Talking about family biking (and why I want to share your stories)

I want to learn something from everybunny out there!
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Do you remember the first time you saw a family biking together?

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

For me, it was while visiting family in the Netherlands as a teenager. I knew then and there I would someday bike with my babies and the rest is history. A lot of people have had similar experiences — they saw family biking in action in a bike-friendly city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen and found a way to replicate it back home. Nowadays you don’t have to leave the country to see kids on parents’ bikes and kids on their own bikes at a young age, and a lot of people have their “a-ha moment” when they spy their first bike seat or cargo bike right here in Portland.

Maybe I don’t set the best example, so I’m very excited to read and share different perspectives.

I’ve learned something from every family I’ve met or read about. I didn’t invent most of the DIY hacks I’ve used over the years, but I’ve memorized everything and love to pass that knowledge along (like Lindsay’s D.I.Y. Child’s Bike Seat Weather Protector and Stacy’s backwards jacket zipped up around the bike seat as cold-kid swaddler).

As I mentioned in last week’s post, On the exhaustion of motherhood and why I want to bike with other families on Mother’s Day, if there’s one thing more I love than riding my bike, it’s riding my bike with friends.

Our Mother’s Day/CycloFemme Kidical Mass group.

My Mother’s Day went pretty much as expected; it was fun, but exhausting. We didn’t get out the door as early as I’d hoped to and my coughing 11-year old woke up wanting to ride, whereas I’d figured he’d be content to be carted around on my bike all day (this isn’t the first time I’ve had to drag a sick kid on a Kidical Mass ride). I love that my kids ride everywhere on their own almost all the time now, but it’s certainly easier when I only have one loose kid to worry about.

We arrived to the park before the 10:00 am start time, but only by a few minutes. I’m so impressed when I see Kidical Mass families at the start of a ride early. Or even on time. Or even just a tad late. So arriving to Westmoreland Park Nature Playground into a throng of prepared participants made me feel a bit frazzled. I didn’t get a chance to properly meet everyone, didn’t think about talking about the origin of CycloFemme and Kidical Mass, or announce upcoming rides (May 27th in Southwest Portland). The ride was very long and very hot, but still awesome. A tiny new pedaler rode her bike over Tilikum Crossing for the first time — she normally experiences it as a passenger during her daily school commute. Meanwhile, my eight-year-old, proficient pedaler decided pretty early on he didn’t want to ride so I ended up carrying my healthy kid most of the way. Go figure!

My Mother’s Day gift.

It’s hard to have complete conversations in the course of a Kidical Mass ride — it almost feels like a wedding where you never get to speak to everyone as much as you want to — but even so, I had a bunch of rewarding mini-conversations about routes, bikes, kids, snacks, bike infrastructure (of course), and upcoming rides. It was exactly how I wanted to spend my day.


You may be scratching your head at the idea of kids as old as mine being carried on my bike rather than pedaling themselves. This is why this column needs more voices!

The ideal city has 8-80 bikeways, safe for anyone between the ages of eight and 80, but Portland isn’t quite there yet. Also, I admit I err on the side of caution and stop to carry my kids and their bikes on my bike at the first peep of complaint. Perhaps I’m overly wary of them turning into teenagers who hate bikes so I don’t want to push them too hard. Or maybe as a single mom without the ability to “tag out” I don’t want to incite a mutiny. Either way, maybe I don’t set the best example, so I’m very excited to read and share different perspectives. And hopefully, some similar ones too, so I can feel more secure in my own methods.

A lot of families are curious about family biking, but don’t know how to make it work for their particular situation. I hope that by profiling different people biking with their kids around the Portland area, more neighbors will be encouraged to give it a try.

Please let me know if you want to be profiled. Or if you want to nominate a friend you think will be receptive. I look forward to learning more about you and sharing your voice here on BikePortland!

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

— 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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B. Carfree
B. Carfree
5 years ago

Of course I remember the first time I saw a family riding bikes together. It was almost fifty years ago and it was my family in the (L)East Bay. That was back in the biggest bike boom in US history, so it seemed like almost everyone who was at all capable got onto a bike at least a wee bit back then. Some of us were just too lazy to ever get off. 🙂

Chris I
Chris I
5 years ago

My earliest memories of a family biking was biking with my family, on the Willamette greenway trail. I feel fortunate to have been born into a “biking family”. If only more Americans were so lucky.

Kyle Banerjee
5 years ago

“Do you remember the first time you saw a family biking together?”

I’m not sure I do — it might not have been until I moved to Portland just a few years ago where I see it all the time.

I never cycled with my family and didn’t ride much with my 3 brothers who were also very independent. There are still no bike lanes or shoulders on the roads my bros and I took, the cars still move fast (never ever saw a patrol on many of these roads) and all four of us are still bike commuters.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t see families riding together when I was growing up or in other places I’ve lived. It just wasn’t something people did.

I don’t feel like I missed anything and think it’s less likely I’d ride now if I had that experience. Everyone needs their own reasons to ride, cycling as a “thing” never appealed to me even though I ride almost every day, and I would have found most of what’s intended to be encouragement outright depressing.

5 years ago

I don’t have a memory of seeing a family ride for the first time, but I do remember riding bikes with me parents as kids. Biking wasn’t a thing back then and my parents were generally very car-centric, but we did do family trips together and that is a very fond memory I have. What’s interesting to me is that this was enough for me to become an everyday bike rider; I biked sporadically during high school, more regularly during college (not having a car saved money) and then integrated it into my life style in my 30s. So I think, just showing my children that biking is an option is a great gift to give to them — whether or not they will pick it up as adults is up to them but they understand its benefits.