Rainy Portland, Oregon is definitely not well known for having a lot of motorcyclists - not like our neighbor to the south, Sunny California. Portland is better known for its green environment and green culture, with the one good warm week of summer that encourages 10000 bicyclists to gather for a group-ride; naked. With our damp climate and thick foliage, Portland has become more infamous for our mud, and what's the best way to play in the mud?
Since 2009, The Sang Froid Riding Club called out Portland's enduro-riders to play in the mud of the back-alleys of Portland's older residential areas. Many of these back-alleys are around a century old and for a time were access to carriage-houses, later garages, and used for garbage pick-up. Most back-alleys are neglected by the City Of Portland, regarding paving and repairs. It's up to the residents to trim-back the hedges and bushes, pull weeds, pick up litter, and fill in pot-holes. Most are unpaved and the ones that are paved have holes and heaves, which make for fascinating enduro riding.
Many of the neighborhood residents think of the alleys as their own private property. Although some grow gardens in the alleys, most residents treat the alleys as their personal garbage-dumps and fill them with lawn-clippings and hedge-trimmings. The alleyways are considered streets and public right-of-way and, by law, must be kept clear for the use of all vehicles, including motorcycles. Zach Christianson, a founding member of the Sang Froid Riding Club, lives in one of these southeast Portland neighborhoods and discovered the fun of riding his MZ Baghira Enduro in our muddy alleys. Back in '09, Zach invited his club and a few friends to explore and map-out the network of alleys throughout Portland's old east and north sides. At that time, most residents on the alleys would never have blinked at a couple of motorcyclists riding through the alley but, when a dozen or twenty or forty all pass through at the same time, they got somewhat annoyed. Some residents called the police but, when the police showed up, they found nothing but a few people on street-legal enduros, with lights and current registrations riding on public streets and informed the complaining residents that there was nothing illegal going on.
Now, although this was all completely legal, it certainly felt naughty! You see, when I was a kid, I lived near some of these alleys, too. Being underage with no driver's license, the alleys were the nearest place to ride my Tote-Gote mini-bike, in a safe manner and under parental supervision, usually. But, because the alleys are legally streets, any bare-headed child riding a motorized vehicle, is an outlaw-biker! And that was exactly how I felt when I snuck the Tote-Gote out without my parents' knowledge, and stomped through the mud telling myself that I was Malcolm Smith, Steve McQueen or Evel Knievel. The Alley Sweeper event feels like I'm doing something I'm not supposed to do and makes me giggle with the thrill of it!
In the past few years, the Alley Sweeper has grown in popularity to the point of being difficult to manage and, sadly, has truly developed into an outlaw-biker event. Some people have arrived on their motocross bikes with flashlights duct-taped to the front fenders and borrowed license plates from their street-bikes. The excitement and energy of the event has caused some riders to forget that the speed-limit in the alleys is 15 mph and that it's required to stop at every alleyway intersection although there are no-stop signs. With a few hundred riders showing up on Luxury-Adventure bikes, MX bikes, side-car rigs, Super Motards, and even a Ducati 1098 Superbike with knobbies and an unmuffled clutch (correction from The MotoLady: 1199 Panigale), the complaints from residents grew. There came more calls to more police, and neighborhood residents bearing resemblance to the Transylvanian Townspeople armed with pitch-forks and shovels. Things got ugly. The police had to do something, anything, and they started writing tickets - lots of them. Some riders were even threatened with having their non-street-legal dirtbikes impounded.
Although, this started out as a few law-abiding citizens out for a Sunday ride on public streets, it got ugly, and the Sang Froid Riding Club was pointed out as the trouble-makers. Now, the Club has no power to control who rides on the streets or on what bike but, the Club's good name should not be tarnished. The Sang Froid Riding Club stands up for many important issues for rider's rights. The SFRC are a bunch of well-behaved riders who enjoy all forms of motorcycle-racing and touring. In the end, it became necessary to disassociate the SFRC from this uncontrollable event.
Someone, no one knows who, doesn't want this event to die, because it was just too much fun. Someone placed an advertisement on Craigslist inviting enduro-riders to show up on a secret date (Saturday, April 18) at a secret place (southeast 64th at Foster Road). No one is claiming responsibility - whoever shows up will just be an independent rider out for some good clean fun, on a street-legal motorcycle with insurance, lights and current registration who just happens to be looking down the side-streets watching out for mud, and just happens to be riding on knobbies.
The Sang Froid Riding Club sent out this letter, ending the short but passionate love-affair with the Alley Sweeper:
I'm writing you because our relationship is done. You've changed so much since we met. I hope we can still be friends. I may love you, but I'm definitely not in love with you. You're gonna have to learn to accept that. I'm not sure whether we can see each other in the future but, for now at least, I definitely need a break. It's not me, it's you. We need to start seeing other people. The SFRC will NOT be hosting you this year, Alley Sweeper. I am not running away from you, I am running towards myself. That being said, I want all of our friends to know that the alleys are public right of ways handed down from our forefathers. Forefathers that granted us all the right of access and freedom to their special gift. Even though we are no longer a thing, the alleys are still open to all and should be enjoyed 24/7/365. Open to our friends who treat them responsibly by nurturing the kale, chard, blackberry brambles, raccoons, rats and feral cats that dwell there; and always respect the shopping carts, compost piles, yard debris, abandoned firearm casings, used syringes and all the other colorful detritus that reside there and makes Portland so Portland.
Above all else, please, remember to keep all of OUR alleys well and truly swept, often and with love.
The Alley Sweeper is dead; long live the Alley Sweeper.
- Sang-Froid Riding Club
Written By: Paul Andor Nagy