Freedom Ride sparks counterrides

By Scott Hammers The Bulletin

Bend’s annual Fourth of July Freedom Ride has some competition this year, with the emergence of two alternative celebrations of bicycles and American independence.

Promoted on Facebook as the “Anti-Freedom Ride Freedom Ride,” one event is the creation of Rob Landauer, a Bend resident who also founded the Bend Cruiser Ride, a Thursday night group ride.

Landauer said he actually loves the Freedom Ride and wishes it continued success. He said his ride will seek to abide by traffic laws as much as possible, minimize disruptive behavior and focus on the actual riding of bicycles, all while featuring at least one music bike and a handful of “dance party stops.”

“I’m not trying to compete just after last year with the littering, drunk kids and just standing around clogging downtown. I was left disappointed along with many other people I spoke to,” Landauer wrote in a Facebook message. “Freedom Ride isn’t going away and with no leaders or organization how can you change it for the better?”

Another alternative, the Independence Ride, created by Brian Potwin, debuted last Fourth of July and is now in its second year.

Potwin, education coordinator for the bicycle advocacy group Commute Options, said his event is not yet fully open to the public, starting and ending at private homes. Last year, 30 riders joined the Independence Ride, with the group swelling to around 50 by the end of the route, and this year he’s expecting more than 100. Commute Options supports the ride, he said, but is not involved in putting it on.

The Independence Ride and the Anti-Freedom Ride Freedom Ride share many of the same goals, Potwin said.

“For us, it’s a matter of really harnessing the positive energy that Bend has around riding bicycles,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in Bend that would love to have a great ride in cooperation with other roadway users.”

The Freedom Ride, first held in 2001, has grown from a handful of friends parading through town on their bikes to a throng of well over 1,000 people.

Starting at Pioneer Park, the Freedom Ride travels though downtown and along Riverside Boulevard to Columbia Park. Participants, many of them costumed, stretch out over several blocks, often disregarding traffic control devices and obstructing motorists. Critics have suggested the Freedom Ride heightens tensions between bicyclists and motorists and have complained about open alcohol consumption and littering.

Because the Freedom Ride has no official organizers and has never sought a permit for the event, police have had little luck keeping unruly behavior in check.

Bend Police Chief Jim Porter said Tuesday that, as in past years, officers will be stationed along the Freedom Ride route but will not intervene unless they witness anything that puts others’ safety at risk.

Porter said the department adjusts schedules for some officers and offers overtime pay to ensure it has enough people on duty on the Fourth, but the early-afternoon ride makes that job difficult.

“We’ve discovered we need peak staffing in the evening on the Fourth, so it’s pretty hard to stretch the people over a 20-hour period,” he said.

Porter said aside from drinking and disregard for traffic laws, there’s been little serious criminal behavior associated with the Freedom Ride as the event has grown in recent years.

“It’s as much a community event as it is a demonstration now,” Porter said, “We see families. We see people involved of all ages.”

Landauer said information about the timing and route for Anti-Freedom Ride Freedom Ride will be posted to its Facebook page Thursday.

The Freedom Ride, presumably, will assemble at Pioneer Park sometime early Friday afternoon.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

Bulletin file photo Bicyclists at the 2011 Freedom Ride.