Bike trailer + scooters are winning combo for family biking fun

Group shot at start of Banks-Vernonia Trail.

Do you have any summer bike adventures planned with the little ones? Ready to put them in the trailer and go for a nice long ride?

There’s just one problem: those tots have lots of energy! None of which gets used during a trailer ride. Likely as not, they take a sweet nap in the trailer, leaving them with energy to burn when you’re ready for a rest. And as they get older, they’ll want to ride on their own, engaging actively alongside the rest of the family. Trail-a-bikes are a common option for this phase, but they might not work for everyone. Some folks have two tots to tote, which won’t fit a typical trail-a-bike or tandem. Also, what happens if a little one begins to nod off on the trail-a-bike? (Has that happened to anyone? I can imagine my tired kiddo just falling over.)

We recently discovered a happy, easy, and fun solution to this phase: scooters.

Our little ones are proficient scooter riders. They use lightweight three-wheeled scooters, which are easier for them to navigate than the “big kid” and slightly tippy two-wheeled options. They typically ride back-and-forth on the one block of sidewalk in front of our house. I rarely let them ride the scooters to the park because they are just too darn fast…it’s impossible to keep up with them walking, and I don’t like trying to coach them from a bike as they speed those little wheels past driveways, which pose a real danger to a two-foot-tall speedster. Thus, the scooter riding has largely been relegated to the sidewalk in front of our house, which gets plenty of daily use. 

But I didn’t really appreciate how fast, far, and long my little guys could scoot, until we tested them on a family bike ride with their grandparents.

We planned a morning of family biking on a car-free path. Grandpa offered to stay behind and walk with the scooter boys. My mom had seen them in action and laughed. “You better get a bike to ride, or you’ll never keep up,” she advised. It was true! My three and four year old boys happily scooter at a leisurely bike pace. They are flying, while grown-ups do a comfortable pedal. My boys scooted approximately four miles with us (with snacks and play breaks). Grandpa pulled an empty two-kid bike trailer, which also fit snacks and water bottles. 

When the little guys finally got worn out, we put them in the trailer for a ride, with their scooters easily tucked into the trailer’s trunk.

It was a fabulous, cheap, space-saving solution that allowed my boys to scooter to their heart’s content. They got to expend all of their energy (a benefit of incalculable value!) They got to enjoy the independence of propelling themselves on their own power. And when they got tired, it was easy to tow them and their scooters in the bike trailer. 

This is now a good family biking option for us, which works great for visits to carfree paths like the Banks-Vernonia Trail. It could also be great for parents who need to tow kids through high traffic areas, but then let them get out and ride their own scooters around parks and pathways. For summer bike vacations, scooters pack down into small spaces. I’m even thinking this could be a good option for multi-modal rides, as big families like ours can’t easily take bikes on public transit, simply because there are so many of us. 

The bike trailer + scooter option is a new favorite that we are excited to utilize this summer. Happy riding!

Missed Connection: The bike I wish I knew

Black cargo bike

Have you ever fallen for a bike at first sight? Ever seen a bike you instantly loved and wished was yours? Maybe you just got a glimpse as you passed and you’ve kicked yourself ever since for not stopping to make its acquaintance. Did you turn around and go back looking, only to be left with a fleeting memory that haunts your dreams?

I have such a bike stuck in my mind. I was searching for used kid-carrying box bikes, with an impossibly small budget. I recall an old Madsen with a four-seater bucket for $700 that I really wanted, but couldn’t quite afford or seem to justify. (I still wish I had tried that one out: I’m curious how the bike rides differently with the box in back, instead of in front.)  I passed on a lot of cargo bikes that could only carry two kids. I skipped over electric bikes that were way out of my price range. Then as I was scrolling through Offer Up, I found this incredible European beauty. At over $1,000 I didn’t think I could swing it, and I have regretted it ever since!

Look at that front box. Two benches. Room for four kids. Benches look easy to remove. Back rack is already installed. The seat and style are gorgeous. It looks like an effortlessly smooth ride. What a beauty! And the description says it folds.

I know. Maybe if we’d met, my dreams would have been dashed. Maybe this bike and I wouldn’t have been a good fit. Maybe it looks better in the photo than in real life. Maybe the image is nice, but the ride isn’t as great as it looks. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.

Or, maybe I missed out on the best bike of my life because I didn’t pony up the money when I had the chance! 

I’m on the hunt for a new bike. I’ve never ridden another cargo bike besides my first one (a Tom LaBonty-made gem). I love my bike. But like some first loves, we may not be lifetime mates. I’m struggling to pull the weight of four kids and their stuff, so I want to shop around and see if another model will help me out. I’m thinking about the way bike racers buy expensive light-weight frames and components in order to go faster, or the way hikers on the Appalachian trail try to lighten their pack weight to help them on the long journey. I’m not going nearly that far or that fast, but I could use every bit of help that I can get.

Will a lighter cargo bike feel easier to pedal up a hill? (Is there such a thing as a “lighter cargo bike”?) Is a brand-name cargo bike somehow more efficient to pedal? Or am I going to need an e-assist to feel a difference?

I’m still pretty new to this bike scene. I know there’s a bike out there for me. (Or maybe my forever bike is the one I already own, and I should learn to be content with what I have.) But it’s hard for me to shake this bakfiets from my mind. I know it’s out there, somewhere…have you seen it? I’d sure like to meet it in-person, go for a spin, learn its name and make, and see if we’d be good for each other. If you recognize it or are the happy new owner, please leave me a note. I’d love to say hello.

2022 Summer Bike Camp Guide

Keep them riding all summer long. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

If you want cycling to be a bigger part of your kids’ summer, here are some area bike camps to consider. I’ve also shared a family bike camping trip if you’re looking to check that off your bucket list.

If there are camps I missed, please let me know in the comments. Summer, here we come!

Biking in the City

Pedalheads Bike and Trail Bike Camps

Pedalheads has a lot of options to fit the biking child in your life. Beginning with 90 minute learn-to-ride camps for tots as young as 2-3 years old, to more advanced skills camps for big kids ages 6 and up. Options for road biking and trail riding, depending on location. Eight locations around Portland, plus Lake Oswego and Beaverton. $240 to $299 for weeklong half-days or $420 to $525 for weeklong full-days (9am-4pm). More info here.

WashCo Bikes Saddle Up Summer Bike Camps

WashCo continues its commitment to help local kids develop their riding skills, and at a very affordable price. Camp locations on the West-Side: Forest Grove, North Plains, Hillsboro, Tigard, and Beaverton. Ages 8-13. $325 for Weeklong Full-Day 9am-3pm. Scholarships Available. More info here.

Learn to Bike

Bike First Camp and Quick Start/Refresher Course

From ABI Community’s Bike First: “People who experience a variety of disabilities have had success at the clinics—including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, visual impairments, extreme fear of falling, fine motor challenges, and developmental delays… Through careful research into the elemental physics of bicycle riding, Dennis Blong and his team designed and built a unique type of adapted bike that enables the rider and bike to function together as a system. Our new design uses air cylinders to gently cushion the rider while keeping the rider safely upright. As the rider’s skill develops over the course of the week, we gradually reduce the air pressure until the rider is on his/her own. Our bike mechanic and floor director make the necessary adjustments and guide the riders as they progress. Note: This is for individuals 8 and up with disabilities who need extra help learning to ride a bike. $150 for 3-day Quick Start / Refresher Course. More info here.

Trackers Earth Learn-to-Ride Camp

From Trackers: “Join the Road Rovers! Learn biking basics from our experienced instructors in a safe and fun outdoor environment. Learning to ride for the first time opens up a new world of adventure for your child. Biking gets them active and enjoying the outdoors! This camp mixes riding time with fun art projects, games, and adventures.” For biking newbies entering Kindergarten/First Grade. $455 for Weeklong Camp Full Days 8am-3pm; after-care available until 5:30pm. More info here.

Avid Learn-to-Bike Camp

From Avid: “Aspiring cyclists age three and a half to six learn the joys of self-sufficient cycling in our half-day Learn to Bike day camp. Nurtured by skilled, patient instructors in a supportive on-site environment, our pint-sized pedalers enjoy camper-to-staff ratios of 5:1 for lots of individual attention and personalized coaching.” For Pre-k through First Grade (For newbies who don’t know how to ride). $283 Weekly Half Day Morning Session 9-11:45am and $230 Weekly Half Day Afternoon Session 12:15-3pm. More info here.

Bike Clark County Summer Bicycle Skills Camp

Get all the basics needed to confidently navigate the neighborhood in these skills camps led by experts from nonprofit Bike Clark County in Vancouver, Washington. For ages 6-14, July 11 – 22nd. More info here.

Go Off Road

Avid for Adventure Mountain Bike Camp

From Avid: “Campers experience the thrill of learning mountain biking as they hit the trails in our Mountain Biking summer camp. With help from our seasoned instructors, campers spend the week practicing mountain biking skills, learning bicycle maintenance basics, and traversing the terrain in the area’s best parks and trails.” For kids entering 2nd-7th grades. $582 Weeklong Camp Full Days 8:00 am – 3:00 pm (additional charges for early drop off, after-care available to 6pm, and optional bike rental). More info here.

Mt. Hood Meadows Mountain Bike Camp

From Mt. Hood Meadows: “Come check out Mt. Hood Meadows’ most specialized summer camp, and join us for a week of mountain biking. Campers must be proficient in riding a bike. No mountain biking experience is necessary, but kids must have the drive to want to learn. Our full day camp focuses on core skills in skill progression areas, berms, pump tracks and lift accessed trails. With our experienced counselors, campers will learn the practical application of braking, balancing, tactics, basic maintenance & repair and how to master riding a mixture of downhill, trail and skills riding. When they aren’t ripping it down the mountain, the campers will get a chance to rest their legs with stand up paddling and rafting!” For ages 12-16. Aug 15 – 18 & Aug 22 – 25, 7:30 AM – 5:30 PM Mon-Thurs
– $475. More info here.

Family Bike Camping

BikeLoudPDX Family Camping Trip

From Bike Loud: “Join us for a two-night, family-oriented (kids not required) bikepacking trip to Oxbow Regional Park, a 1,000-acre natural area near Troutdale along the Sandy River. We’ll begin at Woodstock Park in SE Portland, with scheduled stops for resting, playing, snacking, lunch, and other activities, and arriving in late afternoon to set up at our group campsite. We’ll have the whole next day to enjoy the park, nature play areas, hiking trails, old-growth forest, and river, including some optional planned activities. We’ll learn a bit about how Bike Loud PDX supports active transportation and creates safer streets. We’ll break camp and depart in the morning for the group ride back, but you can break off as needed to return to a different location or at a different pace.” More info here

We’ve excluded some camps that are already full and will try to get this together earlier next year. Please check back as we plan to add more camps as we clarify info and find out more.

Family Biking: Strolling with a baby, rolling with a toddler

Noël and I on one of our strolls.

(We are thrilled to have our Family Biking columnist Shannon Johnson back in the fold after a few months of maternity leave!)

Let me introduce you to the newest member of our biking family: Felix Noël. He was born on December 28, 2021. (Remember that really snowy day after Christmas? Yep, that’s when he arrived!) We’ve had a good few months of rocking and cuddling, but I’m eager to get out riding again.

Felix and I haven’t been on the bike yet, and I definitely miss it. Meanwhile, my toddler loves the opportunity to ride his balance bike to the park, instead of taking his usual bakfiets ride, though I find supervising a toddler on a balance bike to be a new realm of parental stress. I know balance bikes are much beloved, but it gives my two-year-old a level of speed and independence that I’m not always ready for (see his happy little face below). I now spend our walks repeating, “stay right next to Mommy, wait, wait up, Mommy goes first, okay, good job, stay right next to Mommy,” (as I don’t want him rolling behind a car backing out of a driveway with limited visibility to see a two foot tall toddler). It’s a relief when we arrive at the playground and my little guy can finally “zoom” around on a carfree path. Maybe when I get back to riding I can tote the balance bike to the park and he can just enjoy car-free zooming. That would make us both happy!

(How do the rest of you balance bike lovers manage your speedy toddlers?)

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Family Biking: Saying ‘no’ to our kids can lead to many other yeses

(Photos: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

Tis the season, isn’t it? The season of consumerism, consumption, over-buying, over-spending, and over-doing. Tis also the season of comparisons, between your family and everyone else’s. Family comparisons (is life a competition this time of year?) are even made the old-fashioned way, via holiday cards, in case social media were not judging you enough. Soon even the daily snail-mail makes it abundantly clear that everyone you know had a perfectly rosy year, amazing children, and are always happy. Everyone else’s family seems, from the photos, to “have it all” and “do it all”.

It’s really hard to be a parent in this age of comparison, perfectionism, social media, social judgements, and American expectations. Every parental choice can feel complicated and loaded. I fret over every decision, especially this time of year. I think family biking can help us here, as our heads spin and pocketbooks strain.

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