We had so much fun with our profile of Kathleen Youell last week that we’ve decided to do another one.
Some of you wondered whether or not Kathleen continues to ride through the rain and cold of winter, so I’ve decided to ask all future profile subjects about how they deal with weather. And just for the record, Kathleen doesn’t buy a car each winter, she keeps biking!
This week we chat with Sara Schooley, a mom of two little ones who lives in north Portland.
➤ Tell us a little about yourself and your family:
I’m mom in a family of four and we live in the Overlook Neighborhood. We have two kiddos – Tobin (2) and Holly (4). Jonathan (dad) works in Vancouver for the Forest Service. I work as a part-time bike and pedestrian planner for Toole Design Group downtown. Both of our kids are in daycare downtown near my work and are off with me on Tuesdays and Fridays.
➤ What type of bike do you ride?
The one I use 99 percent of the time is my Ezee Expedir cargo bike with the two Yepp seats on the back. We use the bike every day to get to school or activities (Jonathan takes our car to work in Vancouver), so we attach a double trailer to the back in the rain/cold. With the trailer, it’s ridiculously long, but keeps everybody happy, dry, and warm. Holly has recently taken off her training wheels and is getting more confident on her bike. So for trips under two miles, she’s started biking on her own bike next to me!
I used to ride a Jamis Coda, but after two many sweaty, pregnant rides up the Interstate Avenue hill and becoming the kids’ primary drop-off/pick-up person (Jonathan used to work downtown), I decided to get an e-bike. It’s been a complete game-changer. I sometimes use the Coda when it’s just me, but I rarely feel that it’s just me anymore. And, besides, e-biking is so much fun.
I also have by 15-year-old Raleigh road bike that I use for triathlons. Nothing fancy, but it gets me places faster than the Coda.
➤ Is there something you wish you had known before you took your first pedal stroke as a family biker that would have made things easier?
Take the lane if you feel unsafe. Drivers are usually pretty nice when they see two kids on the bike, and a four-foot bike lane can feel squished when you’re trying to pack so many people (and all their stuff) on the bike. Also, always have snacks and water. Paper and markers have also saved a ride once or twice!
In addition, when you’re on the bike, everything that’s happening on the bike is public knowledge. I’ve had my fair share of bike rides home from daycare with a screaming child because she missed her nap. I hope this doesn’t wreck anybody else’s day, but it’s a different feel than when you’re in a car and have your own soundproof bubble. But then there are other glorious times where there are two kids singing and giggling on the back of the bike — I know this makes peoples’ day when we ride by them.
➤ Tell us about a typical ride you take in Portland:
Our main ride is to and from work and school, from home to downtown. We take Interstate Ave through the Rose Quarter and then I give the kids the choice of the Waterfront Path, Better Naito, or the “bumpy path” (a.k.a. the Eastbank Esplanade). At the moment, the kids are always choosing the bumpy path. Then we go over the Hawthorne Bridge before I drop them off near the Keller [Auditorium]. From there, I bike north about seven blocks to my office.
Peninsula Park Center is our other main destination — we go there a few times a week for classes. We have a couple routes to get there, either up the Michigan Neighborhood Greenway, up Interstate, or, if Holly is biking on her own, we use Commercial.
Our other main trips are in north or northeast Portland to friends’ houses, parks, or general recreation.
➤ Can you share an especially memorable ride you recently took?
Maybe it’s because it’s so recent, but Holly’s first bike ride to Peninsula Community Center on her own bike was pretty awesome. She’s generally a super cautious and emotional child, and she was getting nervous starting her bike at the intersections after stopping and even tipped over a couple of times. But she was so determined and proud when she got there! Drivers were also so kind and patient as she started and crossed — we had a couple of folks applaud and cheer, which just made her day.
The first-time riding with both kids on the back of the bike was pretty great too. Hearing their chatter and pointing out things around them is hilarious (boats are popular, as is the Unipiper), and I’m so glad they think that riding around town like that is the “normal” thing to do!
➤ If there was one piece of bike infrastructure (street, intersection, bike rack, etc) you use regularly that you could change to improve your life, what would it be?
Going south on Interstate has some pinch points where we have to take the lane. Usually there’s a gap to slide in, but there have been a couple of times where those big trucks seem pretty close.
Bike parking is also tricky. I used to work for the City of Portland and there was limited parking space for cargo/long bikes — we were all pretty much crammed into one parking space (hopefully this will change with the upgrade of the Portland building!). Where I work now, we have a bike room, but you have to go up two short zigzag flights of stairs to get in there. I don’t think it’s great for anybody, but it definitely doesn’t work for my huge bike. At the moment, I park it in a parking garage across the street where it’s covered and there’s an outlet (to charge it if need be), but I’d love to have space in my building. That said, I used to do vehicle parking policy work, so realize that you can’t always park where you want to.
➤ Have you biked in other cities and how did it compare?
I started biking in college in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, at Michigan Tech. We were covered in snow for much of the year, but they sanded the roads, so we found that biking with zip-ties on our tires worked well. It was also a super-safe place theft-wise, so we could leave our bikes wherever all over the town without a lock. I routinely leaned mine against a random tree near campus (but a little bit off campus, so I didn’t have to bike up a hill on my way home). The only time it got moved was when my parents were visiting and thought that somebody stole it, so put it in the back of their car. Getting your bike stolen it just a horrible feeling (it’s happened to me a couple of times since), and I miss this sense of security so much!
I’ve biked to work in Milwaukee, WI and Norfolk, VA, and Eugene, OR when I went there for grad school. Milwaukee and Norfolk were horrible to bike in at the time — there weren’t any bike lanes, and not much of a bike culture, so people never knew how to react. I always biked as if nobody could see me and assumed that everybody was a terrible driver.
Eugene was a drastic improvement in biking, and it was so easy to get everywhere. I especially loved how easy it was to get to country roads on your bike. We can still do that in Portland, but you usually have to bike along a less-comfortable road (e.g., HWY 30) to get to the beauty.
I’ve also biked in cities where I’ve played tourist (Paris, London, Athens, San Francisco, DC, NYC), but I think Portland is still where I feel most comfortable.
➤ What about rain/snow/wind/extreme heat? Do you bike in less-than-ideal conditions?
I’m from the Midwest, so extreme weather is in my blood. In rain and cold, I hook up our double trailer and load the kids in there with blankets. For the super cold, dry weather we got a few years ago, we would also stash a couple of hot water bottles in the trailer to keep it cozy warm. For the heat, we bike just like normal, enjoy any breeze we can get, bring water, and — props again to the e-bike — don’t sweat any more than we would if we were walking.
I did bike once in the snow (I got caught downtown) and, while not ideal, we ended up getting home before most people. That said, I prefer not to bike in the snow. The City’s still figuring out how to deal with snow and on roads that have been plowed, everything gets shoved into the bike lanes (gravel, snow chunks, ice), people are generally bad drivers in snow, and we do live close to train and bus lines. I do love biking, but I also like being reasonable.
➤ What’s your best piece of advice to pass along to BikePortland readers?
I’ve been enjoying reading about the emergence of e-bikes and how people feel about them in the bike community. Given my life/work situation, I would probably still be biking even if I didn’t have an e-bike, but I definitely wouldn’t be having as much fun or going as many places with my kids, or might even consider getting a second vehicle. I’d also be super sweaty all the time hauling 80 pounds of kids and their stuff around.
I think the cycling community disregards personal appearance and wanting biking to be “easy” as real barriers to biking. As a parent, looking put together helps me keep just a bit of my sanity when the kid melts down because there (maybe?) is something in their shoe. And being a working mom (or, frankly, any mom/parent) is hard enough. I don’t need transportation to make things harder.
E-bikes are a great opportunity for parents (and others) to start biking and get the fresh air, community, and physical activity benefits. If there are any parents out there who are interested in making the jump, just try it out for a few days (you can rent from my favorite store, The eBike Store). You’ll be sold, I’m sure of it!
Thank you for sharing your story Sara. And thanks to you all for reading. We’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to profile families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in being profiled. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.
Browse past Family Biking posts here.
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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.