Cycle Oregon-2002 Reviewed

Maybe you've heard about Cycle Oregon and have been wondering if the ride is as good as their website pumps it up to be?  The Cycle Oregon home page calls it, "The best bicycle ride in America."  How does it measure up to Bicycle Ride Across Georgia and Bike Florida?  The week of September 8-14, 2002, I went to find out for myself and here is my report.  At the end you will find a comparisson table of ride features.

I first read about CO a few years ago, and it sounded awesome.  The photos I have seen of Oregon are definitely some of the most scenic in the world.  The CO website at really lays it on thick, describing food, entertainment, support and services so wonderful that it would be nearly impossible for 2000 cyclists to be so pampered!  My outlook was that even a half measure of what they promise would be a real treat!  With that in mind, my overall feeling about CO 2002 is that of satisfaction.  No, it is NOT the glowing report I had in June 2002 for Adventure Cycling's Cycle Utah trip; although that is rather like comparing apples to oranges.  Cycle Utah is a much smaller ride, with a maximum of 150 riders, and the ride is not intended as a fund raiser.  Adventure Cycling puts on Cycle Utah and they spend the money from the registration fees on the ride, and it shows in every way.

Lamar on his Tour Easy, Day 2 of CO 2002Cycle Oregon is a non-profit ride, with the proceeds going to a fund to be used for community improvement projects across their beautiful state.  The meals are all provided by a caterer that follows the moving city of cyclists across the state, and the food is really quite good, with the menu changing enough to avoid boredom.  The registration fee is a very hefty $699, which is 3-4 times as much as the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia  or Bike Florida, which are very similar to CO.  So why the big difference in registration fees?  I can only assume that Cycle Oregon is making a substantially larger donation to charity, since BRAG and Bike Florida also provide shower trucks, baggage trucks, porta-potties, excellent reststops with sports drink, water, fruit, cookies, PBJ sandwiches, etc,  and nice camp sites with lots of volunteers.  The reststops on CO were much further apart than on BRAG or Bike Florida, and every other one was called a "H2O" (water stop) and only had fluids, no food.  The stops with food (sometimes as much as 40 miles apart) were well stocked and provided lots of choices.   In addition to bananas, apples and oranges, some offered bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, jelly, chips, nuts, trail mix, donuts, and a variety of other choices.  These stops also offered fruit drinks, V8 drinks, sodas, etc., in addition to Powerade and water.  Take something for the road, you'll need it!

The ride began by dipping our bicycle tires in the Snake River at Nyssa Oregon on the Idaho border, and ended by dipping our tires in the Pacific Ocean near Florence, OR.   At 519 miles in 6 days of riding, Cycle Oregon was perhaps the most difficult of all my bicycling vacations, and certainly more miles per day than I would prefer.  From reading the rider's comments on the Cycle Oregon website forum, I think most people agree that this ride was too tough for most people's tastes.  The last two days were particularly difficult, in spite of being mostly downhill.  The traffic was heavier, the road narrower with no shoulder, and we rode into the wind.
Here are the daily totals:

Day 1, 71 miles,  Nyssa to Ironside, elev. gain: 2977' 
Day 2, 76 miles,  Ironside to John Day, elev. gain: 5173' (a 110 mile option was offered!)
Day 3, 78 miles,  John Day to Mitchell, elev. gain: 2991' 
Day 4, 94 miles,  Mitchell to Sisters, elev. gain: 4066'
Day 5, Layover day (I rode around Sisters, then did a rafting trip down the McKenzie River)
Day 6, 100 miles,  Sisters to Coburg, elev. gain: 2847' 
Day 7, 97 miles,  Coburg to Florence, elev. gain: 1188' 

Click on the thumbnails for larger views from Cycle Oregon 2002.
Eastern Oregon is mostly desert.  They call this road surface, "chip seal". Georgia cyclists call it shake 'n bake. We saw quite a lot of irrigated pastures like this.  Quite a contrast to the sage brush, for sure! How's this for a campsite?
This one certainly beat the dusty pasture we called home on day 2.
Volcanic rock observatory.  See the cyclists on top and inside the lookouts?  This was a highlight!
Snow capped mountains! Gives you an idea of the elevation changes we rode through. If you leave those christmas trees alone, they grow into 60' or higher beauties like these.  Painted hills.  Another of the wide variety of views the state has to offer. The McKenzie River.  I was 1 of 49 cyclists who got to go river rafting here on our layover day.

My own photos from Cycle Oregon turned out terrible.   I scavenged the above pictures from other CO rider's photo galleries and made a list of the owners so I could give them credit here, but alas, I lost the list.  I will try to find them again and ask permission to use them, but meanwhile, I wanted to finish this web page (which I started months ago) and get it on-line.  The pictures are superb and I hope my fellow CO riders don't mind my sharing them here.
CO 2002
September 8-14
BRAG 2003
June 14-21
March 15-21
MEALS All included for 7 days All meals are on your own. Charities & schools provide suppers as fund raisers or, if you prefer, restaurants are available in all overnight cities.  Most or all host cities have shuttle service to town and back.  Lunches and some breakfasts are available on the route, with proceeds benefiting Special Olympics.
Typically spend $20/day for meals.
A meal plan that includes breakfast & dinner  for 6 days is available for $90.  Lunch is on your own, but with the well stocked reststops every 12-20 miles, who needs lunch?
CAMPS Spent 2 memorable nights in pastures with cow piles in the dining tents (all breakfasts & dinners served in open air tents).  No shelter in case of storms.  Mostly wilderness camp sites with no showers other than shower trucks and no restrooms except port-a-potties, aka, "blue rooms."  Most camps far from any cities and no shuttles available.  Stayed at some schools but  buildings were off-limits due to schools in use. Camping for up to 8 nights is included.  All camps  at high school or college campuses with limited amount of indoor camping, usually in gym, sometimes in halls or classrooms. Nice to have shelter during afternoon/evening thunderstorms and air conditioned facilities for cooling it or eating dinner. Many camps are near swimming pools open for BRAG use. Some indoor camping available.  Very similar to BRAG unless they have changed a lot since 1998.
#  Days 7 7 7
#Layovers 1 (relaxation or  optional rides) 0  (ride to new town every day) 2 (relaxation or optional rides)
Basic Miles 519 420 206
Miles w/options 602 475 400
Baggage Only one bag per person, 65 lbs max. Tent, sleeping bag, etc., must all be in the one bag. Total weight of gear should be about 40 lbs. Some restrictions apply (very reasonable). Two bags per person, 40 lbs max. per bag. 
Charity recipient Cycle Oregon Fund. Communities the ride goes through may apply for grants for various improvement projects, such as saving historical buildings, turf for football fields, etc.. Special Olympics Georgia Not specified on their website.
Entertainment Rider's meetings every night.
Various music and comedy shows.
Wine & beer tent each night but it is rather pricey, around $4-7 per glass as I recall.
Talent Show is a always a BRAG highlight, as are host city street dances, concerts, etc...  Free beer on Miller Lite night, ice cream socials, movies, indescribable "Moonbase Planetarium". Very much like BRAG.
Autumn in Oregon: be prepared for anything.  I saw highs near 100, lows in 30's at higher campsite elevations. Summertime in Georgia: Hot & humid.  Highs in upper 90's, lows in 60's.  Afternoon thunderstorms not uncommon. Springtime in Florida: Pleasant to Hot.  Highs in 80's, lows in 50's.
# Riders Limited to 2000 Limited to 2000 Limited to 1000 (ride is already sold out for 2003)
Difficulty Too many miles per day for my taste and some significant climbs. Depends on the part of the state, but even south Georgia is strenuous, especially with the heat.  BRAG avoids busy roads like the plague, but it isn't always possible. Easiest ride, but they sometimes use heavily travelled, narrow roads, depending on the route.

Oh my!  As beautiful as Cycle Oregon is, I have to conclude that it is not the best bicycle ride in America and it doesn't even compare to the value cyclists get on BRAG or Bike Florida.

This page published 1/31/03 and updated 2/4/03.
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