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PCC’s spokes people

Photos and Story by

Stedman Burroughs

Kirke Johnson - Stedman Burroughs

Stedman Burroughs and Kirke Johnson are examples of pedal power at PCC.

You may have seen them once or twice – Burroughs on her mountain bike, tackling Springville Road in the West Hills near the Rock Creek Campus, or Johnson on his yellow recumbent, coasting down 49th Avenue from Sylvania. They do it not only for the joy of riding, but also to stay fit and keep the environment green.

During the month of July, they even participated in the Westside Transportation Alliance Carefree Commuter Challenge. This network of local businesses and nonprofits works to ease congestion in Washington County through education, advocacy and service. The alliance attracted more than 3,340 people to its annual challenge where people commit to using travel-options for six or more of their commute-trips during the month.

Burroughs, a Portland native, has worked at PCC for five years at the Rock Creek Campus as an academic advising specialist. She says Rock Creek, which has a bike club that meets every Sunday for riding tours, is a perfect campus for her addiction to cycling, which came about more from necessity rather than ambition.

"It’s for money reasons and I’ve never had a driver’s license," Burroughs said. "I grew up in Portland using public transit. A lot of it is health wise, too. It’s the only exercise I get. If I had a car and drove every day, I’d sit on the couch. This is one way where I can ensure that I’ll stay fairly fit. Plus, it’s a nice environmental thing, too."

Johnson gets great mileage out of a strange cycle

Kirke Johnson

Kirke Johnson, a PCC technology specialist of more than 21 years, keeps track of his mileage on Internet biking Web sites like bikejournal.com. So far this year, Johnson has commuted to PCC 3,655 miles in 109 days by bike and estimates breaking 10,000 miles overall by the end of the year. In 2006, he says he rode his recumbent to work on 136 days for 4,751 miles, nearly half of the 10,334 total miles he biked that year. Plus, add those totals to the 8,600 miles he logged in 2005 and 5,400 miles in 2004 and it’s quick to see that Johnson is one serious bike commuter.

"It’s making my physician happy," Johnson said.

He got into biking as a kid where he rode a three-speed on dirt mining camp roads in New Mexico. Johnson said he never took biking seriously until his daughter entered the Seattle to Portland cycling event a few years ago. Seeing how much fun it was for her, Johnson started looking for the right kind of bike to suit him. He didn’t like traditional cycles because they weren’t comfortable for him so he turned to recumbent bikes where the rider sits back as if in a chair. When he found the right cycle, he fitted it with a body sock to get a streamline effect. Johnson has been commuting to the Sylvania Campus from his home on Skyline Boulevard in northwest Portland several times a week ever since.

"I spent winter learning how to ride it," he said. "You don’t want to know how many hills I walked up with the recumbent before I got into good enough condition to ride up all the way. The long wheelbase is not ideal for congested areas, but is good for the open road. You have to make an allowance and choose proper routes. Most of my crashes have been where I’ve been stopped and I lose balance."

Burroughs’s commute often two-pronged

She rides at least twice a week, taking the Max train in the mornings to Willow Creek on 185th Avenue in Beaverton from her home in northeast Portland. From there Burroughs rides her mountain bike to the Rock Creek Campus. In the evening, she forgoes public transit and rides her bike up Springville Road to Skyline and into the West Hills to get home.

"In the evening, the first part is the hardest from Rock Creek to the top of Springville," Burroughs said. "It starts climbing pretty steep. But the whole commute takes an hour and 40 minutes, only 10 minutes longer than if I took public transit."

Her current cycle is a little more practical than what she started off with. Her first bike was an old, 1970s Schwinn. And she rode to the campus wearing her work clothes – skirt, dress shoes and all. This would cause many drivers and fellow cyclists to give her a double take.

"It was the funniest thing riding that Schwinn," Burroughs said of the colorful old cycle known for its high-rider handlebars and long banana seats. "It was old school with three speeds and one didn’t even work."

She has tried to recruit fellow staff to join her in commuting by bike or joining the Commuter Challenge, but hasn’t had much luck.

"The biggest thing is you have to think about it in terms of time versus money," Burroughs said. "I don’t make more money driving, ever. It really takes more time to ride a bike, but not that much more time and it saves you lot more money. If you look at it from a fiscal perspective it’s a great thing. And it’s a great way to get a workout. You don’t have to be fit to do it."

Bike tours are all the rage with the Johnson family

Kirke Johnson on his bike

Johnson doesn’t just commute to work but also makes it fun. He and his wife incorporate cycling into their travel plans. They take regular long distance tours, which might be called bicycle backpacking, where they load their bikes up with everything they need for the trip and off they go for hundreds of miles.

They have traveled to Seattle, Vancouver B.C. and to The Dalles on such tours. They may take Amtrak or a ferry to a particular destination and then bike the rest of the way. One of his favorite trips was when he joined a bike club tour and rode up on the Washington side of the Gorge for two days. He crossed at Biggs and came back on the Oregon side to Portland for a total of 450 miles.

"It’s nicer when you have company," Johnson said. "The old highways up there are open to pedestrians and bikes. There were 50-miles per hour gusts coming at you from all directions. It was pretty fierce. You have to be careful not to be blown off the road or into traffic."

Despite having their hobby be a hard sell to fellow coworkers, both say that the college has been great at cultivating a bike-friendly atmosphere with newly installed bike racks on campuses and PCC Shuttles.

"PCC is doing a pretty good job promoting bike culture," Burroughs said.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, is the Director of Public Relations at Portland Community College. A graduate of Portland State University, James has worked as a section editor for the Newberg Graphic... more »