Bicycle Touring with Children

Bicycle Touring with Children
After completing our first bicycle tour together, I beamed with pride when my nine-year-old daughter declared, “Mama, you can’t go on any more tours without me!”

One of the great joys of having a passion is sharing it with others, especially our children. Sometimes, however, we have to remember that they may not be up to participating at our level quite yet. That’s especially true of bicycle touring. For many adults, much of the pleasure of bicycle touring comes from long days, covering many miles and seeing abundant new sights. The perfect day’s end may just need to include a decent meal and a reasonably comfortable place to sleep (of course, a glass of wine doesn’t hurt).

Kids, however, aren’t usually able to keep up with the schedules we set for ourselves. Children aren’t as adapted to putting up with their own company without outside entertainment as adults are. While they might appreciate nice scenery or pretty flowers, such simple pleasures aren’t enough incentive to keep them going mile after mile, hour after hour.

When you decide to tour with children, your foremost concern should be keeping them happy. In this case, if baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. This advice needs to be kept in mind for every step of planning the trip, from choosing the route to deciding how many miles to pedal each day; from where to stop along the way to where to spend the night; and let’s not forget with whom you’re travelling.

It may be difficult to determine the group you’re going to ride with. In our case, my daughter and I chose to go on the Idaho Family Fun Ride with Adventure Cycling, so we really had no choice in the group, other than knowing it would include other kids. If you have a very close family, older children, or more than one child, you might be able to get away with doing a family-only trip. For us, going on a group ride was perfect: with 19 kids between the ages of 7 and 15 my daughter always had someone to play with, and I was able to get a little time to myself. If you prefer to do a trip on your own rather than with a tour company, consider inviting another family to join you. Either way, the distraction of additional children may make your trip more enjoyable.

Perhaps the first thing you’ll have to do is let go of your touring expectations. Depending on the age of your children, you may need to drastically cut back on the number of miles you can ride. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter completed 42 and 46 mile long days on our tour, but she was on the back of a tandem with an adult friend and those two days were separated by three 15 to 20 mile days. I don’t think she could have done the whole trip on her own bike.

The long days were made more bearable for her by frequent stops, as well. We read nearly every informational sign along the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, took opportunities to eat ice cream, and relaxed at the water, snack and lunch breaks the guides provided. Along the way, I developed a new appreciation for leisurely touring. The journey is the point, not the destination.

In addition to mileage, consider carefully the terrain you’re riding. We were lucky in choosing a flat, paved, traffic-free route to ride. If you’re choosing more challenging terrain, take into consideration the extra time it will take children to climb hills. Consider using a tandem bicycle if you can manage one. A trail-a-bike is a great option for small children. On our tour a couple of families used trail-a-bikes for the long days and let their kids ride on their own for the shorter days. The guides were able to transport the bike that wasn’t being used. Remember, no one will have fun if the kids end each day completely exhausted.

Be sure to allow for the time it takes to keep them well fed and hydrated. Children can’t go as long between snack and water breaks as adults can, and they, like we, will get grumpy and tired if they’re hungry or thirsty. Don’t wait for them to tell you they need a break. Even adults don’t always notice that they’re dehydrated or suffering from low blood sugar until they’re in serious trouble. Stop often.

I quickly realized that I was going to have to revise my expectations of my daughter at the end of each day. The tour we selected was a supported camping tour. We had to provide our own tents and sleeping bags, but the guides transported them each day to the next camp site. Once we arrived, we just had to collect our bags and set up our tents. I started out with visions of my daughter and I doing this together each day, but the lure of children playing became too much for her. I could usually coerce her into schlepping the bags with me, but I was on my own with setting up camp. After being confined to a bike seat for hours, she needed to run around and play. Once I accepted that, it was worth the extra work to see her having so much fun with new friends.

Once you’ve established the trip you’re going to take and the pace at which you’re going to travel, don’t forget to prepare your children, both mentally and physically. It should be fairly easy to talk up the fun you’ll have, but make sure they’re prepared for the time on the bike, too. Most of us wouldn’t consider going on a long trip without preparation to ensure we can pedal the miles and sit on the seat for hours. Your kids need the same preparation. Go on increasingly longer day trips before you leave, but make them fun. Also, buy them decent cycling clothes.
Even little ones deserve the comfort of padded bike shorts and cycling gloves.

While I fully intend to keep touring on my own, I also look forward to future trips with my daughter. I hope to instill in her early a life of fitness, adventure and travel, a life I came to much later than I’d have liked.

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