A making birthday party (with fun and free ideas for more)


The kiddos at Gateway Green. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

This month my firstborn turned nine. As I hold his image in my memory, the picture that comes immediately to mind is him, clad in his bright red helmet, patiently smiling for a biking photo. My sweet son has been my most enthusiastic and stalwart biking companion as I began this family biking journey, and memories of our bike adventures together are some of my favorites. But I haven’t been dragging him along. He’s been thrilled to ditch the stroller and have me riding at bike pace with him. And I’ve been thrilled to be able to share an enjoyable activity that suits his sense of adventure and fun, while also bringing along his younger siblings.

However, sometimes the older kids need extra room to spread their wings, and this birthday presented such an occasion. My son requested a mountain biking birthday party, after a friend regaled him with stories about Gateway Green mountain biking park. I was delighted by this request, as it was confirmation that biking was taking hold in our family, and that bike riding is sincerely enjoyed by my oldest kiddo, so much so that a bike-related experience topped his list of birthday requests.

I was also happy because I have a terrible tendency to dramatically overspend on birthdays. Birthdays can feel like terrifying tests of love: do you love your child? Are you glad he was born? Prove it! Celebrate the grand occasion with presents and lavish festivities…party rentals, piles of pizza delivery, cake and decorations, invitations and goody bags for every child on the class list, plus enough presents to make him feel special. Does anyone else blow hundreds of dollars on a birthday?

So, I admit I also welcomed the Gateway Green idea with a bit of economic pragmatism. It’s a public park. It’s free. We can invite a handful of close friends (who already own bikes), and invite them to meet us there for some mountain bike riding in celebration of our son’s birthday. We could pack treats or make it a potluck picnic or even head out to a cheap eatery afterwards and treat friends to lunch or ice cream (since we aren’t spending money on any of those party rental packages). My husband was on board for a fun and (mostly) free making birthday, and one that required very little work (no planning of party games, no decoration, no clean-up). He even volunteered to chaperone two other friends and take them all to the park via the MAX, while I stayed home with the wee ones.

So this year for his birthday, my son celebrated with a small group of friends by having his first ride at Gateway Green. They all had a blast. He and his friends rode and played for about two hours, then my husband rode them over to the nearby shopping complex for a cheap, but well-earned, lunch. It was great fun, the “best birthday so far!” Yet it was so simple and nearly free. (Thank you Gateway Green!) Our only expenses were a few MAX tickets and a treat of lunch out (which could have easily been a sack lunch – no would have minded, and a picnic is another kind of fun).

In our consumerist America, we often try to buy everything, and we think we have too. My son’s birthday biking request was a sweet reminder that often the best things in life can be free, and that all a birthday needs is for kids to pull out their bikes and go for a ride together. Now I’m plotting other kinds of biking birthdays… maybe a themed group ride around the neighborhood? A Pedalpalooza style birthday ride to the local ice cream shop? A costume contest bike ride: dress as your favorite fill-in-the-blank! Maybe even a surprise birthday bike ride. And a car-free bike path could provide a great birthday setting for younger kids. Kids typically love birthday attention, so a group ride with the birthday kid at the front, bike streamers flying, bike horn honking, could be the perfect way to celebrate.

Have you celebrated any of your kids with a making birthday party? If so, I’d love to hear about them.


This Saturday (10/2) is national Take A Kid MTB Day and our local nonprofit NW Trail Alliance is hosting an event for families at Gateway Green from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Learn more on our calendar.

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