Rural Riding Etiquette (The Wallowas Region)

Gravel rides near the Wallowa Mountains often traverse remote and rural areas. While you may be out for a Sunday morning gravel ride, there are many ranchers actively working. Eric Makela, Vice President of the Wallowa Mountains Bicycling Club, shares insights on enjoying and staying safe during rural rides and being a good visitor.


Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 0:19
Today on the podcast, we have Eric Makela, the vice president of the Wallowa Mountains Bicycle Club, which is located in northeast Oregon. The Wallowa Bike Club represents the interests of all types of cyclists, from recreational riders to gravel cyclists to mountain bikers. But the club also represents the interests of the local community. Today we are going to talk about how we can be good guests and visitors to the area. Eric, welcome.

Eric Makela 0:47
Thank you. Kevin I appreciate you having me on.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 0:50
Eric, Can you tell me a bit about will our county, the culture, the people, the economic drivers of the area, the riding season, things like that?

Eric Makela 1:00
Yeah, I realize that. So we’re in a mountain environment. We have a very small season, if you will, for and everyone needs to get everything done during that season, including we have a higher amount of tourism in the state. So you’ve got agricultural practices going on, People are logging, you have all the RV traffic coming into town that that is heading out on dirt roads because that’s due to get out. So you have all of this going on and then you have cyclists coming into this and it’s figuring out how to keep cyclists safe with everything going on. And that’s kind of really what we’re focused right now with without upsetting the locals, without I mean, we all we all are trying to get along up here and also to make sure the cyclist has a good, good experience. I mean, you know, that’s kind of the key thing. It’s a beautiful area and probably about 50% of our income from this area comes from tourism. So we want the cycling us. We just want them to follow the rules. And so that’s kind of where we are right now.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 1:57
You related to me previously offline, a story of a tour group that came through the area where things didn’t go so well. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Eric Makela 2:09
So we’ve actually had two tourist groups come through. The first group we collaborated with pretty closely and there was still even even with the collaboration, there’s still cyclists. These are road cyclists that were just they were riding four abreast coming up the hills. They were not getting out of the way of traffic and they were causing causing a lot of issues with some of the locals just because they were not following the good common sense guidelines in this particular area. We’ve also had issues with some of the off some of the gravel riders that are were caught in a cart in a cattle drive and didn’t appreciate it. And the rancher was actually trying to get cattle from, you know, from one field to the next. And the cyclists just happened to be out in the middle of it and didn’t realize what was going on. And that created a yelling match from the cyclist to one of the ranchers, which was really unfortunate because the rancher was there working. And so that that’s been some of the issues that have been that have happened up here.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 3:11
What your initiative and what your group is really trying to do is to create and maintain an environment where cyclists are still welcome. And to do that, we need to educate the cyclists about where they’re riding and what how the lands are being used, how the roads are being used, and that these ranchers and farmers, they may be working on a Sunday because the Sunday is the day to cut hay and we are cyclists still need to be respectful of their work and recognize that they are working and we’re on vacation and we could put a foot down and we can take the time to let them move on with their work. Do I have that right?

Eric Makela 3:53
Exactly. Our our number one goal is to keep cyclists safe. We don’t want we don’t want cyclists to be injured. And there’s there are some hidden dangers in this area. You know, we’ve had cyclists that have come in from rural Portland, rural Seattle and other rural areas that are riding in those areas. That’s a very, very different than riding a rural Wallowa county. We have harvesters, we have hay trucks, we have livestock carriers, we have cattle drives, we have cattle guards, we have a lot of a lot of things, a lot of road hazards that you’re not going to run into. And some of the some of the rural areas outside of some of the major cities and so we really are focused on how do we how do we make them aware of these dangers? How do you handle these dangers? You know, basically be calm. Just just accept them. You’re in our county and have fun. That’s the culture up here. That’s why that’s why you come up to enjoy the county.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 4:52
So for the listeners, we have done a podcast with a rancher from the Joseph area. Dala, who is a century owns a century ranch. It’s been in the family for over 100 years. It’s titled Tractors, Bulls and Lycra, which does talk about a lot of the hazards that you just spoke of. But we will talk about those also in this podcast. So, Eric, dirty three hobbies. Gravel riding. But gravel riding has really mixed surface riding from paved roads to county maintained gravel roads to primitive forest service, dirt roads to even easy singletrack. Eric Let’s start out talking about paved roads. So what do you see as the key things we can do as cyclists to increase safety and to create connection with rural communities where riding in and consider both small groups of two or three people and then consider larger groups of, let’s say, ten or more people.

Eric Makela 5:45
So for small groups and we do get we do get one and two and three groups cycle. So quite about as a motorist, it’s it’s easier to get by cyclists if you’re a group together. You know, if you’re if you’re you know, if you’re you’re riding single file down the road and you’re grouped together, it’s very easy to get by the cyclists if you’re a large group, again, being grouped together and riding single file, especially on some of the roads around here, you should be riding single file because even though there’s no traffic, the the the speed limit is still 55 miles an hour. So it’s one of the biggest things up here is to ride defensively and don’t assume you know, don’t assume someone’s going to turn don’t assume don’t assume anything around any of the vehicles that you’re riding about, but let them do what they need to do. And then you then then you take your course of action. We also have specific recommendations for some of the roads in particular to allow a county. We have a lot our lake, which is a beautiful lake, and it’s a it’s a very attractive place to ride certain times of the day during during certain days, especially in the summer months, you want to stay off that road. For example, Friday afternoons is when all of the RVs come in because there’s a very large Oregon State campground at the other end and it’s not safe to be on that highway. And again, Sunday, any time Sunday is probably not a safe time, because all of those RV that were going in on Friday are now coming out on Sunday.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 7:10
And for gravel roads, county gravel roads which connect to some of the paved roads, it’s a network of paved in and county gravel. What are some of the additional things you’d recommend that riders do?

Eric Makela 7:24
We have more gravel than pavement here? It’s an interesting place to live and we have miles and miles of gravel, and that gravel is shared again by agricultural traffic. It’s shared by hunting traffic, it’s shared by our viewers who are out. We have a barn tour here, and most of the barn tour is on gravel roads. So we have a lot of people out on that. We have local traffic and we have harvesters that are going to go from field to field. We also have cattle drives on the gravel. So those gravel roads are very heavily used, even though you might be out there, not see a single car for quite a while. But the biggest thing is to stay alert, stay alert to what’s coming behind you and especially riding on gravel your the road noise from your tires is going to be significantly more than pavement. So it’s going to be really hard sometimes to find out to hear what’s actually going on. One thing that we don’t have on here is that we I have seen people riding with headphones, listening to music on on gravel roads and in this area. You really need to not do that at all. You need to you need to give your full attention. Really, what’s happening on that? The working traffic up here, the people that are the agricultural industry, logging industry arbiters are not looking for cyclists and that that’s a key thing up here. If you’re in a two or three person group, a lot of times, you know, based on the rider, based on, you know, the kind of how the riders are riding right now, it’s it’s if you can be close together going down that gravel road, it’s going to be easier for farm traffic to get by you because they have to pass once if you’re spread out, it’s going to be a lot more difficult if you’re descending in gravel. Obviously, it’s, you know, a lot of times where you’re descending, you’re trying to pick the area with least amount of gravel. You want the smoothest roads possible. But if there’s someone coming up behind you a lot faster, you’re going to have to be able to slow down and get over to the right again. So if someone’s coming off, try to right, get get over single file as much as possible to let people go by, give them the ride away, because a harvester is a very incredibly wide vehicle and they could literally take up the entire gravel road. And so you really need to be able to get out of the way, oftentimes get off your bike or let it go by and then pass and then you can safely proceed after that. But you’ve really got to be aware of what’s happening. We also are trying to promote friendliness. This is a key thing. We want to promote, you know, friendliness between cyclists and and motorists. And we actually recommend you wave at people. And that’s what I do. When a group of us are out, we will see how many people we can get the wave backed by waving at them. And the most of these, you know, it’s just the culture here as you wave a passing motorists as they go by and they will wave back. But we’re trying to really create this this push on friendliness between the cyclist in between between motorists.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 10:14
With the waving at people I think is really cool. And I would almost take it a step further. I would encourage them to stop and talk to the ranchers when they see the ranchers out there. I have done it many times and it’s enlightening because they will tell you their stories, will tell you what they’re trying to do and how you can be helpful. So what I hear you saying is awareness and defense being defensive are key. And so a couple of ways to be aware. Defensive is Garmin makes a rear looking radar detector, which will alert you to traffic behind you far before you hear it. And it also comes with a red blinking light to notify those that are overtaking you from behind. I think what I hear you saying is we need to make the pass easy for those that are using those county roads as work roads, whether it be on a Saturday or Sunday or Monday through Friday. And making a pass easy means that we’re grouped together. We’re not several hundred yards apart. But I think also I heard you say don’t override our sight lines. We need to be able to keep our bike under control in case there’s a car coming at us and that we can move to the right. And I think the thing I like always riding out that area is I love stopping and talking to the ranchers. I do it. And it’s it’s so fun and I learned so much. So that think is pretty cool. Now, Eric, let’s kind of go back to the Willamette Mountains Bicycle Club. I know you guys have worked with the Chamber or you’ve put in an initiative in the place where can people go to get more information or if people want to get involved or if people want to donate, how would they go about finding more information or making a donation?

Eric Makela 11:58
We do have a website, our new website that’s been up now for a couple of months. It’s Walla Walla Mountains Bike Club dot com safe riding with local county initiative is also out there and we have downloadable PDF files or PDF pictures of two different posters that we are distributing around the county right now and also distributing on roads heading into the county to catch this many cyclists as possible. So that’s right. Now that is our, our best place to get information on what’s happening with the club.

Dirty Freehub – Kevin English 12:30
And the bike club is a nonprofit. It’s a501c3 And for the listeners out there, nonprofit does not mean free. We all as riders need to contribute back to organizations like this because they are doing great things. But for them to do great things, as in this case doing educational efforts, it takes money. So if you go out there and you’re visiting, please consider and part of your tourist budget to make a donation to bike clubs like this because you are using those resources. Great. Eric, thank you for spending some time with us. Really appreciate it.

Eric Makela 13:09
Thank you, Kevin. Appreciate you having me on.

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