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I'm curious, has anyone gone on bicycle tours with small children? I did some long-distance camping touring a while ago and would like to do more eventually. For the moment, though, we have a toddler, so a long trip isn't really realistic. But it does seem feasible to ride 50mi or so, camp overnight, and ride home the next day. I'm imagining riding with a toddler in a trailer, but if there are better ideas, I'm all ears.

Does anyone have experience with short tours like this? Are there any things to keep in mind that might not be obvious right off the bat?

  • Realistically you'll need a trailer each given the amount of stuff a toddler needs. I'd want to be very sure of what I was going to find at the other end. How confident are you in your toddler's willingness to suit in a trailer for a few hours? – Chris H Aug 22 '15 at 20:29
  • Ha, yes! A trailer for the diapers. :) I'm not all that confident about long hours, but it seems like we could stop easily enough along the way. – lmjohns3 Aug 22 '15 at 20:30
  • You of course know your own better than anyone else can. But getting going again after a stop might be the worst bit. We decided against a trailer given the roads and cycle paths round here - but we're doing day rides at most, and can carry everything for all of us in the panniers on 1 bike with a baby seat on the other. – Chris H Aug 22 '15 at 20:53
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    This blog entry can be inspiration or maybe you find it useful, I thought it great fun to read even though I do not have kids myself: bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2011/04/11/… – Willeke Aug 23 '15 at 7:35
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    Start with a ride to a local park and have a picnic with the family. Should give an indication of how feasable it is. – Criggie Aug 23 '15 at 23:15
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I think you have the right idea - build up slowly. I've seen a few people with little kids out cycle touring, and did a couple of weeks with a group that included a mother and pre-walking infant. The people below apparently managed at least 1000km based on Moz's comments. Moz photo of touring family

I think the main limit is how long your kids can handle being on the bike or in the trailer. Remember that your kids are not exercising, so they'll get cold easily. And bored, unless they can see out easily. Ideally you'd be able to make eye contact and talk to them, and not just by having the other parent ride up next to them.

These days I'd be tempted to buy one of the long john kiddy carrier bikes (like the Gazelle Cabby), because a kid in an open-top box is likely to be happier than one in a noisy bag-on-wheels.

But start with the gear you have - drop the kid(s) in whatever you normally use to transport them, go for a long day ride, see what happens. If you all survive 80km today and 80km tomorrow, an 80km each way overnight trip sounds very feasible. Just keep working up and see how you go. I'd personally start with backyard camping, because if your kids hate that then you will need to tour between motels or B&B's, and you really want to find that out now rather after 80km of riding. Same applies to your fellow parent, BTW :)

I am a big fan of specialised bikes, and if you have the budget there are a lot of ideas out there that you can try and buy. Trailers are a compromise, they're slow, heavy, have lots of wind resistance, and are not a lot of fun to be stuck inside for long periods. For a bit more money you could buy a dedicated long-tail bike, and that's at least more comfortable for the kid as well as lighter and faster (plus easier to park!). Then there are proper load carrying bikes like long johns and the 8-Freight. Those carry more and have more load space, so you get a trailer-sized volume of luggage and child, but in a place you can see it. Even bigger are load trikes (Nihola not Christiana for touring, the cart-axle steering only works at low speeds and for short trips), or things like the Greenspeed Ute (recumbent) or a rickshaw like the Trisled Ute (upright). But real load carrying needs four wheels, and Treehugger has an overview. Quads are unfortunately expensive and not especially popular, so tend tyo go in and out of production. But the smaller manufacturers will often build you one even if it's not on their website any more, so it's worth asking. In the UK they're lucky enough to have dedicated recumbent and load bike shops, but in the USA not so much (AFAIK).

I normally do short tours on a recumbent bike (because it's easier to break it down for transport), and longer tours (anything over a week) on a four wheeler. Mine is 2WD for off road tracks, but other than that it's just a conventional recumbent with a big box on the back for all my stuff. The win for me is stability (I can look at the scenery), load capacity (I just throw everything in the box) and, well, I just really like riding it.

  • Thanks for all the info! I've not run across the term "long john" before, but the photos remind me of "bakfiets" -- sort of a generic word for a cargo bike? I've been seeing a bunch of those where I live recently, they seem like a great solution for families with small kids for around-town riding. – lmjohns3 Aug 23 '15 at 0:01
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    @lmjohns3 You might be surprised at how well they work for touring. You work your upper body a little more from steering effort, but if you're committed to an upright bike they're IMO the least awful option for kids too small to ride. – Nuі Aug 23 '15 at 0:03
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Start with short distances and gradually increase.

Then when the family is into the routine of bike trips, add a picnic stop.

Then find a nice camping location, either near home or near where you park the car, and ride by a longer route to get there. This way if something unplanned happens you are not far away.

Make sure the kid(s) have fun. Perhaps plan a few interesting/play stops along the way.

Also, with little kids, get into practice with taking as little as possible. For example when my kids were in nappies (diapers for Americans) we could take them for an afternoon trip with one bag. It measured 20 cm (8 in) X 15 cm (6 in) X 20 cm. The main extra stuff we took with them for ski touring was a change of clothes and food. Lots of food.

Of course take the kind of equipment that you'd normally take on a bike tour. But get going, before they want to ride every where themselves.

  • Yup. Take along a hobby horse or scooter and "but I wanna ride too". On the other hand, by age 5 they'll be complaining that cheap trailer-bikes suck and they want a kiddy-back tandem or their own bike. Which is a win if you look at it one way :) – Móż Aug 23 '15 at 3:21
  • I found that by age five I had to call to them to stop pedaling the trailer bike, so that I could actually stop :-) – andy256 Aug 23 '15 at 3:42
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    That doesn't ever change. I have the same problem with 30 year olds on the tandem... – Móż Aug 23 '15 at 4:11
  • Lol! I always thought a big spring could be used in that situation. Just throw a lever and let them wind up the spring to get a power boost on the next hill. Think Heath Robinson. – andy256 Aug 23 '15 at 4:39
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Pursuing this might not be totally impossible, but you should probably have a sit down and really contemplate the effort you will need to put into this. For starters, depending on the age of your child, you're going to need diapers, clothes, food, entertainment, a decent sized trailer, all of your regular touring gear, and extra emergency equipment such as first aid, bike maintenance, and child care.

Beyond the massive load you're going to have, you should also consider how your child will react to all that time spent in such a small space. If you need to bring toys/books/electronics with you, that will add to your over all weight, as well as bringing up the fact that if you are bringing electronically devices for them, how will you charge them? A bike battery pack is expensive, as well as adding more weight to your load.

Depending on how old the child is, you will quickly find out how many times you are going to have to stop and care for the child. A ride that takes you a few hours by yourself could easily take you all day, or even longer, when your child is with you. Not to mention carrying all of your supplies.

Prepare for any kind of weather.

Have an emergency plan in case of, (and I hate to bring it up), any accidents on the road, bike malfunction, possible outdoor area hazards, e.t.c.

The list goes on and on, but the basic fact is that it will not be nearly as easy as you think it will be. I would suggest taking your child on test rides and see how things go. And, being a toddler, you have to take into account that the longer they are in the trailer, the less they will want to be in it. With all the hassle of your load, the traveling, and a very grumpy toddler, the trip could turn into more than you bargained for in the blink of an eye.

  • Thanks for the careful thought you put into your answer! I hope I didn't convey that it would be "easy" by calling it "feasible." But there are lots of good ideas here to think about: equipment, weather, going on test rides. – lmjohns3 Aug 22 '15 at 22:37
  • @Imjohns3, no you didn't. As everyone has already said, it is definitely do able. I just know that there are people out there who would get an idea in their heads, pack a diaper bag, and go. That's just a bad time ready to happen. Good luck, though! – Weirix Aug 22 '15 at 22:42
  • @Weirix what are some trips you have taken with your own kids? – Mark Stosberg Feb 8 '16 at 17:10

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