making the use of the stock single-sided (left side chain drive) difficult.


    The dream of the 90′s is alive in Portland


    • seanslides

      It’s true. But in practice, it seems less 90′s and more mustachioed hippie.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    For a good time near Portland, head east to Estacada and follow 224 south to Detroit. Some of the best riding I’ve ever done.

  • T Diver

    I didn’t read any of the words up above but the picture gallery is pretty cool. It’s inspiring. (I’m not trying to be a dick either. It really is cool.)

  • Ed

    Welcome to God’s country. Take the road to the coast on Hwy 30, but cross over at Longview (scary ass L-C bridge) and take Ocean Beach Highway past my house and to Long Beach )which used to rival Dayton for Go-Devil races back in the day). The road got all new blacktop two summers ago and it is all river-view curves. Eat and sleep at Astoria (our own mini-San Francisco) and head back to Portland over 395. Another fantastic ride is Highway 14 up the Columbia Gorge to Maryhill.

  • kneepuck

    Some great shots Wes! I’ve been in Joe’s shop many times and you have captured the lived in homey feeling to the place perfectly!