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Comment of the Week: The joy of discovering bikes as a kid in Portland

Posted by on May 1st, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Vanilla's kids bike-12

Soon, soon.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

As someone who didn’t really come to appreciate biking until I was in high school, my mind is sometimes blown by thinking about people born into biking life here in modern Portland.

A comment Wednesday morning from BikePortland reader Katherine, beneath Jonathan’s ride-along with a dad and his four-year-old daughter, conveys it better than I ever could.

My son and I ride to school from SE to NW 8th and Couch on the north park blocks (through Old Town) every day. He used to ride on the back of my XtraCycle but at age 7, when he started second grade last fall, he began riding his own bike every day, back and forth. I have so much to say on this topic, all of it positive.

He loves the ride–we love the ride. He has become a confident and aware cyclist. He participated in a bike camp at the Community Cycling Center last summer which was a bonus. We have found a route we like and he has distinct preferences of which bridges we cross and I honor those. He actually loves the Burnside bridge even though the bike lane isn’t separated form cars. There is a strong cycling community at The Emerson School, where he goes so there are always a kids and their parents arriving at school by bike, from all over town. Some have much longer commutes that we do (ours is only 3 miles one way). And some kids have started biking on their own in first grade, at age 6.

The people we’ve met, smells we smell, birds we see, conversations we have are all thanks to biking. He also always seems ready for school when we arrive (worked out an cranky’s he might have had) and same on the way home–any school angst or exhaustion seems gone by the time we get home. We never have to look for a parking spot (though the bike racks are full up these days:) and just yesterday he said: “I love biking in the rain–it’s not bad at all!”


How many young Portlanders will grow up like Katherine’s son? What will they ride? What will they value? How many things will they have a chance to enjoy?

I can’t think of any better illustration of the multi-decade promise of Safe Routes to School programs, or of the need to make our city’s bike-friendly neighborhoods affordable to as many young families as possible.

Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing $5 to Katherine in thanks for this great one. Check your email!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Dave May 1, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I hope that someday in the near future, a generation of young people begin to be referred to as “post-car kids.”

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  • gutterbunnybikes May 1, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Though I never really thought it about much until fairly recently, I attribute my love of the bicycle as having started as a kid (I was 6 or 7 when I ditched the training wheels), and much of my attitude from having to ride daily for the newspaper route I had as a kid (12-16).

    Nothing really seems that bad on bicycle around here compared to your scrawny 12 year old body hauling 100+ lbs of Black Friday papers in three inches of Michigan snow at 5 am on a Schwinn Workman Cruiser single speed (actually started on a Huffy 12 speed but it didn’t last too long under the load). Too bad the papers don’t let the kids do it anymore, great life lessons formed early with that job.

    And if you look at those studies of the the “enthused and confident” and “fearless” bicycle riders, you’ll notice a large percentage of them claim to have ridden a lot as children.

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    • drew May 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      I delivered papers every day at 5am as a preteen in the 1960s in pasadena, ca. Rode the bike 3 miles to and from school from 5th grade on. I suppose that prepared me for the “strong and fearless” category.

      There was a huge bike rack system at my grade school; packed with bikes every day. It was rare that somebody was driven to school in a car.

      I went back there a few years ago. No a single bike rack remains. A whole generation is growing up without being exposed to bikes very much. My how things have changed.

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      • Dan May 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

        True enough. At my elementary school in the late 70s/early 80s, it was rare to see a car trying to use the bus pull-in at the school, because everyone else was walking or riding. Now there are 3 car drop-off lanes that are full up, and there are cars parked up and down the block trying to get kids to school. I think the biggest risk to biking kids is driving parents.

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        • El Biciclero May 4, 2015 at 4:03 pm

          When I was a kid, getting driven to school meant either I had a Dr. appt. in the morning, or I was in trouble for missing the bus.

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  • Katherine May 1, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you so much for featuring my comment. Feel free to correct the typos:)! I just read my comment to my son, the featured cyclist, and he was so very pleased. “All very true!” he said. There is so much more to say about this topic and I just want to reiterate the sheer fun of it and the familiarity to all those streets and corners and the confidence we have as daily bikers. He also wanted me to mention the fabulous Lance and Chris from Breakfast on the Bridges (last Friday of the month on the Burnside Bridge (on ramp heading west) whom he looks forward to seeing every month.

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  • Kyle May 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    I grew up near the far eastern suburbs of the Portland area, and bicycling was a big part of my childhood – especially the Springwater trail. My extended family biked down Springwater shortly after the rail tracks were removed in the early 1990s, long before pavement, signs, or even safe bridges were built. Later after the path was paved we would ride nearly four miles each way to Gresham Farmers Market on a regular basis. I was taught as a kid how to safely and legally take the lane on downtown Gresham streets.

    It’s pretty neat to think I’ve been doing this all along…

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  • Mindful Cyclist May 3, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I can remember appreciating bikes at a pretty young age growing up in Montana. I remember how much fun it was when it was a nice Spring or Fall day and I got to ride my bike to school. Then as I was getting a little bit older, it started to mean that I could start riding the the mall and did not need my parents to drop me off. I also did BMX and built a quarter pipe with my Dad and I biked and skated on it. So much of the fun I had associated with my childhood was about bikes.

    I, however, like a lot of 16 year olds got the driver’s license and wanted a car and started to drive everywhere. I slowly started to ride more and it took mountain biking to do it.

    But, when I moved here and saw that there were plenty of bikes on the road, those childhood memories made it so much easier for me to hop back on the old mountain bike and start to use it to get around town instead of trails.

    So, I do hope that the parents of today are going to let their children ride bikes as freely as safely as possible so they can also remember the joys they once had. And, with the cost of driving now, it may be just easier for them to keep pedaling.

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    • El Biciclero May 4, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      I intend to give my kids as much bike freedom as I think they can handle (and my wife can agree with…). I’ll just hope they don’t get kidnapped by the Police/CPS.

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  • Huey Lewis May 3, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    I love when I see kids ride and I love when parents come into the shop and want to get their kid a bike. But what bums me out is they always want to get their child some little replica of a road or mountain bike. I grew up with BMX bikes. I loved bikes. BMX bikes weren’t complicated. All I ever had to do was fix flats and lube a chain. Don’t buy your kid a bike with a lame suspension fork that weighs a ton and does nothing. Shifting? Your child doesn’t need to shift. Billy can’t adjust those derailleurs and he’s gonna trash them anyway when he drops it on the wrong side when he gets to the park. Go simple, parents!!!

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    • Lester Burnham May 4, 2015 at 7:50 am

      But how else can a young lycra-clad Fred develop?

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    • Granpa May 4, 2015 at 8:04 am

      Schwinn Sting Ray BMX of its day.

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    • Dan May 4, 2015 at 10:20 am

      I kind of agree, but I kind of don’t. We took our 6 year old on an 11.5 mile ride yesterday on his new 20″ Islabike. No way he would have been able to cover that distance on his BMX bike. He loves shifting!

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      • Huey Lewis May 4, 2015 at 5:52 pm

        Those Islabikes are nice. No doubt. Dude, that’s a long ride for a 6 year old.

        But what about ever getting to jump curbs? Bunnyhops?

        Just me speaking, but I honestly don’t know that I’d be into bikes as much as an almost 39 year old guy if it hadn’t been for my BMX obsession. I don’t think I’d be who I am if my parents would have gotten me a little kid sized 10spd. Really.

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      • Katherine May 16, 2015 at 8:05 am

        I agree with you. My son, the one in the comment of the week above, is on his second Islabike (26 inch) and it certainly makes our daily commute and generally living without a car, possible.

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    • Darin Wick May 4, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      IGH! Three-speeds are cheap, simple, and the better ones are hard to break.

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      • gutterbunnybikes May 4, 2015 at 4:17 pm

        My whole fleet runs on older Sturmey Archer AW 3 speeds, other than some slight seasonal adjustments they’re pretty easy to maintain and , I’ve only recently had one break (and I do a little bit of refurbs, restoring, flipping on them as well)- but that one is 80 years old, luckily the clutches didn’t change with the post war models so I had some replacements on hand.

        I gave up on derailleurs about 7-8 years ago, after having to constantly readjust them from getting banged up while locked up on bike racks. That and I seldom used any more than 3-5 of the gears my other bicycles offered (but then again I’m a masher).

        The gear ranges are similar to traditional a 10 speed, the difference being you just have one choice for between high and low gear. Which isn’t really a bad thing, it allows you to actually enjoy the ride instead of constantly trying to find the gear you want.

        And you can shift while stopped, which is a huge bonus when riding in the city.I could go on forever, needless to say I’m a big fan of the IGH’s.

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  • Patrick May 4, 2015 at 8:16 am

    My kid grew up on bikes and through her life I prioritized keeping her in nice & appropriate bikes. Now that she is a teenager she prefers the bus and wants a car.

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  • Brad May 4, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Grew up on a dairy farm in rural northern Wisconsin. My filthy mountain bike got me everywhere I needed to go across fields, streams, and dirt roads. Forgot about bikes when I turned 16 and got my first car. Rediscovered the joy of cycling after a year in Germany in college. So grateful that I did. The kids growing up on bikes in Portland are super lucky.

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