. Learn from Past Riders | Cycle Oregon

The Best Bike Ride in America

Learn from Past Riders

Cycle Oregon’s Panel of Experts

Several years ago we enlisted the help of a team of veteran Cycle Oregon riders, asking them to provide their hard-won insights into a variety of topics. The idea was to help new riders plan and prepare – and help returning riders smooth things out. From our Panel of Experts, here are pearls of wisdom on a variety of hot topics.

Stephen Marino of Plano, Texas
Pat Holliday of John Day, Oregon
Robert and Kathy Alvarado of Beaverton, Oregon
Bob Armstrong of John Day
Nancy Plummer and George Sears of Arvada, Colorado
Greg Armstrong of John Day
Chris and Lori Milan of Boring, Oregon
Dave Anderson of Glide, Oregon

How to Prepare Early

  • While September seems a long way off, it will come before you know it. The more planning and organizing you can do in advance, the better. Start thinking about your Cycle O travel arrangements, particularly if you’re coming from out of state – flight arrangements, hotel reservations, bike shipping, etc. Addressing these issues now will help you minimize the “hit to the wallet” by spreading out any cash outlay over the next few months.
  • If you haven’t already, make your travel plans now – flight and/or hotel arrangements, driving routes, carpooling, long-term parking, bus tickets, etc. Also, start thinking about how you will transport your bike. If you’re flying, research the costs for taking it on the plane versus shipping it (have a local bike shop help you pack your bike or use a hard travel case; be sure to allow enough time for shipping so it arrives in time before the ride.) In the upcoming weeks, check the condition of your camping gear, practice pitching and packing you tent, and start gathering any items you’re missing or need to be replaced. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering that you’re missing something after arriving at the start or to be struggling with your tent in the pitch dark.
  • To have a great day at CO you need your sleep! If you haven’t camped for a while, you may wish to get a bit of experience before that first night at CO. Get a good tent and sleeping bag, and a really good, thick self-inflating pad, and try a few cycling campouts before you get to CO.
  • At this point, the first thing is to assess. Think about a spring bike tune-up while the bike shops still are not too busy; they may even offer winter specials. Also consider any upgrades you might need, depending on riding capability, age, injuries etc. Upgrading from a double ring to a triple helped tremendously on the climbs. It was cheaper than buying a new bike. Consider scheduling a bike fit, which is very beneficial.
  • There are dozens of convenient little items that just seem to work so well on a seven-day campout. I would recommend making a list now of what you expect to need for CO. This will allow you to buy as you go and not find a huge expense come late August. The CO Web site has good information about suggested items to include on your trip.
  • In addition to easing into the training routine I also spend a lot of time simply looking at the route and thinking about the challenges that lie ahead. And of course this year is no different than any other year… it’s about now I begin to dream about fitting into one of those classy Cycle Oregon jerseys.
  • Now is a good time to make sure your bike is properly set up and comfortable for long days in the saddle. Getting a “fit” at a reputable bike shop is a good idea. If you’re considering changing components, such as going from a double to a triple chain ring or replacing your saddle, we recommend you do that sooner rather than right before Cycle Oregon, so you have time to train using the new equipment and can make adjustments as needed. If you’re planning to take extra gear (i.e., additional clothing, camera, etc.) while riding, consider a larger saddle bag and/or Camelback or possibly a bike rack/trunk bag combination. By mid-August, schedule an appointment for a complete tune-up (or do it yourself) to make sure your bike is running smoothly and any mechanical problems can be addressed.
  • Start putting aside $1 bills to give to the locals who will be helping “Sherpa” your bag, at the camp sites (plan on giving at least $2 per bag).


  • Try to plan opportunities to train on terrain similar to the Cycle O route. Check out local cycling club rides to get used to riding in groups. It’s a good idea to sign up for event rides in your area (like metric and full centuries) in the spring and summer to stay motivated and maintain your fitness level. Spinning classes and indoor trainer/stationary bike can be effective, but it’s important to get as much “time in the saddle” as possible by actually riding.
  • It’s important to note that what you get out of your training is what you put into it, meaning you need the time in the saddle and should try to have a minimum of 1,000 miles by the end of the summer. You should also ride a variety of terrain and in different weather conditions (e.g., heat training, etc.). While summer is busy for many people, it is possible to be ready by September to ride Cycle Oregon comfortably.
  • If you haven’t done CO before, a minimum goal would be to ride at least double the length of CO before September rolls around.
  • I plan so that I peak physically for Cycle Oregon. I don’t want to overtrain and be “saddle weary” when CO rolls around. The goal is to be in good cycling shape so CO is a challenging event and not a tough week, but also so the week in the saddle will be fresh and something I look forward to. I like to slow down the last two weeks before CO and get my bike into the shop for a thorough going-over before CO. One tradition I have is to put new rubber (700×25, and a durable tire like Conti’s Gatorskins) on the rims approximately one week before we leave for CO.
  • People need to know that you can do Cycle O even if you’re not a high-mileage rider.
  • I rode only about 300 miles each season before my first five Cycle O’s, and almost all those miles were between May and August. It was very helpful during those times to sign up for one sponsored ride of 50+ miles each in the months of May, June and July. That was the only way I would take the time to do long rides. Really, no rocket science involved. Just try to go out and exercise on your bike to have fun.
  • We put in long hours and have to work really hard at creating time to ride. We start in the spring with shorter rides without any hills, usually 15-30 miles. After a week or two we take to the hills. We keep up the 15-30 mile weekday rides through September, with weekends reserved for longer rides (30-60 miles). After 10 Cycle Oregon adventures, we’ve found that steady effort always pays off. One thing is certain… we always end Cycle Oregon in the best shape we’ve been in all year long!


Cycle Oregon Notes: While we’re talking about packing, this is a good time to reinforce a very important point: You’re allowed one bag of no more than 65 pounds. Beyond the fact that heavier bags overload the people who load, unload and porter them, and extra weight means extra fuel, there’s the basic concept of consideration: This rule does, in fact, apply to you. Please don’t be one of the small percentage of schmucks – because bike karma is a very real thing.One more thing that might not occur to you: Please don’t use buckles or any other sharp objects to secure your bag on the outside. We’ve had several injuries to baggage handlers who got snagged by sharp edges.

And a final note before we commence with the wisdom: Laundry buckets will be positioned by the showers each day, so you can cut down the amount of clothes you need to pack if you’re willing to do a little hand-washing and air-drying.

  • Mark your duffel bag, and remember the truck: Even the smallest marking or flag placed on both ends of the duffel will make locating it much easier. There are 2,000 duffel bags at CO, 90% of which are the same one you and I purchased at REI.
  • I like to send postcards and letters from the route, and I also collect odd postcards found in small towns, the “Cycle Oregonian” from breakfast, and other things that I can put in a scrapbook after the ride. To protect these items I have a heavy duty zip-up binder to hold postcards, pens, stamps, etc. This protects these items from being damaged during the trucking, camping, etc.
  • Based on our experience and trying different methods of packing, we have found that compression sacks work very well for packing a majority of our cycling and camp clothes, especially for packing fleece items. We also take an extra compression sack for packing our laundry to keep it separate from our clean clothes. Other smaller items, such as socks, underwear, gloves, headbands, etc., are packed in sealable plastic bags and fit conveniently in between the compression bags in our roller duffel bag.
  • Be sure to think “layers” for clothing, both on the bike and in camp, and pack accordingly (including a stocking cap and gloves for chilly mornings/evenings), as you could experience a wide range of temperatures. Buy a collapsible wash bucket (REI has them) if you plan to do any laundry; you won’t have to wait in line for one of the buckets provided at the laundry area.
  • Do a “dry run” packing your bag, sooner than later, and don’t wait until the last minute to pack; you’ll quickly find out that your bag only holds so much and that you’ll have to make decisions as to which items have to stay home. Also, make sure your bag is not packed so much that it is very difficult to close before the tour; allow some spare room as it will be tricky to close it each morning with a wet tent and ground cloth, extra items you have purchased during the week, etc.
  • Small plastic grocery bags or something to cover your bike seat and handlebars at night to protect bike from dew. A small chamois towel to wipe dew off bike handlebars and seat in the morning. A small backpack to use in the evening to carry warm clothes in. Many nights in the beer/music area start out warm and get cold very fast, and often it is too far to walk back to the tent. Finally, two words: ear plugs.
  • Pack a separate backpack at the top of your big bag with your shower stuff and a change of clothes – makes it easy and quick to get to the showers. When in camp I carry a fanny pack with cash, sunscreen, flashlight and a portable toothbrush. The latter comes in handy at the end of the day so you don’t have to make a separate trip back to the tent to get this stuff.
  • An iPod works equally as well as earplugs to drown out the nightlife and allow you to softly drift into the land of slumber. We also equip our camp with a 24-foot flag pole. Most years we have a 20-foot hypno-twister rotating at the top. This marks our spot, and we never have to wonder which turn to take when entering tent city. Another handy gadget is a retractable clothesline.
  • Bring your own chair. You’ll be so glad you did.
  • Bring more than one jacket so that you’re not left without one in case gear drop is late in returning to camp.
  • One travel trick that I have learned concerns baggage: CO allows one 65-pound bag. The airlines have a 50-pound limit or you pay more – so you can see the makings of a problem. The problem is solved by taking a carry-on bag and filling it with 15 pounds of stuff from the 65-pound bag. Just make sure that you have done a trial pack several days before so that you know everything fits into the one bag.
  • Logistics from other states or countries are much different than for Portlanders. I have a nice hard bike case and I clean the bike totally before it goes into the case. I mark down all the measurements on bike so that when I get to the ride and put it together, it feels the same. I tear down and build up my own bike, so I pack tools and grease in the bike case.


  • The simplest thing you can do to improve everybody’s safety and gain the respect of motorists is to use a mirror – 2,000 cyclists, support vehicles, other traffic… know what is happening behind you before you pass the cyclists in front of you.
  • Ride at a comfortable pace and within your abilities, especially on descents; don’t worry about being passed or riding slower than others (there will always be someone riding faster than you). Notify cyclists behind you if you are going to stop, slow down, turn, etc. by using hand signals and/or verbal commands. It’s important to stay to the right, “hold your line,” and be as predictable as possible.
  • Don’t skip a rest stop unless you have plenty of fluids to drink to reach the next one.
  • A tire tip that has worked very well for us in preventing flats is that each time we stop for a break, we carefully watch where we lay our bikes and we always rub off both tires before starting again.
  • Be sure to unclip well in advance of pulling into and out of rest stop areas. And when stopping at a rest stop, be sure to pull off the road before you stop. Not all riders stop at every rest or water stop; therefore, the roadway needs to stay open.
  • When drinking, keep your chin down and tip your bottle up and to the side, allowing you to keep the road in sight. When turning to look behind you, tuck your chin into your shoulder; this will keep you bike in a straight line and not veering into traffic (bike or car).


  • Try to place your tent in a place where it will not block a major traffic corridor, and watch out for tent guy-lines. Oh, and if you snore like a Harley-Davidson, find a place off on the edge of camp.
  • If you wake up super-early to start the packing process, please be considerate of those around you who still want to sleep – don’t make so much noise.
  • There will be lines at meals, showers, blue rooms, etc., but be patient as they tend to move fairly well. Introduce yourself and strike up a conversation with those camping, standing in line and eating next to you – it’s a great way to meet new people on the ride. Finally, keep in mind that glitches occur and things may not happen as originally planned – it’s best to stay flexible, keep a positive and open mind, and “go with the flow.” It all works out in the long run, and everyone has a great time.
  • In camp, we think it is important etiquette to stay and listen to the great music. Sometimes the band drives a long way to entertain us, only to find a handful of people to play for. It’s also good etiquette to thank the local people whenever you can. Tip the bag carriers, and support the craft and baked good booths.
  • When parking your bike at a rest stop, be careful to not lean your bike on someone else’s”
  • When in camp, be sensitive to those camping near you. Hint: Not everyone wants to listen to your cell phone conversation while they’re trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t slam the Blue Room (that’s CO lingo for portable toilet) doors – especially true for those late-night trips. That being said, if you’re a light sleeper, best bring ear plugs.
  • Tip the kids carrying your bag, and tip them well. Pack a little light and buy a t-shirt or two from the locals. Buy a beer for a stranger – you’ll probably gain a friend. Thank a volunteer.
  • Open “your” beer garden table to a single rider who’s looking for a place to sip a cold brew. The beer garden can be crowded on a hot afternoon, and if you’re saving a place for a friend or two, invite a stranger to sit down. Your friends will understand, and those “reserved” chairs can be put to good use.
  • Use your “quiet voice” when you return to camp in the evening.

Day-To-Day Insider Tips

  • Always go to bed with water – it’s handy for that late-night and early-morning ibuprofen dose. I keep my water bottle in my shoe; it stays upright that way.
  • Packing a pair of gloves in your gear bag will help with tearing down your wet tent in the morning.
  • Get an early start in the morning – the blue rooms start clean and there is much less traffic to deal with.
  • Ask the porters where they would camp, and always tip them well while engaging them in conversation.
  • Keep a five-dollar bill and a supply of ones on your bike. The five is for the tube you may need along the way, while the ones will cover your tips to mechanics and porters.
  • Go to dinner in the first hour it’s open, to avoid trying to find a seat at the tables. This also allows you to get a good spot at the main stage for announcements and entertainment.
  • Pack a folding camp chair to dinner with you and you won’t need to go back to the tent. You should also leave camp with your headlamp instead of wishing you had on the way back in the dark.
  • Don’t obsess on the “big climb” on today’s route.The “big climb” will not go away by overanalyzing it. Worrying about the climb will make you miss all the beautiful scenery on the route. Just let the day happen. The “big climb” may be tough, but my experience is that with 2,000 other riders it will be much easier than riding it alone. Gear down and slay the dragon! Big climbs offer the best views, and will remain in your memory for years, if not longer.
  • Avoid setting up a tent in an established traffic path. Look around and see how the foot traffic through Tent City is flowing, and avoid putting your tent down in a traffic corridor. Quiet sites mean more walking, but are generally worth the extra effort. Don’t locate your tent close to Blue Rooms, showers or other busy areas, unless you’re not bothered by a lot of noise.
  • Bring your own camp chair, pick your spot for the evening entertainment and leave your chair before you go to dinner.
  • In the morning, take a canvas sack or fanny pack to breakfast with your toiletries in it so you can stop by the sinks at the showers to finish getting ready (e.g., brush teeth, put in contacts, etc.), if you’re not camping in close proximity to them.
  • Usually the “blue rooms” closest to the dining area or where the route starts have the longest lines; look for blue rooms located in the less-congested areas and many times they will have shorter lines.
  • If you’re planning to do any laundry, do it on a short-ride day and soon after arriving in camp so that your washed items can dry in the remaining afternoon sun (don’t forget to pack a camping clothesline and/or plenty of clothespins).
  • In addition to putting a plastic bag on your saddle, you may want to take off your cyclometer and any saddle/bike bags so they don’t get wet overnight from rain or dew.
  • Bring a quick dry towel. They dry your body well and dry out quickly for use the next day.
  • Have an LED light for your head to make sure you can find your way to the blue rooms at night with your hands free.
  • Put your next day’s kit inside your sleeping bag overnight. This way you don’t have to put on cold Lycra in the morning.
  • Keep a water bottle filled with water outside your tent. In the morning you can use this to brush your teeth.
  • Bring produce bags for your feet. If it rains, this is best way to keep feet dry and warmer.
  • Always check on the back side of the blue rooms at rest stops as there are usually blue rooms on both sides.
  • At the lunch stop, bring your water bottle with you to fill if the eating site is far from where you park your bike.
  • Bring small sunscreen packs to put on during the day. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on your ears!
  • Buy a phone card ahead of time, in case you have to call home from an area with no cell service.
  • Use chamois butter.
  • When you’re out there, forget about anything at the office. Don’t make arrangements for anyone to call you, or promise to call anyone. Chances are you won’t have cell service anyway.
  • Try to recognize that exact moment (it happens every day) when the conditions are perfect – temperature, wind, road surface, scenery, company.Those moments are why we keep coming back to Cycle Oregon.