Linus, 8, exiting the bike garage on his way to Mass, has a sage tip for newbie cyclists: “Don’t forget a seat cover for the rain.” (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Linus, 8, exiting the bike garage on his way to Mass, has a sage tip for newbie cyclists: “Don’t forget a seat cover for the rain.” (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Bicycling is perceived as Portlandy. Going to church? Not so much.

The Weisenbach-Folz family defies labels and embraces both.

Before 8 a.m. nearly every Sunday — sunshine or rain — Allan, Carie and their three children pedal up North Rosa Parks Way, veer left alongside Holy Redeemer Church and brake at the bike rack. After unbuckling helmets and locking bikes, the crew heads into Mass, where Ada is a regular altar server and Allan an usher.

It’s a routine that reflects values shaped by their Catholic faith.

“Biking is time together and moving at a slower pace, so we can contemplate what’s happening in our lives and in our neighborhood,” said Carie, a parish secretary at Holy Redeemer.

“It’s about living lightly and being active,” Allan said. Bicycling to Mass also “sets an example in a pretty secular city that you can ride bikes and be faithful.” According to the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the Portland metro area is the least religiously affiliated city in the United States.

The Weisenbach-Folz family was chatting faith and bikes before Mass on a recent Sunday morning in the living room of their modest, tidy home. They live in cohousing — semi-communal housing consisting of a cluster of private units and shared community space. Their complex includes a garden and a well-used bike garage. Outside the family’s front door is a bicycle lawn ornament; inside Gregorian chant played. “That’s kind of a tradition Sunday mornings,” Carie said of the sacred music.

The bicycling, the community-focused living arrangement, the music, all are part of an intentional lifestyle that seems to nurture their well-being.

“They all have this spirit of friendliness and openness and joy,” said Holy Cross Father Pat Neary, pastor of Holy Redeemer. “The kids are so refreshing and engaging.”

Carie and Allan, both 46, moved from the Midwest to Portland 20 years ago in part because of the cycling culture. The city boasts more than 175 miles of bike lanes and regularly is named the most bike-friendly U.S. city by various news outlets.

Allan commutes by bicycle 14 miles round trip for his computer programming job in Vancouver, Washington, and Carie cycles to her part-time job at the parish. The kids — Linus, 8, Ada, 12, and Cody, 15 — either bike to school or ride frequently for fun.

As a young couple, Carie and Allan rode to St. Mary Cathedral near their downtown house. When they relocated to North Portland and the family grew, they hitched on a bike cart, bundled up the kids, and began riding to nearby Holy Redeemer, just a few blocks away.

Carie is a member of the altar society and when on duty to launder used altar linens, she transports the cloth home via her cargo box bike.

Father Neary said their commute is good for environmental and physical health and is unifying for the family.

“And seeing them all together and out in nature and coming to church,” he added, “it’s the closest thing we get to when most people used to walk to their neighborhood parish.”

Allan said he’s noticed that, as with walking, biking links them to their neighbors and broader community.

“There’s a more human level of interaction that takes place on a bike, and that spills over into other things,” Allan said. “When you are able to ride by and wave, you get to know your neighbors and aren’t just a car whizzing past.”

Carie and Allan are among the more than 6% of Portland commuters who bike to work; the national average is 0.6%, according to U.S. census data.

“When I get to work I feel more alert and ready to go,” said Allan. “There’s a stress when you’re in a car that doesn’t happen when you’re biking.”

He said the time on two wheels also creates a separation between work and home that helps him be more present in both places. “If you make it a habit, you don’t even think about it,” he said. “Plus, biking there’s never traffic.”

Carie added her short ride to work at the parish is easy and gives her time to meditate on what she’s grateful for.

The couple is against any kind of elitism when it comes to bicycling.

“You don’t have to be a martyr to bike, and it doesn’t have to be this big thing where you have to buy all this fancy gear,” said Allan. That’s just a perceived “barrier to entry.”

“In Europe, you look around and everyone’s riding their bikes. But in American there’s often this smugness that keeps people out.”

Allan said he hopes their transportation method might show other families that biking to Mass “maybe is not so bad.”

“When people see a whole family ride up to church in regular clothes and they look happy, maybe they’ll think, ‘This is something that I can do one Sunday when the weather is good.’”

His suggestions for new riders: Have a decent jacket and make sure your chain is lubricated.

Linus’ tip: “Don’t forget a seat cover for the rain.”

Members of the Weisenbach-Folz family are (almost) all-weather riders.

“They bike everywhere, even on the worst kind of day,” said Bryan McGowan, a fellow Holy Redeemer parishioner. “I’ve beeped at Carie many times, and she gives me the biggest smile no matter the conditions.”

If there’s a hefty portion of snow or ice, though, the family will walk or drive.

“Safety first,” said Carie, moments before the family slipped on their shoes and headed to the bike garage.

Soon the five cyclists were cruising down the street single file toward the brick church, Portland’s winter drizzle holding off until all were seated side by side in a Holy Redeemer pew.

katies@catholicsentinel.org