Follow the path of an 1860s wagon route and get ready to climb. McKenzie Pass is a special region of Oregon that, due to extreme snowfall and narrow winding climbs, is only open a few months out of the year. At the beginning of the season, ODOT plows the road and opens it exclusively for non-motorized traffic. The smooth, clear pass is now available to bikers likely until June 16 – so get out there while you can.
McKenzie Pass travels between two federal wilderness areas. At the top, an observation tower provides an incredible view of rugged, charcoal black lava as far as the eye can see and six Cascade peaks.
Begin your ride in either McKenzie Bridge on the east side or Sisters on the west side. You can drive up to the snow gates, park and ride from there. The climb up from the east gate is approximately 11 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation with tons of switchbacks. From the west, you’ll cover eight miles and 1,700 feet of elevation. Read below for additional info.
Driving McKenzie Pass is breathtaking, but biking on the quiet, traffic free road is even more magical. Check out our complete guide to trip options and plan your adventure now, before it’s too late. The weather has been lovely and I speculate there’s a chance ODOT will open the road sooner.
SUGGESTED SHORT TRIP ROUTE
2 days of travel, 1 day of biking
15.5 miles of climbing, 3,000 ft of elevation gain and grades of 1-6%. 15.5 miles of nearly pure downhill.
Mandatory step one: Have your bike looked at and ensure your breaks are in EXCELLENT condition and not squeaking.
CAMP DAY 1 Drive to McKenzie Bridge and camp at the amazing Paradise Campground which lives up to its name. I’ll tell you that much, but I’m not revealing my coveted favorite site within the park (there are plenty of good ones). Enjoy the drive there, relax into camp, and get a good night’s sleep.
CLIMB DAY 2 In the morning, eat a healthy, protein-rich breakfast, prepare your lunch, pack up camp, fill your water bottles in the campground (good water) and hit the road. If you didn’t make coffee in camp, head west a few miles out of camp to the espresso joint in McKenzie Bridge (north side of the street). Enjoy your coffee as you head back east on Hwy 126 and veer off for McKenzie Pass.
PARK AT WHITE BRANCH Drive to White Branch Youth Camp, about 6.4 mile in. There’s a huge gravel area outside of the camp entrance and few people park there. There are no amenities. You’ll see snow gates, but these ones are not THE gates.
From here you’ll have about a 4.5 mile significant climb with extremely light traffic to the snow gates where there’s a restroom and an additional parking area. I don’t recommend parking here as the climb up isn’t as… er… rewarding.
RIDING BLISS Haul your bike over the gates and prepare yourself for car-free riding bliss in a lush, serene forested area. You’ll snake along many switch backs as you climb up to the summit and the observation tower. Don’t be shy about taking breaks to rest, drink your water and maybe have a snack. There are plenty of cool sights along the way so take pictures and enjoy the ride. The summit is an excellent lunch break spot and you’re likely to meet other friendly riders there.
THE DESCENT When you’re ready, turn around and cruise back down. The descent is intense and the switchbacks can be misleadingly sharp, so take it easy because there’s no guardrail to stop you from going over the edge. Don’t be shy about taking breaks on the descent – it can be rather intense on your upper body and quite a mental game.
POST RIDE Back at the parking spot, high five your friends or yourself and head into town for a well-deserved burger. If you’re headed home via Hwy 126, I recommend McKenzie Deli Stagecoach just outside of Springfield around mile marker 10. The service is a little discombobulated but the burgers are perfectly done and a burger and (mediocre) fries will somehow only run you $4. Maybe they mischarged me.
McKenzie Bridge has a couple restaurants, including Takoda’s which stays open until around 8:30pm (call). There is a small market, a coffee shop and gas. Not much else, but that’s hopefully all you need. I recommend spending a little cash in McKenzie Bridge as it’s always a good idea to support the small towns we visit on our adventures.
24 miles of flats and climbing, 4,110 ft of elevation gain and grades of 1-6%. 20 miles of nearly pure downhill.
You can extend your route with additional mileage and climbing by parking at the Ranger Station along Hwy 126 (south side of the street, between Paradise Campground and the actual McKenzie Bridge).
UP AND OVER
BACK: If you start from the gate (hitch a ride?) 8 miles of climbing, 1,700 feet of elevation gain and grades of 1-4% (approx). Otherwise, it depends on your start point out of Sisters.
2-3 days of travel, 2 days of biking (though hardcore riders will do this all in one day with no overnight in Sisters).
Drive to McKenzie Bridge. Pack light overnight gear (more if you’re camping) and lunch. Park at White Branch (we have not verified you can park there overnight or more). Bike to the top for lunch. Bike down the east side to Sisters.
Spend the night in Sisters. There’s a camping park in town and plenty of accommodations – but book ahead to play it safe.Oregon State campground in Tumalo is the other closest camping spot.
Either rest for a day to enjoy Sisters or hit the pass again the next day.
From Salem, PDX, Vancouver, etc, take I-5 to the 194A Springfield exit and hop on Hwy 126 headed east to McKenzie Bridge, which is 160 miles from Portland. Give yourself ample time; Hwy 126 is scenic and travels along the gorgeous McKenzie River.
If you live northeast of the pass, consider a drive up Hwy 126 north to 20 (Santiam Hwy) and through Sweet Home for a different route back home. This equally scenic route makes for a great drive without adding much time to your journey.
WHEN TO GO
McKenzie Pass opens to exclusively to non-motorized traffic in May every year. You can sign up for pass opening alerts from ODOT here and get more info here. For the most striking experience, go right when the route opens and the snow is highest. The route is usually restricted for only a month, so jump on the opportunity while you can. The pass is open to cars for only about three months of the year.
PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIP
- 2 water bottles – there is no water along McKenzie Pass but you can refill at the top with snow!
- If you’re going on a day that’s under 65 degrees in McKenzie Bridge (check weather), bring light gloves and long sleeves for the downhill – it can get chilly
- Sunscreen – you’ll be in and out of the shade at high elevation
- Camera – it’s gorgeous
- Lunch for the top, maybe a snack for the climb.
It’s your preference. I climbed on a delightfully warm day and wore bike shorts (no padding), stretchy skirt, sleeveless cotton top, bike shoes, no bike gloves and was perfectly fine.
- Check your bike, especially your breaks. The downhill is nearly 30 minutes of sustained descent with tricky switchbacks. Be safe!
- Air up your tires to max pressure – you’ll thank yourself as you trudge along.
- The ride is taxing on your upper body – so strengthen beforehand as much as you can.
- If you haven’t ridden much for the year, ensure your legs are limber and your hips are loose. Try some yoga hip opening poses for the week leading up to the ride and practice some hill climbs – but rest the day before you plan to ride McKenzie Pass.
- There is no cell reception or water along McKenzie Pass.
- If you’re riding with others, you might not want to stick together unless you have the same riding pace. On a sustained climb, it can be rewarding to get into your own groove and not worry about others. There are generally plenty of riders on the road so someone will always come by in case of emergency.
- Don’t count the miles, just plod along. There are few flats, so just keep grinding up like you’ll be doing it all day. When you see the sign indicating you’re two miles from the observatory (the top), go all out and have a strong finish.
- Take generous rests as you need them, but try to not walk your bike. If you do walk, there’s no shame in that; getting to the top is what counts.
- The ride is gorgeous – take photo breaks and enjoy it.
- Keep your core steady, avoid pushing down hard with your legs. Instead, climb with your hips and glutes (butt muscles).
- Use about 85% of your gears but save the rest for when you really need them, which will be a nice respite when you most need it, especially if you’re not used to sustained hill climbs.
- Stand periodically for a saddle break and to work different leg muscles.
- Be sure to switch up your hand position regularly. Relax your upper body and don’t grip your handlebars or push with your arms.
- Total time varies greatly by rider. It took me 2.5 hours up with generous photo/resting breaks and about half hour down with reasonable descent speed (I’m no daredevil). This is an average to slow pace.
View a brief photo set here >>
YOUR RIDE EXPERIENCE
Have you ridden McKenzie Pass? Share your experience below.
What does a great regional walking and bicycling network look like?
Metro invites you to help finalize the vision for a regional strategy that will make it easier and safer to walk, ride a bicycle and access transit in the region.
The open house takes place on Thursday, May 23 from 5-7pm
Metro Regional Center, Council Chamber 600 NE Grand Ave. in Portland
For more information, see the flyer.
Buying a new bike can be a challenge, but the process is rather straightforward. You do a little research, a little shopping, then you go home with your new ride.
Buying a used bike, on the other hand, requires navigating a much more complex route to find your dream bike. And there are plenty of pitfalls and potholes to avoid along the way.
WHY BUY A USED BIKE
Buying a used bike isn’t for everyone. Even if you’re looking for a bargain, a used bike may not be the best deal you can find (read why below).
So when is buying a used bike a good way to go?
- You know a ton about bikes, you’re already fixing up bikes, and you come across a screaming deal. You’re the ideal person to snatch up that killer find.
- You’ve got a lot of time on your hands and you’re looking for a bike-based project. You like components and tinkering. You understand that projects sometimes require multiple trips to the shop for new, different or forgotten parts.
- You want something special, personalized and unique – maybe even vintage. You’ve got the patience to hunt for it and you’re willing to spend what it takes to get that bike in solid riding shape.
- You’re broke, but ambitious. You’re willing to put in the leg work it takes to find a good deal and you’re willing to spend money to get the bike in solid working order. Bonus points if you’re sister, girlfriend, wife, neighbor or brother is a bike mechanic who owes you a big favor.
WHERE TO BUY A USED BIKE
Some bike shops specialize in used bikes, but they’re all fairly different. The stock changes frequently, so you’ll need to visit several times and make a project out of circling around to the used shops in your area.
Ask about the condition of the bike and what their warranty is. Some shops stand behind the quality of their tune-ups enough to warranty the bikes for several months against malfunction, but most don’t. Some shops sell the bikes “as is,” which could mean all sorts of pitfalls. A quality shop will be willing to tell you a little bit about what the bike needs to be in better condition. If the shop isn’t willing to talk about the condition of the bike and seems shifty, it’s because they are shifty and don’t deserve your business.
Used bike shops are the most likely to offer a trade-in on your current bike.
Buyer beware! Buying bikes on Craigslist is a big project. Here are the main aspects to take into consideration.
- The size listed is probably wrong. Most people don’t know how to size a bike. A properly sized bike is measured from the center of the crank to the seat post. You might ask the person to measure that way and then let you know the size of the bike, but chances are you’re just going to have to look at it in person to know what size it really is. (bike sizing chart)
- If the deal is waaaay too good to be true it’s possible the bike is stolen. Proceed with caution and check the Stolen Bike Listings if you are suspicious. If you’ve got any doubt, don’t buy the bike.
- You’ve got to test ride the bike and give it a thorough look-over. If price is a big concern for you, bring along a trusted mechanic. Otherwise, you could wind up sinking a lot of money into repairs just to get the bike ready to roll. No matter the condition of the bike, chances are quite good it will need a bit of TLC, so be prepared for the cost of a tune-up and parts.
- You’ve got to coordinate a time to meet. The seller may flake out or live far away. Play it safe and follow up with a phone call (not text or email) right before you head over.
- You may be able to talk the person down, you may not. Standard haggling/bargaining rules apply: go lower than you think they’ll accept because you can always offer more. Don’t fool yourself: steer clear of bikes that are well beyond your budget.
Ebay bike buying is really only for the experts who know what they’re looking for, and usually it’s frames only. You’ll need to factor in significant shipping expenses. Proper measurements are just as hard to come by as on Craigslist, so you may need to talk the seller through how to size a frame to ensure you’re getting what you’re looking for.
Garage sales can be an excellent place to buy a used bike. If you like cruising around on the weekends and checking out the bargains anyway, then look for bikes while you’re at it.
Often there are great deals (and even better stories) to be found and you can assess the bike quality right then and there. As with other buying options, remember to factor in at least a tune-up, and probably some new parts, depending on the condition of the bike.
WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T BUY A USED BIKE
If all this sounds like a real drag, a hassle and more trouble than it’s worth, buying a used bike is not right for you. If you’re on a budget, you’ll just need to hunt around and look for sales to find the bike that’s right for you. If you don’t have a bike, or don’t have one that functions or fits you well and are looking for a bike to ride around town, you might consider a bike in the $550-$700 range. The components won’t be as nice and the bike might not be as smooth, but so long as you purchase a reputable brand (Trek, Jamis and Raleigh are all good choices) you’ll have a solid bike for many years to come. You can always save up for a higher end bike later.
Once you bump up into the $1,200-$1,500 price range, component quality goes up and you’re getting more bike for your money. In the long run, if you’re looking for a long-lasting road bike and you can work with this price range, it’s your best bet.
HAVE YOU BOUGHT A USED BIKE?
Tell us your story below.
For more info on bike buying, see our 7 Essential Bike Buying Tips.
Looking for an adventure this summer? How about an outback tour of the Wild West of Oregon while you relax at a ranch and are guided to the very best cycling routes. TREO Lodge is an an Eastern Oregon hunting ranch that has recently reinvented itself as a vacation destination for urban cyclists who want to explore this strikingly desolate area.
All inclusive packages are available for groups of four people or more and feature fully supported bike tours, meals and lodging at the dramatic 300-acre spread near the Hardman Ghost Town in Heppner, Oregon. Amenities include a hot tub for relaxing at the end of the day, a personal beer tap, pool table and of course, breathtaking views from the porch.
The area is so sparsely populated that cars are a rare sight on local roads and bicyclists enjoy wide berth. Rides can be customized depending on each group’s ability and desires. Proprietors Phil and Kathy Carlson say some of the best riding is along the Stagecoach Trail, which follows the path of the original stagecoach from the Hardman Ghost Town through the Blue Mountains and Umatilla Forest to the John Day River. They’ve also crafted a historic ride through the rolling hills of Oregon farming country that winds its way to the Old Western town of Condon, where visitors can stop at an old fashioned pharmacy, soda fountain and mercantile.
The proprietors are dedicated to ensuring their guests have a memorable experience, and are completely amenable to customized adventure days. Perhaps you want to ride to Kimberly, the confluence of the John Day and John Day North Fork rivers for lunch, rafting, or fishing, then continue riding. If you choose a rafting option, the guides will transport your bikes to the put out, and handle all the gear for you.
Riding Cycle Oregon? Spend some leisure time with TREO to loosen your legs and acclimate yourself to Eastern Oregon so you can make the most of your Cycle Oregon experience.
Whether you’re looking for extensive riding, heaps of adventure or plenty of relaxation, this new riding retreat offers it all in a small, customized setting.
May 13-17 is Bike to Work Week, when people are encouraged to hop on their bikes and try a new way to commute.
Around this time of year, a rash of articles with the same thesis starts to pop up: “You don’t have to wear that silly Lycra in order to bike to work.”
That’s totally true! Bike commuting shouldn’t require expensive gear, special shoes or padded shorts.
But Lycra exists for a reason – and we’re going to break it down here.
TO LYCRA OR NOT TO LYCRA
The thing about biking to work is that there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Everyone’s commute is different, so it’s hard to apply blanket advice. The important aspect to remember is that you have options, and what works best for you is the best option.
My own commute is through an industrial suburban area, and almost every other cyclist I see is wearing bike gear to varying degrees. Although I wear my regular clothes when I’m out riding in the city, I always gear up for my bike commute. I like the idea of taking a leisurely bike-to-work ride in my skirt and heels, but for the sake of time and practicality I turn my 12-mile commute into an exercise routine.
After all, what better way to get the blood pumping in the morning than using your bike commute as training?
You might sweat into your clothes, but with Lycra people can’t as easily see your sweat and it will wick away. A little Lycra under your work clothes also goes a long way – especially under skirts short enough to let your skin touch the saddle.
LOOKING PRESENTABLE AT THE WORKPLACE
No matter how long or short your commute (and how much fun you’re having), at some point you have to put on your work-related clothes and join your co-workers. Arrive a few minutes early to change and clean yourself up. Nothing beats walking into a space relaxed and ready instead of rushed and frazzled, so especially on the mornings you have to face people right off the bat, give yourself just a few extra minutes to compose yourself.
TIPS FOR CARRYING YOUR CLOTHES TO WORK
- Roll, don’t fold. Rolled clothes take up less space in your bag and are less likely to wrinkle.
- Keep a pair of dress shoes at work.
- Keep an emergency bag with a pair of underwear and socks, etc., in your desk.
- A comb and a travel-sized bottle of your favorite hair product will help keep helmet-head at bay. Dry shampoo (you can make your own) is a great way to absorb any extra oil or sweat in your hair from the ride.
- Ladies who do the makeup thing, bring it with you. You may also want to wait until you get to work to put face lotion on, or switch to a moisturizing oil like jojoba which will be less clammy when you work up a sweat.
Some lucky bike commuters can take advantage of showers at the office, but the rest of us need to figure out other ways to not offend our co-workers after our ride.
One option is to take it easy on the way in, and save your real workout for the way home. That’s my preferred style, though not entirely by choice. I commute by myself in the mornings, but in the evenings I meet up to commute with my husband. He’s a faster rider than I am, so I definitely get some training miles on the way home.
An absorbent pack towel, Action Wipes (or something similar) and a spot of deodorant can really do wonders.
WHAT’S YOUR FORMULA?
Do you kit up for your work commute? Why or why not? Leave your favorite bike commuting wardrobe tips in the comments below.
Jessie Kwak is a writer who loves to type about the good life: travel, outdoor adventures, food and drink, and (of course) cycling. You can find her at Bictoro: Bikes and Crafts.
Remember when it was a time for great adventures and trying new things and re-inventing yourself a bit? It still can be! This year, try upgrading to clipless pedals for a whole new (and better) ride that can take you further than you thought possible.
LINGO + GEAR
Let’s just get this confusing bit out of the way right off the bat.
Cleat: The metal part of the shoe that attaches to the pedal.
Bike shoe: Typically this is a shoe that has a mount for cleats, but you need to make sure before you make your purchase. There are a few models of shoes out there called bike shoes because they grip onto a pedal nicely or have other features that make them a good option for biking. If you want to ride clipless, you need a bike shoe that has a cleat mount plate.
Clipless pedal: This refers to the type of pedal that a cleated shoe attaches to.
Clip in: Ride with clipless pedals. “But they’re called clipless….” I know. It’s confusing. Clipless simply means having a shoe attached to the pedal, but not using toe clips, also known as cages.
Clipless pedals are the best option for longer rides. They give you a huge advantage by optimizing the entire circle of your pedal stroke (as opposed to just pushing down). By spreading the work between muscle groups, your legs are less tired and much more efficient. In other words, you can ride longer, faster and easier with them – pretty great for a small change.
You’ll need to buy a pair of special shoes, a set of cleats and the pedals. Your local bike shop can help you decide which options are best for your riding style. Luckily for you, there are many options in brands and shoe types. You can even buy a sandal to rock that summer feeling.
You can choose a pedal that is for riding only with cleats or one that has a flat side for street shoes. These flip flop pedals are a perfect option for people who both ride the distance and like to ride in style. You don’t have to switch out your pedals based on what you’re wearing or what type of riding you’re doing. A quick run to the corner store is no big deal.
DIFFERENT PEDALS – DIFFERENT STROKES
I recommend starting with a mountain-style pedal. This is double sided so it’s easier to get into and the cleat is recessed in the sole of your shoe. This means you can walk normally (unlike the road style which are meant mostly for only being on the bike) and you can run errands or pop into the gas station, piece of cake. As an initial investment they also tend to be a little less expensive than the road style.
Once you’re experienced with riding clipless, or if your main motivation is to only go the distance or race, you may want to choose a different pedal system. Talk with your local shop about the options to find what’s right for your needs.
BUT WON’T I HAVE TO WEAR UGLY SHOES?
Not necessarily. It depends on what type of clipping in you want to do and which system you use, but there are a growing number of stylish shoe options that fit cleats.
For men, DZR makes a very attractive shoe. Women can wear them too, but they’re sized for men’s feet, which tend to be wider and larger. Shimano makes a few options. Masculine shoes definitely dominate the casual bike shoe department, check out this Guide to Stylish Clipless Shoes.
BUT WON’T I FALL?
Yes, you will. But maybe only once.
Many, many people avoid clipless because they think it will be too hard to free their foot. Be not afraid. You release like a ski binding — a small, easy twist of your foot and you’re free.
If you’re pretty nervous about this venture, choose a multi-directional (vs. omni-directional) cleat. These allow you to release your foot by tilting your ankle to the side or twisting your foot. Having additional release directions means you’re less likely to get your foot stuck in a panic – nearly any way you move your foot will release the shoe.
Ask the shop to install your cleats on your shoes and your pedals on your bike. Ensure they adjust the pedal tension to the loosest setting. Hop on one of their stationary bike trainers so you can practice clipping in and out in until you’re comfortable trying it on the road. You can also practice while holding onto a sign post, telephone pole, playground equipment, etc.
The lowest tension setting can be so loose that a big bump will knock your shoe out of the pedal. As you become more comfortable being clipped in, you can adjust the tension for a snugger fit.
Major disclaimer: Most people fall while learning – almost always at a sudden stop putting the foot down in a panic. Practicing in a stationary trainer first will help prevent this, but it still sometimes happens.
Ask your friends or folks at the bike shop who already ride clipless about their one fall. Everyone has a story. Mine was on Germantown Road with a line of cars building up behind me, so I decided to pull over to let them by. I was tired, forgot I was clipped in and… promptly tipped over from the shoulder into the road. Luckily, the cars were already slowed behind me when I signaled my exit. Now drivers were stopped completely (so much for trying to help the flow of traffic) and hanging out their windows to see if I was okay. Because I didn’t reach my arm out to catch my fall (never do this — it’s how you break your arm or wrist) I rolled cleanly and lightly onto my thigh and shoulder and was only slightly bruised. However, I turned about sixty shades of red as I tried to wave traffic on from the ground.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH, DIVE IN
Moral of the story: falling usually only happens once and rarely do you have much injury beyond a bruised ego.
Luckily for me when I fell, no one knew me or cared to remember, so it quickly became a brief moment in the past. My summer of clipless pedals was a summer of new accomplishments on my bike. Since then, my clipless pedals have helped me go new places I never thought I could – forests, mountaintops, bike tours and beyond. They were the little change that made the biggest difference in my relationship to my bike.
So take a deep breath and dive in. You won’t regret it!
Tori Bortman is a bike mechanic, educator, consultant and the owner of Gracie’s Wrench.