Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Family cycling: The next Big Thing?

Posted by on November 7th, 2007 at 4:37 pm


Busy bike racks at Trillium School
in North Portland.
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

Two recent experiences have left me thinking that more and more Portland families are ditching the family car and replacing it with the family bike.

Yesterday morning, when I pulled up to the bike parking area in front of my daughter’s preschool, it was bursting-at-the-seams full.

It was the morning rush and the bike racks bustled with activity. As I took in the moment, I was struck by how many families and family bikes there were. Among the 35-40 or so bikes in the two ribbon racks, I counted three Xtracycle conversions (the new trend, more on that later), four trail-a-bikes, and a smattering of baby carriers.


“Carfree mom” Marion
Rice and her daughter

Before I left I met Marion Rice and her 17 month-old daughter Gleneden. A self-titled, “carfree mom” since July, Marion has two daughters, and says her daily biking amounts to 16 miles a day.

Rice lives in the Overlook neighborhood and drops off Gleneden at day-care on NW 21st. She said all that biking has left her body feeling great. With a smile, she recounted her daily haul, “Four trips over the Broadway Bridge and twice up Interstate!”

She was also eager to show me her Xtracycle-converted bike. Marion has happened upon the same bike set-up that my family, and many others have; an Xtracycle-child seat combo. “I can carry both my kids and four bags of groceries,” she said.

Like many of us, Marion was intrigued with family cycling when she saw her first bakfiets. She checked them out at Clever Cycles, but found that the Xtracycle just “felt better”. She also thought her five year-old son, “might feel dorky” riding in the cargo bin.


As I pedaled downtown with Marion and Gleneden we talked about safety (ironically we passed by Interstate and Greeley about 20 minutes after yesterday’s collision). Marion said, “Some people in cars do look at me like I’m crazy…but it just seemed like there was a critical mass of people riding, and that made me feel safer.”

The same enthusiasm for cycling I felt from Marion is spreading throughout the city.

Another Overlook resident (and recent Xtracycle convert), Olivia Rebanal recently took it upon herself to organize a “bike-to-school morning” with other parents of her daughter’s school (which is near the North Park Blocks). She wanted to ride with others and encourage more families to bike, so she planned a time and a place to meet.

Ten parents showed up for a recent
“bike-to-school morning” organized by
a North Portland mom.
(Photo: Olivia Rebanal)

Olivia was thrilled when ten parents showed up. “They were pulling tag-alongs and one kid (an 8 year-old) was even on her very own bike!” she said.

After meeting at Dawson Park in North Portland, the whole crew rolled downtown. Olivia said, “It felt great to see all those families in the bike lane together.”

Olivia hopes to make her bike-to-school ride “bigger and bigger each month”. She also wants to make it a regular event, “Maybe the last Friday of each month to coincide with Breakfast on the Bridges.” That would, she says, “just make it all the more festive.”

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  • tonyt November 7, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks Jonathan,

    Always good to end the day on a positive note.

    I saw and chatted with Marion the other week on Interstate I think. Cool to hear the back-story!

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  • N.I.K. November 7, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    With a smile, she recounted her daily haul, “Four trips over the Broadway Bridge and twice up Interstate!”

    Twice up Interstate from Broadway? Jeebus, that climb back up the hill is a chore and a half. That\’s not just a Mom, that\’s a SuperMom! 🙂

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  • BURR November 7, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Portland Public Schools desparately needs to upgrade the bike parking facilities at most of their schools. I always try and check the bike parking when I pass a school and find it to be either substandard or non-existant.

    Even at inner southeast schools in neighborhoods with some of the highest bicycle mode splits in the city, the bike parking at schools often consists of a minimal number of racks that are not in compliance with City Code for bike parking and located out back by the dumpsters. Hosford Middle School and Cleveland High School are perfect examples of this. This has been a problem for many, many years, and it\’s about time it was corrected.

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  • Dabby November 7, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Good article. Family, as I well know, is one of the most important things in life.

    On my recent trip to Durango, Colorado, I saw so many Xtracycles that I asked a bike shop owner I was hanging with (Russell of Durango Cyclery, a great place!) if they may in fact be made in town. (which they are not)

    They were everywhere.

    And I do like the child seat option, as due to the two tickets this year here, we realize that a platform is not a legally binding seat alone.

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  • K November 7, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Love it. That\’s the set up I would go for if I had a kid. I believe my household will be getting an Xtracycle next year.

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  • bikieboy November 7, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Burr (#3) —-
    \”the bike parking at schools often consists of a minimal number of racks that are not in compliance with City Code for bike parking and located out back by the dumpsters. Hosford Middle School and Cleveland High School are perfect examples of this.\”

    You may be right about Hosford, but you haven\’t been by Cleveland for at least a year — they\’ve put in a bunch of bike parking (on Franklin, right by the heavily used side doors to the building)-Cleveland raised money to pour a concrete pad, and PDOT provided and installed the racks.

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  • Wendy Ann November 7, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Yeah for biking mamas and papas!!! The See and Be Seen Bike Light Parade is coming up, November 15th. Me and my kiddo are gonna be there. You can see the details here:

    It would be awesome to meet other cycling kids and allies. Deck your bike out with lots of lights. I think there is even a contest.

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  • michael downes November 7, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Part of the attraction for my family and I to flee SoCal and move to Portland was being able to ditch the cars (yes, we had two!). We have lived car-free for over a year now and I can\’t say we have missed it at all. In fact our lives are immeasurably enhanced by switching to bikes. I find it odd that when ever the media cover bike free living they always present it as a huge sacrifice when in fact it is car dependency that is the sacrifice. I hope I never have have to own a car again.

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  • 9watts November 7, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    A well chosen aspect of cycling to highlight! Thanks Jonathan. To me a family living in the US without a car is just about the most inspiring thing. It gives me hope.

    I have been thinking about starting a group for/of car-free families in Portland, where we can compare notes and help each other (say with cargo trailers, rain gear, tips, or whatever else we might discover we have in common)… If anyone is interested feel free to e-mail me at

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  • Robin November 7, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Everyday I always see tons or trailer and trail-a-bikes locked up outside a school(or daycare?) on Clinton St. It makes me feel pretty good about having children someday and not having a car.

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  • JayS. November 7, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks for posting about this. WE ride from 15th and Freemont to Sunnyside Envirnmental School on 34th and Salmon everyday on our Bike Friday Family Tandem(avalible from Clever cycles though they only have a tripel in stock..not as commuter friendly as the tandem in my opinion). We often ride with one or two other families who have another mile from there home (one third grader rides her own bike and once a kindregartener rode his own bike all the way…that made me nervious for sure) This is not only somthing we do for environmantal reasons and to save money, and for the excercise. We do it because It is FUN.

    THere are at least three other Family tandems as well as a dozen tag a longs and many trailers coming and going from SES. I love to see this. Many familys are still to scared to ride. So if you ride invite anyone and everyone to join you soon you may have a bike route with pickups all the way. This is my hope.

    Burr-In the last year at least four new stapels and I think two racks have been added at SES. I believe some of the funding came from being a SR2S school.

    Dabby- Extra cycle makes foot platforms and handelbars can be mounted on the parents seat for one rear rider. I don\’t know if that meets the legal requierment or not.

    One of my biggest worries is traffic at school. So many people driving and thinking about dropping or picking up there own child that they completly lose all sense of politeness and legality of there actions.

    As our network of bike blvds grows and better family bikes become more availible we are going to see a boom of family commuters. Hoooray

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  • brd November 7, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    My daughter eagerly awaits Thursday as the day I ride her to Beach Elementary in North Portland (The other days she walks with Mom and her little sister)

    Two weeks ago she said \”Papa it is cold as Christmas.\” Where is a good place to get warm gear for a biking 4 and 1/2 year old?

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  • Donald November 7, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Nice stuff, neighbor!

    We spent a lot of this summer trying to decrease our car usage. I switched jobs to facilitate a daily commute and my wife tried to use our double Burley trailer with our two toddlers as much as possible.

    Result: New found sveltness and neighbors who can\’t decide if the new orange paint on our house is any less distressing than my VW sitting curbside, undriven and nursing a flat tire.


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  • Ian Clemons November 7, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    Great topic. As I\’ve posted before, we are really into our Xtracycle. My kids, now 4 and 7 got way too cramped in the Burly trailer. The Xtracycle was much more fun for them, held more stuff, like groceries and school backpacks, and felt a lot more secure and safe. We ride from SE 27th and Belmont to Winterhaven school in the Brooklyn neighborhood. It took some time to find the best route, but we can make it there in 15 minutes – 12 if we\’re running late!

    My oldest daughter is on her own bike now and we can make this commute in almost double the time. It is absolutely wonderful to bike with her under my wing. She is very proud of becoming a Portland Biker.

    Robin (#10), my youngest goes to the New Day School on Clinton. It\’s very bike friendly.

    I\’ve noticed that the kids transition much better between home and school and from school to home when we bike. Sitting in the car, when we drive is much more passive, constricting, and we nearly always have some sort of row as a family during the drive. For the sake of family harmony, I would definitely recommend some form of biking.

    -Ian Clemons

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  • Metal Cowboy November 7, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Ran into Marion just this morning at REvolver – we were both shopping for lights since it is the darker time of year – I love her quote that it just seemed safer with all the other cyclists on the road – that\’s one of the keys to keeping Portland headed toward a bike mecca.

    On the parent/family rides vibe: Mark of revolver and I are planning regular aDventure Dad /kids rides to fun destinations in and around Portland. since coming back from Canada lots of Dad\’s want to know how I hauledd three sons and gear on one bike – rather than continuing to describe the experience me and Mark want to take Dad\’s and their kids on day rides to places such as sauvie Island, mosi, Multnomah Falls Smith Bybee, Zoo etc. We will throw in some geocaching and hikes ( I\’m a hike correspondent for BackPacker Magazine so we\’ll do some of my close in favorites.) Stay tuned. Email me at mtcowboy@teleport.com if you are interested. we\’ll try to do one every six weeks right through the winter.
    Joe Kurmaskie

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  • JayS. November 7, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    I forgot to mention my daughter prefers to ride in the rain over dry weather. What kind of wonderfull monster have I created. Last year we shot for half our school trips by bike. This year she says all by bike (or carpool as a last resort) so far we are right on with only seven trips in friends cars two in ours and the rest by bike.

    I will say one more time what I have mentioned many times in the year since we got that bike friday family tandem. I think there is NO BETTER bang for your buck longterm family solution. Soon enough your children on extra cycles are going to be to big for that to work. We are to far for me to let her ride her own bike everyday and still have energy for other activities. Two grown ups can ride my bike, a child seat can be installed, a trail-a -bike or a trailer it is highly versital. When I put on the trailer on I call it my minivanbike… seats four kids (size dependent) and me.

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  • Marion Rice November 7, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    It was a great conversation Jonathon.. but it sure was weird to find out there really was another accident at Interstate and Greeley that morning. I have been following the conversation about what to do to address the recent fatalities and increase safety on the roads. I love seeing other Moms and kids on their Xtracycles, you are all inspiration to me! I am having this internal conversation with myself about whether or not it is really safe to take my kids on my bike. I am leaning towards thinking that this recent rash of problems isn\’t the norm but I will really be watching what happens and hopefully expressing our families support for making sure Portland takes the right steps to make being car free safe for kids. I don\’t know what I would do if we were hit… I am a total \”hawk\” when I am on my bike with my kids.. watching and and trying to anticipate every move by a motorist ( and pedestrians too) that I can to keep us safe. I also am determined not to have this reality keep us from feeling the joy and freedom and peace of being able to go by bike.

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  • michael downes November 7, 2007 at 8:00 pm


    The pre-school on Clinton with all the trailers and bikes outside is New Day School which Little Man attends and yes many of the parents are avid kid haulers. They also grow many vegatables in the backyard that are tended and harvested by the children….I love Portland.

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  • true November 8, 2007 at 8:32 am

    Yes yes yes, riding around with my daughter is my favorite cycling activity by far. She\’s 3 1/2 and rides her own bike to day care (no training wheels!) before I ride on to work. I\’ve been giving up many opportunities for longer rides so that I can cruise around the neighborhood and to one of our parks with her, she hardly ever goes in the trailer any more. By the time she\’s five or six I think she\’ll be more interested in longer hauls.

    I love the looks of the family set-ups I\’ve seen around town, especially the family tandem, but I just can\’t afford it. Our beat up second hand Burly will have to do for now, for those longer trips when she\’s not on her own bike, that is.

    Thanks for reminding us that cycling is still fun. And don\’t forget – all of these children are learning the rules of the road, so ride safe and they will ride safe.

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  • Val November 8, 2007 at 8:40 am


    Great article! When my children were younger we transported them in our Burley trailer because it was a safe and easy car free way for us to get from home to…well everywhere actually. Once they grew out of the trailer we went to the Burley Piccolo trailercyle and tandem combo and now we all have our own bikes. Living in Eugene allows us to use bikes as a primary form of transport because of the bike lane infrastructure here. For full disclosure, I work for Burley and my family and I moved out to Oregon so I could work at Burley. However, even before working at Burley we had a Burley trailer because of the saftey and protection that the side, top and bottom aluminum frame provided. Whatever the method, the more we can encourage people to use alternative transportation the better.


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  • Matt M November 8, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Metal Cowboy- You might try to set something up with john at http://outdoordads.org/ to post your family rides. He has a monthly outing and a decent email list. Once a month he sends out an email to the list telling folks about the current month\’s trip. We\’ve gone on several hikes, but bike rides would make a good addition to the site.

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  • a November 8, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Burr – weird that you\’re so insistent on PPS putting in better bike facilities yet on the blast-the-BTA stream you say talk is cheap in reference to Bricker\’s comments. SR2S (a BTA program) is exactly the program that is helping to identify the need for better bike facilities AND GETTING THEM IN. I really, really, really want people to stop biting the hand that feeds them.

    Joe – why not moms?

    Jonathan – thank you for covering this and bringing attention to the rest of the kids that are biking. It highlights a key component of why the latest blast-the-BTA vitriol is so tiring.

    Sorry to make the connection here after a positive story, but it\’s got to be made. I\’m a bike commuter mom with two girls and I\’m infinitely grateful that there is an organization that doesn\’t take the wimpy route and throw a temper tantrum every now and again. They\’re working their collective BUTTS OFF EVERY DAY on the issues that some folks just get angry about when a tragedy occurs. Family cycling? It\’s only happening because the BTA has been here for years helping to get Portland to a place where cycling can be mainstream enough to allow for that. Yes, the growing number of outsider families that commute can ONLY do it because cycling is actually now mainstream. Thank you BTA and thank you bikey families for doing what you do.

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  • Dave Thomson November 8, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    What an uplifting topic. It does make me feel sad for all the kids who are taken everwhere in a car with the windows rolled up.

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  • becky November 8, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    We bike several times a week to school. However, our commute isn\’t impressive: 6 blocks to school and then another mile to my work.

    I think encouraging people to attend their neighborhood schools would help increase the number of kids who bike (and walk!) to school.

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  • metal cowboy November 8, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Hi Matt (21)

    Great idea on posting to that website. I\’ve gotten a ton of dad emails so we should have a healthy size group for these rides.

    A (22)

    I\’ve gotten that same question from a few other mom\’s and my wife – I\’m in no way anti mom or family – I want a mom to step up and do some mom and kid\’s rides together – And I\’d be happy to participate and at times lead full family rides – and of course Camp Creative that we\’ve founded will be doing a ton of family expeditions – but the thinking on the advnture Dad\’s rides was to get fathers together who ride their kids and other father\’s who have considered it but don\’t yet, and to make it some bonding time for thosse Dad\’s and their kids. Also – I really hope we can get some dad\’s who haven\’t ridden with thei kids ever or who haven\’t ridden in years period – enticded out for this.

    How bout it Moms? Anyone what to take on a monthly mom\’s and kids ride?

    I\’ll announce the date for the first Adventure Dad and kids ride shortly.

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  • a November 8, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    ok ok. i\’ll be the mom…i was just prodding you to challenge us!

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  • Matt M November 8, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    metal cowboy-

    The outdoordads.org site may be called \”dads\” but it mentions right at the top that is includes everyone. The hikes we\’ve been on have had plenty of moms on them and many of the moms came without dads. I think that the guy who runs the site, John Godino, just picked the name because it sounded good at the time, and I think there is a similar group in the bay area with a similar name.

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  • BAW November 9, 2007 at 11:21 am

    You guys are so lucky in Portland. The last two places I lived, the public schools FORBADE children from biking to school!

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  • a.O November 9, 2007 at 11:39 am

    Yes, we know we are lucky in Portland. But we\’re also \”good.\” A lot of people have worked really hard to make Portland a better place to ride. And you can do it too!

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  • Atbman November 10, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Sounds a bit like Bike Trains in the UK. There\’s one primary school near Cambridge which has bike trains (controlled by trained parents) which has 150 out of 300 pupils riding to school.
    That\’s some bike shed

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  • […] This gets near the heart of what we’re about: biking can be bigger than weekend sport or recreation, and bigger than weekday personal mobility (commuting). It can be about everyday transport of passengers and things. Without that last part provided for, cars remain an apparent necessity even to many city dwelling households, and bicycles a discretionary expense. We’re here to help flip this idea around. Yes, of course it’s the Next Big Thing. […]

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