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Portland Family Biking Guide

Text says Portland Family Biking Guide a how-to manual for all stages of family biking
Information to help you prepare for all stages of family biking from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) including biking while pregnant, with kids of all ages, and helping kids prepare to bike alone.
On this page

To view, download, or print a copy of the guide here is the PDF file. 

Biking While Pregnant

Pregnant woman riding bike along waterfront path

Biking during pregnancy can be a great way to help curb nausea, improve energy levels, and maintain an active lifestyle. Of course, every pregnancy and every body is different. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering biking during your pregnancy:

Check with your doctor

Make sure biking during pregnancy is a healthy choice for you, and that your doctor agrees.

Consider your route

Does your journey take you on any streets with lots of car traffic and high speeds? Re-routing your ride to streets with fewer cars or designated bike lanes can reduce ride stress.

Consider your comfort

Adjusting your bike to support a more upright riding position, or investing in a new comfort bike, can help increase your comfort and riding confidence as your body changes.

Listen to your body

You know your body best, so be sure to listen to it. Today might be a better day to bus in or take the MAX.

A quick online search will lead to a fair amount of information about biking while pregnant. A good place to start is the Family Biking Guide from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They offer multiple pages of in-depth advice.

Family Biking Guide by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

Biking with Babies (0-12 months)

Bicyclist riding with child in front cargo on beach path

There are few standards available regarding biking with a baby nine months or younger. If you are ready to give it a try, we suggest looking up options and advice online, or asking friends and families already riding with infants. Here are a few things to consider before you start:

Neck strength: Until babies are able to hold their heads up on their own, they shouldn’t be carried in an upright bike seat. Adequate neck strength usually won’t occur until nine months or later.

Helmets: There aren’t many infant-sized helmets currently available on the market, and wearing a helmet during this stage of growth while in a car seat can be damaging to an infant’s neck and spine. That said, Oregon law states any child under 16 must be wearing a helmet while on a bicycle (ORS 814.485).

Carrying options

Cargo box bikesor trailers compatible with car seats.     

Some cargo box bikes and bike trailers have the option of strapping an infant-sized car seat into their infrastructure.

Biking with Toddlers (1-3 Years)

Once children can sit up without falling, hold their heads up on their own, and fit into a helmet, they are most likely ready to ride in a front- or rear-mounted bike seat, cargo box bike or trailer.

Carrying options

Front-mounted Seats

Bicyclist with child in front mounted seat
Photo Credit, Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

Typically have lower weight limits, so these work best as an option up to age three. Allows you to see what your toddler is up to while riding. Can attach to your bike stem or frame.

Rear-mounted Seats

Bicyclist with child in rear mounted seat

Typically have higher weight limits, so you can use them longer than a front-mounted version. Conversations with your child are still possible, but you lose the ability to see what they are up to while you ride. Attaching a rear rack on your bike is necessary before attaching a rear-mounted seat.

Cargo Box Bikes

Children riding in cargo bike bucket on yellow bike
Photo credit, Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

After children can sit well (usually after 12 months) they may be ready to ride in a seated position in the box of a cargo bike. Shorter legs may require props under the feet for support. Cargo box bikes have lots of extra room for your family gear.


Bicyclists towing children in rear trailer

Trailers can easily attach to your bike and don’t demand much change to your current set-up. It is not as easy to chat with your child while riding, but they will have good coverage from the elements and can nap easily. There’s also lots of room for extra cargo.

Take a test ride

Be sure to first try out whatever carrying option you choose without your child to make sure you feel comfortable with the added weight and ensure everything is properly attached. As the adult, test rides are good places to make sure your knees or heels don’t bump front- or rear-mounted seats, and to practice mounting and dismounting.

What to expect from your child

Depending on toddlers’ temperaments, they may take some time getting used to biking. It also may be a struggle to get your child to wear a helmet, but they will likely forget it’s on once the bike is moving. Eventually, a helmet will be accepted as a required riding tool and your child will be reminding you to put yours on.

Biking with Pre-Schoolers (3-5 Years)

If you’re using a front-mounted seat, it will probably be time to move to a rear-mounted seat, assuming your child is near the weight limit. Rear-mounted seats, trailers and cargo box bikes are still good travel options with toddlers, but as they move past age three, there are additional set-ups to consider.

Carrying options

In order to advance to any of the following pre-schooler options, your child will need to stay awake for the whole ride AND sit safely on a bike without restraints. Keep your first rides shorter so everyone can get used to the new set-up.

Tag-alongs or trailercycle

Child in pink dress riding on tag-along bicycle

Tow your child on a one-wheeled bike that attaches to the seat post of your bike. It gives your child the option of pedaling or just coasting along for the ride.

Bike tow bar / tandem coupling

Two bicycles connected by a tow bar in front of a city skyline

Tow children and their full, two-wheeled bicycle behind yours with a tow bar or tandem coupling, or unhook and let your child ride solo.

Long tail bikes

Parent riding bicycle with child seated on rear seat

Rear-mounted seats, backrests, and handlebars can all be attached on this bike’s back extension for multiple child and cargo carrying options.


Parent and child ride tandem bike in at a market

There are multiple styles of family tandems available with possibilities of children pedaling in front or back and in upright or reclining seat positions.

Riding with two or more children

Here’s where you can get creative. Look around online or ask your local bike shop about riding with multiple children. Chances are you’ve already got some experience riding with one child and have a good idea of what works best for your family. Combinations of many products already mentioned should do the trick.

Your child’s first wheels

Toddlers around two years and older are often ready to begin biking on their own. Start your child on a balance bike or a bike with training wheels to build confidence before they start pedaling independently.

Balance bikes

Child in pink jacket on red balance bike

Small bikes without pedals or training wheels teach the fundamentals of balancing and steering a bike. Sitting upright with feet flat on the ground helps your child feel more comfortable and steady as they begin learning to balance.

Training wheels

Small purple bike with training wheels on dirt ground

Training wheels help a bicycle stay upright while your child learns to pedal and begin maintaining balance. Gradually raise the training wheels as your child becomes more proficient at riding, then remove them once they have gotten the hang of it. Consider playing a game where they ride as far as they can without the training wheels touching the ground.

Riding practice

Try out new riding skills in car-free places like parks, multi-use paths or events like Sunday Parkways. Practice safety skills early by staying to the right and teaching awareness of other path users.

Biking to School

Making the shift from casual riding to commuting can seem big and mysterious, but it gets easier once you’ve tried it a few times and created your own routine. Biking to school is an excellent way to get there quickly while spending quality time with your children.

Find a route

Choosing appropriate routes for your bike trips can make your rides safer, more pleasant, and more kid-friendly. The route you normally drive usually isn’t the best route by bike. Find trip planning assistance here:

The City of Portland offers five free neighborhood bike/walk maps and a citywide bike map. Order them online or pick one up at your local bike shop or library. 

Portland bike maps

A number of quiet local streets have route signs and markings to help bicyclists find their way. They often connect directly with neighborhood schools and parks. Use our free Portland bike maps to plan your route and find a neighborhood greenway near you.

Portland’s neighborhood greenways

Kids on your bike

When commuting with kids on your bike, there are a few things to think about to make your trip a little easier:

Plan ahead

Dropping children off and continuing on to work usually includes figuring where to leave their helmet, how to haul your gear, and more. Planning ahead and surveying the drop-off scene at school can be helpful. Turning this plan into a regular routine can also make mornings less stressful.

Be prepared (Bring snacks!)

Similar to traveling with your child by any other mode, be prepared for whatever the weather might bring when packing apparel and accessories. Having snacks on hand when you show up after daycare or school can make the ride home more enjoyable.

Teach street safety skills

Riding together is a great time to talk about what stop signs, road markings, or other traffic controls mean when on a bike, or narrating subtle biking skills/practices like “I’m slowing because that’s a blind corner.” This will make your job easier later on when teaching your child to bike independently.

Kids riding independently

Elementary school and beyond

The graduation from simply being able to ride with ease (braking, turn­ing, navigating hills) to being confident with street rules takes a lot of practice and diligence. When practicing on quiet streets or side­walks, ride or walk alongside your child and talk about street rules with an emphasis on safety.

Five important skills to make sure everyone is confident

  • Street and traffic safety, especially around crossings and driveways; this includes watching for cars, understanding right of way, and more
  • Riding predictably in a straight line
  • Looking backwithout swerving
  • Stopping and speed control, especially on hills
  • Riding on uneven and varied surfaces, especially gravel

Practice makes perfect

Before you begin riding to school, practice your route on a weekend morning when traffic is usually lighter. This can help gauge your travel time and also how well your child is prepared for riding in the streets.

Start small

Neither you nor your child may be ready to jump into daily bike commuting. Start by riding once a week or on late-start days until you are both ready for more.

Safe Routes to School

Child on bike holding sign that says "I biked to school today!"

Safe Routes to School offers encouragement programs and bike safety education to help support walking and rolling to school. Participate in one of the following events or programs to help you and your student get excited about biking!

Bike Trains: Groups of students riding to school with one or more adult chaperones. Designated routes allow students to join in anywhere along the way. More than one = fun!

International Walk+Bike to School Day: Join students and families across the globe every October to celebrate getting to school in an active, healthy way!

Walk+Bike Challenge Month: Oregon students can challenge other classes, schools, or their faculty to see who can walk or roll to school more often in May.

Find out more about Portland’s Safe Routes to School programs online or by calling 503-823-1171.

Safe Routes to School Programs

Sidewalk riding

Riding on the sidewalk can be a great place for younger children to learn bike skills, and can often seem safer than riding in the street. However, driveways and intersection crossings can be dangerous.

Here are a few things you can teach your child to improve safety while riding on the sidewalk:

Go SLOW: A slower pace is a safer pace.

Check every intersection and driveway: People driving are used to pulling all the way up to the street before stopping and may not stop to look for people riding or walking on the sidewalk or in the intersection. Small people are particularly difficult to see when there are visual barriers such as vegetation and other vehicles.

Only cross the street at crosswalks: Just like a pedestrian, cross where cars will most expect to see someone.

Yield to people walking: Be courteous when passing — it’s their terrain!

The Law: Oregon law (ORS 814.410) permits bicycles to ride on the sidewalk under the same rights as a pedestrian so long as they operate in a safe manner and travel at a walking pace.

Unsafe behavior to avoid includes:

  • Darting into traffic
  • Riding at higher speedsthan an ordinary walk
  • Failing to audibly warn a pedestrian when passing them
  • Not yielding to pedestrians
  • Endangering any person or propertywith careless riding behavior

Electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, and other e-assist technologies, are becoming more popular. However, everyone should ride e-bikes with caution and review state and local laws regarding age limits, helmets, and other safety rules.  

Remember: e-bikes are designed for adults. They are heavier, faster, and more difficult to maneuver than traditional bikes. They can be dangerous if you are inexperienced or don’t weigh enough to control one properly. Oregon law prohibits anyone under 16 from operating e-bikes and electric scooters.  

Check your owner’s manual for age and weight requirements. Wear helmets and any other safety gear that reduces the risk of serious injuries or death. Supervise youth and ensure they have the strength and judgement to operate electric-assist bikes and scooters safely.


Any youth in Oregon under the age of 16 is required to wear a helmet when riding a bike (ORS 814.485).

As legal guardian of your child, if you carry a child under 16 years old on a bicycle when they are not wearing a helmet, you will be held legally responsible (ORS 814.486).

A person is exempt from both ORS 814.485 and 814.486 if wearing the protective headgear would violate a religious belief or practice of the person.

Helmets only work if worn correctly. Avoid these common mistakes when fitting your child’s helmet.

Illustration of helmet tilting backwards off the forehead with a warning symbol

Tilted - Your child’s helmet should be level on the head, about a two finger width above the eyebrows.

Illustration of green helmet with caution symbol to indicate the straps are too loose

Loose Straps - Straps should be snug against your child’s chin, with just enough space available for one or two fingers to fit.

Illustration of green helmet with green check mark to indicate correct fit

Proper fit - Adjust the buckles on the side straps so they form a “v” underneath the ears.

Does your child’s helmet move when shaking the head? If so, try one or more of the following.

  • Readjust the chin and side straps
  • Tighten with an internal adjustor sometimes found at the back of the helmet
  • Attach the foam pads that generally come with a new helmet to make the fit more snug.

A helmet lasts only one crash! Replace a helmet if it is over five years old or has any visible damage. Cracks in the styrofoam or missing bits of styrofoam are signs the helmet should be replaced.

A house rule requiring helmets worn when riding on any personal wheels can set expectations early on. Adults set a good example by always wearing a helmet when biking.


Portland Safe Routes to School

A partnership of the City of Portland, schools, neighborhoods, com­mun­ity organizations and agencies, Portland’s Safe Routes to School program continues to increase safety and improve health for students and their families.

For resources, call 503-823-1171 or email

Safe Routes to School        

Low-cost carrying options

Purchasing used bike seats, trailers, or children’s bikes on Craigslist, Facebook Exchange, or at used bike shops can help cut costs.

Low-cost helmets

Legacy Emanuel’s Trauma Nurses Talk Tough program provides sells low-cost helmets at events in the Portland Metro area. Call ahead or look online to find out more.

Call 503-413-2340

Legacy Health Safety Classes and Events     

Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) Doernbecher Children’s Hospital sells low-cost bike and multi-sport helmets at the Tom Sargent Children’s Safety Center.

For more information email or call 503-418-5666

Tom Sargent Children's Safety Center

Family biking sites

A quick online search can provide lots of information and advice about haul­ing kids by bike or biking as a family. Here are a few good places to start:

  • PDX Cargo Bike Gang - A Facebook group of cargo/family biking lovers looking to promote community by group rides and get-togethers.
  • BikePortland -A local biking news source often covering family bik­ing topics. Use the search tool and type “family biking” to find related articles.
  • Family Ride - Portland-based blog promoting everyday family biking with two small passengers.
  • Tiny Helmets Big Bikes - Follow the adventures of a Sacramento-based biking family. Site includes a “Getting Started” section with tips on safety and what to pack for a variety of trips with kids.

Getting Out

There are lots of family and kid-focused ways to get out and about on bikes in Portland.

Portland Sunday Parkways

A series of free events opening the city’s largest public space — its streets — for residents to walk, bike and roll. Traffic-free streets connecting parks full of free activities makes for a great family day! 

Kidical Mass PDX

A family-oriented biking group riding rain or shine all over the city, at a slow pace, and only a few miles at a time. Ride themes range from Kites & Bubbles to Family Bike Camping. Find them on Facebook.

Bike First! bike clinics

Bike First! bike clinics work with youngsters and adults with disabilities to systematically teach them how to ride a typical bike. Scholarships available from Portland’s Safe Routes to School program.

For scholarship information, contact Ann at

Community Cycling Center bike camps

The Community Cycling Center (CCC) teaches kids and adults how to ride, be their own bike mechanic, and get more confident behind the handlebars. Contact them or follow on social media for current offerings such as learn to ride events.

 For more information call 503-287-8864.

Pedalpalooza family-friendly rides

A whole 3+ weeks of bike-related fun each June. Many of the events are family-friendly and are noted as such on the Shift website. 

Metro Logo in navy blue