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Ask BikePortland: Where can I learn how to ride a bike?

Posted by on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:34 am

Hottest Day of the Year Ride
Not everyone knows how.
(Photo © J. Maus)

This week’s question comes from a reader who asked to remain anonymous. Why? Read the question to find out:

“I just moved here, and I feel the urge to bike around the city. One problem – I never learned how to when I was younger. Now I’m uncoordinated on the bike and looking for some help to start riding in the area. I want to learn now, but it’s really difficult as an adult. Any ideas?”

This is a great/interesting question on many levels. But first, let me be the first to say that you shouldn’t be ashamed! Biking is not second-nature to everyone, especially if you didn’t pick it up as a kid.

I also like this question because it shows Portland is doing something right. For some reason, our reader has the “urge to bike around” — which can only happen in a City where where biking is woven into the physical and cultural infrastructure. For example, there’s a program in Amsterdam that teaches immigrant adult women how to ride. The “urge to bike around” in that city is very strong!

In Portland, I’m not sure of any how-to bike classes specifically for adults (if you’re a kid you can take your pick — from Safe Routes to School programs to summer bike camps). The Community Cycling Center has their Create-a-Commuter program, but that is open only to people referred by social service agencies. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance holds Bike Commute 101 Workshops, but I don’t think those include on-the-street, how-to instruction.

So I turn to you, our knowledgeable and helpful readers: What advice do you have for this reader — and others like her — who are eager to join you on Portland’s bikeways but still need to learn how to ride?


— Learn more in the Ask BikePortland archives and submit your burning bike question to jonathan[at]bikeportland[dot]org.


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Comments
  • Dan March 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Ride Bike

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  • fredlf March 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I would still direct him to the CCC. They have instructors and have experience teaching adults to ride. I bet they have or know of a resource.

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  • Dave March 2, 2010 at 10:50 am

    If the reader is near any trails like the Eastbank Esplanade, Waterfront Park or the Springwater trail, they could walk their bike to the trail and then practice on the trails until they feel more comfortable just with the basics of riding itself.

    There are also a lot of quiet neighborhood streets in inner East Portland that make for a nice area to practice pedaling, stopping and starting, without fear of busy traffic. Just stay between arterial streets and you’ll be fine.

    If you know someone else who has a bike as well, take them out with you, so you won’t feel quite so exposed, having someone sympathetic along :) Once you feel comfortable just riding the bike, take short trips around your neighborhood and get used to riding on the streets for normal stuff, and from there, you’re off and running :)

    Welcome to Portland!

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  • Tess March 2, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Tori Bortman: http://www.gracieswrench.com

    Especially for women nascent riders, a female instructor can be more comfortable. And Tori is way awesome.

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  • Matt Todd March 2, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I recently started cycling (about 5 months ago), and only really commuting very recently here in Atlanta (not a super bike friendly city like Portland). I’ve done a lot of YouTube video watching and reading (Sheldon Brown’s website is really good for this).

    I found a great book available to be read online called Bicycling Street Smarts. It’s short and illustrated.

    Aside from this, I would recommend going out with a big group of cyclists, like CriticalMass, where you will learn first-hand how to ride, how to navigate, how to exist with and without other cyclists. I think CriticalMass here in Atlanta was instrumental to me feeling comfortable cycling through the city.

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  • Peter March 2, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Not directly related to the original question, but I am a “senior” and would like to ride with groups. Have never done so, and I’m not planning to enter the Giro or Tour, but I would like a comfortable, not over the top aggressive bunch to ride with. Any suggestions?

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  • Matt Todd March 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Here’s the link for Sheldon Brown’s website.

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  • wsbob March 2, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Westsiders…see these guys:

    Frans Pauwels Memorial Community Bicycle Center…see ‘Smart Cycling® Classes’

    They go out to area schools and teach cycling using the League of American Bicyclists methods. Hal Ballard, the exec director of Washington County BTC, impressed me as someone that would be as interested in teaching adults to ride as they are kid just learning to ride.

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  • trail user March 2, 2010 at 11:28 am

    An adult learning how to ride is easy. Borrow a kid bike(they’re lighter and easier to maneuver, and falling won’t hurt as much) and glide with your feet up. Glide glide glide, until you get the balance. Then start pedaling and go go go. You won’t want to stop. There are kid bikes all over town. In fact, they’re strapped to poles in big piles. Every Sunday at around 9pm a big group likes to get on these kid bikes and ride around town. Sometimes they go up the hill and glide back down.

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  • Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I suggest find a running track that is soft to got and practice on, when you feel more comfortable then walk to one of the area trails and ride, then eventually you can transition to street riding.

    Some of the running tracks frown on bikes being on them however I think if they knew you were just learning then it may be less of an issue. Be careful to not spend too much time on the track, as soon as you can move to a trail (Springwater, Esplanade, etc).

    We taught our kids to ride on running tracks and they have two advantages: high friction that slows the bike down and softer to fall on (although still not completely soft – much better than pavement).

    Find someone to go with you. I would be happy to spend some time with someone helping them to master riding a bike comfortably.

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  • Breesa March 2, 2010 at 11:41 am

    At the Community Cycling Center, we don’t currently offer a program to teach adults how to ride bikes. Our community programs (Create a Commuter and Bike Club, most notably) focus on basic riding/commuting skills. However, another local bike biz in the neighborhood, BikEmpowered offers classes and training for people at all skill levels.

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  • Caroline March 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I heartily second Tori Bortman:

    http://www.gracieswrench.com

    Either that, or mimic the way you learned how to drive?

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  • Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Peter,
    You might try the Portland Wheelmen Touring Club @ http://www.pwtc.com/

    or

    Team Rose City
    http://www.teamrosecity.org/history.htm

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  • Michael M. March 2, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Dave’s (#3) advice is great. I’ve gone riding with a few different people here & there over the past few years, all older (50+) if not technically seniors, all with some disability, all of whom were physically capable of riding, but who just lacked practice and confidence. It’s pretty easy to accompany someone and help them feel somewhat safe and supported while they gain the necessary skill sets. (And it’s pretty rewarding, too.) All it takes is a little patience, and an understanding that you aren’t out there for your own idea of what an “easy” ride or what “bike fun” might be, but you’re out there to help someone else (whose own idea of “easy” might be quite different your own). It would be great if an organization like CCC or Bike Temple had the resources to link people willing to hook up with an inexperienced rider or two for a few hours now & then, to ride around the Esplanade or Waterfront Park, and on a few low-traffic streets. There are some resources through agencies and community centers that serve seniors, but not everyone who falls into this category of would-be bike rider is a senior.

    It’s never been clear to me how much demand there is for this kind of community service. I guess I always presumed that since the service wasn’t much provided, people in this situation found a friend or acquaintance who could help them out, like I was able to help out my friends in this way. But maybe there are more people out there who aren’t finding the right support person in their life.

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  • Tori Bortman March 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I’d love to work with you’re reader to teach them how to ride, gain skills and confidence. You’re reader is not alone. I’ve been lucky enough to teach a few new Portland arrivals how to take their first few pedal pushes and many more how to navigate the city and paths. One memorable gentleman had made it to 40 before he got the opportunity to learn to bicycle and is now commuting to work and riding on weekends. Portland is a wonderful place to start. All contact info is on my website: http://www.gracieswrench.com.

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  • Laura March 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I watched a 50+ year-old woman in our SE neighborhood learn to ride last summer. She had a Breezer, had lowered the seat and removed the pedals, and was using it like a Skuut. After a week or so of Skuuting around, she was pedaling with the seat at a correct height, and grinning like the rest of the riders on Clinton St.

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  • Marcus Griffith March 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    The question highlights the occasional difficulty in assimilating into the bike world. If bicycles are to become main stream, than there needs to be an effective way to assimilate new comers.
    It is a lot easier to convince people of the benefits of bike commuting than it is to convince them of the merits of the bikey world. Ideally, people switching over from cars to bikes could be given the information they need to become cyclists without having to get entrenched in bikey culture.
    Current self-titled “Bike Elders” in the area such as Rev. Phill and even Jonathan Maus, tend to a bit of die hard cyclists that have provided essential assistance to the bike movement for years. But like most trend-setters and visionaries, they represent a statistical minority and embrace non-typical beliefs that are not easily installed on the greater community.
    I am not suggesting that the die hard Bike Elder’s modify their political stance, but there needs to be some type of cycling outreach movement that is compatible with the main stream world if Portland’s bike use is ever to go from 5% to 95%.

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  • A.K. March 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Laura #16:

    That is an interesting idea. I recently watched a young child (probably 2 years old) scooting around on a little bike without pedals. He just pushed with his feet. He also did not have training wheels.

    I thought this was interesting, considering he was much younger than a typical child you commonly see learning with training wheels. It made me think that having to learn to pedal at the same time has having to learn balance may complicate riding a bike.

    Learning balance, THEN learning to use pedals after balancing has been mastered may speed up the learning process is my thought.

    I wish the question submitter luck! Learn to ride soon before the summer hits, and you’ll have months and months of good weather fun!

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  • Wake Gregg March 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Tess is right! Tori of Gracie’s Wrench has been teaching small classes and doing individual coaching for years. She has thoroughly thought through her material and is able to communicate complex ideas in was that make them easy to understand.

    I can’t recommend her highly enough.

    http://www.gracieswrehnch.com

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  • Wake Gregg March 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Tess is right! Tori of Gracie’s Wrench has been teaching small classes and doing individual coaching for years. She has thoroughly thought through her material and is able to communicate complex ideas in was that make them easy to understand.

    I can’t recommend her highly enough.

    http://www.gracieswrench.com

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  • Options Guy March 2, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Learning to ride as an adult includes two separate but important skills – learning to balance and control the bike, and learning how to get around the City safely, comfortably, and enjoyably.

    For the first skill, I would echo trailuser’s (#9) advice, but amend it slightly – find an adult bike that will be comfortable to ride, then lower the saddle so your feet can rest on the ground while seated.
    Find an empty parking lot or playground. Start out by scooting on the bike, putting your feet down as needed to feel secure. Gradually you will be able to scoot with your feet up (and on the pedals) for longer periods of time.
    When you feel comfortable coasting with your feet up, raise the seat to a normal height (leg mostly extended when your foot is on the pedal, but able to touch the ground, tippy-toe). Continue scooting, then try pedalling a bit.
    Give yourself plenty of time to feel comfortable, then gradually move to off-street paths like the Springwater Corridor or the trail near Smith & Bybee Lakes, and experience riding the bike without cars around. Once that feels comfortable, try out riding on very low traffic streets. Our City Neighborhood Bike/Walk Maps can help you find quiet bikeways near you (click my screen name to see these).

    PBOT’s Portland By Cycle and Women on Bikes programs focus on the second skill – learning the City’s bikeway network, how to plan a route on comfortable bikeways, etc. The Portland By Cycle rides are designed for folks new to cycling or new to the area, or both. Women on Bikes is designed to offer a comfortable setting for our female friends to learn more about cycling for transportation and fun. You can find a list of this year’s Portland By Cycle rides and classes here: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=44099&a=151364
    Or a brochure for Women on Bikes rides and clinics here: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=44100&a=234410

    Have a fun time learning to ride – it will bring you great happiness!

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  • Blair March 2, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    trail rider #9 and Laura #16 seem to have a good idea. I remembered reading an NPR article a while ago that dealt with the issue of adults learning to bicycle, and practicing balance without pedals was the first step used by this particular trainer.

    Here is the article: Adults Learn to Master Two Wheels

    My advice is to remember that everyone had to learn at some point, and even if you crash or have troubles, don’t get discouraged. I have many memories of crashing spectacularly when I was young and learning.

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  • Wake Gregg March 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Tess is right! Tori of Gracie’s Wrench has been teaching small classes and doing individual coaching for years. She has thoroughly thought through her material and is able to communicate complex ideas in was that make them easy to understand.

    I can’t recommend her highly enough.

    ww.gracieswrench.com

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  • trail user March 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    “but there needs to be some type of cycling outreach movement that is compatible with the main stream world if Portland’s bike use is ever to go from 5% to 95%”

    This is easy too. Just have a group of cycling evangelists dressed like religious missionaries(that is dressed their Sunday best) go door to door and encourage people to ride – offer information, candy, beer, whatever. I personally wouldn’t do it, because I can’t stand wack-jobs pestering me at my personal abode. But with a big friendly smile, some sugary incentives, and pizza, I’ll listen to just about anyone. There should be clean cut well dressed people coming to the door, otherwise, they’re liable to get shot.

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  • el timito March 2, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Re: Marcus’s comment (#17), I’d offer a different perspective. Shifting your commute trip from driving to biking is a pretty difficult stretch for a lot of people – there are multiple obstacles to overcome: finding a good route, learning how to dress, where to park, and not least, getting to work on time.

    Going on rides for fun, on the other hand, has none of those stresses. True, there are plenty of bike culturists who do what might be considered “advanced level” bike fun (ZooBomb or Midnight Mystery Rides, for example).

    On the other hand, there are plenty of bike funnists who want to include newbies and provide a friendly way to see the city by bike – the Bunny on a Bike Ride is a great example of this.

    I’m all for folks taking baby-steps toward finding their own “bike happy place.” Please remember, the bike fun community is nearly as diverse as the rest of the City.

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  • Evan Ross March 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Hello, ny name is Evan and I own a local business that gives bike tours of the city and free commuting workshops for beginner cyclists. Our next scheduled workshop is at The Bike Show on April 10th. There is also a link to my website in the right hand column of your screen right about now, under the Maps/ Resources column. http://www.portlandbicycletours.com. The first skill I teach (after hand signals) when it comes to someone who can ride, but is uncomfortable entering traffic – is how to look over your shoulder without swerving. This is called a shoulder check- and we start by practicing it in an empty parking lot, using the lines provided. I also strongly suggest the PBOT by-cycle series. We will also be offering free cycling lessons/ workshops at all Sunday Parkways, Multnomah Co. Bike Fair and many other events this Summer. Also, the Urban Adventure League does lots of educational workshops and I know they have one coming up on touring.

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  • Breakaway March 2, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I have worked with numerous adult beginner cyclists through my business: Breakaway Training. I don’t offer group classes, but focus more on one-on-one sessions.
    For more info:
    http://breakawaytrainingonline.com/services/index.htm#one

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  • Old guy 2 March 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    For Peter, #6. I suggest you go on one of the many rides posted on the SHIFT list. They are mostly young people, very accepting, very social and not in a big hurry. If you want to ride fast in a group, go with the Portland Wheelmen.

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  • 3-speeder March 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    There is one option no one has touched on yet – perhaps getting some sort of trike (3-wheels) may be preferred by some new riders. I realize they present different challenges for feeling safe and confident, but learning to balance isn’t one of them. I test rode a few at Coventry Bike Shop at SE Hawthrone and 20th last summer. I don’t know what other places might have trikes available.

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  • Rob March 2, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Evan,
    I heartily second your advice to learn to look over your shoulder. I’ve been bike riding for 25+ years and that’s a skill I continue to work on. As someone who commutes across the Hawthorne Bridge daily, I can tell you that it’s a skill many have yet to master. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, being able to glance behind you while “holding your line” is critical.

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  • Nick V March 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    I started riding as a teenager at an age when I was very self-conscious. I went to a business park on a weekend because I knew their parking lot would be fairly empty and I didn’t want an audience.

    I was there for at least an hour. Went in as a boy and left as a man!

    GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN!

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  • steve March 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Before getting out on the street I would strongly suggest getting past the “uncoordinated on the bike” feeling by finding a comfort zone area to ride/practice. Basicly until you get your wheels under you then cruise a big empty space. That’s how younger “kids” learn. Good luck and always wear a helmet.

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  • carye bye March 2, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    The best way to learn to ride a bike is find a friend who bikes who can help you one on one. Also having a comfortable bike you want to ride is important. If you are trying to ride the crappy bike in the garage that you do not picture yourself riding, then don’t.. buy a bike or borrow a good bike. I know of two friends right now teaching adults to ride bikes in time for the annual Bunny on a Bike Ride on April 4. This ride is mostly flat, and easy paced loop ride. I recommend folks before going on such a ride to have practiced, and tried riding in a small group.. group riding means not only paying attention to what you are doing, but also keeping an eye on what’s around you, debris in the road, etc… and it takes a little time to multi-task… but yes riding a bike in and around the city = happiness!

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  • are March 2, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    LAB shows something like twenty certified cycling instructors in the portland area:
    http://www.bikeleague.org/cogs/resources/findit/

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  • Jim Lee March 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Had you guys voted me mayor two years ago the City of Portland would have just such a program in place now.

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  • Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Marcus (#17):
    “..most trend-setters… embrace non-typical beliefs that are not easily installed on the greater Community.. there needs to be some type of cycling outreach movement..”

    The sort of same thing happened when computers first appeared. At first it was only the elite nerds that had them, now pretty eveyone does. Hopefully, bikes will be as common place as computers and the bike elitists can be the Linux users of the bike world rather than the public image of the bike movement.

    There are a lot of people in my neighborhood that bike several times a week or even every day but don’t identify as “cyclists” becasue they don’t buy into the bike funnist thing and are deeply offended by Bike Porn.

    There are a lot of newbie friendly rides out there. But, why wait for motorists to become bike-curious?

    I like Trail user’s comment (24) of a grass roots door to door campaign. Just don’t mix the Naked Bike Ride with door to door stuff, might not end well (or end too well for some)

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  • Melissa March 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    door to door works?

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  • Kirsty March 2, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    If you are a senior here in Portland, you should check out the Seniors on Bikes programme that we started at PBOT a few years’ back. It’s now a joint PBOT/Parks effort, and runs each year in the summertime. It’s a very fun, cheap and encouraging way to learn with like-minded souls! You can find out more here –

    http://www.streetfilms.org/portland-or-older-adults-bike-program/

    And to sign up this coming summer, go here –

    http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/index.cfm?c=39833

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  • Jazzipop March 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Adults in furry costumes pedaling around town is not helping selling bikes as family friendly transportation. Naked guys getting arrested for being drunk and disorderly is a PR nightmare.

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  • Thom March 3, 2010 at 7:55 am

    One more vote for Tori at Gracie’s Wrench. I’ve taken maintenance classes from Tori, she is a great instructor.

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  • Brian March 3, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Glad to see such interest in basic support for new and as-yet unhappy riders to gain the skills to start / resume / increase how much and where they ride.

    I noticed a way up this reply column the CCC mentioned BIKEmpowered as one way to learn / improve riding skills. Here is a direct plug from me as to why my classes are unique and highly effective.

    Classes can be held in your neighborhood, so the riding portions of my coaching you are on roads you want to ride anyway. This way we can practice how to be seen and signal your moves across any harder spots, like a busy intersection.

    To learn more about the range and schedule of classes BIKEmpowered offers, come visit http://www.BIKEmpowered.com or give me a call at 503.975.2391.

    Spinning our wheels for good, Brian

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  • Brian Echerer March 3, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Please visit BoB, Butts on Bikes when you get a chance. This is becoming a special group for those that have no one to ride with or don’t know where to start. BoB is a FREE group for what I call “gym shoe / tee-shirt” wearing crowd to the avid cyclist. We are a cycling group that welcomes all riders and have no special interest or agenda besides the stated goal of getting more butts on bikes! We have weekly rides all over the Portland Metro area with over a dozen ride leaders and post dedicated rides for newbies. We are over 600 members now. We have had special needs riders along several times.
    http://www.meetup.com/Rubber2theroad/

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  • Lynne March 3, 2010 at 11:17 am

    +1 wsbob’s recommendation for the Frans Pauwels center in Aloha – Hal is an LCI (LAB Licensed Cycling Instructor), and he’d be good.

    As for Peter – I invite you out to the Portland Velo (www.portlandvelo.net) Saturday Signature ride – the groups are organized by projected pace. I often lead the 15s, and we appear to be having a good time. 10am (get there by 9:40) at Longbottoms Coffee and Tea on 235th off Evergreen.

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  • Jen March 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I am jealous. I never thought to even ask this question when I started biking (at age 32). I just got on that bike and rode. I learned some things the hard way (ie when another bicyclist rings his bell from behind it doesn’t mean “good for you for getting out here”, but rather “please move over, I want to go faster than your crawling pace”).

    It wasn’t until I had been biking for a year that I actually found someone to ride “with” and she really helped me. oh, if only I had known to ask!

    and in case anyone was wondering, I put over 3000 miles on my bike last year between my commute and “fun” rides and I feel much more confident and safe now. And I try to remember how I fgelt first riding when I come up behind someone crawling along or looking uncertain.

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  • Paul Johnson March 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Dave #9: I’m not sure the Eastbank Esplanade or the Springwater are good places to learn how to bike, for all the same reasons the Banfield Freeway or Sunset Highway are lousy places to learn how to drive. Empty parking lots for the win!

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  • Antload March 3, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I bet Tori would be an awesome, unintimidating teacher. Surely there are others too. I, like Tori, am certified as a bike educator by the League of American Cyclists. I really enjoy teaching adults to ride. It’s super satisfying to deflate fears and to watch the self-propelled empowerment grow. A high form of advocacy. Bikeportland has my permission to share my e-mail address.

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  • StarMichael March 3, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Sorry, i stopped reading at 18 comments. but i do agree with riding in parks (so if you fall it will be off the cement and onto the grass), but riding a bike in the city is more than just balance and pedaling. you need to learn how to watch for traffic and know what to expect drivers to be doing.
    I volunteer at the bikefarm Saturday mornings, and would be more than willing to help teach anyone how to balance and how to ride a bike in Portland. I am free Sat after my shift, and all day sun. I also have several “loaner” bikes that could be used free of charge for this purpose. come by and start a conversation and see where it leads!

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  • Stephanie Reynolds March 4, 2010 at 7:45 am

    In my job with the City, one of the things we do is plan public safety-related workshops, sometimes with the police. Periodically, the police hold “bike rodeos” for kids to help them learn some basic bike skills. When we surveyed some community members about what they wanted to see in future classes, we were surprised to see multiple requests for bike rodeos for adults.

    On a personal note, I love my bike, but I’m not very confident or skilled on it. I’d love to take a class of basic biking skills, sort of like the one for new motorcyclists offered by Team Oregon.

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  • [...] This week’s question was from a reader who said she never learned to ride a bike as a kid, but wants to learn. Where/how can an adult learn to ride a bike in Portland? Below are some of the top answers. [...]

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  • Linda March 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Here’s how I learned to ride a bike for the first time last year — at age 66!

    First, I signed up for the Senior Biking class at Portland Parks, where they ride recumbent tricycles. There I learned how to use gears and hand brakes and more. Started by riding in Willamette Park — and eventually rode in the bike lane on some low-traffic streets nearby. Good confidence builder with patient leaders.

    Eventually tried riding my husband’s bike — on the sidewalk in front of my house and later on the extremely low-traffic, non-through street in front of my house.

    I’ve gotten to a point where it’s easier to stay upright, but need lots more practice to keep the bike going in a straight line.

    My dilemma now is how to get the bike to a safe place to gain the additional practice I need — because there is no safe route to ride there from my home.

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