Cyclists are enjoying a spectacular year riding to McKenzie Pass summit.  photo by Richard Sandness
Cyclists are enjoying a spectacular year riding to McKenzie Pass summit. photo by Richard Sandness
Spring has sprung; the sun is shining and the roads around Sisters beckon to cyclists. It’s time for both cyclists and motorists to re-learn the annual ritual of minimizing conflict on shared roadways.

A little bit of courtesy, patience and common sense go a long way toward keeping things neighborly.

Conflicts arise when one or both sides of the motorist-cyclist equation fail to respect the others’ space and prerogatives. Both have a right to the road — but they have to follow traffic rules.

Cyclists are allowed to ride in the traffic lane and ride side-by-side — but only if they don’t impede traffic. They are supposed to move right and fall into single file at the approach of a car. When they don’t do that, it really sets motorists teeth on edge.

Casey Meudt, owner of Blazin Saddles cycling shop in Sisters, hates to see that.

“Unfortunately, that gives the rest of cyclists a bad name,” he said. “Most of the people who are out there riding bicycles are thoughtful people who are not trying to disrupt traffic or create unsafe situations for people.”

By the same token, motorists should slow down and be alert for cyclists on the road — and they should avoid crowding them.

“Nine out of 10 cars that pass you are respectful of your space,” Meudt said.

That’s the way it is supposed to be.

The potential for conflict is particularly high on Highway 242 west of Sisters. The ride up to and beyond the snowgate onto McKenzie Pass is an enormously popular one, and when the weather is nice, especially on weekends, “there are going to be packs of people riding the McKenzie,” Meudt said.

There may be a misperception about the nature of the road, because the Pass has a reputation in cycling circles as an early season car-free ride.

“I think at this time of year, people have the impression that the McKenzie Highway is car free — and it’s not until you get to the gate,” Meudt said.

There’s long been some confusion over the highway’s unofficial “car-free” status.

The historic route across the Cascades is closed each winter due to snow.

The winding, climbing road attracts numerous cyclists seeking to ride it before it’s open to motor-vehicle traffic. However, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Peter Murphy clarified last spring that the route is not actually “opened to cyclists” before it’s open to cars.

ODOT plows a single lane through the snow on the road during the spring, and then lets snowmelt do the rest. Once the snow is melted off, work crews sweep the roadway to clear debris, dirt and gravel, and patch potholes created over the winter. Opening of the highway used to be arbitrary — the gate was opened whenever the work was done. For the past four years, the agency has determined upon a consistent third-Monday-in-June opening.

During the plowing and maintenance period, the roadway is closed to traffic. However, cyclists and walkers go around the gate to use the roadway. Murphy recognizes that the public perception has grown that the road is open for cyclists — car-free.

ODOT no longer promotes that perception — but it persists nonetheless, and riders have enjoyed a spectacular ride between towering walls of packed snow.

“It’s been one of the best years riding, with the big snowpack we’ve had,” Meudt said.

Meudt notes that Indian Ford Road is also a popular riding area, and the same concerns apply — riders should move over for cars, and cars should respect cyclists’ space.

A little bit of awareness and neighborly consideration can keep tensions down as more and more people hit the road in Sisters Country.