Did you know that in 2015, a survey by Breakaway Research Group for People for Bikes indicated that out of 45 million Americans only 15% made at least one bicycle trip for transportation in the previous year? The article titled “100 million Americans Bike Each Year, But Few Make It a Habit” further stated that most non-cyclists cited road safety concerns as the reason for their fear.
While safety concerns account for why most people shy away from cycling, a greater majority just don’t know how to plan a successful family biking trip.
That is where we come in. Out of our over half a decade experience in bike touring, we have gathered a few do’s and don’ts that will definitely set you up for success in your first family bike touring trip.
Take a look!
1. Get out of Your Shell!
The first hindrance to bike touring is usually literally in the mind. Most people are reluctant to bike touring because while they are aware that cycling in itself has many health benefits, they are uncertain about the exact benefits they can get from bike touring.
If you need a little convincing on why you should stop putting off that trip and get on with it, then this is just the article for you.
To begin with, the most obvious reward of bike touring is that it is an excellent way to bond and reconnect as a family. With no technology to interrupt your quality time, you can only focus on each other.
However, the most rewarding thing about bike touring is that you get to challenge yourself as a family. By the end of this expedition, you will celebrate having conquered thousands of miles together.
Not only that, but it is also a fun and simple way to see the world and discover new cultures together, especially if you decide to tour in another country.
Test-run at home
There are a couple of things that you need to consider before deciding to get the show on the road. For instance, ask yourself whether everyone in your family physically fit for a bike tour. What gear should you bring with you and is your gear up to standard?
With a little coaching, anyone can embark on a bike tour regardless of age or gender. You only need to start small. Consider bike camping about 15 miles away or even ride to your friend’s house and set up camp overnight.
Through this experience, you can determine what gear to bring with you and what to leave behind for the bike tour. Other than that, you also get to check whether your gear is in good condition or not.
You can thus make repairs based on the condition of your gear or consider borrowing from friends or family to avoid forking out the dough for your tour.
Another factor that you can gauge from your overnight escapade is whether the bodies of your family members are prepared for the physical demands of bike touring. Mostly, the speed of your young family members will be quite useful in determining the pace of your tour.
You can then use this speed to help you set realistic goals for your bike tour as you have established how many miles they can cover in a day.
Commit to a date
Now that you are in the know when it comes to the condition of your gear as well as the capabilities of your family set a date that is convenient for all family members.
2. Consider a Guided Tour for your First Bike Touring Trip
Bike touring can range from a long single-day venture to weeks and even months or years depending on how long you want to cycle around a state, city or country.
Guided tour over a self-guided tour
For your first touring trip, we highly recommend a guided tour that is close to home so you can ease your way into the whole experience.
The advantage of having an organized tour is that you don’t have to do much of planning. All you have to do is show up and use the trip as a learning opportunity for your next tour. That way, you don’t have to go through the trouble of figuring it all out by yourself.
Another advantage is that with a guided tour, you always have someone from the team to help you out in case of mechanical problems. Typically, this is in addition to having a support van in case anyone gets too tired.
Although guided tours are quite useful, especially if you are touring a foreign country, some people prefer self-guided tours because they have the advantage of being able to stop whenever they feel like it. Needless to say, it is an effective means if you are big on bonding with nature.
Familiarize yourself with the basic language
If you decide to embark on a self-guided tour in a foreign country, then having basic knowledge of the local language will be resourceful.
You do not need to stress yourself by attempting to learn a lot. Instead, having knowledge of greetings, and even how to raise an alarm will get you around. You can learn other aspects of their language and culture while you are on the road.
You will be surprised by how talking to the locals will benefit you. For instance, they can help you get better bargains for food and hotel spots or even redirect you in case you get lost.
Your long outing will be much more worthwhile if you get to really experience the local way of living in your area of exploration.
3. Check Weather Forecasts
Bad weather is one of the best ways to ruin the mood for any kind of trip. Not only that but traveling in bad weather puts you at risk in case of an unexpected catastrophe.
Therefore, be sure to always check the news on the expected weather of your destination beforehand. Go a step further and always check for updates during the course of your bike tour. That way, you can make any necessary changes on your plans for the day or the route to pursue based on the weather conditions.
4. Get Your Kids Excited
The main thing that you need to realize about bike touring is that it can be mentally challenging. That is why the success of any family bike touring trip is 80% in mind and 20% physical.
Your tour partners can make the whole trip worthwhile even if every other thing does not go your way.
Choose a fun-filled destination
Bringing your children along will not make you miss out on the pleasures of bike touring. All you need to do is take extra measure to plan out your tour.
Making them excited is an excellent way to start. Ensure that your destination has many activities that will; interest them and keep them engaged.
By hyping the destination, your kids will have something to look forward to and are not just riding mindlessly.
Ride as a team
Another way to get your kids excited for the tour is by making them feel that they are part of a team.
Explain to them how far you plan to go and what they can expect to see along the way.
You can definitely expect tantrums if your kids' minds are not occupied. However, if they feel like they are working towards something, then your trip is bound to be less hectic.
5. Invest in Gear that is up to the Task
The type of bike you have can heavily influence the turnout of your trip. By default, certain bikes are more suited for long-distance touring than others.
You need a bike that can withstand the abuse of extra gear and mileage, especially if your tour is going to be longer than a week. The frame of the bike is therefore crucial as it determines how many pounds of gear it can pull.
Additionally, your level of comfort depends on the quality of your gear. You, therefore, want a cargo-bike for carrying camping gear that is sturdy enough to carry all the panniers while hauling a trailer cycle. That way, you won’t experience the discomfort of struggling to balance the weight of your load.
While you can rent a bike, you can also easily use a bike that you own as long as it is of high quality. Just be sure to check whether the bike is compatible with the type of cycling shoes that you have if you decide to hire one.
Lastly, consider the length of the trip so that you return the bikes on time.
Sharpen your Bicycle Maintenance and Repair Skills
Take this opportunity also to ensure that you have the basics skills to handle any mechanical issues. You always want to remain one step ahead so that no one ever lags due to your inability to handle any inconveniences.
6. Plan out Your Route
It is vital to establish how you will navigate your way around a foreign area and get to your destination with no qualms. Secondary roads usually have more scenic views, and they open up new adventures that only two-wheeler is suitable for.
That is why most cyclists pursue them. However, other factors also come in to play when it comes to your route.
Avoid busy roads
The thing about riding off-road is that you do not have to endure the disturbance of motor traffic. Choosing a low-traffic route allows you to ride leisurely having family chitchat with focus on each other.
As you research for the best route, ensure that you strike a balance such that you do not end up pursuing abandoned trails that put your safety and that of your family at risk.
Consider your proximity to civilization because the closer you are to town, the easier it is to get help in case of any hitches.
Opt for Child-Friendly Trails
Child-friendly trails do not only entail busy stretches of road that are hazardous. They also include level terrains that are not cumbersome for older and younger cyclists to navigate.
Asa novice at bike touring, you want to stick to flat roads at first. Gradually, you can attempt rougher terrains as you become more experienced at the sport.
Lastly, be sure to print out a map of the terrain to avoid getting lost.
Opt for routes with overnight accommodations
The last thing you want while bike touring is lacking a place for you and your family to spend the night. You, therefore, want a route that has a variety of options for night-time accommodation, especially ones that cater to food as well.
Again, the multi-day tour is not meant to be pure torture for your family, so research in advance to smoothen the experience.
7. Let your Kids Set the Pace
As aforementioned, if you embark on bike camping before you try bike touring, you can use it to determine which speed your kids are comfortable with.
If your kids are attached to a trailer cycle, then the pace of your ride is dependent on you. However, if they are too old to be attached to a trailer cycle, allow them to dictate the speed of your trip.
That way, no one gets left behind or gets too exhausted, trying to keep up with your speed.
Ease on the cycling
Consider covering only reasonable miles per day to avoid getting worn out.
Ideally, a slower pace works to not only reduce fatigue but also to allow you to go sightseeing and witness the movement from urban areas to more natural landscapes with more appreciation.
After all, the whole point of a bike tour is to bond rather than to compete against time.
Forego the tandem, especially if your kids are under 12
Again, you do not want your kids to be frustrated, trying to keep up with you. A tandem forces them to ride at your pace to cycle at the same speed as you are which might be hard for young kids. Instead, opt for a Burley piccolo trailer cycle which attaches itself to the rack rather than the seat and is not shaky.
If they are up for it, they can pedal. Otherwise, they can sit back and let you pedal when tired
Take snack breaks and playground halts every other hour
Unlike you, your kids won’t enjoy riding in spite of their exhaustion
Therefore be sure to take more breaks than you would on your own to allow your kids to stretch their legs, play and explore their surroundings.
To ensure that you are taking enough breaks, stop whenever something catches their attention along your route
You can also make the most out of the routes by using it as a learning opportunity. For instance, if you come across a field of sheep, allow your kids to take it all in.
Accept the fact that you are probably going to get to your destination later than you expected. More than anything, the whole experience will be more enjoyable if you allow yourselves to explore together as a family.
8. Carry Toys Your Kids Can Play With During The Ride
If your kid has a favorite toy or blanket, bring it along with you, so they still have a sense of familiarity in a foreign land. Other than offering them comfort, toys keep your kids occupied along the way.
Alternatively, you can include a camera. It will come in handy at keeping your kids busy trying to capture once-in-a-lifetime sites. Not only that, but it is also rewarding as a parent, you get to see the world from your kids perspective.
9. Pack Light
When it comes to gear and clothing, the general rule is always to go light. You do not want any unnecessary goods that will only cause constraints.
As for food, ensure that you always have meals to sustain you till you reach a store where you can replenish. Otherwise, you can follow the top-level bike touring checklist that we have assembled below to ensure that you are perfectly geared for your trip.
Bike Touring Checklist
Biking and camping gear
- Helmet, bell, and pads
- Repair kit (Air pumps, spare tubes, tire levers)
- Trailer-cycle/Tagalong bikes
- Child bike seats
- Bike trailers
- Racks and panniers
- Touring pump
- Spare tubes
- Puncture repair kits
- Touring bike toolbox
- Bike lights (headlight and taillights)
- Combo and chain lock
- Kids' Cycling Hydration pack
- Fitness trackers for kids
- Cycling GPS
- Bungee cords
- Sleeping gear
- Tent and accessories
- Sleeping pads
- Spare tubes
- Change of clothes
- Wicking jersey
- Cycling socks and shoes
- Rain gear
- Skull cap or bandana
- Arm and leg warmers
- First aid kit
- Credit card/ cash
- Bike magazines
- Garbage bag
- Power banks
- Insect repellent
If you find yourself wondering, “Why should you embark on a bike tour?” consider the real question, “why not?”
Life can be boring, but you don’t need to be-hit the road! One thing to keep in mind as we set off though. Nothing melts the heart than seeing a family on bikes. The unison in hitting the pedals, the stories, and sometimes songs in sync, are quite something. In an article published in The Guardian, Peter Walker, the author of Bike Nation: How Cycling Can Save the World recommends proper planning when cycle touring with children. Peter goes ahead to say that it is one of the greatest ways to find cycling pleasures.
Your child can surprise you by their might and mastery of pedaling. At one time, a seven-year-old we tagged along for a bike tour comfortably cleared over 45 miles without whining. Of course, to achieve such a milestone we lowered our expectations and made our timetable flexible.
The best time to go for a family bike touring was then; the next best time is now. You can do it.