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Introducing our new Family Biking column by Madi Carlson

Posted by on February 6th, 2018 at 2:30 pm

(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

[Publisher’s note: Welcome to our Family Biking column! I’m thrilled to share Madi’s insights and experiences here on BP. Please give her a warm welcome and let’s thank Clever Cycles for helping bring this content to the community. — Jonathan]

Hi. I’m Madi.

I bike for all the typical reasons — it’s cheaper than driving, it’s safer than driving, it’s simpler than taking the bus, it’s healthy, it doesn’t pollute, it’s usually faster than all other modes of transportation — but mostly because it’s tremendously fun. Even with kids. Especially with kids. I love to share that sense of fun and ease with others in the hopes of encouraging more families and individuals to bike even just a little bit more often. I’ve found focusing on the fun stuff to be an effective way of promoting bicycling as transportation (but I also reserve the right to discuss statistics and badmouth car traffic).

I ride with my two sons, aged 10 and 8, and our conveniently-basket-sized dog. I’ve been family biking since my first son was one year old and have gone through several bike iterations along the way. I like to think there are a lot of different right answers and very few wrong answers when it comes to choosing a family bike.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I’ve led countless Kidical Mass family bike rides and many family bike camping trips. I’m a League of American Bicyclists League Cycling Instructor, though I feel nothing has honed my bike handling skills better than chasing after two swerving kids on balance bikes and nothing has made me quicker and stronger than racing with a trailer full of impatient toddler bladders to the closest park with a bathroom.

I became carfree three-and-a-half years ago and before that I was car-lite for several years. I contemplated not even getting a driver license upon moving to Portland, though mostly that was to save a few bucks and skip waiting in an extra line. That’s because being frugal and impatient are two of my strongest traits — both of which conveniently tie into why I believe so strongly in bicycling for transportation. I ended up getting the license after all, though I’m happy that I haven’t had a reason to drive since.

With my boys at the Fiets of Parenthood event in 2012.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Family portrait with our tree, taken in December.
Photo from my @FamilyRide Instagram account.

We’re fairly new to Portland, having moved here from Seattle six months ago, so some of my observations will be through the lens of a newcomer. I’ve been enamored with Portland since my first visit to Clever Cycles with the kids seven years ago. We visited often to do events like Fiets of Parenthood and Kidical Mass and finally decided to make the move.

Bicycling is in my blood: my mother was born in the Netherlands and was the only one to leave so I grew up visiting every few years in the summer, borrowing or renting bikes and seeing my cousins put their babies in little bike seats. So while I believe Portland is “The Best Bike City in America,” I’m well aware of what could be. My method for coping with unpleasant American streets is to ignore the grisly reality and pretend I’m pedaling along a Dutch bike path, and I find I have to pretend much less in Portland than in other cities.

I’m excited to talk with you each week about biking with kids of all ages, family bike options, kid bike options, other gear and accessories, bike camping with kids, and more!

Anything specific you’d like to hear about? Comment below or email me: madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram

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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

25 Comments
  • SilkySlim February 6, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    That “frugal and impatient” diagnosis is me in a nutshell!! I think that is one of the biggest draws to me, the fact that you spend a higher percentage of time making forward progress (aka – you never hit traffic) while biking than driving. Add in the ability to usually lock up within feet of your destination, and I’m sold.

    Anyways, welcome aboard.

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  • joan February 6, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Cheers, Madi! I look forward to your writing. I’m interested to hear your take on Portland as an avid, regular cyclist who is also new to town. What’s working and what isn’t? I have my own thoughts, but after bike commuting for a few years, I’m no longer new to it. Welcome!

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  • matt picio February 6, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    The Seattle family bike scene will miss you Madi! Hope Portland treats you well, there’s such an amazing activist community there and a lot of dedicated family cyclists.

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  • Chris I February 6, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    Have you ever taken the train or BoltBus with your cargo bike? We like to make trips up to Seattle, and my kids are finally old enough to ride on our Big Dummy. I really like taking the train, but I think cargo bikes are not allowed?

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    • Madi Carlson (Columnist)
      Madi Carlson (Columnist) February 6, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      I know a few people who have gotten lucky and been allowed to bring longtails on Amtrak, but I also know people who’ve been turned away. (Or you could divide it into two bike boxes weighing less than 50 pounds each, but that’s a lot of work!) I’ve done BoltBus several times and I don’t find it as fun for kids (and therefore for me) as the train, but it means I can travel with a big bike! Great future post idea, but in the meantime, here are my personal blog posts on cargo bike on BoltBus.

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    • B. Carfree February 6, 2018 at 7:41 pm

      Amtrak also doesn’t take tandems (not counting that trip from Seattle to Davis in 1989 when I encountered a conductor who was enamored of my tandem and let me put it in the baggage car for the trip). However, they do allow two halves of a coupled tandem to be hung on the bike hooks in the baggage car. Maybe it’s time to put some couplers into the Big Dummy. I use pipe insulation over the couplers, both to prevent damage and to make sure no baggage handler gets banged by a hard edge.

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  • Mark Wheeler
    Mark Wheeler February 6, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Nice work Madi! Looking forward to reading more.

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  • Marshall James Habermann-Guthrie February 6, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    My wife and I, after a few arduous years, are hoping to enter the family phase of our lives very soon. I’d love to hear more about moving your kids by cycle. I don’t want to give up that part of my life, but don’t know what to do with them while they are too small/too big for the trailer.

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    • 9watts February 7, 2018 at 8:14 am

      “I don’t want to give up that part of my life, but don’t know what to do with them while they are too small/too big for the trailer.”

      No need to give up any part of your (transportation) life. Trailers work pretty early. Burley (and others) will sell you an insert*. I taught our daughter to ride when she was about three, but for many years she rode in a WeeRide up front (like what Madi shows in one photo). Then there’s the follower tandem attachments where the kid gets to pedal but is connected to the seatpost on your bike. Lots of options these days.

      * oh look, Clever Cycles even sells it:
      https://clevercycles.com/burley-baby-snuggler?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImI6w7piU2QIVE2t-Ch1sOAmIEAQYAyABEgLLc_D_BwE

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      • Brian February 7, 2018 at 10:30 am

        The problem I am having is that I have to pick my son up and he is now too big for the trail behind. I don’t want to buy yet another bike, so I need to figure out a way to transport his bike with me so we can both pedal home.

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        • B. Carfree February 7, 2018 at 11:33 am

          When I pick up my spouse at the train station and need to bring her a bike I either ghost ride it (might be kind of hard with a child’s bike) or put it on a trailer. Then there’s attachments like this:
          https://www.jejamescycles.com/trailgator-bicycle-tow-bar-red-gfj5999.html?___store=us&gclid=CjwKCAiA5OrTBRBlEiwAXXhT6DTo4VfAKAIAXkb4Fpj8f26Dht5-1SP03gfZD4nmCy9FRoC6faGYURoCBIwQAvD_BwE

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          • Madi Carlson (Columnist)
            Madi Carlson (Columnist) February 7, 2018 at 11:41 am

            I was just checking the size limits of the Trail Gator and was going to suggest looking for a used one, but it only goes up to a 20″ wheel and I have a feeling Brian might be transporting a larger bike. But it’s a useful product!

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        • Madi Carlson (Columnist)
          Madi Carlson (Columnist) February 7, 2018 at 11:38 am

          There are certainly some creative options for you! When my kids both began riding bikes with quick release I had a tow hitch fabricated so I could easily carry both them and their bikes without sacrificing any cargo room. This, of course, isn’t a quick DIY solution, but hopefully shows one of many possibilities. Haulin’ Colin who made my two-bike tow hitch has made smaller things. I’ve also seen lots of DIY tow hitches made from pieces of bikes and car racks. If you already have a rear rack you could simply try lashing the front wheel of your kid’s bike to it securely. Or remove the kid bike front wheel (easier if it’s quick release, though still worth it even if you have to bring a tool along each trip) and lash the fork to your rack and attach the wheel anywhere convenient. Tautly stretched bungee cords are nice, though I’m also a fan of smaller non-stretchy options lately, like John’s Irish Straps from Rivelo, Surly Junk Straps, regular old toe straps. Or Nite Ize Gear Ties that I think of as pipe cleaners on steroids (oh, and in a pinch I’ve secured things with pipe cleaners that seem to accumulate on my bikes as decorations, but they’re not the best option in general).

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          • Kristin Faurest February 7, 2018 at 1:13 pm

            Our solution is for one of us to be riding a cargo bike. Then when kid gets fed up, front wheel of the bike goes into the cargo bike’s bag and we tow it, and kid sits on the back of the cargo bike and rides until they’re ready to pedal again.

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          • Brian February 7, 2018 at 4:11 pm

            Thanks, Madi. I need to get crestive, or unleash my high school engineering students on the problem!

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  • Clicky Freewheel February 6, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Looking forward to a fresh perspective on cycling that’s not the usual “bike adventure” columns that the owner of this site puts out.

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    • Marshall James Habermann-Guthrie February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

      Agreed and there’s room for both. We should celebrate all forms of cycling.

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  • Lisa Corriveau February 6, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Cool gig, Madi! Looking forward to reading more.

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  • Tom Hardy February 6, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Welcome Madi.
    As an OAMIL ( Over Aged Male In Lycra), I welcome a new to the area rider who is not terrified to ride streets with impunity but alert. Of course I have only been riding in the greater Portland area since 1953 (Kenton to the Zoo and back).

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  • Caitlin D February 6, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Yay! Welcome, Madi! I look forward to hearing your perspective.

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  • RH February 6, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    Yay! Can’t wait to read some of these articles!

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  • Evan February 7, 2018 at 8:45 am

    Really excited for this column! My wife and I are having our first kid in May and eager to learn from other parents and minimize car-time.

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  • Kristin Faurest February 7, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Welcome! We’ve been cycle commuters and weekend recreational riders and carfree here for two years with two kids and were carfree in Budapest for 20+ years before that. It’s the way to go!

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  • Justin February 7, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    great column. looking forward to reading more!

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  • mikeybikey February 7, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    Glad to see family biking making a comeback. Years ago before we started a family, it was a few family biking posts on BP that provided the inspiration for my spouse to say, “yea lets sell the car”. A decade, two kids and lots of exhausted muscles later, we’re haven’t replaced it 🙂 Looking forward to your posts Madi.

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