Family Biking: What’s under our tree this year?

(Photo: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Our first Christmas after I began biking with my kids was particularly special: every kid got a “new” (used) bike. I loved seeing the brightly colored bikes all lined up in the living room, circled around the tree. It was a happy moment, filled with the joy of the memories we’d made, and the rides we were looking forward to. It was a celebration that my newfound joy of biking was also a joy for my children, a joy and gift that we could share together. Furthermore, I was 9 months pregnant that Christmas, due any day, and seeing the array of little bikes under the tree gave me hope for our family’s coming year, as they were a vivid commitment that we would keep riding, even after a new baby joined our crew.

That first magical year of our biking journey!

Of course, we do a lot of bike hand-me-downs, so our tree doesn’t get to be adorned with new bikes every year. But biking gifts are a holiday staple. I don’t want to suggest we need new bike gear every year; but when bike-related gifts feature under our tree, they are a representation of how much of a gift biking is for us, and how committed we are to continuing to bike as our family grows and changes each year.

Most of these items are not cheap, and I feel badly about that, because I know it sucks to see things and not be able to pay for them. Maybe our family biking allows us to save enough on gas to pay for this stuff. I don’t know for sure. But I know that biking has been such an improvement to our lives (especially to my life as a mother) that it’s worth investing in, as much as we can manage (and so much better than video games!). Often, we make do with what we can (look for a “DIY” post coming next year) because we can’t afford all the cool gear I would love to have. But we also have found that quality gear and upgrades have been worthwhile, and have helped us bike more, bike farther, and bike happier. 

So, what bike stuff do we have under our tree this Christmas? What are we looking forward to using this coming year? How will we improve our family biking? (And what did we open early because we couldn’t wait? Notice: I opened all my bike-related gifts early!)

The Big Gift

It can tote bikes or whatever else.

Bakkie Pannier Bag

I had been trying to figure out how some of you bike folk tow other bikes behind your bike, and I hadn’t managed to figure out the system. Then a reader from the Netherlands suggested I add the Bakkie Pannier Bag to my post about toting strollers, as they are popular in Dutch Bakfiets circles.

Apparently, this Bakkie bag can do just about anything. Tow a stroller, a bike, a guitar. Maybe it will carry next year’s Christmas tree! I put it on my wishlist and was trying to convince my husband of its usefulness, as my six-year-old listened in. He really wants to ride his own bike, but he gets tired, and then he wants to climb into the bike box, but we need a way to carry his bike the rest of the way home. My little guy got so excited about this bike bag invention that he then put it on his Christmas list, so that he can go on more rides on his own bike, and then have Mommy tow it home when he gets tired. He’s been pestering us about it regularly. It’s on his list, in case we forgot. Shhhhhh. It’s here, waiting under the tree for him. 

For my oldest independent rider (age 10): Showers Pass Jacket

My oldest son rides himself to swim practice every day, and otherwise keeps up with me wherever I am riding. He’s been my steadfast, cheerful, determined companion these last three years of family biking, and I think he’s earned some quality bike-specific gear. Unfortunately, he prefers all-black clothing (not good for night-time biking), so this bright (“firecracker”) Little Crossover Jacket from Showers Pass might not be an immediate favorite; but I’m hoping it’s quality and functionality — and actual coolness — will win him over.

(Kid Biking Gloves: My independent riders need warm gloves every bit as much as I do. I don’t see the famous Showers Pass Knit Waterproof gloves in kid sizes, so I’m still on the hunt. Does anyone have kid bike glove recommendations?)

Gifts we opened early

Bern helmets

Bern gifted us amazing helmets to try, and I didn’t even know I could be so excited about headgear. (Look for a longer helmet post coming soon). I admit I would not have thought to upgrade our helmets, but we were overdue to improve our helmet situation and if you have daily helmet troubles with unhappy kids, I would totally recommend you go to the store and try out some new helmets to get a great fit (and a happy kid).

My kids love their new helmets so much, they are really excited to wear them. See below for what we are loving about our new helmets. 

My 6-year-old son, who usually cries about his helmet and never has it on properly, was so happy about his new Brentwood helmet from Bern that he said, “I could wear this every day, all the time, and I would never ever get tired of it!” He absolutely loves the brim, “It’s sunny and I can see and the sun doesn’t go in my eyes, and mom, I want to wear this every time!” And the “compass fit” is a real winner. It’s easy to adjust over his thick hair, with a winter hat, or without a hat. He’s so excited, and I’m so excited. No more helmet tears or fights about wearing it right or tightening it enough. It’s snug, secure, comfortable, and even adds extra functionality with the brim for sun/rain. And my kid couldn’t stop raving about it. He was so happy to finally have a helmet that fit comfortably. 

Momma happily opened the new Hudson e-bike rated helmet because I sincerely hope I never have to find out how amazingly protective this helmet is. But it feels incredible. The fit is amazing. The brim is fantastic. There is a plug-in blinky red light that pops into the back of the helmet, which I really like. And my favorite part: It has a winter liner underneath.

Bike liner (a winter under-helmet-hat)

Bern’s “cold weather bike liner upgrade” which is basically a winter cap designed to fit snugly under a helmet — without the bulk and “roll” of traditional winter hats. My husband really liked borrowing this liner–which fit great under his cheap non-bern helmet. He even showed it off to his cyclist coworkers, who were all interested. 

At last: I have a solution to the hat/hood/helmet issue: I love my wool hat, and I like my rain cape and rain coat with hoods, but I can never quite get everything to fit together. The hat is bulky under the helmet. The hood doesn’t fit well under the helmet. I’m always adjusting. Bern’s winter liner and helmet with brim are the perfect combination for getting the hat-brim-helmet to fit together. And the helmet’s compass-fit adjuster makes everything fit perfectly. I was so happy from the moment I put this on. Definitely not waiting until Christmas to start enjoying these!

Vessi waterproof boots

After I asked for a “rainy lifestyle shoe” that I could wear to the puddle-covered playground, BikePortland readers responded with useful suggestions. After considering the highly recommended Blundstones, I opted for Vessi boots, a more casual option recommended by a commenter, and so far I am loving it. I wear these every day. 

WoolX Merino Wool Leggings

These WoolX leggings are super-warm 85% Merino wool leggings, and I wish I had more pairs (they even have Tall sizing). They are really warm, really thick–but still soft and stretchy, and I was completely comfortable wearing them on a lightly rainy ride, and I stayed warm and comfortable with damp wool pants when I reached my destination. This was another package I opened immediately, and I am so glad I did. These are admittedly expensive, so one is all I can get. Fortunately, they can tumble dry, so I don’t have to worry about shrinking them.

Maybe next year?

I definitely don’t “need” another rain cape/poncho/jacket, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to try something different. These coats from Amsterdam-based ByBrown are more like a rain-dress-meets-rain cape-chaps combo. And I think the hood is adjustable, so that it can go over-top a helmet, which is intriguing. It just looks fantastic, like it’s waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

We wish all of you, dear biking friends, a Happy Holiday. We hope you are able to ride cheerfully through the winter drear, and that your destinations are warm and cozy. We look forward to sharing our New Year’s biking resolutions and making plans for new bike adventures in the coming year. Merry riding everyone!

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

What most folks will actually get (even in Portland):
-Walmart, Costco & Target specials, Next, Magna, Pacifica, Murray, Huffy, and various other foreign knock-offs with plastic headsets, thread-on disc brakes with freewheels, cranks with reverse threading, and the cheapest parts mix from Shinano (one of numerous Shimano look-alikes). None worth repairing, and some are in fact unrepairable.
-Next time you are in a Walmart, take a look at the tools and parts available – yes, there really are tools and parts – some of them might even be useful.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Curious about “cranks with reverse threading.” Do you mean one-piece steel cranks with left-handed race/lockring threads on the left side (that old, rugged but heavy standard dating to pre-war in the U.S.)? Or something else?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago
Reply to  360Skeptic

Something else. You know how a standard crank set has standard threads on the left (adjustable) cup and reverse threading on the right-hand (fixed cup) on the bottom bracket? And similar threading for the pedals? We’ve all gotten used to the direction of that threading. Now imagine if you will a Chinese manufacturer who decides to make cheap cranks that reverses all that threading 180 degrees – when you think you are loosening the pedal, you are now tightening it, likely destroying the crank. Next time I’m at our community bike coop I can get you the brand name of this evil company.

Matt
Matt
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I’ve worked on plenty of bicycle-shaped objects professionally, and I don’t believe you. Right-hand threaded (both sides) bottom brackets are still found on some Italian bikes. But right-hand threaded pedals (both sides) were literally made obsolete by the Wright Brothers, before they moved on to aircraft manufacturing.

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Eek!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

My next order to Bike24 in Dresden will include several bike tubes with Dunlop valves, the world’s most common valve type and easiest to use with a Presta pump – just unscrew the dust cover, attach the pump with the clamp, pump to the desired pressure, unclamp, put the dust cap back on. Aside from the optional dust cap, nothing to screw in or out. The tubes go on any rim that is drilled for Schrader.

EP
EP
6 months ago

I’m tempted by a bakkie bag but scoff at the price but then think of making my own and nothing has happened so I may indeed just buy one!

Vans
Vans
6 months ago

Great work Shannon, getting the kids onboard is Jedi level stuff. It’s always amazing when something “clicks” literally and figuratively into place. You wonder how you ever got along without it.

R
R
6 months ago

I’m pretty car dependent these days and can’t justify a proper family bike as a second bike but my toddler is going to be getting his own helmet and trailer for Christmas as a compromise to facilitate fun father/son adventures. He’s used to seeing daycare friends getting picked up on a variety of bikes and has been asking to ride with me for the last year or so. This is probably a bridge to a tagalong trailer in a couple of years. A balance bike will be under the tree at his mother’s house too.