Six questions for Portland illustrator and ‘Cycle City’ author Alison Farrell

Alison and a few of her many inspirations.
(Photo: Zoey Abbott)

As often happens as I peruse the web for story ideas, I come across something wonderful and then forget how I ended up there.

That’s how I came across the work of Alison Farrell.

It was her new book, Cycle City, that first caught my attention. Then a few clicks later I watched the promo video (below) and noticed it was set right here in Portland. Then I realized she lives in Portland, she rides her bike around town all the time and she has an Instagram account full of cool sketches of bike scenes from a recent trip to Copenhagen. This, I thought to myself, is someone we need to know more about!

So I reached out to Alison and asked her a few questions…

What’s your relationship to cycling? (Is it just a fun thing, daily transportation, your savior, all of the above?)

One of her sketches from a recent trip to Copenhagen.
(@AlisonDraws on Instagram)

I come from a family of road and mountain bike enthusiasts, and as far as I can remember, bikes have been a part of my life. While I started out using bikes as a fun, athletic recreational activity, my relationship to bikes later expanded to suit my life circumstances. Over the years, bikes have provided me with the ability to tour and see the world, play, learn, compete, commute, and haul stuff (groceries, other people, building supplies, other bikes, trees, etc.).

When I ride, I just feel a little more like myself. Not only do I depend on bikes for transportation and exercise, but also for joy and sanity!

What part of town do you live in?

I live in SE Portland, near Clinton Street. When we moved back to Portland, we moved for bikeability!

What inspired Cycle City?

Soon after my son Finn first spoke the word “truck,” he fell in love with the works of Richard Scarry. As a parent, I loved everything about Scarry’s books: the nostalgia, the seek and find elements, the submersive details, the merging of fun, fantasy, and the real world. In the subsequent three years, we read other books, but the Busytown series reigned!

While Finn was exploring the car-heavy world of Busytown, we were shifting from the American status quo of the two-car family, to a more bike-centric lifestyle. Our herd of bicycles dramatically expanded, at times including: a box bike, a cycle truck, a longtail, a ladder trailer, a trailer bike, a family tandem (kid in the back), another family tandem (kid in the front), a unicycle, a bmx, mountain bikes, a balance bike, a motorized-retrofit for our box bike, cyclocross bikes, and a folding bike. The more we rode these bikes around, the more questions we received about what we were riding and why.

This is how the initial inspiration for Cycle City came to be, first with my young son’s obsession with Busytown, next with my family’s interest in biking for transportation, and finally out of the desire to share with families the fun and pragmatism of pedal powered possibilities.


[Promo video for Cycle City]

Is there anything Portlanders will recognize in its illustrations/scenes?

Likely more things than I can remember, Cycle City was a long time in the making, but here are a few: The Starlight Parade, while not a bicycle parade per se, is an event my family attends annually. Like Portland, there is a Community Cycling Center–I love this place and its mission–every cycling city should have one! The train is lightly modeled after MAX. If you look carefully, you might find a building like the Division Street OP Wurst, which was a taco shop when I sketched it from Roman Candle across the street.

How does living in such a bike-loving city influence your work?

There are so many ways to be inspired by the Portland cycling community — we are an eclectic bunch! I am regularly surrounded by a variety of: delivery services, all-weather cyclists, oddball businesses, family setups, adaptive bikers, costumed parades, volunteer opportunities, and offbeat races (looking at you, Ladd’s 500)! To me, the extraordinary mix of DIY cycling weirdos make Portland an exciting and dynamic place to live! I am so grateful to be here.

Celebrate the launch of Cycle City this Sunday (4/8), 11:00 am at Green Bean Books on NE Alberta Street. You can follow Alison on Twitter and Instagram. Find out how to get a copy of her new book on her website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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6 years ago


Caitlin D
6 years ago

Awesome! We’ve got two former Busytown enthusiasts in our household, and I would have loved a bike-centric picture book when they were little. I’m so glad this exists now 🙂

6 years ago

Nice, This new book, plus kid size versions of Microcosm’s “Live Free or Drive” shirt and I have my gift list covered for the little ones in my extended family.

6 years ago

This is what I get for falling behind on my BP reading! I’ve said hi and chatted with Allison countless times, but never got her name so didn’t know this was her book. I would’ve gone out in the yuk weather for the book reading and bike parade if I’d known.