Family biking profile: Elizabeth Decker has rediscovered the fun

Elizabeth and Zaiden on their Yuba Boda Boda midtail cargo bike.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Thanks for all your comments on last week’s post. This week we’ve got another reader profile to share…

Elizabeth Decker is relatively new to family biking and she does it with an infectious glee that’s not uncommon. Because, as many of you already know, biking with a kid in tow really is one of the funnest things a mom can do.

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

My husband Jamyang, my nearly two-year-old daughter Zaiden and I live near Woodstock. I grew up in Portland and moved to southeast as an adult. I run my own consulting business as an urban planner, and my husband works out at Intel. I have some background bike commuting years ago, when I lived only a few miles from work and didn’t have a car. I kept biking regularly for several years while I was in grad school at PSU, but eventually we got two cars and I had a job in downtown Vancouver, and it just became easier to drive everywhere. With Zaiden, I want to make sure she understands that there are transportation alternatives just as a normal part of life, and for her and myself, I didn’t want to set patterns of driving everywhere.

What type of bike do you use?

“Biking with Zaiden has helped me rediscover biking from her perspective and to reconnect to the neighborhood.”

We just got a ‘family bike’ this spring after a many-year hiatus from biking. We have a Yuba Boda Boda with a kid seat on the back, and it is the best! I love that it feels both sturdy but also very “bike-like,” in that it handles like you would expect a regular bike to. Riding up hills for example: it’s hard, but just as hard as a regular bike, not significantly harder. I like having Zaiden close so we can sing and chit-chat during the ride; I didn’t like the idea of having her back in a trailer, and I was concerned about how a bike would handle pulling a trailer. We also appreciate that the bike is sized so that it works for my husband, me, and one of Zaiden’s caregivers, so that we can swap out. We have dubbed it the ‘JETmobile,’ since JET is our family acronym (from a combination of our first and middle names) and also the name of my business, JET Planning.

Comfy kid seat on the sturdy JETmobile.

I have been surprised how fun biking is this time around, so much so that I went ahead and bought a new bike for myself this month for solo commuting, on the days that someone else is biking Zaiden on the JETmobile. I got a modern incarnation of a mixte, a used bike that was a fantastic Craigslist find from the original owner (not stolen). I love that it reminds me of my first commuter bike, a 1970s Motobecane mixte that had belonged to my mom when she was in college in Eugene, complete with a City of Eugene bike license.

What were your expectations about family biking and how has your experience compared?

“One thing that has surprised me is how nice everyone is, both other drivers and bikers.”

From my years bike commuting in my 20s and as a semi-aggressive pedestrian, I am not the most cautious bike rider. I almost never ride on sidewalks, I prefer greenways but can take a lane if needed, I’ll edge out into intersections to get drivers to recognize me, and momentum really leads to a lot of Idaho stops. I thought I would reform all those behaviors when biking with Zaiden on board, but it hasn’t been as much a change as I thought. I do think through our routes a lot more, both to find quieter routes off main streets and to find fewer hills. One other thing that has surprised me is how nice everyone is, both other drivers and bikers. More of them yield to me than I expected, which can be tricky in its own way if it’s an uncontrolled intersection but I smile, accept graciously and proceed with caution.

I was really worried that Zaiden would hate being strapped into the bike seat, since she hasn’t historically been a fan of car seats or strollers. That was part of my preference to get a bike seat rather than a trailer, which seemed too similar to the stroller. But she has surprised me, and mostly enjoys riding on the bike with just a few grumbles on the way home from the park.

Along those lines, I have been surprised how much fun biking has been this time around. I had bike commuted for years and have kind of stoic, grim memories of it — I did it, it was a good thing to do for the environment and traffic etc, but I didn’t love it and I definitely have unpleasant memories of dark, cold rides, or even being pooped on by pigeons mid-ride. Obviously my views are colored now by the fact that it is summer, but biking with Zaiden has helped me rediscover biking from her perspective and to reconnect to the neighborhood. It’s also surprisingly become my favorite form of exercise, which is a huge change for me as I have always preferred running and eschewed biking for anything other than strictly transportation purposes, but now as a busy mom it’s one of the easiest ways to work movement into my day.

Tell me about a typical ride you take in Portland.

Our primary commuting route is Woodstock to Sellwood. Right now I take Zaiden there once a week to see grandparents, and starting in the fall she will be going to preschool there several days a week. We spent a lot of time looking for a preschool that was close by, which was part of my motivation to finally get a family bike because I hope to set good habits for our school commute! I also just moved my office to southeast Portland, finally, so I have the opportunity for a much easier commute from home to work, or even a grand tour from home to preschool and then on to work. I have experimented to find a route that has the least amount of traffic and the least hills, and settled on 41st Avenue south from Holgate to Glenwood, Glenwood through Eastmoreland, then we have to get on Bybee to cross over the rail lines in the bike lane, then a Copenhagen left onto the SE 19th St greenway, and then west on Umatilla to our destination. Most of the ride I am singing songs with Zaiden, some classics and some bike specials like ‘The Wheels on the Bike,’ and ‘I’m a Little Cargo Bike.’ It can be tough to sing and bike: that’s why one of the verses of The Wheels on the Bike is, “The mama on the bike goes huff puff puff, huff puff puff, huff puff puff, up all the hills…”

Thumbs down to strollers and car seats, but big thumbs up to the bike!

I also love the cargo bike for rides around the neighborhood, just the one or two mile trips to the park, grocery store, music class, or a friend’s house that are too far to walk with a toddler but annoying to have to drive. We do those kinds of trips multiple times per week and it so freeing! It would take a whole morning to do that kind of trip with the stroller, or I would feel bad about driving, and now we can just jump on the bike and go.

Tell me about an especially memorable ride in Portland.

Our first Sunday Parkways was pretty great, but one moment that really sticks with me was on the way home from Sellwood the first time we bike commuted there. I was headed up the hill going eastbound up to 41st, which is a real doozy since it’s a grind the whole way through Eastmoreland west to east, and I was on the toughest few blocks, between 37th and 39th. An older guy commuting home passed us slowly and asked, ‘Great bike, is it electric?’ When I said no, he told me, “You should go home tonight and look in the mirror and pat yourself on the back for powering that bike and that load up the hill!” It was surprisingly sweet and encouraging, rather than condescending, so I think of it when I am riding that hill every time now or other tough spots.


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?

“My current irritation is the ‘beg buttons’ for pedestrian/bike lights along greenways, since it can be tricky to pilot a big cargo bike right up to the curb and stop exactly where I can reach the button.”

My current irritation is the ‘beg buttons’ for pedestrian/bike lights along greenways, like the one to cross SE Tacoma on SE 19th Ave. My biggest annoyance is where the buttons are located on a pole on the sidewalk, since it can be tricky to pilot a big cargo bike right up to the curb and stop exactly where I can reach the button. Not to mention Zaiden really wants to press the button but just forget about trying to stop with her in a position where she can reach the button. I also feel like the waiting time for those lights could generally be shorter, if I got to remake the world.

Another minor irritation is the new crossing of the offset intersection at SE Holgate for bikes and peds on SE 41st/42nd. PBOT tried to make it better with some green paint and wands, but the bike space is along the curb and is tricky to navigate. I prefer the treatment at SE Stark and 41st, where the bike lanes are in the middle of the road. I guess that some people feel more safe on the side rather than in the middle with cars whizzing past on both sides, but being in the middle means that you have already crossed one lane of traffic and just have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear before turning left. With the curb-tight lane on Holgate, I’m stuck against the curb waiting for an opportunity to cross both lanes. Sure, the green cross-bikes might encourage some drivers to stop and yield, but they are overall confusing and I can’t count on anything. Plus with a cargo bike, there isn’t enough room to fully pivot the bike to face into the intersection, so I’m stuck at a 45-degree angle looking back over my shoulder to see if traffic is coming. So good try — I guess — to fix the intersection, but I’m not sure it’s a winner.

What about rain/snow/wind/extreme heat? Do you bike in less-than-ideal conditions?

Not yet because I’ve been blessed with two solid months of mild, dry weather here in Portland. It is enough to make me delusional about how fun and easy it is to bike everywhere! But I hope that I will have the fortitude to continue and am trying to build up good habits this summer to carry me into winter and rainy weather. I’m fairly tough from years of long-distance running in all kinds of weather, but the main differences are (a) I normally know I can come home and shower and rest at the end of a soaking run, rather than trying to get to work or other destinations; and (b) it’s just me choosing to subject myself to the conditions when I run, and I don’t know how Zaiden will handle it as a passenger. Though I have to admit that I have shied away from bike commuting this week of extreme heat, in part because I keep making excuses every day for why I need a car, whether to get to an evening meeting (a hazard of the planning profession), or to move more supplies into my new office.

What’s your best piece of advice to pass along to BikePortland readers?

Take the plunge! We were in a position where I wanted to try family biking, but we didn’t have the bikes that would work for it, I couldn’t find the bike we wanted available to rent or borrow, so I couldn’t see any other way to try out family biking without just buying the bike. Obviously this sounds privileged and we had to work out the financial piece, but for us the only way to start biking was, well, to start already. There weren’t any half measures. It was also helpful that we had thought out specific needs for biking in our lives, so we felt we had a minimum commitment to biking once we started, and we bought at a good time of year to enjoy “easy” summer biking as our first experience.

Thank you for sharing your story Elizabeth. 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.

— 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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Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
5 years ago

Is it possible to have an article about non-white women biking their kids around? The last several articles by Miss Carlson have all focused on a similar demographic.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Yes of course it is. We hear you and agree. Thanks for the feedback.

bearded guy
bearded guy
5 years ago

any maybe someone the live in outer NE/SE area..past the 205..
and who can afford to live in the woodstock area these days…

5 years ago

Being a mom is hard, however you look and wherever you live. Always glad to see moms and kids doing brave and amazing things on this blog. Thanks for sharing, Madi and Elizabeth. I am inspired!

Caitlin D
5 years ago

Yay, family biking! I love the story about the man who told Elizabeth she should be proud for powering up that big hill. Words of encouragement from strangers make things a little easier when I’m working hard on the bike (and in life!).

5 years ago

Crossing of SE 41st and SE Holgate is tricky for families, kids, and cargo bikes. I think putting in a rapid flash becon on both ends (SE 41st jogs a little at that intersection) or a complete traaffic light (similar to SE 41st at SE powell) would help. Though I’m not sure more interventions is needed or completely trying something else (like the SE stark middle turn lanes).

B. Carfree
B. Carfree
5 years ago

Riding a bike with a kid is also one of the funnest things a dad (grand-dad, grandma, uncle, aunt, cousin, neighbor…) can do too.

I bring it up because it looks to me like people get dogs just so they are forced to get outside daily. Perhaps we can change that up a bit and get people to go outside with children on bikes. They don’t have to be yours, you just need permission.

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
5 years ago