A guide to biking in Portland including tips, techniques and street smarts from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to make your bike ride safer and more rewarding.
To view, download, or print a copy of the guide here is the PDF file.
Preparing your bike for takeoff
A safe bike is essential. This list will ensure a safe and trouble-free ride. If your bike doesn’t pass these checks, take it to a bike shop for inspection, questions, or repair.
Correct tire pressure avoids flats and makes your ride easier. The recommended tire pressure is listed on the side of your tire. Check pressure with a pump with a gauge. If you don’t have a gauge, pump your tires to a firmness where it’s difficult to push your fingers into the tire. Most tire pumps are adaptable to either type of the valves.
Tire wear and tear
It is common for tires to become worn after about 1,000 miles of riding. Tires can also get hard and brittle with age. Check the sides of your tires (the sidewalls) for significant cracks. Frequent flats may also be a sign the tread is thin, and the tire needs replacing.
A wheel should not wobble when it rotates. A wobbly, “untrue” wheel can rub against the brake pads and cause your brakes to perform poorly. To check, turn your bike upside down and spin the wheels while looking closely at the brake pads. Ensure the gap between the rim and the brake pad stays constant.
Good brakes are essential. When you squeeze your brake levers, they should stop before they touch the handlebars. If they don’t, tighten the brake cable. Your brakes may have a cable adjusting barrel that allows you to do this easily. Use an old rag to keep your rims free of dirt and grease, especially when you’ve been riding during wet weather.
Many brake pads have a “wear line” showing you when they need replacement. Ask your friendly local bike shop. Brake pad replacement should be easy and inexpensive.
Many bikes have quick release levers on the wheels. Make sure the levers are solidly locked (snug and curved in towards the bike). Check the quick releases every time you ride.
Make sure your chain turns smoothly. Lean your bike against a wall or have someone hold it for you. Slowly rotate the pedals backward, checking to make sure the chain turns smoothly. Wipe the grit off your chain with a rag, then apply bike chain oil or lube sparingly to the chain. Wipe off excess with a rag.
Getting around safely
Knowing your responsibilities and rights as a cyclist is important to staying safe and feeling confident on your bike. In general, the same traffic rules and regulations for people driving apply to people biking. Read below for a brief summary of the most important laws and traffic considerations pertaining to bicyclists. See the Community Resources section for more information on bike safety and the law.
- Ride with traffic, in a predictable manner
- Obey traffic controls, (signs, signals, etc.)
- Maintain control of your bicycle
- Be visible and aware
Using bike lanes
Motor vehicles are required to yield to a bicyclist in a bike lane. Buses and cars are not allowed to use bike lanes for parking. Motorized wheelchairs are permitted on bike lanes and paths. Bicyclists may ride outside a designated bike lane when:
- overtaking and passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian that is in the bike lane,
- preparing for a left- or right-hand turn, or
- avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions.
Signal your intentions
Signaling a turn is required of cyclists at least 100 feet before a turn or stop, except when both hands are necessary to control or operate the bicycle. When approaching a turn, you’ll often need both hands for braking and your own safety. However, if you have an available hand, use hand signals to communicate your intentions and foster harmony on the road.
You may pass a motor vehicle on the right in a bike lane but do so cautiously. People driving may want to turn right at the next street or driveway and neglect to use their turn signal. Stay out of the driver’s blind spot at intersections and other places where a driver could turn right.
Outside a bike lane, you’re permitted to overtake and pass a motor vehicle on the right if you can “safely make the passage under the existing conditions”. Do so with caution. If you have doubts about whether it’s safe, don’t do it.
Riding in the street
If you’re riding a bicycle on a road at less than the normal speed of traffic, you’re required to ride “as close as practicable to the curb or edge of roadway” except when:
- overtaking or passing another bicycle or vehicle,
- preparing to execute a left turn,
- avoiding hazardous conditions, or
- the lane is not wide enough to allow safe passing by a motor vehicle.
In these cases, a bicyclist may need to “take the lane” to avoid being squeezed against the curb or parked cars by passing traffic.
Maintain a straight line of travel and avoid weaving in and out of the parking lane. This helps make you more predictable to other road users.
Bicyclists may also ride side-by-side when they don’t impede the normal movement of traffic.
Riding on sidewalks and multi-use paths
Cyclists must yield to all pedestrians on sidewalks and those marked or unmarked crosswalks. Give a warning with a bell or your voice before overtaking pedestrians from behind. Riding on sidewalks in Portland’s downtown core is prohibited. This area is bounded by SW Jefferson, Naito Parkway, NW Hoyt and 13th Ave, with the exception of the Willamette River bridges and ramps and the south Park Blocks.
Multi-use paths with no cars, such as the Eastbank Esplanade, are very popular and can be crowded with all types of users. Yield to pedestrians, slow down and enjoy the scenery!
Watch for car doors
It is illegal for a motorist to open a car door if it interferes with the movement of traffic, or to leave a door open longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers. When riding next to parked cars, particularly in heavily used parking areas, be alert to car doors opening suddenly in front of you. Scan ahead to see if the driver or passengers are in the car on the street side. Give yourself a buffer. Ride farther away from the “door zone”.
Get the green light
Some traffic signals are triggered by electronically charged wires buried in the pavement. When a vehicle stops over the wires, its metal disrupts the current, sending a signal to the traffic signal control box. A car is easily detected by these sensors. A pedestrian can push a button to get the “walk” signal, but a bicycle — with relatively little metal — must be in the right spot to be detected.
The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation marks the location of these sensors to indicate where a bicycle needs to be positioned on the roadway to activate the signal and “get” the green. Put your bike tires on the lines. If a car is already waiting, it will activate the signal for you.
Most but not all of Portland’s traffic signals with sensors are marked for bikes. Look for narrow cut lines in the pavement, usually in a diamond shape, that are filled with tar. You should be able to activate the signal by positioning your bike correctly.
If you find a signal that needs marking or is not working for bikes, call City Street Maintenance at 503-823-1700.
Look for the blue light at certain traffic signals to confirm you’ve been detected. A blue light next to the signal turns on when a bicyclist is detected. It also comes on when a car is detected but providing information for people biking is the primary aim of this device.
Helmets, lights and brakes required
Helmets are mandatory for riders under the age of 16 years unless wearing a helmet “would violate a religious belief or practice of the person.” For those 16 or older, helmets are a really good idea.
At night and in limited visibility, you’re required to have:
- a white light visible from at least 500 feet and
- a red rear reflector or light visible from at least 600 feet.
Finally, bikes must be equipped with a brake that is strong enough to skid on dry, level, clean pavement.
“Idaho Stop” law
As of January 1, 2020, Oregon’s new “Idaho Stop” law permits riders to legally treat stop signs and flashing red signals as yield signs. Slow down when approaching intersections with stop signs or flashing red signals and proceed only when safe to do so. Riders without the right of way must still yield to traffic. The new law does not apply to standard traffic signals.
Accessorize your ride
Small investments can make a big difference in the comfort and convenience of your ride.
Chain, cable and u-lock
There are a variety of different types of locks; your local bike shop will help you select one that meets your needs.
Lights and reflectors
Flashing L.E.D. lights for both the front and rear of your bike are inexpensive and vital safety equipment. They’re great for those gray Portland days! If you ride in an area where there are fewer streetlights, a solid beam front light that illuminates the road is a good investment.
Even if you don’t normally ride in the rain, fenders make riding on wet streets a much better experience. They will keep water and grit from being sprayed onto your feet and legs.
Carrying cargo and kids
You can safely haul a lot more on a bike if and only if you’re properly equipped. Here are some ways to carry your cargo:
Backpacks and messenger bags may work for some small loads.
Panniers are bags that attach to a rear bike rack. These are usually waterproof, removable, and allow you to carry more weight.
Baskets and buckets are a less expensive option for carrying more weight. Baskets can attach to the front or rear of your bike. Some are collapsible and others are easily removable to take in the store with you. Plastic “bike buckets” are inexpensive and functional. You can build one yourself following the instructions below.
Trailers attach to the rear of your bike and are best for carrying large loads, be it children, pets, groceries or whatever else you can think of. Visit a local bike shop or watch the classifieds for new or used trailers.
Specialty bikes and other add-ons allow you to carry more on your bike. There are seats that can be mounted on a bike — usually above the rear wheel — to allow you to carry a child on your bike. Keep in mind that this type of carrier alters your center of gravity and increases the risk of losing balance. Bike tag-alongs or trail-a-bikes are designed for older children and allow the child to pedal along with you. Finally, Dutch-style cargo bikes increase your carrying capacity for children and other cargo.
For any of the devices meant for carrying children, check the manufacturer’s specifications for how to safely use the product, as well as any age and/or weight limitations.
Choosing the right clothing will take a bit of experimenting on your part, but here’s an overview to get your started.
It’s basic: wear one. Oregon law requires it for children under 16 and we recommend it for everyone else.
Leg bands are a cheap and easy way to keep your pant leg free of chain grease.
Wearing gloves serves two purposes. They protect your hands from the elements and the extra padding can prevent aches and pains in your hands and wrists. Use full-fingered ones in cooler weather and half-fingered in warmer weather.
Layering can be the key to staying comfortable when riding in the wet or cold, and a cheap alternative to performance clothing. Try a base layer that breathes, another layer that provides warmth, and an outer layer that keeps out the wind and rain. You may find that different combinations work at different times of day.
Reflective and bright clothing
Brighter, reflective clothing makes you more visible during dark or low light conditions. Buy clothing with reflective panels and piping or add reflective tape to existing clothing or outerwear. Reflective clothing is not a substitute for lighting.
Water-resistant and water-proof clothing specific to cycling can make year-round riding a breeze. A good rain jacket with a longer flap in the back is a good start. Rain pants, waterproof gloves, and helmet or shoe covers are all great tools to keep you dry.
Shoes and pedals
Wear casual and comfortable shoes with a good traction sole. Toe clips (cages attached to the pedals that your foot slips into) can provide better pedaling efficiency. A more technical alternative is a pair of clipless pedals that require special cleated shoes.
Adjusting your bike for comfort
Most bike shops will help you adjust your bike, so it’s set for maximum comfort. Here are a few key considerations:
Consider what you’ll be using your bike for. Mountain bikes, hybrids, and comfort bikes with upright handlebars and wider tires are well suited to shorter trips on city streets. Road bikes with drop handlebars and narrower tires may be a better choice for longer-distance trips. There are also recumbent bikes, folding bikes, tandems, fixies, cargo and electric bikes. Visit a local bike shop or two — they’ll be glad you help you find a ride that’s right for you.
Most bike shops will help you find the best fitting bike for you. If your bike’s frame is too big, it can be hard to adjust the other components for maximum comfort. General guidelines for on-road riding call for about 1-2 inches between the top of the bike frame and your inseam.
There are a wide variety of seats (aka saddles) for nearly every type of rider. Seats can be made for comfort or speed and can be gender-specific. Ask a local bike shop for help in selecting the best seat for you.
The key adjustments to a seat are:
- Front/back: a general rule is 1 ¾ to 2 ½ inches from the nose of the seat to a vertical line through the bottom bracket.
- Angle: start out level, then find what is comfortable.
- Height: with your pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke and your heel on the pedal, your leg should be completely straight (then your leg will be slightly bent when riding normally).
Getting around Portland
While some trips by bike are simple, a little planning is a good idea for longer, unfamiliar trips.
Pick your route
The route you normally drive may not be the best route by bike. When planning your route, locate your starting point and your destination on a Portland bike map and determine the best bike routes for you. If it’s a new route to work or school, you may want to test it out first on a day when you’re not in a hurry or must arrive at a certain time.
Portland’s neighborhood greenways
Many quiet local streets have route signs and markings to help bicyclists find their way. If you prefer cycling on low-traffic streets over bike lanes on busier streets, check out the Citywide or Neighborhood Bike and Walk maps and plan your route using bike facilities marked in green.
Bring your bike on public transit
All TriMet buses, MAX light rail trains, the Portland Streetcar and Aerial Tram carry bikes. See the Bikes and Transit section for information.
Portland is decorated with on-street bike racks, and many businesses provide bike parking, so finding somewhere to lock up is never too hard. If you are planning a new commute, scout out in advance the best place to park.
Bike lockers are available for rental throughout downtown and at many transit centers. Some transit centers have “bike and ride” key-card access parking. See the Community Resources section for information.
Lock your bike
At a minimum put your lock through the frame and front wheel of your bike. This is especially important if you have a quick release wheel. If you only lock the wheel, the rest of your bicycle can be detached and carried away. Options for locking the frame and both wheels with locks and cables:
- use a u-lock for the front wheel and frame and run a cable lock through the u-lock and rear wheel, and
- removing the front wheel so it can be locked with the rest of the bike.
Take up as much slack or fill up as much space in your lock as possible to prevent and discourage thieves from prying. Remove items from your bike that can be easily removed like quick- release seats, bags, and lights.
Stolen bikes are sometimes reclaimed, but to increase your chances:
Register your bike as soon as possible. You will be asked for your name, bike manufacturer, serial number, and component information. You can register your bike at the following two sites,
If your bike is stolen, report the theft to the police and give them the bicycle’s serial number and description.
Serial numbers are usually located underneath the bottom bracket. If you can’t find it, a local bike shop can help you. Record the serial number and put it in a place where you can find it if needed. It’s also helpful to take a picture of you with your bike to help show that it’s yours.
Bike maintenance on the fly
The most common mechanical problem bicyclists experience is a flat tire. It’s surprisingly easy, if a bit grimy, to fix a flat tire. For help fixing a flat tire call 503-823-2925 (CYCL), press 2. Once you’ve learned how, you’ll want to impress all your friends with your newfound skill.
Bikes and transit
Transit service in the Portland metro area:
- TriMet - For instructions on carrying your bike on buses and MAX, as well as information on the many TriMet MAX stations with secure bike and ride facilities.
- Portland Streetcar and the Portland Aerial Tram - Bicycles are allowed on the Streetcar in the low-floor section only, and on the Tram. Bike valet is also offered free to the public at the lower Tram terminal.
Other metro area transit providers who carry bikes: The Portland metro area has many bike-friendly transit providers that carry bikes, including:
- South Metro Area Rapid Transit (SMART) - Wilsonville area with routes to Salem, Canby and Portland
- C-Tran - Vancouver area and suburbs with routes to Portland. Bike locker rentals at C-Tran transit centers: 360-695-0123
- NWConnector - Find routes serving St Helens, Vernonia, Astoria, Tillamook and more
- Sandy Area Metro (SAM) - Sandy area with routes to Estacada and Gresham MAX Transit Center
- Columbia Gorge Express: Daily routes between Portland, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, Hood River and connections to The Dalles
AMTRAK – Travel by Train - Eugene – Portland – Seattle – Vancouver; reservations necessary to carry unboxed bikes (fees may apply), call 1-800-872-7245
There are lots of riding techniques and insider tips that most people learn bit by bit.
Get to know your brakes by practicing using them. Rear brakes (usually the right brake lever) are very different from front brakes. The front brake has more stopping power than the rear, but also requires more skill to avoid stopping too abruptly. Spend some time getting the feel. For emergency braking: 1) shift your weight to the rear of the seat and get your torso as low as possible while 2) applying even pressure to both brakes.
Looking behind you
Cyclists need to check traffic behind them when changing lanes or merging, same as drivers. Practice the “shoulder check” in a vacant parking lot until you can do it without swerving. If your neck doesn’t like turning that far to look over your shoulder, try pivoting at the waist and hips a bit as well – the knee on the side you’re turning to can point out a bit.
Mirrors mounted on your helmet or handlebar can be helpful, though they’re not always a complete substitute for shoulder checking.
Use your gears to keep your cadence constant and easy. Downshift to an easier gear when coming to a stop so that when you start up again, you’ll be in an appropriate gear. For going up hills, shift to an easier gear before the pedaling becomes too difficult. A cadence of about 60 to 80 pedal revolutions per minute is a good target for most cyclists.
The fast start
- Making a smooth, quick takeoff is deceptively easy:
- Stand over the frame in front of the saddle. Hold the brake levers so the bike won’t roll.
- With your dominant foot, turn the crank backwards until the pedal is forward and high (about 2 o’clock).
- Let go of the brakes and push down on the pedal. The first pedal stroke starts the bike moving and lifts you up to the saddle.
- When the opposite pedal comes to the top position, put your foot on it for the second pedal stroke.
Slow down before you turn. Applying the brakes during a turn can cause you to skid. For more stability while turning, keep the inside pedal up.
Railroad tracks, wet leaves, metal utility covers, thermoplastic road markings and gravel are a just a few things that can pose problems for cyclists. When riding over any of these surfaces, especially when wet, avoid braking and turning. For any rough surface, shift some of the weight off your seat and onto your hands (handlebars) and feet (pedals).
Watch out for tracks
Cross rail tracks at as close to a right angle as possible. Tracks are slippery, especially when wet, so don’t alter your course or speed up as you cross. If you can’t get a good crossing angle, or if the surface looks too rough, it’s OK to walk your bike across. Avoid braking or turning when crossing tracks.
Stay out of the blind spot
Use extreme caution when overtaking a slower motorist while in a bike lane. Make sure you stay out of the driver’s blind spot, especially at locations where a driver could turn right across your path, like intersections and driveways.
Ride a little bit ahead of the vehicle so the person driving can see you, or
Stay far enough back so if the vehicle turns right or stops, you’ll be able to stop safely.
The box left turn
Merging across traffic on a busy street to make a left turn can be a very difficult maneuver even for an experienced cyclist. You can cross just like a pedestrian. Here’s how to make that turn without the stress:
Ride through the intersection on the right side of the road.
Stop near the curb and turn the bike to head in the right direction.
Proceed with caution, obeying traffic controls, and merge back into traffic when it’s safe.
When in doubt, slow down
When biking, it’s easy to pull over to the side of the road and assess the situation. Slowing down also gives you more time to react to the unexpected.
Street maintenance and traffic safety
To report problems on city streets you can call,
- City Street Maintenance (24 hrs) - 503-823-1700
- Traffic Safety & Livability Line - 503-823-7233 (SAFE) or email email@example.com
Bike repair and maintenance
Shops and organizations offering classes in flat repair and basic bike maintenance:
- Bikes for Humanity PDX - 503-496-6941
- Bike Gallery - 503-281-9800
- Community Cycling Center - 503-287-8786
- River City Bicycles - 503-233-5973
- North Portland Bike Works - 503-287-1098
- Portland SmartTrips - 503-823-2925 (CYCL), press 2
- Bike Farm - 971-533-7428
- Bike parking information
- Bike locker rental - Downtown: 503-823-9863, Transit Centers: 503-962-2104
- Bike rack installation requests - 503-823-2925 (CYCL), press 3
Adult bicycle safety
For a copy of The Oregon Bicyclist Manual or for information about workshops on safe bike commuting and cyclists’ legal clinics, call 503-823-2925 (CYCL), press 2.
Portland and Oregon Bicycle Maps
To request free Portland bike maps, call 503-823-2925 (CYCL), press 2.
Find additional maps including,
- Beaverton Bicycle Map
- Gresham Bicycle Map
- Vancouver Bicycle Map
- Oregon Coast Bike Route Map
Other useful Portland bike websites