Snacks, shade and seven other ways to make this your best spring ever

No sleeves, no problem.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

The sun is back! The bike racks at our elementary school have gone from almost empty to overflowing; area parks have unlocked their bathrooms and turned on the drinking fountains; hearty, year-round bike commuters are noticing (and possibly complaining about) the return of their fair-weather cohorts.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Just as we (or I, anyway) forget everything we know about rain by the end of summer and it takes a couple dousings to reassemble our fall wardrobe, the sun catches many of us off-guard and we suffer through sunburns and dehydration while we remember how to cope with that blinding ball in the sky.

So here’s a list of things to make it your best spring ever…

I hope this doesn’t look like a long list of stuff you must buy to enjoy biking in spring, but there are some cool products out there and if just one of them seems like a small thing that will make your life vastly easier, that’s terrific! Or perhaps a product mentioned will generate an idea for repurposing something you already own. This is a bit of a morbid example, but reading the daily CPSC infant/child product recalls five years ago I got to wondering what happened to all those strangling hooded sweatshirt drawstrings. I was inspired to pull the string out of one of my own sweatshirts, cut it in two, and sew it to a couple reusable snack bags that hadn’t seen use for a couple years. Voila, on-bike feed bags for the kids.

DIY snack bags.

OK, on with the list…

1. Snacks snacks snacks

This is my answer to everything in any season because snacks are the answer to any problem, but especially so in spring. We bike every day throughout the year, but as the weather warms up and the days lengthen our range grows and our destinations are increasingly outdoors. When it’s cold and/or rainy we bike shorter distances to indoor spots with built-in food options, but in spring having food on hand is more important than ever. I like filling a big zip-up picnic bag with fruit, energy bars, and bags of chips (with binder clips to reseal them) to have a few options. I often forgot to pack my own food and hate to waste the nonperishable stuff on myself. Don’t be like me, you deserve healthy and tasty snacks, too.

p.s. Find me if you’re hungry, I carry snacks for 20 with me at all times.

2. Water

L-R: Portland Design Works Bar-ista, Two Fish QR Bottle Cage, SKS bottle cage adapter, handlebar mount water bottle cage.

Hydration is so important! I’ll pull over in a heartbeat for the kids to have a drink, but if my water isn’t accessible I won’t bother quenching my thirst. Again, don’t be like me! Refill your water as needed and make sure it’s easy to access. In addition to regular water bottle cages that attach to normal braze-ons, there are some cool alternatives out there especially helpful for non-standard frames or just for adding more convenient water.

I went by Clever Cycles to check out in person the products I saw on their bottle cages & cup holders page — and found one product not listed online.

Portland Design Works Bar-ista. It’s local! I was gifted one and discovered my Thermos vacuum flask fits in it perfectly. I use it for coffee on the go, but any tapered container will ride it in nicely.

PDW Bar-ista with travel coffee mug.

Two Fish QR Bottle Cage – is a velcro-mount and drink cage. I have their growler cage and hang it various places on my cargo bike.

A growler full of water on the back of my bike.

SKS bottle cage adapter – if you already have a cage, but want to connect it somewhere creative, like your seat post or stem.

➤ Handlebar mount water bottle cage (not on the Clever Cycles website) is brilliant! Some of us shorter riders don’t have frames with space for water bottles in the normal spots and a handlebar-mounted drink can make all the difference. This also looks useful to mount to cargo bike handrails, like the Xtracycle Hooptie on the back of my longtail cargo bike.

After my visit to Clever Cycles, I popped over to Rivelo to see some Oregon-made snack/drink bags:

Randi Jo Fabrications Bartender Bag and Pocket ‘Tender – are designed to attach to handlebar, stem, and head tube via three straps.

Two types of snack/water bags by Randi Jo Fabrications.

We currently use BPA-free plastic water bottles so they fit fine in regular drink cages, but if plastic’s not your thing, there are other options. I have a copper water bottle, similar to the one pictured above. I have to stop to unscrew it so I use it for backup water and refill our other water bottles with it when we’re stopped at a park, but I’ve seen people stopped at red lights unscrew, sip, rescrew before the green.

Hot tip: back when my kids primarily drank from little Funtainer strawed Thermoses, I found that nestling them in beer koozies made them fit in drink cages perfectly.

A kid’s narrow insulated water bottle in a beer koozy fits in a standard water bottle cage.

One more hot tip: I asked on Twitter if anyone had tips for filling water bottles at Benson Bubblers and apparently one can direct the stream with a well-placed finger.

Can you aim the water of a Benson Bubbler?

➤ Water bladders — have you used them while biking? I haven’t myself and think of them as a serious mountain bikers thing, and I’ve seen them tucked in frame bags of bike tourers. However, they seem like they’d be great for families. Share your experiences in the comments!

3. Sun protection

A long-sleeved cotton button-up shirt is great for sun protection.

Several years ago I discovered that although I was hiding in the shade as soon as we reached any springtime destination, I was getting awfully sunkissed in transit. That year I was moved to buy the rashguard on the cover of the REI catalog and wore it every day. It was clingy and uncomfortable, but it did the trick. Brand new rashguards and sun shirts are great for protection from too much sun, but natural fibers work great, too. Now my go-to sun wear is a baggy button-up cotton shirt I got at a thrift store. I use a fancy sunscreen on my face and when I remember, less fancy sunscreen on my arms.

Having grown up in Southern California, my eyes are especially sensitive to the sun so I always wear sunglasses, but I also like having a visor, be it built into my helmet or a cap I wear under my helmet. Many glasses wearers swear by a baseball cap with top button removed to wear under a helmet as a rain shield, and it seems like this would work very well for sun, too. For even more shade, Da Brim makes big helmet visors that attach to the outside of the helmet.

4. Shade

My Shade Shack at the back of my bike, folded for travel.

Remembering to preemptively take short breaks in the shade has made our springs (and summers) so much easier! I tend to let forward momentum drive us until one of us begs for a break, but when I think to stop us part way up a hill to have a short break and drink a bit of water in the shade of a tree — even just stopped with a foot on the curb not even dismounting our bikes — everyone stays happier longer.

I also like to bring shade with me, which I admit is easier done when one has a cargo bike. I love my Shade Shack beach tent. It has no bottom layer so I sit on a towel or picnic blanket in it and it can be staked down or filled with sand. It collapses pretty small and I’ve carried it on regular bikes but it’s definitely easiest to shove in a cargo bike pocket.

Shade Shack deployed.

5. Take your time

Especially if you’re just getting back into it. Like most of my suggestions, this is just as much for you as for your passengers/pedaling kids. Even passengers who aren’t doing any work are out of practice sitting contentedly on the bike for long spells and it helps to ease back into longer bike-bound adventures. Now that it’s spring there’s no need to rush through the rain and cold (or so lets pretend)! Stop and admire the view…which will help break up the trip and prevent you from overheating. Check out every FREE box in or near shade. Pro tip: if you don’t want to get loaded down with a bunch of stuff you don’t think you need, tell the kids you’re just “shopping for ideas” — it works for me!


6. Tune up that bike.

Has your bike been hibernating since fall? Or has it been exposed to dirty puddles and wintery road grit? Bike shop business picks up as soon as it get sunny so you’ll likely already have a bit of a wait, but call and make an appointment for some bicycle TLC. At the least, pump up your tires and consider getting into a routine of keeping them aired up if you don’t already have one. Nothing like spring to create new patterns! Aim for somewhere between checking your tire pressure every day before you ride your bike and whenever it occurs to you. The side of your tire should have a max pressure or a range of pressures. I carry a lot of weight on my bike so I like to keep my tires at the max. Next time after you add air, squeeze your tires on either side to see what they feel like when they’re full so you can more easily gauge if you’re low by touch in the future.

Cleaning your chain is a good habit to start in the spring, too, plus it doesn’t need to be done as often when it’s not raining.

7. Find a ride!

The BikePortland Calendar is teeming with events to help you get out there. And the Shift calendar isn’t only for Pedalpalooza — people post to it year-round. Here are the family-friendly rides on my radar:
Portland By Cycle: Bridges to the Sky ride – Saturday, May 12 at 10:30am, Powell Park.

Mashley Scavenger Hunt Ride – Saturday, May 12 at noon, Rivelo.

Kidical Mass PDX CycloFemme Ride – Sunday, May 13 at 10am, Westmoreland Park Nature Playground.

8. Get a weather app

Dark Sky app helps me plan our day.

If you know me in person, you know I can’t go a day without proclaiming “I love the Dark Sky app!” I don’t do much app purchasing, but Dark Sky is well worth the $3.99. It pinpoints your location and gives to-the-minute weather information for the course of the coming hour. It’s boring to use in places like Los Angeles, but it’s terrific in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s what we saw on Sunday when deciding if we wanted to do sheltered lunch or unsheltered playground first:

Of course Portland’s microclimates often give Dark Sky a run for its money and we found ourselves quite surprised by the rain on Saturday, but it still helps.

Side note: I don’t know that constant weather knowledge is all that helpful. In the days before I had a weather app and would just wing it (*gasp!*) we’d spend half our rainy days at the subterranean Seattle Children’s Museum, with no windows to see out so when I deemed it time to go, it was time to go. But the other days were spent at the REI play space with a gorgeous view of the grey city. I’d start thinking about leaving, but grimace at the sheets of rain through the windows and prolong our visit. Over and over again.

9. You will get rained on.

Picnic blanket cape to the rescue in an unexpected downpour.
Picnic blanket cape to the rescue in an unexpected downpour.

Not everyone has an enormous bike and can pack a set of rain layers for the whole family…and some of those of us who do have enormous bikes cannot be bothered if it was nice when we left the house, despite the forecast having warned us of afternoon rain. But the more prepared you are, the more pleasant your ride. Or figure out ways to get creative. As I shared in my how to keep little bike passengers cozy in the cold post, I’ve repurposed our picnic blanket as a rain cape, secured with my hair tie.

What did I miss? Please help me round this list off to ten items with a suggestion below!

Feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for reading!

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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Michael Mann
Michael Mann
6 years ago

+1 on the Randi Jo Bartender bags. Great for keeping a small thermos of coffee handy. I also use mine on longer rides and camping trips to keep the phone and trail mix right there. John at Rivelo still has a few in stock as of last weekend.

6 years ago

10. Claritin and perfect the farmer-blow (left nostril gets blown to the right side and vice versa; be sure no one is right behind you on a windy day)

6 years ago

My method of filling from a bubbler: aim the stream with the sport top from your bottle.

6 years ago

We love our Platypus bladders! I like bringing the small individual ones for when I want to have a roll up water bottle (plane ride, fancy destination). And our big 1L ones we use at home in the fridge to keep water cold. We’ve never *needed* them but brought them along when camping because I love carrying extra weight! They’re perfect for more desert-y areas or when you go somewhere the water isn’t on yet. I’ve never tried them with a hose attachment, only the squeezey pop tops.