Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Family bike camping; the new American tradition

Posted by on May 8th, 2012 at 9:11 am

Re-defining car camping.
– Photos and story by Russ Roca. –

This past weekend, I joined CycleWild, a local nonprofit group whose mission is to reconnect people with nature via the bicycle, on one of their monthly overnight bike camping trips. This month’s ride was to Milo McIver State Park in Estacada (about 26 miles southeast of Portland).

What made this weekend’s trip unique is that three families were part of the fun. In addition to the usual stable of your typical touring bikes, there were a few family-inspired rigs including longtails (bikes with extended rear racks like the Xtracycle), a Brompton folding bike with a child carrier and a child trailer.

Riders had the option of either riding or taking the MAX to the Cleveland stop at the end of the Blue Line. The route from the Cleveland station is about 21 miles long with only one very short climb out of Boring and otherwise gently undulating terrain. The road conditions consisted of some muddy gravel trails, country roads, and a stretch on the 224, which fortunately had a large shoulder to ride on. There were several stops along the way for both adults and kids to take a break. People stopped and bought snacks and coffee in Gresham, Boring and Esatcada — demonstrating once again that people on bikes definitely eat more than your typical traveler.

The highlight of the ride was taking a gravel PGE access road that ran at river level from Estacada into the park. You had to negotiate a closed gate (it was a tight squeeze for some cargo bikes) but were treated to a quiet car free stretch along the water. The ride pace was leisurely and the group kept together. Matt Picio, CycleWild’s founder, rode with the families to make sure no one was left behind.

Because of the size of the group (18 adults and 5 kids), the CycleWild organizers reserved a group campsite. Separated from the main camping loop by a walking trail, the group site was peaceful and quiet and free from cars driving around the loop or RV generators. Since the ride was relatively short, there was plenty of time to relax and for the kids to play. I sneaked off for an hour to the Clackamas with a fly rod and got two trout on the line. In the evening, everyone gathered around the campfire and made s’mores, popped popcorn and swapped tales.

Bike camping is typically seen as a sort of an extreme activity, something that only the very fit or “hardcore cyclist” with specialized gear would attempt. Cyclewild has done a lot to dispel this myth, introducing bike camping to hundreds of Portlanders every year. This trip was more proof that anyone, even families, can travel by bike.

With gas prices rising every summer and the general economic downturn, bike camping at nearby state parks is great way to add more adventure to “stay-cations” just by changing how you get there.

Russ Roca is a bicycle tourism advocate and half of the traveling duo behind PathLessPedaled.com.

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  • Shane May 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

    So great to see! We did our first Kidical Mass Camping Trip last year and it was A LOT of fun. About 10 families biking from downtown Eugene out to Armitage Park for the weekend.
    We’re doing it again this June 16/17th and are expecting to easily double that number- Family Bike Camping Bonanza!

    I also heard that Kidical Mass Portland is planning one this summer:

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  • Rol May 8, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Route please?

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  • A.K. May 8, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Amazing how camping can be found so close to Portland! I must admit that in my head that I feel if I don’t go more than an hour or two away by car I’m not “really” getting into the “wilderness”.

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    • adventure! May 8, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      And that’s the beauty of it all. You don’t have to go sixty miles from Portland into “wilderness” to have a decent camping experience. And Cycle Wild regularly leads people to these close-by destinations by bike.

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  • Erinne May 8, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for the report and great pics. Sorry I missed it. Glad to hear folks had a good time! I hope we have more CW trips including families!

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  • Steve B May 8, 2012 at 11:25 am

    This article got me stoked for prime bike camping season! Great photos.

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  • oskarbaanks May 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    If you would like to continue to grow as a “New American tradition” do not let it be known that it is a “fine old French” one.

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  • Ian C. May 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    As a father of two who has done the double-kid-on-longtail thing, I’d just say that I’d want a battery assist on the bad boy. Way too easy to overload, otherwise. Taking care of 2 toddlers in the woods is exhausting enough! Don’t forget the flask!

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    • oskarbaanks May 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Let’s design and patent a chain driven”rowing crew” attachment for the wee ones to engage while just hanging out back there. It could slide on the top deck and not interfere with your panniers.

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    • Tom M May 9, 2012 at 12:43 am

      I was going to suggest Clever Cycle’s Stokemonkey but they’ve had to shelve the product apparently due to increasing costs making it too expensive. Does someone else have a solution?

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      • oskarbaanks May 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

        This will not bode well with many, but two years ago on the Sunday Parkways ride I saw a woman with a small gas powered Honda motor tucked behind the seat of her recumbent! As I chuckled and chatted with her about it, she informed me that she used it for touring and sparked it up when she was too exhausted in the mountains.

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      • Dee May 9, 2012 at 12:12 pm

        You might consider a Ridekick trailer. It attaches to most bikes and gives up to 19 mph boost with a throttle control. The sealed lead-acid battery will support the rider for 12 – 15 miles, and it has space to carry cargo, too. You can attach it to your bike when you want the boost, and detach it in seconds when you want to have pedal power only. There are several shops in the Portland area that carry it.

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  • Ash L May 8, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Here’s a stupid question. I’m going bike camping for the first time on Saturday and I’m wondering what to do with my bike while I’m in the tent over night. I know the likelihood of someone stealing my bike while I’m asleep is pretty slim but being that I’ll be 60 miles from anywhere, its a possibly that I couldn’t live with if something did happen. Do you just u-lock the wheel to the frame or bring a long cable and a padlock and find a tree? No space for it in my tent, believe me, that was my first inclination.

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    • Paul Laak May 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm

      When touring, I did just take both wheels off and u-lock to the frame right next to my tent.

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    • adventure! May 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm

      Generally, I’ll either use my U-Lock to “hobble” front wheel to the frame, or if there’s a picnic table, I’ll use my cable lock to “leash” to the table and run it through the U-Lock hobble.

      I’ve only heard about a bike getting stolen from a campsite in Oregon once, and that was at Devil’s Lake State Park in Lincoln City. Though that campground (esp. the hiker/biker site) is in a fairly urban area (as far as the coast is concerned.)

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    • Brian Page May 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      In the past I’ve tied my tent lines with my bike entangled in them, or you could go with a long cable to lock it to a tree or picnic table.

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  • Paul Laak May 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    This is an awesome story!!!

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  • Dee May 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I’m filled with awe and admiration. My kids are 23 and 26 and I wish I’d have had the courage and determination to do this kind of trip with them. They started backpacking at 4 and 7, but they were definitely moving on their own accord. I offer kudos to these parents!

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  • Russ Roca May 8, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Ash – when touring, we usually just carry a cable lock. You can also lay the bike down by your tent and tie a guy line to it so if someone moves the bike your tent will move.


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    • oskarbaanks May 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm

      The fishing line attached to the tent is a tactic I have used for years. I also carry a small but heavy brass bell that i hide behind my panniers. It can not be found or removed easily, does not get blown by the wind, but will be loud enough to wake me if someone is messing with my bike. It works great.

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  • Todd Boulanger May 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Yes…it was a ‘dangerous’ trip for us single ‘family free’ campers last weekend what with all the kids at the campsite digging potholes and trying to adopt anyone but their parents. I understand that bear attacks can wipe out a parent or two (Disney movies) and it is good childhood survival skills to have a back up adult to pedal you home. I almost did not escape without another boy to add to the nest. Now if I had been adopted by a girl that would have been Ok with the missus and rounded out our family tree back home. 😉

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  • GlowBoy May 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for the great report. Last year’s family-bike-camping posts on bikeportland, along with cyclewild’s awesome map of bike-reachable campgrounds, helped inspire me to take my youngster bike camping TWICE last year. Both trips were done in our Madsen cargo bike.

    First trip was to Champoeg, via the (then under construction) Trolley Trail, Oregon City and Canby.

    Second trip was to Clackamas County’s Barton Park. We took the Springwater Trail to its gravelly end in Boring, and the campground was just 3-4 miles further. This trip will become much better, by the way, (as will the trip to Milo McIver) when the Cazadero trail is finally done.

    This year I hope to pedal us to Stub Stewart. Hopefully via the Banks-Vernonia Trail, then possibly returning via the Crown Zellerbach Trail and hwy 30.

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  • Dan May 9, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Hey, I saw a bunch of bike-campers coming back through Carter this last Sunday afternoon, and remember thinking “I wonder if this is one of the CycleWild trips?”. Need to look into hitching up the trailer and joining in on the fun…

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  • Judith Thompson May 9, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Today is my son’s 43rd birthday. When he was a baby my husband and I looked at the Bugger, a cart that tagged along behind a bike. It would have been so fun to go as a family on a bike ride. I hated those baby carriers that made the babe so vulnerable in case of a spill. We didn’t buy a Bugger and I kicked myself ever since.

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  • Atbman May 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    I suppose it was inevitable that the Scottich village of Dull should now be twinned with Boring

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  • Heidi Vanderkwaak May 11, 2012 at 3:09 am

    We are over 11 months in on a year long cycle touring trip with our two kids under 5. It just keeps getting better and better! What kid doesn’t love camping, 3 playgrounds a day, libraries, time with both parents, and meeting so many new friends along the way? So happy to hear many families are giving it a try.

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  • Lance P. May 18, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Does anyone know the lady above (2 kids, live in Ladd) website? I have a coworker with 2 kids that wants have inspiration.

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