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Family Biking: Thoughts on carrying tweens and biking less

Our huge, once-a-year trip to the pumpkin farm.(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Our big, once-a-year trip to the pumpkin farm. And yes those are tweens. Deal with it.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

It’s been eye-opening and fun playing at being an electric cargo biking mom these last few weeks. Except for the “aren’t they old enough to be on their own bikes?” comments (here, not in person). And yes, they (my two boys) often ride their own bikes, but I’m borrowing an electric cargo bike so I’m putting them in the front box. We all think it’s fun.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

A few great articles about e-bikes came out in the Willamette Week. It’s true! Replacing cars with e-bikes is wonderful. One of the big advantages is how the motor can increase your range. But I wonder… Are there more people like me who strive to bring their life down to a smaller – more bikeable – scale, where an e-bike isn’t as necessary?

I constantly think about this Netherlands Bureau for Tourism tweet of nearly four years ago:

I bike over 600 miles in a month. A month! None of that is recreational riding, things I need to do are just more spread out here. Former BikePortland writer Michael Andersen broke it down in detail for PeopleForBikes last year: The best-kept secret of Dutch biking: the Dutch hardly bike at all. I’d like to get my miles down, too.

The Pleasant Revolution Biketopia Music Festival.

Most of our biking is to and from school and to and from work. Once a year we go bike camping as a family and once a year I go bike camping sans kids. We also bike to pumpkins once a year. That’s about it for big trips. They’re all fun and exhausting and not things we could manage in the spur of the moment or more than once each year. We gravitate to venues and events in our neighborhood and often skip fun things that aren’t close by.

Three years ago we watched the cargo-bike-powered Pleasant Revolution Biketopia Music Festival and I fell in love with their concept of challenging the idea that it’s inconvenient for a touring band to travel by bicycle. That’s exactly how our big trips feel: it’s not convenient to bike 15 miles to Boring (a city south of Portland) for pumpkins, but it’s such a treat that we can bike to a farm and I like that it’s an all-day excursion that leaves us too exhausted to carve our pumpkins once we make it back home.

Convenience shouldn’t be a metric we measure transportation by if we really care about driving less.


My kids are 12 and 10 and life seems quite different now than when I was that age. From ages eight to 17 I lived in Albany, California — a tiny city of five square walkable and bikeable miles. I walked four blocks to elementary school and biked or walked a mile to middle school. We often hung out at the shopping center in neighboring El Cerrito, 1.5 miles from home. We occasionally walked 2.5 miles to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. The flat 1.5 miles to El Cerrito Plaza felt easy and close, but the 2.5 hilly miles to Berkeley (too hilly to bike, we kids decided) felt enormous…but not inconvenient.

But more than the distances at which things are spaced in a city the size of Portland, cars are different now. We read about deadly SUVs in a BikePortland Monday Roundup a year ago. Not to mention the preponderance of people texting while behind the wheel. Every day I see people staring at phones while driving. I also see people in cars ignoring stop signs when they don’t see automobile cross-traffic and lots of driving above the speed limit. These things terrify me. I’m not terrified to the point I don’t want to bike with my kids (and choosing routes carefully makes a big difference!) but I feel less anxious when we’re all together and even less anxious when I’m piloting a bike with them as passengers.

Where were you at ages 12 and 10, and could you get around easily? Do you think it’s possible to bike less in Portland, or anywhere in America? For those of you putting bigger kids on cargo bikes, keep at it! I’m sorry for the few unsupportive comments on my recent posts and I hope you don’t feel deterred. Being able to carry kids by bike never gets old. I love that the e-assist and low center of gravity of the Urban Arrow allows me to tote my kids around again.

Here’s one last bit of inspiration in the form of the principles of the Pleasant Revolution bike-based music festival:

➤ slow is beautiful
➤ local is profound
➤ sustainable living is richer
➤ we can free ourselves from the culture of fear that drives our consumerism and apathy
➤ fundamental change is necessary and possible
➤ to change the world, we must change our own consciousness and lifestyle
➤ humanity now, perhaps more than in any previous time, has an opportunity to create a new, saner, more loving world
➤ the bicycles liberate

Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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