Site icon BikePortland

Family Biking: Finding a ‘me-bike’ and embracing beginners

Mike Patnude at WashCo Community Bike Shop is beginner-friendly.
(Photo: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

I’ve been trying to take lessons from my toddlers. They are never self-conscious about what they don’t know. Everything is new for them, and that makes life all the more exciting and full of wonder. They ask questions constantly, without any embarrassment. They are eager to learn, eager to try new things, and no amount of stumbling dampens their enthusiasm, at least not for more than a few seconds.

I love my big cargo bike, but riding it solo feels needlessly cumbersome, like pushing a double stroller around without any children or baggage.

I am trying to embrace such an attitude as I approach being new to biking, as a grown-up. I realize that I am never going to be getting any younger, and I don’t want my days of exploration, of learning, of trying new things, to be over, no matter how old I get. But it takes a little extra humility and effort. Because, for some reason, we adults get embarrassed a lot easier than toddlers. We tend to prefer what we know, what we are already good at, rather than starting fresh at 30 or 40 or 50 or even 70.

So I take a deep breath and push open the door to my local bike shop (WashCo Bikes in downtown Hillsboro). I want to buy a “me-bike.” That is, I’m looking for a bicycle just for myself, for those occasions where I am riding someplace on my own, without any kiddos in tow.

As a Momma new to family biking, I’ve been eagerly reading through Madi Carlson’s archive of Family Biking posts, which are a rich treasure trove of wisdom, tips, and practical help for family bikers. If it weren’t for that, I doubt it would have occurred to me that I would already want a second bicycle, just a few months after buying my first family bike. But Madi mentioned having such a me-bike herself in this invaluable post about finding the right saddle.

Immediately, I realized: I want a me-bike too! The idea had fluttered across my mind, but Madi made me feel not-crazy for pursuing it. I love my big cargo bike, but riding it solo feels needlessly cumbersome, like pushing a double stroller around without any children or baggage. When I’m just riding myself somewhere, I would rather have a leaner bike for that purpose. Also, I want to test out different family biking routes, without the children, to assess my confidence and the safety of various route options. I would prefer to test different routes on a “regular bike,” one that would, for example, allow me to hop up on the sidewalk if I became uncomfortable with traffic or road conditions. A me-bike would feel faster, easier, and more convenient for many trips, whether test runs, or personal errands or solo biking strolls for pleasure and exercise. Unlike most things in my Mom-life, it would be something for me, a bike for just me.


So that’s what brought me out to the bike shop, all by myself. With the cheerful help of the bike shop attendant (Mike, who makes me feel welcome, encourages my questions, and doesn’t make me feel dumb or silly, despite all my fretting) I think I’ve found what I want: a bargain hybrid bike that’s affordable, lightweight, and the proper height. It looks like a great deal, a great fit. I take it for a test ride…and then I’m not sure. The bike seat needs to be raised, and I hate the feel of the saddle; it’s totally uncomfortable. When I return, Mike asks, “How’d it go?”

Again, for silly reasons, I’m nervous to talk about things I don’t know anything about. But I decide to be like a toddler and just say what’s on my mind: “I don’t like the saddle, and I think it’s a bit low.”

The ever-generous Mike immediately takes me back to a wall of saddles. “Look these over and see which one you want to try,” he says. “If you don’t like the saddle, you won’t want to ride your bike, and then you won’t end up riding it. It’s really important to get a saddle that you like sitting on,” he affirms. Once again, I wouldn’t even have thought about switching the seat, had I not been reading Madi’s post about the saddle library.

After examining a number of seats, I take one that looks interesting (not knowing what I’m looking for, I decide to try the most-different-from-what-is-currently-on-the-bike option). I hand it to Mike who quickly gets to work switching the seat for me, then patiently adjusts the seat height to my preference. I get back on the bike: It feels like a totally different bike. With the new seat at the proper height, I love it immediately. I cruise around on a longer test run to be sure and confirm: this is saddle-love-at-first-ride. I found my me-bike.

Imitating the fearlessness of my toddlers, and utilizing the advice of my predecessor, I was able to have a positive experience while being new and otherwise insecure. Madi Carlson helped me solve a newbie biking problem (apparently it’s true: different butts like different seats! Your butt has to test different saddles to find the right fit for your own arse.) Best of all, I was warmly welcomed by Mike at my local bike shop, who took it as his job to provide whatever help and advice he could to get me out cycling.

If we want to increase family biking, and cycling in general, we need more Madis and Mikes in this world, helping the newbies. And us newbies have to learn how to be new at something: we have to ask questions, venture into unfamiliar territory, give it a try, then ask more questions and make changes, until we get it figured out. No sneaking away, giving up, or hiding with embarrassment. Remember: be brave like your toddler! The result can be as delightful and rewarding as riding a bike for the first time.