Learning to ride (smarter) at a bike commuter clinic

people sitting in a park listening to someone speak
Madi Carlson with The Street Trust led a commuter clinic in Holladay Park Tuesday evening. (Photos: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland)

“There is always a new tip you can pick up.”

– Armando Luna

Portland-based nonprofit The Street Trust wants to make bike commuters out of as many people as possible, and through their clinics, wannabe commuters can get a rundown of what they need to know to start biking in Portland.

Yesterday evening, I rode to Holladay Park to attend a commuting workshop led by The Street Trust’s Community Engagement Manager (and local carfree icon) Madi Carlson. I was surprised by the range of Portland bike experience from attendees – while there were several people who are very new to the local bike scene, many people who joined the group are very regular Portland cyclists.

Attendee Matt Browning is on the far side of that spectrum – he just moved to Portland from Salt Lake City two weeks ago. Browning was excited to move to Portland, where it’s feasible and popular to commute by bike, so he could exchange his long, arduous driving commute for a short bike trip from the the Hollywood neighborhood to the Lloyd District. But he thought he could use a refresher course, so after seeing this clinic on the calendar, he decided to check it out as his first bike event as a Portlander.

“I didn’t bike regularly in Salt Lake City,” Browning told me. “Hearing the information about bike etiquette [at The Street Trust clinic] was really helpful.”

For the more experienced bike commuters in the group, this workshop was a chance to show support to people newer to hitting the pavement by bike. And, hey – who says you can’t learn new tricks?

“Even being a ‘seasoned’ commuter, there is always a new tip you can pick up,” Armando Luna, one of Portland’s most prolific cyclists, told me. “Most helpful is hearing what other riders do for their commutes. You might find out about bike lockers in your area, or a repair station you didn’t know was there. Bike info is always changing and it’s best to get it from the folks who are biking.”

My personal bike skills have mostly been acquired by trial-and-error, a tactic that certainly has its place but is best supplemented by at least a little bit of “formal” learning. But even though I have developed a method for getting around the city that works well for me, I agree that there’s always something new to pick up. If I’d heard Carlson’s advice for crossing rails perpendicularly, for instance, I might not have wiped out a few weeks ago after getting my tire stuck in the MAX tracks.

Other topics covered at the clinic included bike laws (lights aren’t just a safety precaution – they’re legally required), etiquette (use hand signals and yield to pedestrians), gear suggestions and more. It was especially helpful to hear about some of the infrastructure you might see riding around Portland, some of which took me quite a while to figure out how to use. For instance, Carlson discussed Copenhagen-style two-stage left turn boxes, which are pretty unique to Portland in North America. These help people riding bikes so they can turn left at a signal without having “take the lane” and share space with car traffic. If you see one on your route, it’s nice to know what it is and how to use it!

A bike turn box on NE Lloyd Blvd I saw on my way home from the clinic.

Carlson told me she thinks these introductory clinics are a way to inform people about the benefits and how-tos of cycling in an approachable way, and she hopes they can help some people make the switch from driving cars to work.

“In the face of rising gas prices and truncated transit service, bicycle commuting offers an affordable, accessible travel solution for all types of people. We want to support them in learning more about how to enjoy safe and comfortable bike commuting in all seasons,” Carlson said.

You don’t always get a chance to learn this directly, and when there’s an opportunity to get a lesson from the legendary Madi Carlson, I recommend you take it. Keep an eye on The Street Trust’s calendar for announcements on the next clinic.

And check out our guide to cycling in Portland from a few months ago. No gatekeepers allowed here – anyone can start biking in Portland, and the more the merrier. There are many people and groups who would love to be your guides.

Speaking of guides, browse the handy leaflets created by The Street Below for your own primer/refresher course.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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David Hampsten
1 year ago

If I remember correctly, Portland got the bike box idea from the blue ones in Victoria BC, which in turn was influenced by red ones in the UK – or was it from a city staff junket to Amsterdam? They are now so common that even cities in North Carolina have them as well as Chicago & DC.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Reply to  David Hampsten

bike box idea came from Amsterdam/Copenhagen. And yes we know they are all over the US. In this post we are specifically referencing the two-stage left-turn boxes.

David Hampsten
1 year ago

I get that, I used the two-stage left turns in downtown Chicago in 2017, but I never saw them in the Netherlands, so they must be relatively new (I was last there in 2013 in Maastrict and Utrecht, but not Amsterdam). I did however see them in the UK about 20 years or so ago, in York.

1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The two stage left turn is known as the Copenhagen left.

This type of delay-centric infrastructure is rare in the Netherlands because many people who roll there tend to be uninterested in strictly following the “rules of the road” (a very good thing, IMO).


I’ve mentioned before that I’m less than enthralled with what I’ve seen of Copenhagen’s cycling infrastructure. Here’s another example – the “Copenhagen Left”.

It’s explained thus: “As a general rule in Denmark, cyclists are required to make a wide left turn where they cross the perpendicular street and wait to cross the original one. The space between the crosswalk and bike lane becomes a waiting area for the cyclists turning left. Those who are continuing straight are supposed to stop before the crosswalk.”. Two-stage turns are neither efficient nor safe for cycling.

Jakob Bernardson
Jakob Bernardson
1 year ago

Nice work from Madi.

A good reference text would be “The Art of Urban Cycling” by Robert Hurst.

1 year ago

For anyone who wants to learn how to navigate urban streets without or with infrastructure, I agree that Robert Hurst’s “The Art of Cycling” is indispensable. However, much of the advice in this book is very different from that covered in The Street Trust clinic.

For example:

Beyond Vehicular Cycling.

… few experienced cyclists, even those who are vocal proponents of vehicular-cycling dogma, apply it consistently …

They’re not above using an empty sidewalk if it happens to ease their travels. They roll through stop signs, treat red lights like yield signs, and filter past lines of stopped cars in traffic jams and at intersections. Not very vehicular of them. That’s the reality of cycling today. If cyclists were to suddenly start living by the vehicular principle in all situations, disregarding the special privileges and de facto rules they have built for themselves over the decades, the advantages of riding a bike in the city would be gutted.


The Invisible cyclist

No matter how much tinsel and ornamentation we attach to ourselves, no matter how many flashing beacons we strap to our backsides, no matter what previously unseen degree of neon insanity we manage to surpass in our jersey selection, some drivers continue to look right through us, as if we were—that’s right—invisible…It’s better to stubbornly assume that we are unseen…


Running Green Lights

Now consider, if you will, the common American bicycle messenger. The veterans of this nearly extinct species, when the bike delivery business was booming in the dot com era, were likely to bust through one hundred or more red lights in a workday. If anyone was in a position to find out just how dangerous it is to break the law while riding bikes in the city, it was these guys and gals; and yet evidence suggests that experienced messengers had

far lower accident rates than typical adult cyclists, and almost never got hit while running red lights.


The Myth of Lane Ownership

It is a common belief among cyclists, and even among drivers, that cyclists have “the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.” …The artful bicyclist rarely needs to commandeer an entire lane in front of faster traffic, is comfortable riding in tight spaces, and rarely feels threatened—physically or psychologically—by passing vehicles. Indeed the artful bicyclist rarely affects the flow of motor traffic in any significant way, is rarely put out by it, and moves with effortlessness in heavy traffic that the habitual lane takers can only dream about.


Eye Contact, Stop Signs, and Fake Right Turns

Some cyclists have so much faith in the concept of eye contact with motor-ists that they end up confused and bitter. It’s sad to watch. They’re out there, riding along, doing no harm to anyone, and duly making eye contact with all drivers who represent a direct threat to their well-being. And yet some of these drivers still pull out right in front of them.