Family Biking: Can’t ride? What’s your backup plan?

Used the school bus for the first time yesterday!
(Photo: Madi Carlson)

What’s your backup plan when you can’t bike somewhere with your kids?

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I jinxed myself by deciding on this topic last week and woke up sick Monday morning. I biked with my 4th grader one mile to Woodstock Elementary School for his 8:15 a.m. bell, but didn’t feel up to biking four miles to escort my 6th grader to his middle school’s (Hosford) 9:15 a.m. start time.

Enter, the school bus!

The middle school bus is very convenient — it picks up two blocks away from our house and we didn’t even need to sign up for it, just show up when you want to take it. This first time I walked with him and got the lay of the land from two of his last-year classmates who ride regularly (pro tip: try to sit by the front because the 8th graders sit in the back and play bad music and scream about boys when the bus goes by the high school, and the trip home is much worse than the trip in).

I got my work shift covered and slept all day, energetic enough to fetch my 4th grader at 2:30 p.m. and learn that he wants to start biking home alone this week — yay! Less to worry about for future sick days. Then I towed my 6th grader’s bike to middle school (cargo bikes are very handy, even when kids are mostly pedaling on their own) to meet him at 3:45 p.m.

He said the bus wasn’t too bad, but he doesn’t want to take it again…maybe to avoid hail, but not to avoid rain. I figure if there’s ever snow on the ground that feels too difficult to bike through, school will be canceled. So it’s not an all-encompassing backup plan, but it worked for Monday and should work in the future.


So what’s your backup plan?

Driving is one pretty obvious answer, and I’d love to hear how you cars work for your family. What any other systems you’ve got in place? E-scooters? Biketown? Last year my neighbor offered to drive the kids to school if it ever rained (he didn’t know us very well back then), so carpooling is another option. Or public transportation. If I didn’t have a cargo bike, I could have pedaled my middle schooler’s bike to him and then rented myself an e-scooter to zoom home beside him.

Please share your backup plans in the comments! I’ll share some in a future post if there’s enough interest.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. 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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5 years ago

We walked to school preschool through 5th. Now we have to get downtown from nopo and my daughter is firmly against biking because there are no safe route. I tried to figure out a couple of routes that might possibly be comfortable, but I am afraid she is correct- all the routes have super sketchy and uncomfortable sections. So, we carpool; sometime by MAX but mostly n cars. I occasionally pick up and I ride my bike to her school and we walk to the MAX. I was pretty hopeful about getting a tandem, but I am now resigned to the car life. Instead of a tandem, we may actually be buying a bigger car! talk about feeling defeated.

B. Carfree
B. Carfree
5 years ago
Reply to  maxD

We’ve taken to calling this the pretzel problem. Most cities are set up such that you can ride in most of the city (the open part of the pretzel), but have those sketchy sections (the dough of the pretzel) that prevent many people from being able to use bikes to move between the good sections.

As long as we continue to prioritize car speeds and convenience over everything else, the pretzel problem will remain in place.

5 years ago

It gets easier once kids get into high school because PPS HS student i.d.s also function as Trimet passes. This gives kids the opportunity to get around independently andis outstanding public policy (PPS does have buses for certain situations, but why run ones that duplicate Trimet routes?). My son is in his first year at Grant High School, which, due to the school’s ongoing renovation, is presently housed on the Marshall campus in SE PDX. Along with many, many of his classmates, he takes a Greenline MAX train to and from school. From the first week of the term, he took advantage of having a pass to go shopping, get to soccer practice, etc. It has been great!

5 years ago

Like Trebor, it’s so much easier once the kids get a TriMet pass. My kid will sometimes ride the bus or his bike one way and then do the alternate another way (especially if he needs to get to an event after school faster than the bus will get him there). That said, we did find the school bus to be a great option in middle school, though it was often very, very late on the route we were on (aka, the kids got to school late regularly).

5 years ago

Plan B for when the 13 year old isn’t up to task for the 7 miles to NoPo is to put him in the cargo bike. Other times, he manages to score a ride in a car home and I either ghost ride his bike or put that into the cargo bike, depending on which rig I’m rolling that day.
Plan C is rail but that becomes an epic endeavor adding over an hour with a 30 minute walk to Kenton, then the Max.