MBA Lawyer Ride Turns 25 this Year

By: Ray Thomas & Jim Coon

It was summer 1991 when MBA members Jim Coon and Ray Thomas began riding Portland’s West Hills together for exercise and competitive fun. One day Ray talked Jim into wearing his heart rate monitor and watched the screen read out on NW 53d Drive, one of Portland’s steepest hill climbs. To his surprise, Jim was turning out a steady 207 beats per minute heart rate which was so far over his own redline that he was greatly impressed by his friend’s heedless commitment and competitive spirit. The two selected a couple of favorite routes to ride together and then started a Monday and Thursday noontime schedule, rain or shine. Word got around about the ride and soon Portland’s Pioneer Square was chosen as the gathering and starting place. In May, 1993 Ray sent an announcement about the ride for inclusion in the MBA newsletter and it has appeared regularly since.

This was back when Judge Bearden was running for Judge Roth’s Circuit Court seat (remember District and Circuit Court?), Judge Abraham was Chief Criminal Judge and Judge Don Londer was presiding. Judge R.P. Jones’ “Tips From the Bench” was a favorite newsletter column and Judge Ashmanskas was on the bench – in Hillsboro. The ORS had just become available on 3 1/2″ floppy disks and the idea of lawyers getting together during noontime to ride bikes was sort of a novelty.

The MBA Lawyer Ride billed itself as an intense workout ride: “Mondays difficult, Thursdays absurd.” Soon word of the regular ride spread as downtown folks saw the brightly outfitted riders assemble and leave the Square.

Regular regroups were designed into the ride so that the riders could go all out on the hills, but no one got left behind. The ride’s regularity and intensity appealed to recreational riders and racers who wanted a competitive interval workout and the regroups allowed the slower and less competitive riders to still have the chance to ride with the big group. A rotating pace line on Mondays gave riders the chance to pull at the front and then rotate back through the group up on SW Fairmount Drive. While the size of the group would vary somewhat, there were times in the summer when we would have over 50 riders as the “peloton” wound its way up through the hills. Many area bicycle racers would use the ride as part of their regular training routine and we suspected that folks really enjoyed their opportunity to whip the middle-aged lawyers on a regular basis. Judges, prosecutors, engineers, reporters, tech folks, OHSU students and college students all joined in over the years.

In 1992 Jim joined Ray’s law firm as a partner and in 1998 he found his present home in NW Portland when a for sale sign went up in one of the driveways of one of his favorite wooded sections of the Thursday ride. We all got to be pretty skillful at knowing when we had to peel off and cut the ride short to get back to the office in time to make a 1:30pm court appearance. In each of our offices there was a sort of standing joke about being able to tell what the weather was like by seeing how much wet stuff was hanging up to dry after lunch. Co-workers varied in how charming they thought the appearance of wet bike shorts and jerseys were in the various offices of the riders.

We felt like the camaraderie of regular friendly competition gave us all a good outlet for aggressive behavior and we always felt fortunate that we had a had a place where it was okay to go all out and try to beat someone up the hill. We would laugh about how we encountered other riders on our way home who would pretend they weren’t trying to race us but really were trying to chase us down and pass us. We felt on the other hand that we had already had our workout and this was just our commute home. However, the regular interval training throughout the year was really beneficial to our fitness and when we did put the pedal to the metal we often surprised folks who didn’t realize that the commuter who just passed them back had been pounding it out with a bunch of racers over the lunch hour earlier that day.

Over the years many riders used the ride as a bridge to improve their riding skills and fitness to the next level and even to begin bicycle racing. Word about the ride spread throughout the bike community and it has now become Portland’s biggest and longest running mid-day workout ride. Every once in a while a big time bicycle racer would join us after learning about the ride. We were proud that some of our riders, like Chris Marks and Judge David Rees were so tough on the hills that they surprised some very competitive race riders who joined us. Mark Ginsberg and my own son Chris Thomas, both joined the ride back when they were in law school. Rod Underhill was a more frequent rider back when he was a deputy DA, and Jeff Foote would join us more regularly before he began his mediation practice.

Jim and I enjoyed the ride as part of our friendship and as a fun and enduring project. One day I called him on the phone to talk about a work issue and I asked him what he was doing as I heard the sound of traffic in the background; he replied that he was up on NW Cornell with a shovel removing some gravel that had washed into the corner above one of the tunnels and had caused a big dangerous puddle to form. We had noticed it on the ride the previous Thursday. Other riders like Bart Brush and Chris Larsen would go back to the route on weekends while schlepping kids to soccer games and use marking paint to put circles around the most dangerous potholes.

The ride has been the subject of quite a few stories and press accounts including a nice summary with a map that David Stabler put together when he wrote a piece for the Oregonian (and beat me up the hill) in 2009 entitled “The ‘Lawyer Ride’ : These guys eat hills for Lunch”, and film crews looking for a bunch of riders have frequently been told by their editors where and when to find us gathered or heading out of the Square. Many of the city’s stronger female racers have used the ride as a training opportunity; one of our founding members was legendary NW athlete and trainer Evelyn Hamann.

These days Jim and I, along with Randy Pickett, are the old guys on the ride. We tease Randy because he tends to run in the winter to avoid riding in the cold rain but every sunny winter day and through the warm months we know to expect him.

Someone asked me whom we wanted to recruit for the ride and I said we want more young slow riders please, to beat. So if you are ever thinking you might want to join a bunch of flailing idiots on a boogie till you puke workout we have just the ticket for you. As we said back in 1995 (when the area code was not part of the phone numbers we “dialed”): “Join middle-aged MBA members for Monday & Thursday noon hour West Hills/Skyline bicycle rides; Mondays difficult, Thursdays absurd. Begin noon sharp, Pioneer Square. Great workout. Contact Ray Thomas or Jim Coon for details, 228-5222.”

Over the years Hugh Givens even created a Facebook page for us to share our noon adventures, called, what else? Portland Lawyer Ride.