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Last summer, our family hopped on the train from Vancouver, BC, bikes stowed with our luggage, and spent five bike-filled days exploring Portland, OR.
Last summer, our family hopped on the train from Vancouver, BC, bikes stowed with our luggage, and spent five bike-filled days exploring Portland, OR. Our car-free trip was an excellent learning experience for my husband and I, as well as our daughter, 6, and son, 3½, for getting accustomed to family travel by bike.
Taking our bikes on the train was surprisingly easy. Amtrak trains offer space for six bikes on each trip at a small additional fee. The baggage car has wall-mounted bike racks, so no boxes or disassembly are needed, and they can even accommodate a Trail-a-Bike. We rode up, dropped off our bikes and checked luggage, and then headed to the passenger car for a restful trip.
Our bicycle adventure in Portland allowed us to see aspects of the city we missed while traveling by car. We frequently marvel at how intimate our experiences are when we travel by bike. Traveling through the Portland neighborhoods along quiet and tree-lined streets was very peaceful and allowed us to absorb our surroundings as a family. By bike, we marveled at the street sign art on the bikeways and the beautiful houses we passed. Our children reveled in riding across almost every bridge in the city and passing the bike counter on the west side of the Hawthorne Bridge.
Each day of our trip was full of exciting new memories as well as lessons learned. The biggest lesson: pack light. Even with two adults on bikes with front and rear baskets and two panniers, there is only so much we could bring with us. When you’re hauling children you want to keep your luggage as lightweight as possible.
Our next lesson was to pay attention to distances when choosing our home away from home. We stayed in a quaint apartment in the Alberta Arts District with lovely hosts, secure bike parking, and access to many bikeways. Our hosts even shared eggs from their backyard chickens. While our accommodations met our needs, we were always 30–60 minutes away from our daily destinations. This made bike travel with our son difficult come early afternoon naptime. One time we had to stop and rest while our son finished his nap safely out of the saddle of his Trail-a-Bike.
One of our successes was always planning our routes. Planning wasn’t always about finding the quickest route. We needed the easiest and safest routes for our daughter, who rides confidently on her own bike. Each morning, we laid out a copy of the Portland bike map and picked our route, sticking mainly to bike boulevards with light traffic when off-street paths weren’t available. We also noted any playgrounds and splash areas along the way, knowing that two young children don’t quite have the attention spans needed to spend all day sightseeing by bike.
At the end of our five-day vacation, my husband and I headed home with a sense of pride. We knew that this trip was just the start of many bicycle holidays to come, now that we know how to travel by bicycle with our children. We hoped that the experience had exposed our children to a wonderful way of discovering new places. And finally, I knew that our trip was a success because when we boarded the train to leave, both of our children told us they didn’t want to leave.
What to Pack For Bike Travel With Kids
The bike stuff
A pump, patch kits, extra tubes, tools to change a tire – don’t get caught like us, forgetting all of this at home and having two flats the first day.
Small backpacks to carry snacks in, small travel games, extra clothes for accidents on long days.
For the adults
Two large refillable water bottles to share and coffee mugs – you’re going to need to keep up with the kids at the park somehow after all that riding.
Melissa Bruntlett lives in Vancouver, BC. When not riding around with her family, enjoying life by the ocean, she writes for her blog Velo Family Diaries.