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PBOT’s new guide takes the guesswork out of family biking

Posted by on July 23rd, 2014 at 3:17 pm


Even in Portland, riding with infants and small children on your bike often elicits stares, questions, and comments.

At what age can we start biking with our baby? Which bike set-ups work best for toddlers? Is it better to use a tag-along or encourage kids to ride their own bike? These are just some of the myriad questions anyone who bikes with kids is used to getting. Now there’s a helpful guide from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) that aims to answer those questions.

Portland’s Family Biking Guide (PDF) is a new, 16-page booklet created by PBOT’s Active Transportation Division. The new guide will be distributed through the city’s “SmartTrips Welcome” marketing program that targets new residents and encourages them to bike, walk, and take transit.

According to PBOT’s Active Transportation Division Manager Linda Ginenthal, the new guide fills a gap in the city’s available suite of bicycling information. “We have a tremendous amount of bike information on our website and in printed materials,” she shared with us today, “but we had nothing for families.”


The guide covers all stages of biking with kids; from riding while pregnant and taking babies along, to biking to school. It even offers advice on how to navigate the decisions around when to let children ride alone. Ginenthal said the tone of the guide is open and friendly. “It’s instructive, but not pointed,” she said.

When it comes to biking with babies — a topic that can set off heated discussions — the youngest age the guide mentions is nine months. That’s when infants usually have the adequate neck strength required to hold their head up in an upright seat. Before that age, the guide urges people to ask friends or look up options and advice online.

In addition to an explanation of the myriad gear options available at different ages, the guide also offers insights like this one on getting your kid to wear a helmet:


There’s also a nice endorsement of balance bikes (and from local company Islabikes no less) as the perfect first set of wheels (there’s even a smart suggestion to make your own balance bike by simply removing the pedals and lowering the seat of a standard bike):


Abra McNair, the PBOT staffer who created and wrote most of the guide, says she modeled Portland’s guide after a similar guide created by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. McNair said as the city’s Safe Routes to School program has expanded into new areas, she hears from many people how aren’t even aware of child trailers and other options. “There are a lot of people that can use either an affirmation that it’s a safe thing to do or that there are options,” she said, “And that it doesn’t have to be an expensive option like a bakfiets. You can do it by buying a trailer off Craigslist.”

For Ginenthal, the new guide is simply the city’s response to a growing demand. “A lot of people really want to do biking, walking, and transit and if they have the tools and information, and feel confident, they’re going to make that choice… Nobody wants to drive everywhere they go… It’s a huge constituency that we, as a city government, have to serve.”

— PBOT says this is just the first draft and they’re open to feedback on potential changes to the next print run. Download a PDF of the guide here.

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    9watts July 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Amazing that the SFBC, McNair, and Ginenthal all managed to avoid the paternalistic finger wags that regrettably dominate what ODOT puts out on bike-related subjects.
    Nice work!

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      Joe Adamski July 23, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      this is a PBOT effort, not a ODOT one. Portland BOT vs Oregon DOT

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        9watts July 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

        Yes, I’m well aware of that.
        I can’t imagine ODOT putting out anything so useful and compassionate.

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    Matthew Rogers July 23, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Just a quick (perhaps nit-picky) correction for the guide:

    The guide on page 2 (PDF p. 4) says “That said, Oregon law states any child under 16 must be wearing a helmet while on a bicycle (ORS 814.485).”

    ORS 815.485 is “Failure to wear protective headgear”. Protective headgear is further defined under ORS 815.052

    I’d argue that helmets are just one type of protective headgear.

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    Spiffy July 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    good to see that their balance bike example has a brake… most of them don’t have a brake, which means they can’t go in the street… my kid’s didn’t have a brake, but he never left the sidewalk or crossed a street on it…

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    q`Tzal July 23, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Whoa! Trippy deja vu! That color scheme is giving me flashbacks to CTW era Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

    Even the shape of the Smart Trips logo is very reminiscent of the Sesame Street street sign logo. Obviously 40 years of behavioral programming are not going to waste 😉

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    gutterbunnybikes July 23, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Does anyone really recommend training wheels anymore?

    Forget them – kids become too dependent on them and it slows the learning down. And why bother with a balance bike. Just get a bike and remove the pedals – same concept, but you don’t waste a bunch of money on the balance bike and there is no waiting and shopping to get them riding when they’re ready.

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      Chris I July 24, 2014 at 6:43 am

      Many balance bikes are smaller than any pedal bike I have ever seen. I think a lot of people start with balance bikes because they are fairly cheap, highly adjustable, and small enough to start the kid at age 1.

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      Pete July 24, 2014 at 10:44 am

      Training wheels… bad.

      Check out Jyro Bike:

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    babygorilla July 24, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Surprised that PBOT is promoting carrying passengers in trailers when it is actually a traffic violation to do so.

    ORS 811.195 (1) A person commits the offense of having a passenger in a trailer if the person operates a vehicle on a highway* while towing any type of trailer that contains a passenger.

    *highway is defined in the vehicle code as basically any public road.

    I don’t see where the exceptions in the statute apply to bicycle trailers and it doesn’t seem like a statute that by its very nature can’t apply to bikes.

    I haven’t heard of it ever being cited, but its a simple statutory fix that the BTA or trailer manufactures should really lobby for.

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    Timo ActiveTransportationista July 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    You may now order your own hard-copy of the Family Biking Guide on PBOT’s handy online page for ordering maps and other Active Transportation materials:

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