Learning to ride (smarter) at a bike commuter clinic

people sitting in a park listening to someone speak
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.

Subscriber Post: An interview with Friday-morning funsters PDX Coffee Outside

attackcowboy attacking a donut

Will Christenson


This is a subscriber post by Armando Luna.

PDXCoffeeOutside is a group of bike riders and coffee lovers who meet every Friday to grind, brew and enjoy their coffee in the great outdoors of Portland. The organizers pick a different spot each week, which you can learn about on their Instagram feed, @pdxcoffeeoutside. I’ve attend a few of these gatherings this summer and asked one of the organizers, Will Christenson, a few questions.

What started PDXCoffeeOutside?
PDX Coffee Outside started because a group of friends had a desire to meet up in the mornings before work (hence the 7am start time), make coffee, and socialize. Most of us have a bunch of camping gear anyways, so it’s a good excuse to use that, and we’re also pretty passionate about coffee.

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