hey, what's going on? Any ride plans tomorrow?
nah...I'm short on time. got a thing at noon. I think I'm just gonna roll around in forest park, better than nothing I guess.
Okay. fair enough.
We've all heard it.
We've all said it.
If I had a dollar for every time this exchange played out among Portland bikeride types, I'd have a blessing of Speedvagen* in the garage, one for each day of the week. (* the plural of Speedvagen being Speedvagen and accordingly, a group of unicorns, symbolizing pure innocence and magic, is known as a 'blessing') Unfortunately, however it's all too true. Forest Park suffers from overexposure. We've climbed and descended every bend of Leif Erickson hundreds of times, hammered up and down Saltzman in the muck, mud, snow and heat of summer, pounded through mists at dawn charged on morning espresso and cooked every loose, whiskeydrunk corner by dying headlamp on soggy winter nights.
Unfortunately it happens. We ride certain areas so much we become desensitized to their charms. But objectively speaking, how many city parks can offer 30+ miles of completely unspoiled, deeply forested, completely satisfying Oregon hero dirt well within the golden ratio (which for the uninitiated is 1000 feet climbed to every 10 miles traveled)?
This modular loop capitalizes on Forest Park's 5100 acres of steep, circuitous topography, far-flung firelanes (some of them amazingly steep) cool, shady drainages and lesser-traveled bits for a satisfying 32 mile, 3700 foot circuit all within arm's length of an artisanal cortado and avocado toast. Holman gets things started with a proper gut-punch right off the top. Pro-tip here is to make sure you're good and warmed up BEFORE you get to Holman. A mile long exercise in brutal efficiency, Holman is essentially a dirt escalator straight to heart of the NW 53rd road climb, punchy, pitchy and painful in its own right.
Before you can say 'HOLY FUCK, WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO MY LEGS???', you're pulling up to the tippy top of Firelane 1, ready to drop into the rollercoaster chute down to Leif Erickson. Lower Firelane 1 can get a little dicey w/ rocks and ruts, particularly when wet, so keep on your toes.
The fact that you're reading this likely means that upper Saltzman to Firelane 5 is old news, the usual suspect in the go-to Forest Park itinerary. That said, it's never not awesome! Hits become hits for a reason. Upper FL5 is a fast rolling loamy drop into the more gamey and pitted mid-section, which alternates between boggy muck-traps and skittery root-ruts depending on the season. Generally the left line works best down to the Wildwood intersection. Lower FL5 is a snakerun of tight deeply-bedded singletrack w/ a few technical features, berms and hairpins to keep things spicy.
Leif out to Springville is one of the quieter, more satisfying sections of the park, which only gets a fraction of the traffic as the busier south end near the Thurman gate. The Springville climb at mile 12.2 is as lush and beautiful as it is brutal. Think of it as a companion piece to Holman. Those turns aren't going to earn themselves! Springville tops out on Skyline, just a hop-skip from the Skyline Tavern if you're feeling thirsty. This stretch provides a nice paved respite from the gravel for about 2.5 miles before diving back into the deep end at Firelane 15.
Firelane 15 plunges beneath the powerlines, dipping in and out of the treeline. First some down. Then some up. Then more up. Still going up...now only a bit steeper before dropping at mile 16 into dirt-luge down to Firelane 12. Gradients get into the -15% to -17% range, so stay frosty. On the NW side of Germantown, things are quite a bit steeper and deeper. Everything that bombs down must climb back up unless the plan is to end up on the Dirty 30. We're not gonna lie, the Firelane 12 climb up to BPA is quite a huff, but don't worry, it's only 1/2 mile.
BPA Road winds south in and out of the powerline cut back up to Skyline. While there is the temptation to sneak under the velvet rope and taste the forbidden fruit, and Wildwood DOES create a compelling connector to Newton Road, this outer stretch of Wildwood has had a couple of harsh winters and is highly eroded, washed out and rocky in spots, so isn't really that great. Just not worth the poach in my opinion.
Following the letter of the law, or ordinance in this case, BPA to Skyline to Newton is equally as satisfying if simply for the blaster descent from Skyline to the Firelane 10 parking area. Some of you may recognize Newton-FL10-Keyser-FL10 sequence from the 'Show & Tell' social. It gets pretty rough and rocky on the way down, so choose your lines carefully.
At mile 20, don't miss FL10 as it kinks a hard right, descending to the bottom of the drainage before pitching up to 12% for the final stretch to Germantown. This will be the final climb of any significance. After crossing Germantown, NW Leif rolls back to the Saltzman picnic table where you can opt to either drop down lower Saltzman and take the pavement back into NW or keep things in the park and remain on Leif back to the Thurman gate. The choice is yours.
ROUTE FORMAT: modular loop
SEASON: year round
SURFACE: 90% GRAVEL/dirt, 10% PAVED
TIRES: 33c plus recommended